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The Sermon on the Mount in Context

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Tonight I’m starting a new Bible study with my youth group on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (hereafter SM) in Matthew 5–7. My lessons with the youth will closely (but not exactly) follow Dale C. Allison, Jr.’s outline for the SM.1 Following Allison’s outline of the SM, tonight’s lesson focuses on the context of the SM in Matthew 4:23–5:2, where we read:

And he [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: (ESV)

In Matthew 4:23–5:2, we see Jesus ministering in Galilee (4:23), famous in Syria (4:24–25), and seated on the mountain to teach (5:1–2).

According to Matthew 4:23, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee consisted of teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every affliction. Luke 4:16–21 fills out the content of Jesus’ teaching in synagogues: Jesus taught that he is the Servant of the Lord prophesied about in Isaiah 61:1–2.2 That Jesus taught in synagogues also reinforces that in his humanity, Jesus was a first–century itinerant Jewish rabbi.3 Furthermore, while Jesus taught in the synagogues, he was simultaneously preaching the gospel of the kingdom, which demands repentance in response (Matt. 4:17). Finally, to teaching and preaching Jesus added miraculous healing, which “pointed to the validity of his message.”4

Jesus’ miracles earned him a wide following early in his public ministry, as we read in Matthew 4:24–25. Jesus’ followers, broadly speaking, included both Jews and Gentiles: Jews from Galilee, Jerusalem, and Judea; and Gentiles from Syria and the Decapolis. Melvin Tinker rightly notes that the presence of Gentiles in the crowds following Jesus points to the fact that Jesus is a light for salvation not only to Jews but also to Gentiles.5

Jesus “went up on the mountain” because he saw these large crowds following him, and he took this opportunity to teach them what has come to be called the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1–2). Matthew 5:1–2 tells us three important things about Jesus:

  1. Jesus is a new Moses.
  2. Jesus is his disciples’ authoritative rabbi.
  3. Jesus speaks with the authority of God himself.6

First, Jesus is a new Moses. Jesus “went up on the mountain” (Matt. 5:1). As Charles Quarles notes, this phrase from Matt. 5:1 is “an exact verbal parallel” to Moses’ ascension of Mt. Sinai as recorded in Exodus 19:3.7 Jesus is “a new Moses who leads a new exodus for a new Israel replete with a new Sinai, all pointing forward to the new covenant.”8

Simultaneously to being a new Moses, Jesus is his disciples’ authoritative rabbi. His seated position on the mountain was “customary” for Jewish rabbis at the time.9 Furthermore, Jesus refers to himself as a rabbi in Matthew 23:8, and he accepts this ascription both from Nicodemus and Mary Magdalene in John’s Gospel (3:1–2 and 20:16).

Of course, Jesus is more than a new Moses, more than a new rabbi, and this fact brings us to our final point: Jesus speaks with the authority of God himself. Following the SM, we read that “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28–29). Jesus’ authority exceeded that of the highest human religious authority for first–century Jews. Whose authority is higher than the highest human authority but God’s? Unlike Quarles, I do believe that Matt. 5:2, with its emphasis on Jesus not only teaching and “saying” but also “open[ing] his mouth,” echoes Matt. 4:4 in which authoritative words are “from the mouth of God.”10 According to Matthew 5:2, when considered in its context within Matthew as a whole and indeed of the Bible as a whole, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—as are all Jesus’ teachings—is a sermon directly from God himself.

Matthew 4:23–5:2 thus sets the SM into its context, without which we cannot appreciate the SM in all its fulness. Matthew 4:23–5:2 presents Jesus as the herald of the gospel of the kingdom, which calls on everyone to repent in light of Jesus’ life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection. This text also presents Jesus as a new Moses with an authority greater than his fellow rabbis because Jesus is not only fully human but also fully God. As we begin to look at the Sermon on the Mount, before we even get to Jesus’ actual words there, may we submit ourselves to him as the rightful King of God’s kingdom, which covers the whole universe of his creation, through repentant faith that he died to save us from our sins, “to enable us to live the Sermon on the Mount,” to use the phrase of D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones.11

Notes

1 Dale C. Allison, Jr., “The Structure of the Sermon on the Mount.” Journal of Biblical Literature 106.3 (1987): 423–445.

2 Melvin Tinker notes that Isaiah 61:1–2 also “lies behind the commencement of Jesus’ public ministry in Matthew as represented by the Sermon on the Mount” (“The Servant Solution: The Co-ordination of Evangelism and Social Action,” Themelios 32.2 [2007], 12).

3 At the conclusion of his article, Allison argues that the SM, particularly in Matthew 5:13–7:12, “addresses the three things upon which, according to Simeon the Just, the world stands [the Law—Matt. 5:21–48; Temple service—Matt. 6:1–18; and godly social behavior—Matt. 6:19–7:12], and it addresses them in precisely the same order” (“Structure,” 443).

4 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, Word Biblical Commentary 33A (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 81.

