An overview of the entire sermon on the hill.
As we continue our study in Matthew today, we come to the end of a major section of this book! Last week, Mike took us through the final teachings of this massively loaded Sermon on the Hill, a three-chapter journey that has taken us nineteen messages over five months to get through! We are finally now at the end of chapter seven.
And we’re still not quite done yet! Before we dive into the next major section, which continues where the narrative left off in chapter 4, we wanted to take a step back and look at the sermon as a whole, to get an overview, a review, and to see how it’s all tied together.
When we take a 20 minute sermon and spend almost twenty hours talking about it, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, isn’t it? It’s great to delve really deeply into the details too, because what Jesus said was really packed and it takes some unpacking to really understand! But it’s also good to take a deep breath and step back once in a while, and that’s what we’re going to do today.
Plus, that will make it a nice even twenty messages covering the sermon on the hill!
Let’s start with the conclusion. Last week, Mike brought us through verse 27, Jesus’s parable of the two foundations, the wise man and the foolish man. But there are two more verses at the end of chapter seven, aren’t there?
At the end of this massive section of red letters, all these words spoken directly by Jesus, we have this little end cap from Matthew, who jumps in as the narrator in verse 28:
Matthew 7:28–29 CSB
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 because he was teaching them like one who had authority, and not like their scribes.
The reaction from his audience was one of astonishment, because they could tell that he was speaking with authority, in contrast, amusingly so, with their scribes. They were blown away! We’ll come back to this later on, after we zoom out and look at the big picture.
I want to start by stepping back and looking not just at this sermon, but the whole book of Matthew, as a reminder of how this book is structured.
Mike gave us a really nice overview of the structure of Matthew, but that was way back in October, so I think it’s worth reviewing.
There are a few different ways you could outline this book, but I think one of the most helpful ways is to look at key transitional words and phrases used throughout it.
One of those key phrases is in verse 28 of chapter 7. Did you notice it?
What is it?
“When Jesus had finished...”
Matthew has organized the teachings of Jesus into five major blocks, the sermon on the hill being one of them, and every one of them ends with that phrase “When Jesus had finished...” So, we’ve just come to the end of the first of those 5 blocks.
And remember, those blocks of teaching alternate with blocks of narrative, to create this pattern of pairs throughout the whole book. There are five pairs, followed by a final section of narrative to conclude the book. And in between each section is that phrase “When Jesus had finished...” It’s very clearly organized, and intentional in the way it’s structured.
We just now got to the first use of that phrase, and it’s almost like a visual dividing line, signaling that we’ve reached the end of a major section.
Here’s that same basic outline but expanded a bit to show even the pattern of pairs in a broader context, with some descriptions.
I think seeing these outlines is helpful in orienting ourselves as to where we are in the book. I do think that, especially with the teaching, that it’s much heavier, much more dense towards the beginning, so we might be able to pick up the pace a little bit moving forward. The sermon on the hill is by far the longest and most dense section of teaching, so I don’t expect the others to take this long to get through, but you never know!
You may notice with this outline that the pattern of pairs fits into a broader structure, of three main sections.
It’s kind of the basic structure to most types of literature, whether it’s a book or an essay, or a sermon, we learn this in school, right?
You have an introduction, followed by the main body, then finally a conclusion.
And once again, Matthew uses a very clear transitional phrase dividing each of these sections. In this case, it’s “From then on, Jesus began to...”
So, of course we’re still right in the middle of this main body section, but take a look at how this section began!
Matthew 4:17 CSB
17 From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
In verse 23, we get a similar statement, but expanded a little bit, and it’s really a summary of Jesus’s entire ministry in one sentence! Matthew sums up the whole ministry of Jesus in one sentence, with three things:
Matthew 4:23 CSB
23 Now Jesus began to go all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
Jesus was teaching, preaching, and healing.
And, specifically, Matthew says, again, the TOPIC of Jesus’s preaching was the good news of the kingdom.
The unifying theme throughout all of Jesus’s teaching and preaching was the good news of the kingdom. So, as we zoom in now just a little bit, from the whole book of Matthew, to the whole sermon on the hill, to understand the sermon, we have to understand how each of the many different topics he covers relates to the good news of the kingdom.
So, let’s zoom in on the hill. I’ll give you a couple more outlines as an overview of the whole sermon, then we’ll go back and look at how each section relates to the kingdom.
As Mike and I were talking about the overview, one way we thought we might be able to divide it up would be to look for another transitional word, and there’s one that Jesus uses several times throughout the sermon. It’s the word “Therefore.”
What’s the question we ask when we see that word?
“What’s the therefore there for?”
Well, because it can be used as a transitional word, I set out to find each place the word is used.
Can anyone guess how many there are total, quick without looking?
