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Jesus' Sermon on the Mount

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: Mandating a Better Righteousness

Jack R. Lundbom
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
    Book Description:

    The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5‒7) is the best-known repository of the teachings of Jesus and one of the most studied. Amid the considerable erudition expended on the Sermon, however, Jack R. Lundbom argues that it has proven too easy to deflect or disregard the main thrust of the Sermon, which he characterizes as a mandate to holy living and a “greater righteousness.” Through careful attention to the structure of Matthew’s Gospel and the place of the Sermon within it, keen sensitivity to the patterns and themes of Israelite prophecy, and judicious comparisons with other Jewish and rabbinic literature, Lundbom elucidates the meaning of the Sermon and its continuity with Israel’s prophetic heritage as well as the best of Jewish teaching. By deft appeal to Christian commentators on the Sermon, Lundbom brings its most important themes to life for the contemporary reader, seeking always to understand what the “greater righteousness” to which the Sermon summons might mean for us today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-9422-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Jack R. Lundbom
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)
  5. The Sermon on the Mount
    (pp. xxv-xxxiv)

    Matthew 5 ¹When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. ²Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

    ³“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    ⁴“Blessed are those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.

    ⁵“Blessed are the meek,

    for they will inherit the earth.

    ⁶“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

    for they will be filled.

    ⁷“Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will receive mercy.

    ⁸“Blessed are the pure in heart,

    for they will see God.

    ⁹“Blessed are...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-2)

    If the Sermon on the Mount is to be properly understood and is to challenge people to aim for a better righteousness, which is my purpose in writing the present book, it requires clarification and careful attention especially at two points. The lead articles in Part 1 discuss these issues in some detail. First, it must be remembered by people living in a modern culture where most things are read, not heard spoken aloud, that the Sermon on the Mount was created in an oral culture where people would only hear it when it was read aloud in public worship...

  7. Part I. The Sermon on the Mount and the Gospel of Matthew

    • 1 Rhetoric and Composition in Matthew
      (pp. 5-26)

      Each of the Gospel writers in the New Testament gathered existing traditions about Jesus, which doubtless circulated for a time in oral form, and structured a selected number into a written Gospel. The structures facilitated an oral reading of the Gospels to members of the early church.

      Mark, in the first part of his Gospel, after an initial word on the preparatory work of John the Baptist, reports the many healings, exorcisms, and nature miracles performed by Jesus, but the disciples are nevertheless unable to perceive who Jesus is (Mark 1:16—8:26).¹ Those much less acquainted with Jesus respond with...

    • 2 The New Covenant in Matthew
      (pp. 27-44)

      The new covenant promised by Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34) is well understood by Matthew and has been incorporated into the writing of his Gospel. Matthew shows how this new covenant has been fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus and the establishment of the nascent church. The new covenant has important precedents in the Old Testament, where a number of covenants define the relationship God has with certain individuals, the nation Israel, and indeed with all of creation.

      Israel The idea of “covenant” is central to the faith of both Jews and Christians. It is said to be the central idea in...

    • 3 At What Elevation Is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount?
      (pp. 45-70)

      Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has always held great fascination for me, and it continues to fascinate me, as it has countless Christians and non-Christians down through the ages. We live in a day when teachings embodied in this Sermon need much to be heard.

      Our world today has trouble enough, and the Christian church is also in crisis. The daily newspapers and news on the television remind us without letup how impure the world and the church have become. What then should people do? Pray? Of course, but people need to do more than pray. Christians in other times...

    • 4 Imitatio Dei in the Sermon on the Mount
      (pp. 71-86)

      William Tyndale, preeminent translator of the New Testament into English, rendered Matt. 5:48 thus: “Ye shall therefore be perfect even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.”¹ The King James Version of 1611 subsequently rendered the verse, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The RSV and NRSV readings are similar. This English translation of a key verse in the Sermon on the Mount has been the source of difficulty for some, in that “ perfect” can be taken to mean “absolutely flawless,” or “ without error,” and with a comparison...

  8. Part II. The Sermon on the Mount

    • 5 Jesus on the Mountain (5:1-2)
      (pp. 89-92)

      We have seen that Matthew presents the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus’ core teaching on the new covenant. This teaching is to be heard and put into practice by his disciples, and not only them, but all those aspiring to be his disciples. The Sermon begins on a very positive note. New covenant people are blessed, then said to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Jesus has come to fulfill the Law, not do away with it. New covenant people must therefore not relax even the least of his commands, but must aspire to a...

    • 6 The Blessings (5:3-12)
      (pp. 93-128)

      The Sermon on the Mount begins not with commands, as in the Old Testament law code of Deuteronomy, but with blessings, which in “Deuteronomy come last together with the curses (Deuteronomy 28). These blessings we call the “Beatitudes.” Luther calls this “a fine, sweet, and friendly beginning.” Here, without delay and with intentional directness, the blessings of the new covenant are pronounced on all who enter the kingdom Jesus is announcing, where “kingdom” refers to “the rule of God.” A new people is being created, one that will later be known as the Christian Church. This community receives only blessings,...

