I talk a lot about having a Christian worldview on this website, but I haven’t done a whole lot of Bible study with you. Part of that is intentional. I know that most of you who read this website are probably Christians, so I am assuming some foundational knowledge that I don’t need to explain to you. We can move on to the application of that Christian worldview in the world around us. Rather than talk about what a Christian is, we talk about what a Christian does and how a Christian thinks about major issues.
I want to do a little bit of Bible study with you this week. I was in the young adult Bible study I am a part of here in Vermont, and we were talking about the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 a few months ago. At that time, something stood out to me that I never had seen before. Then, this past week we went back to that passage again. The same thought I had before stood out to me again, so I thought maybe I should write it out for you, and maybe you might benefit from it as well.
It is important to remember the context and the audience that this sermon is being given to. I think that we often times miss that as we focus on the sermon itself.
At the end of Matthew 4, we find crowds of people following Jesus from all over. However, they are Jewish people by and large were in this crowd. Jesus’ disciples were also Jewish. Therefore, when we take the Sermon on the Mount, we cannot forget the religious background of this audience.
The Beatitudes of course provide severe challenges to each and every one of us. It is hard to be meek for example. Sometimes, we have a hard time really hungering and thirsting for righteousness because that is a tough road to tread. I certainly don’t want people to persecute me. Jesus turns all of these I think rather human tendencies on their heads and says that you’re blessed when you meet these challenges.
As challenging as the Beatitudes might be, that would not be overly controversial for a Jewish audience. The following passage regarding salt and light would not be all that controversial for a Jewish audience either. They understood that they were a nation called the apart to serve God. They knew that they were supposed to be separate from the cultures that surrounded them because they were worshiping the one true God. Obviously Israel did not always live up to that calling in Old Testament history, but I don’t know that this would be all that controversial for a Jewish audience either.
At this point, they were probably nodding along with Jesus. “Yes, I should be meek, and I should rejoice when people persecute me because even the prophets had to face difficult times. God was with them, and God will be with me. Oh, and because we are the city on a hill, we need to be the witness we’re supposed to be as a Jewish nation. We’re definitely distinctive in our region.”
Verse 17 of Matthew 5 is where things really start to become interesting, and that’s where we’re going to begin for the rest of the week. However, we need to understand the context first. This is a vast majority Jewish audience, and up until this point, they probably could get on board with Jesus just like their other rabbis. I think that changes a little bit as we advance through this chapter in particular.