Well, as it turns out it’s sort of a trick question.
I used a search tool to quickly find the number of occurrences of the word “therefore” in these three chapters, and I found that in the Christian Standard Bible it shows up 7 times. Ok. That’s nice. Seven is the number of perfection and everything, maybe that’s intentional!
But then I looked at the New American Standard Bible and they only have it 4 times! The English Standard Version has it 5 times, the New International Version and Legacy Standard Bible have it 6 times, Young’s Literal Translation, the New King James, the Literal Standard Version, and the American Standard Version each has it a whopping 14 times, while the New Living Translation has it ZERO times!
So, looking at the English translations wasn’t really helping me here! What this tells me is that there is a word in the original Greek that is getting translated in a variety of different ways depending on the translation. That much is obvious if you just look at the numbers across translations
The ones with the most occurrences are ones that have a reputation for being some of the most literal, word-for-word translations, which makes sense, right? So maybe we can trust that number, 14.
But just to be sure, I ran the search using the Greek word (pronounced ooo-tohs), on two different original language sources, and I got the same number for both of them.
Any guesses as to what that number was?
NINETEEN! That word is actually used nineteen times in these 3 chapters! That means that NONE of the English translations I looked at, even the most literal ones did not translate that word consistently every single time.
And looking at how often it was scattered throughout the passage, I decided it wasn’t really going to be a very helpful tool for outlining the sermon after all!
BUT it was a good lesson and reminder that every translation has to wrestle with that challenge of translating through language and culture barriers, and each of them make different decisions as to how best present the material in a way that we can actually read and make sense of it.
And if you ever want to really nerd out on specific words and occurrences, etc, like I just did, we really should be relying on the original languages to do that. And we have some great tools for that, even if you don’t know a lick of the language! I’ve dipped my toes into Hebrew, but I don’t know any Greek, and yet I was able to perform a search like that in seconds. How cool is that!?
Some of you are probably ready for me to STOP nerding out on this, which is fine, and I will. But I found it enlightening, and if anyone else gets excited about this stuff too and wants to learn more, I’d be happy to help.
Moving on for now, I’ll give you a couple outlines that I DID find helpful
I didn’t come up with this one on my own, I have to give credit for Ulrich Luz, Professor of New Testament at the University of Bern, Switzerland for finding this structure in the sermon, and it’s really quite beautiful.
He’s identified a chiasm structure, which is an ancient Jewish poetic technique that Mike brought up not long ago, because there are chiasms even within the sermon, but the whole sermon itself can be seen as one big chiasm!
It goes like this:
At the very beginning, 5:1-2 is a little bit of narration to present the situation. The physical situation of Jesus sitting on the hill and addressing his audience.This parallels the narration at the very end, 7:28-8:1 where we see the response of the audience.
Next, in 5:3-16, you have an introduction, opening with the beatitudes, rather vague and general statements, he talks almost in riddles, and mentions persecution, and salt, and light. This parallels The conclusion in verses 7:13-27, which we went through last week. And in some ways there is a contrast because at the end Jesus is much more clear and practical, like he’s explaining the meaning behind his opening statements by providing two relatable parables.
Then in 5:17-20 Jesus talks about the law and the prophets, and that he is fulfilling the law. This parallels his reference to the law and the prophets in 7:12, with the golden rule.
Next you have the antitheses or intensifications of the law in 5:21-48. In other words, Jesus was raising the bar of expectations for fulfilling the law. This is not quite as closely parallel to its counterpart in 6:19-7:11, but here again Jesus is making pretty radical calls to his followers to place their faith in the Father and be as generous to each other as God is to them. So in both cases it is a call to deeper, more intense faith and obedience.
Then in 6:1-6 Jesus talks about practicing righteousness. True righteousness before God, specifically about giving to the poor and praying, and the general intent of doing so. He says to pray discreetly, not for our own glorification an d pride. This is quite parallel to what he says about fasting in 6:16-18! He applies the same principle just to a different practice.
Next, in 6:7-8 he addresses not just how to pray but the words that are used. He says not to babble like Gentiles, and that God knows what we need before we ask him, and refers to God as our Father. And this is somewhat parallel with the words in 6:14-15, which is a warning that if we ask God for forgiveness, we must also be willing to forgive others. Again addressing the words we use.
Finally, we get to the center of the chiasm, the apex of this ring, and what do we have sandwiched at the heart of this whole thing? The Lord’s Prayer! How cool is that‽
This outline really puts the spotlight on the Lord’s Prayer, because whatever is at the heart of a chiasm is typically the most important piece of the puzzle. And to some extent I can see why if you had to walk away from this sermon grasping nothing else, that maybe it would be this prayer. It’s very practical, actionable, and teaches that we can have a radical intimacy directly with God, to the extent of even calling him “Father!” And paints a picture of a Father who is ready and willing to provide for us, protect us, and forgive us. And it all begins from a God-honoring, kingdom-focused mindset by saying “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s acknowledging the Lordship and dominion of Yahweh. It’s a beautiful passage that has been studied and preached about and written about thousands of times.
