The Sermon on the Mount has been called history's greatest sermon. Even people who are unfamiliar with Christianity are familiar with many of the teachings that come from Jesus's most famous sermon. They're familiar with His teachings to love one's enemies, not judge others, and even the Lord's Prayer-even if they've only learned these things through osmosis.
You can find the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7 of Matthew's Gospel and although portions of it can be found in other places (Luke 6:17-49, 11:33, and 14:34-35), quite a bit of it is unique to Matthew.
The Sermon's context
When reading the Sermon on the Mount, it's natural to think about how Jesus's words apply to us. There's a lot in this message that cuts all of us to the quick. The Bible says that: God's words are "Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even dividing the soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." But, when we approach Scripture through a personal lens, we can miss out on some of the critical context and drama.
The teaching that makes up these two chapters would have been the disciples' (and the crowd's) first exposure to Jesus's teaching. Throughout this sermon, Jesus confronts the legalism that had come to define Pharisaical Judaism. Everyone listening would have been shocked at how Jesus contradicts much of the teaching they'd been raised hearing. Teachings that were mainly cultural, manufactured traditions that they would need to "unlearn" before they could receive the truth.
It's no wonder that the sermon ends this way: "When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law" (Matthew 7:28-29).
As we read through the Sermon on the Mount, it's helpful to think about how it would have sounded to people who were raised within a very legalistic religious tradition. It's helpful to consider how His words would have sounded to people who were expecting their Messiah to be both a religious leader and a conquering hero. And, it's even more vital to ask ourselves how much of our own "cultural Christianity" we need to "unlearn."
Most of us are familiar with and used to hearing Jesus's words, but His first listeners would have been challenged and scandalized in ways we can scarcely comprehend. As we approach this sermon series, let's pray that God breaks down the preconceived notions of our faith, amazes us with his teaching, and stirs us to a greater awe of his authoritative word.