Lesson 2 – The Structure of the Sermon on the Mount

Structure of the Sermon on the Mount


An attempt will be made to follow the “train of thought” Jesus used to present His sermon to His Jewish audience.  Some may say this is Matthew’s structure of Jesus’ teachings.  Their point is that Jesus presented His teachings at different times and Matthew merely brought them together as we have them in his gospel.  Be that as it may, we will follow the structure in Matthew, chapters five through seven in this series of lessons.  Therefore, in this lesson we will suggest the possible progressive “train of thought” Jesus used.  It could be called an outline; however, it will be more.  An attempt will be made to catch the spirit in which Jesus proclaimed His message of the true life of a human being.

First, we need an answer to a question that should be asked about every piece of literature in the Bible.  What purpose did this discourse intend to serve?  In other words, what was Jesus’ purpose for preaching this aspect of the kingdom of God to His Jewish audience?  Jesus always preached the kingdom (Matt. 4:23).  All of His teachings are, in some way, a message about the kingdom of God.  Even though His message may have been presented for the development of personality, it is about how people of faith relate to, or fit into, God’s kingdom.

When Jesus told the Jewish people to “seek first His kingdom” it was not the kingdom they had in their vision.  When He told them to pray to God for His kingdom to come, He did not have in mind a restoration of old things, as most Jews were thinking at that time (Luke 5:36-39).

Jesus’ audience knew about the kingdom of God; however, they had a physical, or “this world,” view.  Even the apostles, after hearing Jesus teach for over three years, had a distorted view of the kingdom over which Jesus would reign (Acts 1:6).  God ordained Jesus as king within the sphere of the kingdom of God (Eph. 5:5).  The Jews looked for a kingdom something like what they read about in the days of David and Solomon.  The law would have been on the order of the Law of Moses, if not the very same.  Their worship to God would have been in Jerusalem.  Their view for their future relationship with God would have been: “when the Messiah comes He will restore all things.”  To most of them, that meant better than the best periods of Jewish’s history.  Jesus worked hard during His ministry to correct their view about God’s kingdom and how God’s people would relate to it after He became king and priest.  His sermon on the mount had this intent for its purpose in the original presentation.

However, Jesus’ sermon has eternal relevance.  That is, its purpose is to serve all people, in all places and in all ages.  Consequently, we need to ask, what was Jesus’ intent for having Matthew present His teachings in the arrangement he made many years later?  What purpose did this sermon serve for the church?  What is its value for people who have a proper spiritual vision of God’s kingdom?

Our next question should be:  What did He say to accomplish His purpose?  We will find the answer to this question in the various lessons in this series.  We will need to keep in mind both questions:  What was Jesus’ intended purpose for His sermon and what did He say to accomplish His purpose?


When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.  Matt. 7:28, 29

Matt. 5:3-10.  Jesus started His teachings by presenting eight emotional attitudes and the satisfaction that would accompany those who responded to the stimuli in their environment with these healthy emotions.  Jesus taught that the person whose behavior has been motivated from these eight emotions is a happy individual.  The circumstance would not determine his or her happiness.  Their attitudes and behavior would determine the circumstance of their choices.

Jesus concluded His teachings by telling how people who developed a personality dominated by these emotions and other characteristics would be victorious over the challenges they encountered in life (Matt. 7:24-27).  They would learn from their challenges and become equal to them in their character.  He made the point of how the behavior they used to attain satisfaction for their needs must be controlled by these healthy emotions, if they would stand during their tribulations.  The remainder of Jesus’ teachings in this sermon fit in between these two great proclamations.

Please consider the following application of the laws of life in God’s new covenant:  Christians use our eight healthy emotional attitudes taught by Jesus as a controlling guide for our habits. We have learned and adopted these emotions by the discipline of our tribulations.  We have developed stronger traits of character after each challenge in our lives where we stood up to it and attained satisfaction.  We enjoy satisfaction for our needs; albeit, for some needs we only have hope of satisfaction in the future.  We are happy people because of our hope.

As we move into the body of Jesus’ sermon we will want to keep before us the view of the happy person Jesus described in His opening remarks.  We are disciples of Jesus in the kingdom of God, even though our address is on earth.  We are “poor in spirit.”  We mourn for the condition of others; however; we are not burdened with despair (II Cor. 4:7-12).  Our quests are to help people based on the principle of hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  We want justice for all.  We are not in despair because of our mission, regardless of its degree of success.  It is the mission itself that fills and gives satisfaction for our lives.

