Beginning with this issue I will begin a series of expository articles which explore the “Sermon on the Mount”. The Sermon on the Mount is found twice in our New Testament, Matthew details it in chapters 5, 6, & 7 of his gospel, and Luke records it in chapter 6:17-42 with a smaller but none the less important record of Jesus’ words. If there were a one word theme we could use to describe the Sermon on the Mount I believe it would be “righteousness”. Likewise if there were one verse I would use to introduce this theme it would be Matthew 5:20 where the Lord tells us “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The only potential for interruption I foresee in this series will be holidays and possibly special events. So let’s settle into God’s word, let it speak to our hearts while understanding it will not return to Him void.
By way of introduction we need to understand a little about the circumstances preceding the Sermon on the Mount; both Matthew and Luke (Matt.4:23-25; Luke 5:15-16) tell us during this time the Lord experienced great popularity among the people, we know multitudes were following Him, and we know Jesus appointed His twelve apostles. Luke gives us some indication of the distance the multitude was traveling to see and hear Jesus; from Judea and Jerusalem as well as the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus message had been substantiated through the many miracles He had performed. Now; the multitudes were curious and wanted to see and hear Jesus for themselves, many had come to no conviction regarding the person of Christ and the message He proclaimed. The Lord saw the multitude as outside His kingdom and offered them access (Matt. 7:13-23). Jesus warned them against trusting the righteousness of religion being taught by the Pharisees. Christ’s teaching resulted in the nation being faced with two different concepts of righteousness. One was organized religion (Judaism), which taught that man was righteous if he attended feasts, observed rituals, and followed the traditions of the Pharisees. But Christ preached a righteousness which came as a result of faith in Him. Christ’s Righteousness could not be earned by works but had to be received as a gift from God. We know a conflict arose between Christ and the Pharisees concerning righteousness. The multitudes who came knew very well that righteousness was necessary to enter the kingdom of God, they were looking for the truth about righteousness and how it applied to their lives. To provide truth and clarity regarding righteousness the Lord gives us what we know as His Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with what is commonly called the beatitudes. The late Dwight Pentecost says “The Beatitudes give us the characteristics of a righteous person and also describe the basis for blessing in one’s life, God alone is the blessed One.”. We will notice the word “blessed” repeated in the beatitudes. Blessed can be simply translated “happy” with the understanding that God alone is worthy to be called blessed because of His character (holiness), and God does bestow blessings upon people. Likewise those who receive God’s blessings are a happy (blessed) people. As the Lord spoke of happiness, He related it to holiness. Holiness and happiness cannot be separated in His kingdom.
The first characteristic of righteousness which Christ spoke of is that of being “poor in spirit” (Matt. 3:5). Poor is the same word translated beggar in the story of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-22. It means to cower or cringe. Those who are poor in spirit are people who realize they have no righteousness and they cannot stand before Holy God. Because of their lack of merit or standing they cannot offer God anything for entrance into His kingdom. The poor in spirit are characterized by utter dependence on God. The contrast between true righteousness and the righteousness of the Pharisee’s is this; the Pharisees offer to God prideful self-righteousness, truly righteous people realize God as the only supply for their need. Christ promised the person having true righteousness acceptance into His kingdom.
The second characteristic of righteousness which Christ spoke of is that they mourn (Matt. 5:4). Scripture reveals that mourning is often associated with confession of sin; for example David in Psalm 51 and Daniel in Daniel 9:3-5. Those who mourn acknowledge their lack of righteousness and confess their sin to God. The Lord promised to those who acknowledged their sin they would be comforted, this was David’s experience as he testified in Psalm 32:1-2. The Pharisees would wrongly teach their followers their righteousness had no sin to acknowledge; while Christ demands His followers acknowledge the presence of sin in their individual lives, by confessing this sin we obtain forgiveness and we receive true righteousness applied to a redeemed heart.
In Closing it is necessary that we realize righteousness can only be obtained through Jesus Christ; only He can provide it. An honest inspection of our heart and life will reveal we have no righteousness within ourselves! This will cause mourning; likewise this mourning will seek comfort. Comfort comes only through the confession of sin and true repentance. Until we meet again may God Bless you is my Prayer!
Dr. Terry Cheek
Dr. Terry Cheek has over 20 yrs experience in ministry with 16 of them exclusively in the pastorate. Having an earned BA, MA, and Doctorate in Theology he is a...