The Sermon on the Mount (SM) is the greatest, and best known, sermon in history.
Unlocking the SM, and letting it permeate your heart and mind will transform your inner-character. In turn, this will find powerful-expression in your words and actions.
Read it, and see for yourself (Matthew 5-7).
How can you understand the SM better, and experience this transformation of character?
Here are four steps to begin unlocking the SM.
Begin by listening to the SM.
Read it aloud to yourself: slowly, attentively, thoughtfully. Perhaps you have an audio app. Imagine yourself sitting with the first disciples as Jesus “began to teach them, saying …” (5:1-2)
Don’t try to interpret it at this point – just listen to Jesus.
Listen to the SM a number of times, perhaps over a few days.
Become familiar with what Jesus is saying.
The next step is to begin understanding what the SM meant to the initial audience ‘then and there’. This is called 'exegesis'.
It is best to do this in community – with others. In that way you can share in the diversity, depth, and richness of the knowledge and experiences of other followers of Jesus.
I begin with a ‘big view’, seeking to discern how the SM is structured. As I’ve written elsewhere, form (or structure) leads to function (or purpose).
As with the other major discourses, or teaching sections, of Matthew (10:1-42; 13:10-53; 18:1-35; 24:3-25:46; 28:16-20), I propose the structure is chiastic.
Click here to download the proposed structure of the Sermon on the Mount, with an explanation of chiastic or chiasm.
If you have downloaded the proposed structure, take a few moments to see how the parts correspond to each other. For example, compare A with A`, B with B`, and so forth.
Based on this structure, what is the center or climax of the SM? How do you think this is significant to the SM?
This involves two stages.
First, what did the text mean to the initial audience in their ‘then and there’? Second, how is this translated into your ‘here and now’?
As for the first point, you are attempting to learn how the initial audience understood the text.
Ask questions of the text, such as “What is the significance of a ‘right eye’ or a ‘right hand’ in 5:29-30?” You are likely to discover that the Bible refers to the ‘right’ (as opposed to 'left') for power and value (e.g., Leviticus 8:23-24; 1 Samuel 11:2; Zechariah 11:17). It is also obvious that physically dismembering one’s body does not eradicate the heart-issue of lust – so what does this mean?
As for the second point, discern what the text means in your present situation – your ‘here and now’. This requires faithfulness to the text, and relevance to your situation.
For example, to the initial audience, a Roman soldier could legally force a person to carry his kit for one mile (5:41). But, there are no Roman soldiers where you live. So, what does it mean to “go with him two miles” in your ‘here and now’?
Some of these principles are introduced in the book, Listening Well to Matthew. Click here to download your FREE copy of this book.
This is not simply about increasing your store of information – it is about engaging with the text for transformation.
How you respond to the SM makes all the difference. What transforming initiatives are being triggered in your heart and life by the Spirit of God?
For instance, as you read 5:27-30, how is this connecting with your heart to alter your character in the area of lust?
Here is a post that deals with two units of the SM in ways that demonstrate how you can engage the text for transforming initiatives.
Click here for a copy of Glen Stassen's "Fourteen Triads of the Sermon on the Mount," to guide you further in unlocking the SM.
Tell me about some of your discoveries as you listen, learn, and live the SM. You can contact me by clicking here.
Photo via VisualHunt.com
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