An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount

by Kent Young

© 2017


Jesus’ teaching seems to always have a profound effect on whomever hears it. Once I was speaking with a man I had just met, when our conversation quickly drifted into the topic of the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The man was not himself a Christian, but I was struck by how impressed he was with Jesus, specifically with Jesus’ teachings. The man knew a great deal about the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life, but he had mentioned briefly how he had serious doubts about many of the claims that the gospel writers made about Jesus. He expressed that he had a hard time believing in Jesus’ virgin birth, much less his resurrection from the dead or ascension into heaven. But strangely the man could not get over how powerful were Jesus’ ethical commands. I doubt I will ever forget the amazed, even bewildered look on the man’s face when he recalled Jesus’ famous words. “Love your enemies?” he rhetorically asked. “Can you imagine?” It occurred to me that I, having long been a believer in Christ, had never quite appreciated the intensity of all that Jesus taught.

However, it was shortly after this conversation when I realized, while this man had grasped something of the weightiness of Jesus’ words, there was something he was missing about Jesus’ teaching as well.

With another person, this time a friend of mine and a fellow believer, I likewise got onto the subject of Jesus’ teaching, and we were specifically discussing the Sermon on the Mount. My friend said something I had heard a number of times before from other Christian students of the Bible. My friend described the teaching found in the Sermon on the Mount by saying that it was given “for the purpose of displaying to the hearer his need for a Savior.” See, to my friend, and likely to a great many other Christians, Jesus’ teaching was basically an evangelistic tool. It was not, in their mind, specifically given for the purpose of changing anyone’s behavior. Rather it was designed to change the hearer’s view of himself, making him more receptive to the gospel message.

I have come to realize that my friend was actually making the same mistake regarding the understanding of Jesus’ teaching that the unbelieving man did. See, while both of these people, my Christian friend and the unbeliever, had grasped something of the majesty of Jesus’ teaching, both were also missing one crucial point. It is indeed true that simply reading Jesus’ words can touch one’s heart deeply. It is true that a person’s own frailty will be exposed, hopefully making him cry out in faith for the help of a Savior. But to stop there, or to see this as the primary purpose behind Jesus’ giving of these teachings, is actually to miss the point.

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).

It seems obvious, but strangely it is often missed. Jesus’ commands are just that: commands! It is one thing to notice that Jesus’ words are admirable, but it is something else entirely to accept that He actually wants us to obey, that is, to do these crazy things that he is commanding. Jesus did not conclude this sermon by saying, “Please note the depth, beauty, and intensity of my words. Perhaps even reflect upon your own frailty in light of them.” We indeed would do well to admire Jesus’ words and, in doing so, to notice our own deficiency; but remember Jesus’ real conclusion. Jesus’ final words to his hearers consisted of the illustration of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man, in the illustration, is said to picture those who “hear these words of mine and do them!

Now, we must admit, that once you begin to get into the depth of Jesus’ sermon, you will start to realize that this discourse is the highest revelation of righteousness ever delivered to mankind. You may even begin to sympathize with the many readers who seek for other ways of understanding Jesus’ words, ways that exempt hearers from total obedience to them. Jesus says things such as, “Love your enemies,” and, “Turn the other cheek.” He forbids not only adultery, but a lustful heart; not only murder, but unjust anger. The temptation will arise to join the diverse crowd, saying things like, “The Sermon on the Mount is really just for the Jews during the Millennial Era,” or, “Matthew 5-7 was actually intended to be used as an evangelistic tool, merely showing sinners their own short-comings.” At this outset of our study, please hear me to say: Resist this temptation! Remember Jesus’ words: “He who hears these words of mine and does them...

But if these teachings are so high, so beyond anything else ever given, the natural question is how we, as mere mortal men, can be expected to entertain thoughts of obedience to them. How can we do anything but dismiss them as some impossible ideal? There is an answer to this problem. At the outset of this study, I want the reader to know that there is a secret found within the text of the Sermon on the Mount, as well as in other places in the New Testament, that makes these seemingly impossible commands easier to embrace.

The details regarding this “secret” will be discussed later in this work (see Chapter 8: How to Gain this Righteousness and Chapter 9: The Conclusion). For now, though, allow me to just give a short word of encouragement. Please do not be dismayed. Obedience to these teachings of Jesus is not so far out of reach as it may appear. By this I do not at all mean to imply that Jesus’ words are less severe or direct than is commonly understood. In fact, as we go through the study, I believe you will find that in many cases quite the opposite is true. Very often, though Jesus’ words are straight forward and direct, commentators and preachers have attempted to tone down or soften the teaching in order to make Jesus’ words more palatable. No, Jesus does, in fact, mean exactly what he says. However, what I am saying is that in addition to his commands, Jesus also offers help. Jesus does not simply give his commands and then leave those in his audience alone, to try with futility to obey them with their own strength. Jesus encourages those who might wonder how they could ever be able to find within themselves the ability to obey him, by saying further, “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you.” Jesus’ demands are high, but he does not demand anything that he will not also give. The one giving the teaching is also the one who supplies the help.

Again, there will be more detail on this particular section of the teaching in later chapters. All that I am intending to point out up front is what I see to be Jesus’ response to what I am certain he foresaw as a common reaction to this entire message, to this highest standard of righteousness ever given to man. Jesus’ response to our every objection seems to be:

“So, you can’t do it yourself?

Do you need help?


Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)