FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Whether young or old, conservatives and liberals, those inside and outside the church—everybody loves the sermon on the mount, said Terry Wilder, professor of New Testament at Southwestern, at the seminary’s annual Advanced Expository Preaching Workshop, Oct. 8.
“There has been no section of Scripture that has been cited more than the Sermon on the Mount,” Wilder said. “Conservative scholars love this passage of Scripture. Liberal scholars love this passage of Scripture. It has been cited time and time again, frequently quoted more than any other passage we have in the Bible. It has received high praise as a model for the Christian life, the essence of true religion and the epitome of all that Jesus taught.”
Wilder noted that particular passages are quoted in secular culture—although often misunderstood or misinterpreted—such as the Golden Rule, turning the other cheek, the Lord’s Prayer and “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Thus, Matthew 5-7 has become woven into the fabric of American culture, but pastors must understand and preach it clearly.
“The biggest issue in the Sermon on the Mount is how to interpret the Sermon on the Mount,” Wilder said. He noted one scholar who claimed there have been 63 different approaches of its interpretation.
Historically, Wilder said, there has been debate over the interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. Some have taken a strict, literal interpretation of Jesus’ words in this passage, but they run into difficulties when He speaks of plucking out one’s eye or being perfect. Others have noted the broad use of illustrations, metaphors and hyperbole, concluding that they can generalize and modify its demands. Some have advocated that the Sermon on the Mount was Jesus’ indictment on the Jews and cannot be lived out. Others argue that it represents the Christian ethic and can be followed entirely.
“It doesn’t take much of a reading of the Sermon on the Mount to discover that it is a pretty demanding body of teaching, and it places demands on you and me as Christians—uncompromising demands.”
Wilder believes there is some truth in all the approaches mentioned above. He said it is best to take the Sermon on the Mount at face value, taking into account the metaphors and hyperbole, and strive as Christians to live according to its teachings as best as possible. When Christians fail, they rely on God’s grace and forgiveness, and then they press on. Tracing interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount through church history, Wilder demonstrated this approach has been the predominate view in the church.
Citing Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:20 of not coming to abolish but to fulfill the law, Wilder said this verse represents the thesis statement for the entire sermon. He explained the relationship between the Old Testament and the Sermon on the Mount as well as the relationship between law and gospel.
“Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law by teaching its correct meaning, by obeying the law perfectly, and by providing a way of salvation that meets all the demands of the law,” Wilder said. “I don’t think you can keep perfectly the Sermon on the Mount, but Jesus can. And yet, it is something thing I must strive for in this life.”
Dean of Theology David Allen addressed workshop participants in his session on preaching the Beatitudes, found in Matt. 5:1-12.
“The Beatitudes serve as the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount,” Allen said. “They’re something like the vestibule through which you walk before you enter into the cathedral that is the Sermon on the Mount. … Everything that follows in the Sermon on the Mount is something of an explanation, illustration, or application of the theological truths and concepts that are presented in the Beatitudes.“
Allen explained the structure of the passage, pointing to stylistic elements of parallelism and groupings throughout. He noted that verses 3-6 emphasize the Christian’s relationship with God while verses 7-10 emphasize the Christian’s relationship with people. Additionally, throughout the Beatitudes, Jesus makes allusions back to Isaiah 61.
The first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Allen said, represents those who are “keenly aware of being spiritually destitute and totally dependent on God. … We are spiritual paupers who recognize our own spiritual bankruptcy.”
This first Beatitude sets the course for all that follows, Allen said. Walking through each of the Beatitudes, Allen offered explanation and application of their meaning. He said there is benefit for pastors to preach them individually or as a whole.
Structure of the Sermon on the Mount
Steven Smith, dean of the College at Southwestern and professor of communication, addressed the overall structure of the Sermon on the Mount. While some argue that it is simply a collection of independent proverbial sayings, Smith pointed out a consistent structure with a main point, two sections, and a conclusion.
The main point of the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matt. 5:17-20—Jesus’ fulfillment of Scripture. This theme builds from the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel in chapters 1-4 and distinguishes the kind of kingdom Jesus brought.
“Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount, which answers this question, ‘How do we get into the kingdom?’” Smith said. He noted that Jesus contradicted the expectations of the Messiah that the Jewish people held. His kingdom was an invisible kingdom.
“There is a kingdom coming, but it’s not a visible kingdom yet,” Smith explained. “It’s an invisible kingdom, and blessed are the ones who see that this invisible kingdom comes to those who are so broken over their sin, so greatly that they mourn, that they crawl out of the foxholes of their ambitions to keep the law and waive the white flag of surrender, realizing their artillery is nothing against fighting the King of Kings, and they switch enemies. Instead of fighting God, they fight for Him—these are the ones who are blessed.
“This was so radically different than what they had thought that when they actually began to live like this, it was a stark contrast against the world.”
Smith explained that in the first section, Matt. 5:21-48, Jesus says their faith must be above average. In the second section, Matt. 6:1 – 7:12, their faith must be below the surface—deep and genuine. Jesus concludes the sermon in Matt. 7:13-29 with four warning couplets: two roads, two trees, two confessions, and two foundations.
For pastors, heeding the warning in Matt. 5:19 about relaxing the commandments will protect their congregations from making the mistakes found in the four warnings of 7:13-29, Smith said.
The Lord’s Prayer
Preaching professor Matthew McKellar concluded the preaching workshop with a session on the Lord’s Prayer, found in Matt. 6.
“If you’re going to preach to your people about prayer, you better be praying yourself,” McKellar said.
Outlining Jesus’ instructions on prayer leading up to the Lord’s Prayer, McKellar said the ideal of a prayerless disciple was unfathomable to Jesus. He noted that the Lord’s Prayer can be divided into two sets of three petitions each—the first three focus on the disciple’s dependence on God’s character and the last three focus on dependence on God’s care.
“One of the most accurate pictures of your dependence on the Lord your God is what’s going on in your prayer life,” McKellar concluded.
Audio for the workshop can be downloaded at swbts.edu/aepw2012.
The gallery is empty.