It was Jesus who saw the multitudes, … went up on the mountain; and … sat down. God’s own Son delivered the sermon. The greatest Preacher who ever lived preached the greatest sermon ever preached. When He concluded, “the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (7:28–29). He quoted no sources, no ancient rabbis, no revered tradition. What He spoke, He spoke on His own authority. That was unheard of among the Jews, who always derived their authority from recognized sources.
The Sermon on the Mount is the supreme model of good preaching, a homiletical masterpiece. It beautifully and powerfully flows from the introduction (5:3–12) to the first point (the citizens of the kingdom, 5:13–16), to the second point (the righteousness of the kingdom, 5:17–7:12), to the third point (the exhortation to enter the kingdom, 7:13–27), and to the conclusion (the effect of the sermon on its hearers, 7:28–29). The transitions from point to point are clear and unmistakable.
At the beginning of his ministry Ezekiel was told by the Lord, “I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be dumb, and cannot be a man who rebukes them, for they are a rebellious house” (Ezek. 3:26). Much later the same prophet testified, “Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me in the evening, before the refugees came. And He opened my mouth at the time they came to me in the morning; so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer speechless” (33:22). Like Ezekiel, Jesus did not display His truth, His wisdom, and His power until it was time in God’s sovereign will for Him to do so.
The sanctuary for the greatest sermon ever preached was the mountain. As far as we know, this mountain—really a large hill—had no name until Jesus preached there. Until then it had been but one of many hills that slope up gently from the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. What had been simply a mountain among many other mountains now became the mountain, sanctified and set apart by the presence of the Lord. For many centuries the traditional site has been called the Mount of Beatitudes.
A rabbi commonly sat down when he taught. If he spoke while standing or walking, what he said was considered to be informal and unofficial. But when he sat down, what he said was authoritative and official. Even today we speak of professors holding a “chair” in a university, signifying the honored position from which they teach. When the Roman Catholic pope gives an official pronouncement, he is said to speak ex cathedra, which literally means to speak from his chair. When Jesus sat down and delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He spoke from His divine chair with absolute authority as the sovereign King.
As mentioned above, the multitudes were an important audience for this evangelistic sermon. But the standards of spiritual life that Jesus gave here could not apply to them or be followed by them unless they belonged to Him.
That His disciples came to Him indicates they were also His audience. In fact, the twelve were the only ones at that time who, to any real extent, could know the blessedness of which the Lord spoke and follow the perfect way of righteousness which He set forth. They were the only ones who had partaken of the inner divine power and presence that are absolutely necessary for obeying God’s perfect will. So the sermon not only showed the multitude the standard of God’s righteousness that they could not keep, but it also showed the disciples the possible standard they could now keep because of His coming and their faith in Him.
An archbishop of the Church of England once remarked that it would be impossible to conduct the affairs of Britain on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount, because the nation was not loyal to the King. The sermon of the King can be understood and followed only by faithful subjects of the King.
The famous historian Will Durant said that in any given generation only a handful of people make an impression on the world that lasts more than a few years. The person who stands out above all others, he said, is Jesus Christ. Jesus undoubtedly has had the most powerful and permanent influence on the thought of mankind. But, the historian went on to say, His teachings have not had a corresponding effect on man’s actions.
Trying to apply Jesus’ teachings without receiving Him as Lord and Savior is futile. Those, for example, who promote the social gospel, endeavoring to institute Jesus’ teachings apart from His saving and regenerating work, prove only that His principles cannot work for those who do not have a transformed nature and God’s indwelling power. One cannot behave like Christ until one becomes like Christ. Those who do not love the King cannot live like the King.
John F. MacArthur Jr., Matthew, vol. 1, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 136–138.
We have just completed a Bible study on the Greatest Sermon Ever–the Sermon on the Mount. It consists of 13 lessons with ready-to-use questions suitable for groups. It can be purchased on Amazon and is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.