People are always trying to improve themselves. Along with pastoring, I work as a manager in a bookstore and our self-help section is our biggest non-fiction category in our story. We have endless titles on how to live your best life or becoming a better you, or how to find inner peace. While we do want to grow as people, these books are not grounded on a solid foundation. Like Jesus’ parable of the man who built his house on the sandy foundation, the practices found in these books often crumble when faced with life’s hardships.
So is all hope lost? Is the pursuit of becoming a better person a lost cause? fool’s gold? Over the next few posts I want to dig into Jesus’ sermon on the mount found in Matthew 5-7. As we go through it, we’ll see that a life of peace isn’t some unattainable goal, but is ultimately found in a life of discipleship.
Before we get into Jesus’ actual teaching I think it’s important for us to know the context of what has been going on. Up to this point Jesus has been pretty busy. In just the previous paragraph we see that Jesus has been preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God to all kinds of people. Not only has he been teaching about the kingdom though, he has also been curing people of their diseases and setting people free from demonic activity. He’s been pretty busy!
As a result large crowds are now starting to follow Jesus around. Matthew then tells us that when Jesus sees the crowds, he heads up the mountain with his disciples and then sits down and begins to teach them. Now you may be wondering, why does Matthew include this? Why does Matthew need to tell us that Jesus is sitting down and teaching?
Matthew, like any good writer, doesn’t always just tell us what’s going on, but will use imagery to also communicate with us. So we need to ask ourselves, where else have we seen someone go up a mountain and receiving some teaching? Well, it sure looks similar to Moses going up Mount Sinai and he receives the law from God. So what we have in Jesus’ sermon on the mount is a reenactment of the story of Moses.
Now some have seen this and it’s led them to say that Matthew is portraying Jesus here as a new Moses, giving out a new law for God’s people. I think this is close but it misses an important part of the story. In the story of Moses on Mount Sinai, who is it that actually gives the law? Hint: it’s not Moses. It’s God, Yahweh Himself who gives the law to Moses. If then Matthew is recreating for us here the Mount Sinai experience, what is Matthew telling us about Jesus? That Jesus is God in the flesh! That here is God, in the person of Jesus, giving out his new way of being to his people. I think this is important for us to understand before we get into the teaching of the sermon on the mount because this isn’t the teaching of a man, but this is God Himself giving us his revelation.