Matthew was a Jew. Through what lens did he view Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? I’ll bet it’s different than our view!
25 Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. 26 Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.
A devout Jew kept several things in mind. One was that he was part of God’s chosen people and was called to be separate from the nations. He could expect other nations, especially the ruling nations, to despise him and treat him with contempt. Another was that the temple was the center of worship. Everything revolved around the temple. Still another was the Law. Being a devout Jew required living by the Law, even the extra laws that the Jewish leaders imposed on the people.
Jesus came to fix a broken system. The Law itself wasn’t broken; it was designed to show us our sin (Romans 3:20). It was the system that was superimposed by the leadership that was broken. In fact, He came to fulfill the Law so that we could move beyond laws to love (Matthew 5:17-18). Jesus explained the Law according to how God intended it to be. Let’s look at Matthew, chapter five:
1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
This sermon came early in His ministry. He already had disciples and He taught them, but everyone was welcome to listen.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The word for “poor” means “beggar.” Any self-respecting Jew would be offended by this statement. Those who saw with spiritual eyes would see that there is no way for the blood of bulls and rams to wash away sin. The Jews needed Messiah!
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
The nation of Israel was a vassal state to Rome. They longed for their freedom and independence. Jesus’ promise gave them hope, but not the kind that He intended.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
They knew that they were promised that Messiah would redeem the land that was taken from them. Jesus promised much more! The meek part would have been confusing to them. They wanted to fight!
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Generally speaking, every Jew hungered for the Law and the righteousness that came from following it. The problem was that no one could keep the Law perfectly and they were therefore condemned by it. How could they hunger and thirst for a righteousness that could not be attained? Yet, Jesus promised that those who did would be satisfied as in filled to the full. He said that He had come to give life in abundance, or, to the full. Their interest was piqued!
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
This one I’ll bet would have grated on them. They had not been shown mercy, so why should they show mercy?
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Here, again, is another impossibility. Yet, Christ promises that they will see God if they are pure in heart. The Law could not achieve a pure heart; how was He going to accomplish this task? Was He speaking for God?
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Again, Jesus calls them to seek peace rather than war. Many would be for peace, but many would be for war.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Jews were familiar with persecution because of their religious beliefs. The difference comes in His definition of righteousness: HE is righteousness. HE offers them the kingdom of heaven. He IS the kingdom!
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Here, Jesus gets specific and points all persecution His way. People would assume by His statement that those who oppose Him would persecute Him and his followers. Jesus promises great reward in heaven. In order to fulfill this promise, He had to be Messiah! Many put their faith and trust in Him. Why? Because He called them. He called us, too. Jesus referred to the prophets who were persecuted. He even made a sarcastic remark about no prophet being allowed to die outside of Jerusalem (Luke 13:33). Most Jews knew about the prophets, so they would certainly get the reference. Understanding it was another matter.
As we can see, the Jews had a frame of reference for every statement that Jesus made. Tomorrow, we will delve into the passages on salt and light, and the fulfillment of the Law. “I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
Abba, as we study the Scriptures, may You open our minds to what Christ was talking about to His fellow Israelites. Knowing the context helps us to interpret their meaning for our day and our circumstances. Grow us, Lord. We hunger and thirst after righteousness, Your righteousness. Make us pure in heart, O God. Amen.