The Sermon on the Mount is considered the essence of Jesus’ teaching and training for His followers so they could go into the world with His message and in His strength. In this lesson we learn the context of perhaps the most well-known and yet misunderstood passage in the entire Bible. Many followed Jesus because of His healing ministry and Jesus invited some of His followers to be part of His solution to all the problems of humanity.
The Sermon on the Mount is found in the Gospel of Matthew in chapters 5, 6 and 7. It is considered His most basic discourse, holding the essence of Jesus’ values and His ethics.
One of the rules for Bible study is to see passages of Scripture in their context. The word “context” means “with the text.” It is always important to see what comes with the text that you are studying. What came before? What came after? What was going on at the time that the teaching was given? Let us begin by considering the context of the Sermon on the Mount.
The Gospel of John, in its 6th chapter, says that great multitudes of people are following Jesus at this particular point early in His ministry, and these multitudes have every kind of problem imaginable. Jesus is addressing those problems and healing people.
Mark gives us a little more information. He tells us in Mark chapter three, starting in verse 7, “Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea. And a great multitude from Galilee followed Him, and from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumaea and beyond the Jordan; and those from about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they heard how many things He was doing, came to Him. And He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him. For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him… And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.”
Jesus withdrew to this upper level on the mountain and invited, according to Mark 3:13, those whom He desired. By personal invitation they met Him at that higher level. And then at that higher level, Matthew will tell us, Jesus gave this teaching we call “The Sermon on the Mount.”
You can put all of Matthew 5, all of Matthew 6 and all of Matthew 7 in verses 13 and 14 of Mark chapter 3. The way Mark reports it, Jesus goes up on this mountainside and invites certain people to join Him there, and as a result of this meeting He has with them there, Jesus appoints twelve to be with Him and then to be sent out.
Matthew describes the start ministry of Jesus and the large, needy crowds at the end of chapter 4 and starts chapter 5 with, “Now when Jesus saw these multitudes, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them.” Those crowds, that multitude of people with their multitude of problems, bring into focus for us the context in which the Sermon on the Mount was given. We can describe the Sermon on the Mount as a strategic retreat by Jesus, meant to empower and commission His disciples to participate in His mission.
"If you will join Me here at this retreat,” Jesus is saying, “I will show you through My teaching how you can be part of the answer and part of the solution, part of My answer, part of My solution to all those problems down there.” The multitude at the bottom of the mountain represents the world with all of its problems. These problems are spiritual at their root, but are shown as emotional, mental, and/or physical problems.
It is Jesus’ plan that all that He has to share with the world should be passed through the lives of His disciples. As followers of Jesus today, as Christians, the Sermon on the Mount is an invitation to us to retreat with Jesus. Through the gift of the prayer and the Bible, we can do this every day of our lives. As we study the Sermon on the Mount in future lessons, we will keep in mind that it calls us to participate in Jesus’ mission, bringing the Kingdom of God to the people in our lives, demonstrating God’s answers to the problems of this world.
Please take a moment to pray, thanking God for His Word and for the teaching of Jesus, and for His mission to meet the deepest needs of all people. Ask Him to teach you how to be part of His solution for the world.
This post is adapted from a lesson of the Mini Bible College, an online study of the whole Bible. We highly recommend their audio resources and written materials, available in many languages, to anyone who wants a stronger understanding of the Bible.