We have accepted the “fallen man” concept, “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.”   Rom. 11:32.  Because of God’s attitude of mercy toward us, we behave toward others on the basis of mercy.  Because we show mercy we receive mercy, perhaps not now, but surely on Judgment Day (Jas. 2:12, 13).  Our non-judgmental pure in heart attitude enables us to visualize the source of the spirits of all people on earth.  The spirits of all people have come from God and they are in His likeness in their potential to develop like Jesus (Heb. 9:12; Jas. 3:9).  Christians do not see themselves as the judge of people; therefore, we are able to see God’s likeness in people.  Naturally, we are peacemakers according to our calling (Rom. 8:29).

How could all people not love, or at least, appreciate faithful Christians?  Jesus warned, some people will not do either.  He was crucified because He was the person He taught Christians to be.  He is the law of life of the new covenant personified (John 1:3).  He practiced the righteousness of God.  As Christians we are persecuted because of the growth of Jesus in us (Gal. 4:19; I Pet. 4:1-4).  This persecution is an exercise in our development as sons of God (Heb. 12:5-13).  Christians are happy because Jesus was happy.  We conform to His likeness.

Matt. 5:11, 12.  Some people will not appreciate Christians because we stand with Jesus Christ.  These individuals may not cooperate with us in our quest to satisfy our needs for social acceptance.  Insults may be heaped upon us because of our hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  This could be one of the very first “storm clouds” a young Christian encounters.  Our response to people who oppose us is a test of a Christian’s faith (I Pet. 3:15-17).

Our choice of behavior to attain the satisfaction for our inherent urges is a Christian’s obedience to our faith.  We have faith in hope.  The satisfaction for some of our inherent needs must rest on hope (Rom. 8:24, 25).  Christians’ new resurrected body will give us eternal peace because it will satisfy our need for security.

Christians hope our rewards will be waiting for us in heaven (I Pet. 1:3-6).  These rewards will satisfy our needs for social acceptance with God; therefore, our inherent needs for achievement.  Social acceptance with God plus our achievement of the status of being called sons of God satisfies our need for glory.  Christians enjoy this relationship now because of justification.  Our inheritance of God’s kingdom and the life therein will be faithful Christians’ satisfaction for our great need for glory, eternally.

Matt. 5:13-15:  These happy people are the salt and light of the world.  How are we salt and light?

The answer is found in the eight attitudes and the behavior they foster.  Jesus is our light because He had these attitudes.  His behavior praised the Father.  Christians are the enlightened; therefore, we give light and flavor to the world (I Thess. 5:5).  In this way our life praises God (Rom. 12:1, 2).  It requires much more of Christians than a Sunday morning hour of worship.

Matt. 5:17-20:  Jesus’ audience was accustomed to an “outside in” type of instruction.  The Law of Moses demanded correct behavior.  Since Jesus’ teachings started with the heart and mind and worked out to behavior, the Jews may have been thinking Jesus was not appreciating the Law.  Jesus taught them, and us, how to fulfill the requirements of the Law in the remainder of chapter five.  Christians are continually fulfilling the requirements of the Law of Moses.  It is our righteousness.  Jesus said we must surpass the Pharisees in righteousness with our good habits.

Jesus called attention to the Pharisees in verse twenty.  The Pharisees had gained control over the Jewish people by the same means all self-righteous selfish religious leaders seek to do (Gal. 4:17, 18).  Jesus continually sought to remove the Pharisees’ “cover of self-righteousness” (Matt. 15:7-14).  The four gospel writers chose several of Jesus’ encounters with these people for their readers’ benefit.  Jesus often used their evil attitudes and bad behavior to help His audiences understand the kingdom of God.

Matt. 5:21-48.   Jesus taught the “inside out” principle.  The following are specific examples of how to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses: 

a.      5:21-26.   “Do not murder.”  Love your brother.

b.      5:27-32.  “Do not commit adultery.”  Don’t look at a woman lustfully and don’t divorce your wife.

c.       5:33-37.  “Do not break your oaths.”  Just be truthful and it will not be necessary to make oaths.

d.      5:43-48. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matt. 22:37-40.

          Jesus added, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”  5:44, 45.

          The foregoing is the way Christians fulfill the requirements of the law.  It is a spiritual growth process.  It negates the need for law of the category of the old covenant (I Tim. 1:8-11).

