The study of the Sermon on the Mount is surrounded by controversy based on presuppositional beliefs guiding the interpretation of the text. There are three major views which are popular, but are in error.
The first error teaches that all the ethical mandates found in the Sermon are not for Christians in the Church but are to be relegated to a future reign of Christ on earth whereby the Jewish sacrifices will be reinstated, and the ethics of a millennial kingdom will be lived. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder and president of Dallas Theological Seminar held this view. Dr. Chafer is mentioned because, as the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary he has had a profound influence in the modern church. Dr. Chafer argued the Sermon on the Mount is to the Jew before the cross, and to the Jew in the coming kingdom and is, therefore, not now in effect. This view is founded on a serious misunderstanding of the Church, and the kingdom of God in the New Testament. It fails to value the role of Jesus as King of kings, and Sovereign of the universe. It should be without question that the Sermon is very much relevant to every Christian today, and in every generation.
The virtues expressed by Jesus are amplified in the teachings of the Apostles so there is a consistent message throughout the New Testament.
The second error teaches the Sermon is simply a new declaration of the Law. It is impossible to keep and is designed to reveal the necessity of the gospel. German physiologist and philosopher Johannes Müller (1801-1858), thought the Sermon on the Mount is a torture rack on which people uselessly torture themselves or a supernatural relic which one humbly reveres, but does not obey. The Sermon is impractical, and has insane demands, and moral paradoxes.
A century later another German, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) thought the Sermon teaches that Christians should surrender, and obey its ethical precepts. For those willing to submit, the yoke is easy. Bonhoeffer said,
“Only he who believes is obedient,
and only he is obedient who believes.”
“There is no fulfillment of the law without communion with God, and no communion with God apart from fulfillment of the law” (The Orant).
Perhaps the worst error concerning the Sermon is the third one, produced in nineteenth-century liberalism. It is argued the Sermon on the Mount is about the Social Gospel, not personal redemption, and holiness of life. This idea was understood to mean the church is to be an agency of humanitarianism, without any need to call people to repentance, or even to have faith in Christ.
Jesus is not a Savior as much as He is a Great Moral Teacher. Swiss theologian Leonhard Ragaz (1868 – 1945) labeled the Sermon on the Mount “the magna charta of Christian socialism.” His teachings would lead to the establishment of a movement known as Religious Socialism.
Because he was a prominent professor at the University of Switzerland, Ragaz had an opportunity to indoctrinate many young students with his novel ideas. Reacting against capitalism, Ragaz promoted the Federation of Religious Socialists of Germans, to produce a Protestant church party, which supported the Weimar Republic following World War I. As Ragaz witnessed the ravages of war, he was moved with compassion for the poor, which socialism purports to have as a guiding ideology. He rejected the philosophy of self-interest which, he said, was intrinsic in capitalism. By going to the Bible and finding isolated texts, Ragaz and his fellow socialists could justify the unjustifiable, such as, the taking of property from others to redistribute (Year of Jubilee), promoting apocalyptic expectations (Revelation), and emphasizing the love of Jesus for the poor, reflected in the Sermon on the Mount, and His healing miracles.
For those who believe the teachings of Jesus are wise, and binding on every true believer, there is a blessing to receive. These blessings are called “beatitudes,” a word which comes from the Latin version of the New Testament. The Latin word, “beati”, which is translated “blessed,” means simply a pronouncement of blessedness upon another. Happiness flows from being blessed.
When I was speaking in the Philippines, I was visiting in the home when a little boy was introduced to me. I reached out to shake his hand. He grasped my outstretched hand, and then turned it so his forehead could touch the back of my hand. Then, he looked at me and smiled. I asked the parents why he did that. Their reply was, “He is asking you to bless him.” To bless someone is to convey a spiritual dimension to their life, and bring happiness to their heart.
To be blessed by the Lord is to be favored by God. The idea of being favored by God was proclaimed by the prophets in the Old Testament, by Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, and by the Apostles, in their epistles.
The term “blessed” permeates the sacred Scriptures. The word is found in 287 verses of the Authorized Version. The book of Psalms begins with a beatitude:
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalms 1:1-2).
The Revelation of John ends with a blessing.
“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14).
To be blessed is to be favored by God.
When Elizabeth visited Mary, she said to the young virgin,
“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42).
This was the same greeting Mary had received by Gabriel, the angel of God.
“And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28).
Catholics are not wrong when they sing “Ave Maria,” or “Hail Mary”, for this simply greeting indicates she was blessed, or favored by God. If you would bless someone, then pronounce the benediction of Numbers 6:24-26.
“The Lord bless thee and keep thee: 25 The Lord make his face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee: 26 The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Num. 6:24-26).
If you would bless someone, then use an apostolic benediction.
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 25 To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24, 25).
The supreme blessing that you and I as Christians long for is the “beatific vision,” the vision that we will one day see Jesus’ face to face.
“Face to face with Christ, my Savior,
Face to face- what will it be
When with rapture I behold him,
Jesus Christ who died for me?
Face to face I shall behold him,
Far beyond the starry sky.
Face to face in all his glory,
I shall see him by and by.
Only faintly now I see him,
With the darkened veil between,
But a blessed day is coming,
When his glory shall be seen.
What rejoicing in his presence,
When are banished grief and pain.
When the crooked ways are straightened
And the dark things shall be plain.
Face to face- oh, blissful moment!
Face to face- to see and know.
Face to face with my Redeemer,
Jesus Christ who loves me so.
~Carrie E. Breck
“To be blessed of God is to receive spiritual benefit from Him that lasts forever, and this is what Jesus is pronouncing upon the various groups that He mentions here in the Sermon” (R. C. Sproul).
Those who are blessed, or favored by God, stand in contrast to those who are not favored by the Lord. They are under His condemnation. On such people the prophets would announce “Oracles of Doom”, which was often introduced by the word “woe.” As the Great Prophet, Jesus used that same term when He warned the Pharisees of Judgment.
“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13).
In the book of Revelation, when terrible judgment comes upon the earth, an angel flies over the land saying,
“Woe, woe, woe…!” (Rev. 8:13).
When God pronounces a woe, there is no worse judgment that can come upon a soul. That person does not have any divine favor. As we examine our lives, do we have words indicating God’s favor, do we enjoy an Oracle of Weal, or do we hear the voice of an Oracle of Woe.
With a better understanding of the world blessed, Jesus noted in Matthew 5:1 the poor in spirit are blessed of God.