How we view to whom the Sermon on the Mount applies will have an effect in our study of this discourse. Who does the Sermon apply to if not His disciples?
Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and when He was seated, His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them…. (Matthew 5:1-2, Amplified)
We can surmise from this passage Jesus is being specific with whom He is teaching. Do you consider yourself to be His disciple after our brief study of discipleship? Is that your desire? I pray that it is. There is a wrong way to look at who the Sermon is addressed: if we are going to look at character as seen in the Sermon, and determine that the Sermon is a description of the Social Gospel by which all people, Christian and non-Christian, should live by for a harmonious social order and lasting peace, we will be misguided. Can a world without conflict and crime be created if we all live by the Sermon? A world where everybody is fulfilled and satisfied will result? This sounds nice doesn’t it? Is this what Christ meant when He instructed His disciples? There are multiple problems with this approach to the Sermon, and I want to present two problems for us to consider.
The first, proponents of thisSocial Gospel ignore the Beatitudes. How can you take a passage of Scripture in which the Lord Himself builds the Sermon upon inthe Beatitudes and skip completely the foundation upon which it is built? How can Scripture be bypassed while trying to promote the Social Gospel, when 2 Timothy 3:16 begins with “All (or every) Scripture”? 2 Timothy 3:16 is a mandate to use the Scripture in every aspect of living and the Social Gospel neglects the Scripture for the solution to life’s ills. The solution to them is not Jesus Christ and He crucified, but rather repairing the world through social change. The other problem with the Social Gospel is that all people cannot live the Beatitudes. The Social Gospel promotes self-reliance within a social order. It is impossible for people that arenot empowered by the Holy Spirit to even conceive living by the Beatitudes. We will discuss in pages that follow how a Christian should apply the Beatitudes and it will be explained how the world, though it may want to, cannot.
Another approach to the Sermon is built upon a view that it is Christ’s exposition and elaboration of the Mosaic Law. I will concede that this iscorrect in part, but we will find it is not complete. When we study the Sermon we shallsee the Beatitudes take us beyond the Law. The Beatitudes are about the character of the Christian, not the living of the Law. Paul explains that the Law was given so we know what sin is:
For no person will be justified (made righteous, acquitted, and judged acceptable) in His sight by observing the works prescribed by the Law. For [the real function of] the Law is to make men recognize and be conscious of sin [not mere perception, but an acquaintance with sin which works toward repentance, faith, and holy character]. (Romans 3:20, Amplified)
Chuck Missler has remarked, “Why was the Law given? So we behave worse!” According to Romans 5:20 the Law was given for sin to abound; to “eliminate any ability of man to rationalize away his sin nature.” Missler also mentions Romans 7 and 8 in his addressing the purpose of the Law: 7:7, to expose our sin nature; 7:8-23, to incite the sin nature to sin more (sin nature cannot be reformed); 7:24-25, to drive us to despair of self-effort; and 8:1-4 to drive us to dependence upon the Holy Spirit alone (Learn the Bible in 24 Hours, Chuck Missler, Koinonia House, Couer d’Alene, ID, MP3). The Law shows us that we need something beyond ourselves since we live in total bankruptcy, in sin. We need to go beyond the Law and build character as the Master instructs in the Beatitudes.
The dispensational view to the Sermon has been postulated by some and is another wrong way to look at the Sermon on the Mount. This approach tells us that the Sermon has nothing to do with modern Christians. The Sermon was used by Christ to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom was rejected by the Jews. This view tells us the Sermon will once again be applicable in the millennial age and be lived out then under the rule of Christ upon the earth as He sits upon the throne of David. Within this camp there are those who purposethe Sermon was meant for the Twelve only as they built the Church in the Book of Acts. Does the dispensational view not contradict the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20?
But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NASB)
It appears as if this view (the dispensational view) is a contradiction to the Great Commission. If the rejection of the Kingdom by the Jews nullifies the Sermon why is there the call to discipleship? Why was the Church instituted? Why then do the Epistles contain the same teachings and can be seen as a commentary of the Sermon? Why does Romans 12 look strangely like a commentary on the Beatitudes? If the rest of the New Testament instructs living by the Sermon how can it not be for the dispensation of the Church age? If we are not to be living the Sermon why is a new commandment given to love one another?
I give you a new commandment: that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too should love one another. (John 13:34, Amplified)
Study the Sermon on the Mount as what it was meant to be, a lesson in Christian character given to disciples.