Matt. 6:1-4.  Christians give.  The needy are helped.  God is praised.  Christians receive a reward.  One immediate reward may be the prayers for the giver by the receivers.  Another is spiritual growth (II Cor. 9:10-15).  The law of life says, gifts given from a benevolent heart are never given for self glorification.

Matt. 6:5-15.  “When you pray don’t be like the hypocrites.” Jesus is concerned about our motive for our “acts of righteousness.”

Matt. 6:16-18.  Fasting:  “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Jesus was very concerned with hypocritical worship in any form.  It is an act without faith in the object of one’s act.  We will need to deal with this in our lessons.

Matt. 6:19-34.  Integration is a condition of personality.  The emotional attitudes of an integrated person are harmonious.  This allows all their efforts to achieve their goals, to be directed toward the goal.  Their mind, heart and behavior support their will to act.  This is critical in one’s activity to satisfy the needs God packaged in us.  If an individual has an integrated personality he or she will be successful and the emotion of faith and love will develop.  If, on the other hand, they are flawed with disintegration, satisfaction will be elusive and fear and anger will be the resulting emotion.  These emotions make up our personality.  Jesus taught the value of the “good eye.”  How people see reality.  Some call it one’s “world view.”

If one’s view is only “earth and time bound” they will have developed their emotions in their response to a material environment.  For them, youth is great, middle age is a struggle and senior citizens are over the hill.  Anxiety attacks are the result of their disintegration.  However, if one adds the kingdom of God to their earth and time view, they open up a vast spiritual universe for the satisfaction of their needs.  The material world and one’s physical body become only a “now thing.”  A “good eye” is an “eye of faith” that opens up possibilities for the soul beyond time.  Death loses its great power (Heb. 2:14, 15).  This frees a person to courageously serve the Master of the creation of heaven and earth.

Matt. 7:1-5.  Jesus’ command, “Do not judge,” must be balanced with His command to “make righteous judgment.”  John 7:24.  Judgment of another person may have the “boomerang” effect (Rom. 2:1-4).  We will be concerned about why we judge others, if, in fact, we are merely revealing our sins.  Our inferiority complexes may be the silent force motivating our judgment calls.

Matt. 7:6.  Don’t lower your standards to attain social acceptance.  Adolescents need to be prepared for Satan’s offering during this stage of their lives.

Matt. 7:7-12.  Christians include God in our win/win habit as we mature and move into our interpersonal relationships.  God wants Christians to be successful.  We want to give God the glory for His help.  Going back is never an option; therefore, we ask, we seek and we knock to the drum beat of our future.  Like marching in a parade, “asking, seeking, knocking” form the “guide-on bearer’s flag” for developing people.

Matt. 7:13-23.  The Christian life is a life propelled by experimental faith.  Jesus challenged the Jews to try His teachings in their life and they would know He was from God (John 7:17).  As Christians, we accept His challenge by our faith in His teachings about life.  Our goal for our “self” is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-26).  Scientists put a man on the moon by the straight and narrow way of God’s law of nature.  Christians become salt and light for the world by the straight and narrow way of the laws of life in God’s new covenant.  There are many false preachers of life inside and outside religion; however, when one understands the true fruit of life, these fakirs, holy men and reverends can be avoided.

Matt. 7:24-27.  This parable about developing a healthy personality and building strong character, before the challenges of life arrive, takes us back to the beginning of Jesus’ sermon.

Regardless of one’s religion, or whether or not they espouse a religion at all, people still ask, perhaps silently, “How can I be happy?”  Unfortunately, for some, they stop asking.  The habits of people in this state are those who travel “the broad road that leads to destruction.”  They need to hear the words of Jesus and change their habits accordingly:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  Matt. 7:24.

May God bless our detailed studies of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount!  There will be five Parts in this study.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the difference in making an outline of a document and following the “train of thought” of the author?
  2. What was the intended purpose of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for the original audience?
  3. Why is it important for a Bible student to have a correct view of God’s kingdom?
  4. In what form did the first century church receive Jesus’ sermon?
  5. If it is true that the circumstance a person encounters does not determine his or her happiness, then what does?
  6. What is the relationship between the stimuli a person encounters and his or her emotions?
  7. What is the relationship between a person’s emotions and their behavior?
  8. What should be gained for people when they encounter tribulations?
  9. How does a Christian’s obedience to his or her faith play a role in their personality development?
  10. How did Jesus make use of the weaknesses of the Pharisees during His teaching sessions?

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