5 “The Servant Solution,” 11.

6 These three observations were inspired by three observations Hagner makes about Matthew 5:1–2 (Matthew 1–13, 85). My three points, however, are more explicit than Hagner’s.

7 Charles Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, NACSBT 11 (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 22.

8 James M. Hamilton Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 369.

9 Hagner, Matthew 1–13, 86.

10 Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, 38 n. 8, citing Robert Gundry for this position.

11 D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976 [1959–1960]), 12.

God in Solomon’s Proverbs (Wisdom Wednesday #1)

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In the Introduction of his commentary on Proverbs, Tremper Longman III rightly confronts the tendency among some scholars to conclude that Proverbs is a book of “secular advice” in which any mention of God’s name Yahweh “is a sign of a late addition to a consistently secular book” (Proverbs, 57). God is as central in Proverbs as he is throughout the Bible. As Thomas R. Schreiner points out, Proverbs is, in fact, “God-Centered” because “even if Yahweh is not mentioned [in individual proverbs], there was no arena of life in Israel where he was absent” (The King in His Beauty, 281). To take Solomon’s proverbs specifically (10:1-22:16 and 25:1-29:27), we see that God was central to all of Solomon’s wisdom, for he was its source (1 Kings 4:29-34). Not only is God central to Solomon’s wisdom on a variety of subjects as diverse as wealth and speech, work ethic and anger, but Solomon also writes proverbs specifically about God himself. Solomon writes proverbs about God’s divine attributes as the basis for how people should respond to him in faith and obedience.

In his proverbs, Solomon focuses on four attributes of God. First, God is all-knowing. Solomon writes, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3; cf. 20:27). Second, God is just: “The eyes of the LORD watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the traitor” (22:12; cf. 16:2). Third, God is meticulously sovereign over all things, even things as seemingly random as a roll of dice (16:33). Fourth, God is the all-powerful Creator: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both” (20:12). God’s omnipotence is also evident because nothing “can avail against the LORD” (21:30), not even the strongest armies (21:31). Like the rest of the Bible, Proverbs presents God as the all-knowing, just, sovereign, and all-powerful Creator.

The proper response to this Creator is faith. In Proverbs, “fear of the LORD” is the dominant phrase, but it is comparable to “trust in the LORD.” For example, “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life” (Prov. 14:27) and “blessed is he who trusts in the LORD” (16:20). Those who properly fear God do not fear his power without also trusting in his goodness. And as the New Testament repeatedly makes clear, Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah Savior who is not only human but also divine. In Jesus’ own words, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30; cf. 17:11, 21). In light of the New Testament, we see that to fear/trust in the LORD is to trust Jesus for salvation. Peter and Paul agree with one another: “You have been born again, not of a perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; … And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:23, 25), for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Before Christ’s first coming, people were saved through faith in a vague but certain “Messiah” who was to come. Since Christ the Messiah has come, we must believe according to the revelation given us. It is not enough to believe in a generic God or a generic Savior; to be saved we must trust Jesus, the God-Man, to save us from our sin by his life, death, and resurrection.

Obedience to God must be based on such faith in him and his Christ. In Proverbs, true wisdom begins with the fear of the LORD. Good works apart from faith are damning, for apart from faith they are filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). Nevertheless, we Christians should begin to respond to God wisely on the foundation of our faith in Jesus for salvation. As Solomon writes, we are no longer to fear people (Prov. 29:25); rather, we should always fear the LORD (28:14). Persevering faith is a central theme in Hebrews (see, e.g., Heb. 3:12-15). Furthermore, we Christians should do good to others, even to our enemies, out of faith in God’s ultimate justice (Prov. 20:22; 25:21-22). (Paul offers the same lesson as Prov. 20:22 and quotes Prov. 25:21-22 in Rom. 12:19-21.) Obedience to our Creator must flow from faith in him as our Savior and Lord.

Proverbs thus confirms the message of the rest of Scripture. As the author and primary actor throughout Scripture, God is prominent in Proverbs, as well. James M. Hamilton Jr. maintains that the message of the whole Bible, of biblical theology, is summed up as: “God is glorified in salvation through judgment,” and Proverbs “teaches” this in addition to every book of the Bible (God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, 301). As I have noted in a review, I agree with Dr. Hamilton’s center of biblical theology. I thus believe that the above exposition of Solomon’s proverbs that are explicitly about God (and not tied to other specific topics) demonstrates the centrality of God in Proverbs.

God is central in Solomon’s proverbs. The question posed to us now becomes threefold: Is God central to us in our daily lives? Is Jesus the Son our personal Savior and Lord? Do we strive to please God in faithful obedience to him? May God use the wisdom contained in Proverbs to convict us of sin, to turn us to the only Savior for our sin, Jesus Christ, and to turn us from foolish sinfulness to wise, righteous living for his glory.

Sources

Hamilton, James M. Jr. God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Longman, Tremper III. Proverbs. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Schreiner, Thomas R. The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2007.

 

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