The Sermon on the Mount as Gospel

The Sermon on the Mount as Gospel November 18, 2013

In a day when some are erroneously suggesting that the Sermon on the Mount is law, law, and some more law (one scholar said it was Moses mossisimus) there are others of us who think the Sermon on the Mount is gospel.

The Sermon on the Mount, I contend, is the gospel. On the basis of The King Jesus Gospel, in which I outline both the soterian approach and the Jesus/apostolic approach to gospel, I argue the gospel is the declaration that Jesus is Lord, King and as Lord and King Jesus rescues his people (1 Cor 15:3-5; sermons in Acts). The gospel is a message about Jesus first and foremost and not first a message about us and our salvation. The King saves but the gospel is news about the arrival of the King.

Some don’t see gospel in the Sermon on the Mount because they are looking for the wrong thing: the plan for personal salvation.

Now to the Sermon as gospel.

Matthew sets up the Sermon on the Mount and how to read it; he does so in Matthew 4:23-25 and 9:35.

Matt. 4:23    Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Matt. 9:35    Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

If we read Matthew 4:23-25 we see the following elements in the ministry of Jesus: he teaches and he proclaims and he heals. In 9:35 we see the identical three themes in his ministry: teaching, proclaiming and healing. (The “every disease and sickness,” rhythmic in Greek, connects these two verse sections even tighter. The same appears only at 10:2, which is a different post.)

The Sermon on the Mount “illustrates” or “is” Jesus’ teaching and proclaiming while Matthew 8–9, a collection mostly of healing stories (10 miracle stories), illustrates or is Jesus’ healing. That is, 4:23-25 announces in advance what Jesus will do and be while 9:35 announces what Jesus has done and been. In other words, Matthew 4:23-25; 9:35 say “Here’s Jesus!” and “Here’s the ministry of Jesus!” or ask, “You want to know about Jesus? Here he is!” In other words, this section in Matthew is a revelation of Jesus the Messiah.

The gospel is the declaration of Who Jesus Is, and the Jesus of these passages is the Lord of Moses, the Lord of Nature, the one who brings life to death and who reveals the fullness of God’s will. The Sermon ends on an evangelistic invitation: Here’s Jesus, do what he says by submitting to his Lordship.

The reason the Sermon ends — 7:28-29 — on the marvel that Jesus taught with authority because that is how we are to read it: a confrontation with the majesty of Who Jesus is. Revealing who Jesus is and getting an audience to ask “Who is Jesus?” is what evangelism is all about.

If the gospel is a declaration of who Jesus is, the Sermon on the Mount, in context, is gospel. The recorded response to the Sermon is the intended response for all of us, and that question — Who does he think he is?! — is the fundamental gospel question to answer.

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  • KentonS

    Wait, are you saying that there are “scholars” out there who are saying the sermon is law in a “throw this out, it’s the old mosaic law” way??? Really???

  • I agree with Scot that the Sermon on the Mount is about the good news of the reign of God, and about how we may live as representatives of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and his reign. It is about how we are to be formed as children of God, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, showing God’s love for enemies, trusting God’s provision, and so forth. I have previously written:

    If we are to base our Christian formation on the Sermon on the Mount, we will be focused on wholeheartedly prioritizing the reign of God,
    on living out God’s righteousness, justice, and shalom, and on showing forth
    the glory of God. We will let God be both our guide and the object of our
    devotion. We will do this not for our own reputations, but so that God’s
    character may become visible to people around us. The goal stretches ever
    before us, the bar ever above our reach, but we must not settle for less. Jesus
    never lowered the bar for anyone, but neither did he condemn anyone for trying
    and failing to clear the bar. Jesus does not permit us to condemn those who
    have failed to clear the bar. He does not permit us to give up on ever clearing
    the bar. Ultimately, if we persist, he will enable us to do more than we can do
    on our own. In eternity, those who persist in faith will be found to have
    cleared the bar with the help of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

  • scotmcknight

    John, well, indirectly Yes, but if we base our formation on the Sermon we will base it on listening to Jesus, on Jesus as the lordly Lord of the kingdom.

  • Mike Mercer

    I haven’t had a chance to read the commentary yet, Scot, and I can’t remember if you and I agree on this or not, but I interpret the beatitudes as pure Gospel — the announcement of God’s favor and gift in Christ to those despised by the world and captive to its fallenness. They are akin to the Magnificat, a statement of the Great Reversal that comes through Jesus the King. Out of this pure, gracious gift comes the new life of following Jesus described in the rest of the sermon.

  • scotmcknight

    Mike if you take the Beatitudes a la MLloyd-Jones then I would disagree. It’s a list of the most unlikely-to-inherit-the-kingdom as a way of saying it’s not who we think. Yes, of course, grace but the approach is less grace than it is the shocking reality of who is in the kingdom vs. conventional expectations.

  • Mike Mercer

    I take it as Dallas Willard does. The reason I think it is grace is because I read it as an actual pronouncement of blessing rather than teaching about who is blessed.

  • scotmcknight

    Good point but to whom is Jesus speaking here? The disciples, Yes. I suspect he’s giving them a kingdom vision lesson about who is in and who is not.

  • Though I worded it differently, I would not argue your point.

    Jesus is certainly the Royal Son, the enthroned King, the agent of the reign of God, the one through whom the kingdom is most clearly displayed. Furthermore, he is the reigning Son of man with whom baptized believers are united, sharing his present reign. Certainly, it is this “lordly Lord of the kingdom” who presides over our formation and in whom we are being formed. Certainly, it is his transforming words in the sermon to which we listen, words that are the foundation for an enduring life as children of God. Thank you for clarifying what I did not express.

  • Justin Martyr’s: Dialogue with Trypho

    “This is what we are amazed at,” said Trypho, “but those things about which the multitude speak are not worthy of belief; for they are most repugnant to human nature.

    Moreover, I am aware that your precepts in the so-called Gospel are so wonderful and so great, that I suspect no one can keep them; for I have carefully read them. [Perhaps the Sermon on the Mount Scot??]

    But this is what we are most at a loss about: that you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or Sabbaths, and do not have the rite of circumcision; and further, resting your hopes on a man that was crucified, you yet expect to obtain some good thing from God, while you do not obey His commandments.

    Have you not read, that that soul shall be cut off from his people who shall not have been circumcised on the eighth day? And this has been ordained for strangers and for slaves equally. But you, despising this covenant rashly, reject the consequent duties, and attempt to persuade yourselves that you know God, when, however, you perform none of those things which they do who fear God.

    If, therefore, you can defend yourself on these points, and make it manifest in what way you hope for anything whatsoever, even though you do not observe the law, this we would very gladly hear from you, and we shall make other similar investigations.”

  • Ann_Voskamp

    Loading it on to my Kindle right now, Scot. I’ve been anxiously looking forward to this read.