    • 7 Be Salt and Light in the World (5:13-16)
      (pp. 129-138)

      The Sermon continues on a positive note. Jesus is now speaking directly to his audience, shifting to metaphors that illustrate what discipleship should consist of. Disciples should be salt and light in the world. The saying about salt occurs slightly revised in Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34-35.

      13.You are the salt of the earth. “Earth” here means “people of earth” (Augustine) or “world,” not earth in the sense of “ground.” “Earth” balances “world” in the teaching about light. Salt has no value for the ground; in fact, it destroys the ground (Deut. 29:23; Ps. 107:34). It was common in...

    • 8 A Better Righteousness (5:17-20)
      (pp. 139-146)

      With the mention of “good works” in v. 16, it will come as no surprise in vv. 21-48 to hear Jesus talking about specific demands—some would say commands—that give substance to the new covenant.¹ But before presenting these demands, Jesus wants to clarify his stance toward the Hebrew Scriptures, which developed from the core law of the old covenant: the Ten Commandments. Some general statements are in order. Hans Dieter Betz calls these “hermeneutical principles,”² which are principles of interpretation, and they appear here now in vv. 17-20.

      The teachings on salt and light are said to look...

    • 9 What about Anger? (5:21-26)
      (pp. 147-154)

      21-22.You have heard that it was said . . . But I say to you.This antithesis modifies a form used by the rabbis of Jesus’ time.¹ They would present a statute of law, and then say:

      You might understand (these words to mean) . . .

      But you must say instead . . .

      So, in an exposition of the Fifth Commandment, it would go as follows:

      “Honor your father and your mother.” You might understand “Honor them with words only.” But you must say instead, “Parents are to be honored not only with speech, but by deeds...

    • 10 Beware of Lust (5:27-30)
      (pp. 155-160)

      27.You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’Jesus’ second teaching builds on the Seventh Commandment prohibiting adultery (Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). According to the Old Testament, adultery was committed when a man—married or single—had sexual relations with another man’s wife. It was the marital status of the woman—and only the woman—that made it adultery. If she was not married, it was “ harlotry” or the like, an indiscretion on the part of the man to be sure, but not adultery. Adultery was a particularly serious crime because the offender could...

    • 11 What about Divorce? (5:31-32)
      (pp. 161-170)

      31-32a.It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery.This teaching has no antithesis beginning, only “It was also said,” making it sound like an addition to the solemn warning against lust, which could lead to a divorce. Shorter than the other antitheses, it is also without amplification. It may be a doublet of Matt. 19:9, although the wording is different. Nevertheless, this is a bona fide antithesis containing a...

    • 12 Better Not to Use Oaths (5:33-37)
      (pp. 171-174)

      33.Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’At first sight this appears to be citing either the Third Commandment on not taking the Lord’s name in vain (Exod. 20:7; Deut. 5:11), or the Ninth Commandment on not bearing false witness (Exod. 20:16; Deut. 5:20). Philo took it to be the former; Krister Stendahl, the latter. The Old Testament otherwise permits swearing an oath, but it must be in the name of Yahweh (usually “As Yahweh lives”), not...

    • 13 How to Handle Insult (5:38-42)
      (pp. 175-180)

      38.You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” This antithesis begins by citing the “law of retaliation”(lex talionis) occurring in legal passages of the Old Testament (Exod. 21: 23-25; Deut. 19: 21; Lev. 24: 18-20), where it is applied to cases involving bodily injury or loss of life. In its full form it states: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exod. 21: 23-25). Leviticus 24: 18 adds that if a...

    • 14 Love Your Enemies (5:43-48)
      (pp. 181-192)

      43.You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”This final antithesis deals with love toward others, asking at the beginning whether one should love one’s neighbor and hate one’s enemy. Some people are apparently living by this principle. Hans Dieter Betz thinks it is a popular assumption existing everywhere.¹ Jesus’ listeners doubtless know Deuteronomy’s teaching about love—God’s love of Israel (Deut. 7:6-8; 10:15; 23:5), Israel’s obligation to love God (Deut. 6:5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22), and the love and care Israel must show toward the poor, widows, orphans, strangers,...

    • 15 Beware of Public Piety (6:1-18)
      (pp. 193-216)

      These teachings on almsgiving (vv. 2-4), prayer (vv. 5-15), and fasting (vv. 16-18) censure self-righteous public display of the three cardinal virtues of Jewish piety (or righteousness), which gives no honor to God. Other self-righteous acts of the scribes and Pharisees are censured in chapter 23. Jewish piety lifted up the virtues of prayer, charity, and repentance, with repentance associated with fasting (1 Kgs. 21:27; Joel 2:12; Jonah 3:5; Neh. 9:1) (Ecc. Rab.5:6, 1).² Penitence and fasting survived in the season of Lent in the Christian church, becoming a forty-day preparation for the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus...

