Getting the Most Out of
Sermon on the Mount by John Stott
What does it mean to "seek first the kingdom of God" in our relationships, values, ambitions, finances, and commitments? Jesus' answer to these questions amazed those who first heard the Sermon on the Mount. In Dr. John Stott's study guide, you'll dig deeply into Jesus' startling and challenging message, as you'll quickly see in his Sermon introduction below — the greatest sermon ever preached.
Nowhere is the essence of Jesus' teachings on life more clearly portrayed than in His Sermon on the Mount. In this course, learners take an in-depth, exciting study of the Sermon as found in Matthew 5-7. The course examines key issues and considers various and often misunderstood interpretations. The lessons concentrate on both theological and practical questions raised, such as "How did Christ fulfill the law?" and "How should Christians relate to their world?" Throughout the course, Dr. Stott, a beloved worldwide scholar, encourages learners to apply the Sermon's principles to life and ministry.
This 14-session series and Dr. Stott's study guide present how Christ explained both the Old and New Covenants to the people of the day in a very practical way, showing us what repentance is, as well as its fruits.
Jesus amazed those who first heard his Sermon on the Mount. With this study, you too will be amazed and challenged by the greatest sermon ever preached.
Introduction to The Sermon, by John Stott
The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that he ever uttered, for it is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do. The Sermon is found in Matthew's Gospel toward the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.
Immediately after his baptism and temptation, Jesus had begun to announce the good news that the kingdom of God, lon promised in the Old Testament era, was now on the threshold. He himself had come to inaugurate it. With him, the new age had dawned, and the rule of God had broken into history. "Repent," he cried, "for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17). Indeed, "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23).
The Sermon, then, is to be seen in this context. It portrays the repentance (the Greek meaning is "the complete change of mind") and the righteousness which belong to the kingdom. That is, it describes what human life and human community look like when they come under the gracious rule of God. And what do they look like? Different! Jesus emphasized that his true followers, the citizens of God's kingdom, were to be entirely different from others. They were not to take their cue from the people around them, but from him, and so prove to be genuine children of their heavenly Father. To me, the key text of the Sermon is Matthew 6:8: "Do not be like them." It is immediately reminiscent of God's word to Israel in Leviticus 18:3: "You must not do as they do." It is the same call to be different. And right through the Sermon this theme is elaborated.
Their character (the Beatitudes) was to be completely distinct from that admired by the world. They were to shine like lights in the prevailing darkness. Their righteousness was to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, both in ethical behavior and in religious devotion, while their love was to be greater and their ambition nobler than those of their pagan neighbors.
There is no single paragraph of the Sermon where this contrast between Christian and non-Christian standards is not drawn. It is the underlying and uniting theme of the Sermon; everything else is a variation of it. Sometimes it is the Gentiles or pagan nations with which Jesus contrasts his followers. At other times, he contrasts them with Jews. At all times, Jesus teaches that his followers are to be different — different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious.
The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete description anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian counterculture. Here is a Christian value system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, lifestyle, and network of relationship — all of which are the total opposite of the non-Christian world. The Sermon presents life in the kingdom of God, a fully human life, indeed, but lived out under the divine rule.
Perhaps a majority of readers and commentators, looking the reality of human perversity in the face, have declared the standards of the Sermon to be unattainable. Its ideals are noble but unpractical, they say, attractive to imagine but impossible to fulfill. At the other extreme are those superficial souls who glibly assert that the Sermon expresses ethical standards that are self-evidently true, common to all religions and easy to follow. "I live by the Sermon on the Mount," they say. The truth lies in neither extreme position. For the standards of the Sermon are neither readily attainable by everyone nor totally unattainable by anyone. To put them beyond anybody's reach is to ignore the purpose of Christ's Sermon; to put them within everybody's reach is to ignore the reality of our sin.
They are attainable all right, but only by those who have experienced the new birth that Jesus told Nicodemus was the indispensable condition of seeing and entering God's kingdom. For the righteousness he described in the Sermon is an inner righteousness. Although it manifests itself outwardly and visibly in words, deeds, and relationships, it remains essentially a righteousness of the heart. Only a belief in the necessity and the possibility of a new birth can keep us from reading the Sermon with either foolish optimism or hopeless despair. Jesus spoke the Sermon to those who were already his disciples and thereby also the citizens of God's kingdom and children of God's family. The high standards he set are appropriate only to such. We do not, indeed could not, achieve this privileged status by attaining Christ's standards. Rather by attaining his standards, or at least approximating them, we give evidence of what by God's free grace and gift we already are.
This Bible study draws on material first published in The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, a volume I have written in The Bible Speaks Today series (IVP). I recommend that book as supplementary reading for those using this guide.
Those who first heard the Sermon on the Mount were astonished. I pray that you too will be astonished and challenged by the greatest sermon ever preached.
John Stott's Suggestions for Your Personal Study
- As you begin each week's study, pray that God will speak to you through his Word.
- Open the week's Summary page; read its commentary; respond to any contemplative questions.
- Read and reread the week's passage before watching or listening to the recorded message.
- When you reach the bottom of the Summary page, answer the Hearty Application questions, designed to help you discover the implications of the text for growing in Christ.
- It might be good to have a Bible dictionary handy to look up unfamiliar words, names, and places.
- After watching and listening to each message, reread the passage. Look in your Bible for direction and answers. Finally, pray (with thanks) about the applications that have come to mind.
At the close of each week's study, when you follow these suggestions, you'll likely prevent yourself from becoming a casualty of Pastor Ortberg's "Knowing<————>Doing Gap."