He had spent the night in prayer. When he began his descent down the mountain, a large crowd was gathered on the hillside. His disciples were there. He sat down and began to teach. It was the inauguration of his public ministry, a ministry that would lead to the Cross.
Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount is recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The sermon spans three chapters in Matthew and barely half of a chapter in Luke. The difference in bandwidth reflects the difference in purpose.
Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience anticipating the establishment of the Davidic kingdom promised to deliver them from their oppressors. To reach this group, Matthew depicted Jesus as Messiah, giving prominence to his teachings, especially as they related to the fulfillment of the Law and the coming kingdom.
Luke, writing for a Greek audience, emphasized Jesus's humanity -- his compassion, his feelings, his human needs. Accordingly, of the gospel writers it is Luke who reveals Jesus's prayer life, here and throughout his narrative.
In both accounts, the sermon begins with a list of "blesseds" that includes the poor, hungry, mournful, and hated. These groups are not blessed, as some tend to read it, because of their condition -- there is nothing meritorious about being poor, hungry, hated. Rather, they are blessed because of the inexhaustible resources of heaven that God, in his fathomless grace, extends to all, even those on the margins of society.
The target audience
At this point, it is important to note to whom Jesus is speaking. (Hint: It is not the crowd!) Matthew and Luke are clear that, although "the crowd" was within earshot, Jesus's message is directed to his disciples. The message marked the beginning of an apprenticeship for a small band of unlikelies tagged for a world-changing assignment. It was fitting that their tutelage would start with a full disclosure of costs.
Jesus begins by disabusing them of any notion that their new association will inoculate them from life's troubles. Instead, they will experience deprivation and disenfranchisement because of that association. They will be among the "blesseds." That should have been their "heads up" that the road ahead was not one of prosperity and prestige. It should have been, but it wasn't.
For time after time, the disciples are seen maneuvering: When they should be washing feet, they are angling for the head of the table; when they should be denying self, they are asking to be exalted; when they should be carrying their cross, they are carrying their grievances; when they should be praying, they are sleeping; when they should be following Jesus, they are following their instincts.
Presciently, Jesus continues his discourse (in the Lucan record) with four warnings.
After listing the "blesseds," Jesus lists the woeful: those who are wealthy, well fed, jocular, and of good repute. Not that these conditions, like the "blesseds," have any moral value attached to them. Rather, they are good things that become bent when they become the focus of our life ambitions.
The warnings are plain: If the raw recruits are looking to gain spiritual perks and social status, they're in the wrong program. This program is for those who are ready to accept that in this world they will have trouble, and are ready to trust Him who has overcome the world. It was a lesson that Jesus would continually press home; a lesson that the disciples never quite got, until a house-shaking experience awakened them from their spiritual slumbers... Continue reading .
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