Hidden meaning in the Sermon on the Mount

The first recorded public teaching by Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus had to say is startling. Yet it is what He didn't say, but what we know from the rest of the story, that makes us think.

Hidden meaning in the Sermon on the Mount

The Gospel of Matthew is the 40th book in the Bible. It is the first book of the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew introduces Jesus. In the 5th, 6th and 7th chapters of Matthew, is a record of Jesus' great sermon … His first public teaching … the Sermon on the Mount.

The sermon is remarkable. It's remarkable for several reasons, not the least being that Jesus makes it harder … harder than the requirements of the Law of Moses … harder to be found righteous before God. That's how the New Testament records Jesus' first sermon … He goes beyond the Laws of the Old Testament.

Jews, who were listening, were under the Law of Moses. They have an agreement, a covenant with God. They have said they will obey the Law.

There are hundreds of laws in the Law of Moses. To find acceptance under the Law, Jews are required to obey all the laws, every one, without fail (Deut 6:25; Jas 2:10). But Jesus says they have to go beyond the letter of the Law. God is keeping a check on every word from every mouth, and a check even on the motives of every heart. To be angry and insult others, Jesus says, brings a big risk … the risk of eternal judgement. It's the same as committing murder (Matt 5:21-22). To look at a woman with lust is the same as committing adultery (Matt 5:27-28)

That's a higher standard than the Law. It's an impossibly high standard. Jesus doesn't say it openly, but He implies ... "you will never achieve this, in your own strength. You need help … someone to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. You need a Saviour."

How did they react to Jesus' sermon? They were amazed, the Bible says (Matt 7:28). That's it! Their reaction was nothing more than amazement! Apparently they didn't comprehend the implications of what Jesus was saying. It seems it was hidden from them.

But Jesus knew … Jesus knew they couldn't meet the standard. Jesus knows what is needed … but He didn't say it out loud. Why? Maybe because people need to think, long and hard … each person has to come to a conviction of sin … a sense of their need.

Jesus finished speaking, and He came down from the mountain, and the crowd followed … and they saw what happened next.

A leper came to Jesus. Leprosy is a disfiguring disease. It was seen as a judgement on the sin of pride. A leper came to Jesus, and bowed down, and said: "Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean." (Matt 8:2). The leper came to Jesus because He believed that Jesus had the power, and compassion, to cleanse. The leper humbled himself. He bowed down. And Jesus touched him, and he was healed (Matthew 8:3).

Then a Gentile, a non-Jew, a Roman centurion, came and begged Jesus to heal his servant. Jesus said He would come, but the centurion said: “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof. Say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus marvelled, and said, “I haven't found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go … it shall be done for you as you have believed.” (Matthew 8:5-13).

It is no accident that these two incidents are reported immediately after the Sermon on the Mount.

The intent of Jesus' words … for people to understand the impossibility of meeting God's standard … was hidden from them. But the miracles gave a hint … the Saviour has come. And salvation is by faith, in Him. It is the only way to be saved … to place your faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus would say, at the end of His ministry, just before the cross: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (Jn 14:6)

Salvation is not earned (Eph 2:8-9). A major step in understanding the grounds of our acceptance with God, is the knowledge that we will never be good enough, in ourselves, to merit the forgiveness of God. But forgiveness is offered, freely, to whosoever will, by faith in Jesus Christ (Rev 22:17)

Here are lessons, for Christians, from this teaching about the Sermon on the Mount: The Law, and rules, may do something, for a while, to restrain bad behaviour, but laws don't change the heart. Let that sink in … our great need is not how to control bad behaviour. Our great need is how to be transformed … to be born again … a new creation.

It's too easy to start a reading of the New Testament with the thought in mind that these are instructions for Christian living. But, throughout the Gospels, Jesus is speaking to Jews who are under the Law of Moses … the Law that they have obligated themselves to obey, in full. Jesus is challenging them. It is only at the end of the Gospels that the New Covenant is sealed in the blood of Jesus.

Before Jesus and the New Covenant, Gentiles “had no hope and were without God in the world.” (Eph 2:12). Gentiles were never under the Law and Gentile believers are not required to adhere to any aspect of the Law of Moses. (Acts 15)

We are purified by faith in Jesus. (Acts 15:9). In this cleansing, Jesus comes to dwell in us by His Spirit, and it is His work to change us, little by little. We are “being transformed from glory to glory in to the image of Jesus.” (2 Cor 3:18). “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18).

As we live out our lives, in faith in Jesus Christ, we don't notice the change day by day. But, when we look back … a year, five years, twenty years … then we see what He has done. We are not the same people. We have grown … from new-born to fully mature. Jesus has done a sovereign work. And He gets all the praise.