    • 16 Where Your Treasure Is (6:19-21)
      (pp. 217-222)

      The remaining teachings of chapter 6 have a common theme, which is singleness of heart and vision in serving God and others. The first has to do with one’s treasure, which Jesus says not to lay up on earth, but in heaven.

      19.Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. After rejecting excessive fasting for his disciples, Jesus now turns to a rejection of excessive indulgence in the accumulation of worldly possessions.¹ No lasting treasure can be stored on earth. Moths, then as today, destroy unused...

    • 17 Single-Mindedness to God and Others (6:22-24)
      (pp. 223-228)

      Here are two brief teachings, one on the healthy (or single) eye, the other on the impossibility of serving two masters—God and wealth (or Mammon). They lead into the final climactic teaching about seeking first the kingdom of heaven.

      22-23.The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.We move now from the heart to the eye, both of which contribute disproportionately to bodily wholeness according to ancient psychology. The present...

    • 18 Be Not Anxious about Your Life (6:25-34)
      (pp. 229-238)

      25.Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?This teaching appears also in Luke 12:22-33. It speaks about food, drink, and clothing, the most basic of human needs, and Jesus says not to be anxious about them. Søren Kierkegaard says the teaching is nevertheless addressed to the anxious: “Yea, in every line of this anxious gospel we can feel that it speaks not to the hale, not to...

    • 19 Beware of Making Judgments (7:1-5)
      (pp. 239-242)

      1-2.Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. How one reads these words makes all the difference. One must not extrapolate the first two words, “Do not judge,” and assume that this contains the essence of the teaching. Nor should one read the phrase in its entirety and conclude that people are to refrain from all judgments, lest they, too, be judged—by others, and more importantly by God. Both miss the point because they fail to grasp the idiom. What is more, they fail to interpret these initial words by what is said in the larger...

    • 20 Give Not Away What is Holy (7:6)
      (pp. 243-248)

      6.Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn to maul you.This saying has no apparent connection with what precedes. The two may be linked by catchwords: έκβάλω in 7:4-5, and βάλλω in 7:6.¹ The verse is chiastic in structure:²

      Do not give what is holy todogs;

      and do not throw your pearls beforeswine,

      or they [theswine] will trample them under foot

      and [thedogs] will turn to maul you.

      Swine are those who will trample pearls under foot,...

    • 21 Ask and It Will Be Given You (7:7-12)
      (pp. 249-254)

      7.Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. We are back now to prayer. Jesus is speaking here to people who do not pray, or who are reluctant to pray, the same audience to whom his parable of the persistent widow was told (Luke 18:1-8), and his parable of the importune friend at midnight, which in Luke immediately precedes the teaching given here (Luke 11:5-13). Not every request will be granted, or granted in the way the petitioner asks, but God’s goodness is ever available and...

    • 22 Enter Through the Narrow Gate (7:13-14)
      (pp. 255-262)

      13.Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.The road is “broad” (not “easy”) that leads to destruction. This segment of Sermon on the Mount teaching appears also in Luke 13:24. The “two ways” teaching is a wisdom theme, well known from the Old Testament and elsewhere. It occurs in Psalm 1 and dominates the early chapters of Proverbs, where men are warned against following the way of fools and taking the path to houses of seductive women, being told instead...

    • 23 Beware of False Prophets (7:15-20)
      (pp. 263-270)

      15.Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.Interpreters often connect this teaching with the previous one, assuming that when walking along the way one will meet travelers among whom will be prophets, some genuine, and some false. Sermons preached in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made the connection,¹ and it survives in more recent interpretations.²

      The problem of false prophecy is an old one. Deuteronomy has two tests for false prophecy: (1) in 13:1-5, where the false prophet is one who, despite success in performing signs and wonders,...

    • 24 Hearing and Doing Is Everything (7:21-27)
      (pp. 271-274)

      21.Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.Verses 1-23 and 24-27 may be two short sayings combined, but they fit together, as they do also in Luke (Luke 6: 46-49). Jesus is acknowledged as “Lord” by certain people, but this is not the defining mark of discipleship, either now or at the last judgment. Jesus will be Judge at the last judgment;¹ now he is Teacher (or Rabbi) for all who would enter the kingdom. Doing the will of...

    • 25 And the Crowds Were Astonished (7:28-29)
      (pp. 275-276)

      28-29.Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.Although Jesus is giving this teaching primarily to his disciples (5: 1), the crowds have been listening in, and they are astonished at the authority with which Jesus teaches. Scribes argued from tradition; Jesus is here speaking in his own name (“But I say to you” in 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44; cf. 28: 18-20).¹...

  9. Appendix: Jewish, Christian, and Classical Authors Cited
    (pp. 277-286)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-308)
  11. Index of Authors
    (pp. 309-316)
  12. Index of Scripture References
    (pp. 317-341)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 342-342)