The Sermon on the Mount (Part 2)
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ “ (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus’ first message to his followers and really to all who would hear, is an unfolding of something brand new. And to accept and believe this brand new gospel, this good news, a change of mind must take place. So Jesus is asking his first audience to repent (Greek word metanoeō – to change one’s mind or purpose). These first century Jews needed to change their mind about how one is made righteous in God’s sight, about how one arrives at right standing with God.
This is the gospel of the kingdom. “Change your mind about how one is made right with God, and believe in the new way that I will be preaching to you. This new way, this new approach to being made right with God, is what the kingdom of God is all about.” Jesus has not yet explained that He is the way. He is only laying the foundation here that a change is coming. So how does this kingdom message inform our understanding of Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7?
Matthew 5:3-11, commonly referred to as the Beatitudes, are generally viewed as a concise set of platitudes to live by. I have heard them preached as “The Christian Constitution”; rules and character traits to follow. But is this really the case?
Or is there another way to look at these verses in light of the two great covenants of the Bible; the old covenant and the new? I would like to suggest that the Beatitudes are looking forward to the fulfillment of the promise of the new covenant. They have nothing to do with lifestyle or character qualities.
The new covenant began, was made active for you and I, with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These words of Jesus in Matthew 5:3-11, preached prior to the cross, are aiming our gaze into the future. They are pointing to prophecy fulfilled in the new covenant.
Let’s start with the first of the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Compare to Matthew 4:17, “Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ “ Notice the focus in both verses is on “the kingdom of heaven.”
Later in His ministry, Jesus described in great detail how one enters the kingdom of heaven. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that entrance into His kingdom comes through the new birth – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). And this new birth takes place when we believe the gospel.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ ” (John 6:29). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).
But Jesus’ hearers in Matthew chapter 5 would have had none of Jesus’ later message of how we enter the kingdom through the door of faith. Because Jesus’ focus in the Sermon on the Mount is on the self-righteous law-follower, He must start at a precursor to belief; recognizing one’s need.
We will talk about this recognition next time.