Why the Sermon on the Mount Matters
By Dr. Darrell Bock- Dallas Theological Seminary
Imagine the pressure of walking into church knowing you must follow hundreds of rules perfectly. During Jesus’ time, God’s people lived according to a collection of 613 mandates extracted from Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The religious leaders of the time defined their faith by how perfectly they could keep the minute details of each law, even adding stipulations to increase their perceived righteousness.
Today, we may be free from many of these stipulations. But, just like those religious leaders, we’re often tempted to measure our righteousness by our rule-following.
For many of us, biblical teachings can represent countless opportunities to fail or fall short. We’re either tempted to ignore God’s standards, knowing we can never measure up, or we cling to them, trying to earn the favor of God and men.
Jesus, however, challenges both extremes. In the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, He offers a path forward that holds onto high standards without tying our status to them.
Rather than a presentation of a new list of rules to follow, the Sermon on the Mount is an invitation into the very heart of God. Jesus gently moves us from a shallow reading of what we should do to the true fulfillment of the law — who we should be. This transforms our understanding of blessing and identity from external indicators to an internal and eternal perspective.
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines “blessing” as “a thing conducive to happiness or welfare.”
With that definition in mind, we’re tempted to think of relationships, finances, or hobbies, just as the religious leaders were tempted to think of position and influence.
Jesus presents a radically different definition of blessings. His blessings are not about external comforts. Instead, He promises the kingdom of heaven, mercy, and to call His followers children of God. The one who is blessed is full of internal traits drawn by the grace of God:
the poor in spirit
those who mourn,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
pure in heart,
and those insulted because of Jesus.
These are all characteristics of the heart — internals, not externals.
Jesus does not promise “theirs is financial security, they will be shown job promotions, or they will be called popular.” His is the promise of being part of the kingdom both now and yet to come.
In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus teaches:
“Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus forces us to examine our idea of “treasure” and “blessing.” We are challenged to ask, “Where is my heart?”
When we humbly go before Him, confessing our sin with a hunger and thirst for righteousness, we receive an eternal blessing that is far richer than anything we could possess on earth.
In Jesus’ time and in Roman culture, Jewish believers were easy to recognize. Their clothes, their holidays, and their eating habits clearly established their religious identity. Our identity as Christians isn’t always as visible, but in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly tells His followers we are to be distinct.
So, what sets us apart from our neighbors?
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus establishes our identity as salt and light. This is the true purpose of our good actions — through our heart for others, we show God’s heart for them. A true fulfillment of the law is not about our own status, but about our purity of heart and our representation of God as His people.
We are a people who understand that murder comes from anger, adultery from lust, and divorce from a broken commitment. We don’t need to make oaths, because our word is good. We value forgiveness over revenge.
Jesus calls us to be different because He is different. We are transformed because He transforms us. We ask what the Father desires of us, and we prioritize what is precious to Him.
When our daily lives reflect the teachings of Jesus, we reflect the light of Christ. We are not defined by the commands we keep, but by a heart that seeks to keep them.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Want to learn more about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew? Check out our blog archive for more posts like this one.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Dallas Theological Seminary
Dr. Darrell Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He hosts The Table Podcast, leading discussions related to God, Christianity and culture.