Personally, I just think being able to see this structure and visualize how it’s laid out is very cool, and the Lord’s Prayer is certainly a great gem to spend time focusing on. But I also want to be careful not to put too much emphasis on it, or take in isolation from the rest of scripture!
And the fact is that Matthew didn’t set up this sermon by saying Jesus went around “preaching about how to pray” he said he was “preaching about the good news of the Kingdom of God.”
So, let’s look at each of the topics he actually brought up, and how they relate to the kingdom.
Beginning with the Beatitudes…the blessing sayings. I won’t read through them all right now, but Jesus makes a series of statements like “Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth.” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” These statements would have come across as totally backwards and confusing, but Jesus is setting them up right off the bat to realize that this kingdom he’s bringing is going to look different from anything they’ve seen before, and much different from what they were expecting. But to trust in him to bring the eventual blessing he’s promising to the poor, oppressed, and suffering.
Ultimately, these sayings introduce the idea of God’s kingdom having a value system that is much different from the value systems of the kingdoms of this world. That the people who are seen as having very little value or who may see themselves as having little value will in reality be lifted up by God. That those who suffer for following him will be held in especially high esteem in his kingdom.
Next, Jesus talks about being salt and light in the next few verses:
Matthew 5:13–16 CSB
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
This is the calling of the kingdom. The calling of those who enter, who are participants of the kingdom have a calling to be a light in the kingdoms of darkness, to spread the good news to those who have not yet heard it.
In verses 17-20 Jesus talks about fulfilling the law:
Matthew 5:17–20 CSB
17 “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
He makes this bold statement about getting into the kingdom of heaven, that the law must be fulfilled to its most strict requirements in order to enter the kingdom. That him coming to establish the kingdom does NOT negate any of the requirements of the law. However, he also makes this radical statement that HE himself will be the one to fulfill the law! Something nobody else has been able to do.
He then goes on to expound on this concept at length, helping his listeners to understand the law, and what it really requires! It requirements, and its purpose, is not just to produce lip service and robotic rule-followers, but people whose hearts have been transformed, renewed, and aligned with the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, and reflect that towards others.
This is a really long section, so I won’t read through it all, but just to summarize quickly:
He first brings up murder, and says that even just to hate someone else is guilty of the same sin, the same corrupted condition of the heart, as someone who commits murder. It’s a failure to love and value another human being, but to place your own value above theirs.
He applies that same principle to adultery and lust. Again, driving home the point that both stem from the same sinful seed in the heart, and again it comes down to not loving others properly, and not seeing them as made in the image of God.
He keeps hammering these moral points, telling them they should be completely above reproach when it comes to honesty, and they should be gentle and generous and willing to, literally, go the second mile when help was asked of them. He even went as far as to say they should love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them! A radical statement at a time when they had very real enemies and faced very real persecution.
All of this comes from having a heart that is aligned with the kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of this world.
Chapter 6 then starts out by talking about practicing righteousness:
Matthew 6:1 CSB
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.
He’s saying that to reap the rewards of citizenship in the kingdom, the actions, the participation and duty of a kingdom citizen has nothing to do with drawing attention to yourself. That hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing another, or simply going through the motions isn’t enough. That the authenticity of your citizenship is not proven by building yourself up before others, but rather humbly, between you and God, and genuinely seeking to please him and glorify him, rather than yourself.
In verses 19-24, Jesus shifts to talking about our physical possessions, money, and the priorities we have. What we place our value on, what our hearts are set on:
Matthew 6:19–24 CSB
19 “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light within you is darkness, how deep is that darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Again, the issue is with the heart. Money is a necessary tool to live in the world, and can even be used in wonderful ways to bless people and glorify God! Verses 22-23 are about being generous rather than stingy! But there is a difference between using money and serving money. If we allow money to control us, we have placed it above God and it has become an idol.
The next section begins with a “Therefore” and it’s a follow-up to the last principle:
Matthew 6:25–34 CSB
25 “Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? 27 Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. 30 If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith? 31 So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
It’s because we know that we can trust God and that he’s more than capable of providing for us that we don’t have to spend all our time worrying about life. It’s not that he’s saying faith in God is a cure for all types of anxiety or that we’ll never have stressful or heartbreaking seasons of life. But that our priorities should be such that we are not preoccupied with the things of life that are so much less important than our relationship with God and sharing him with others. Again, anything we place in a higher priority than that is an idol.
Chapter 7 begins by talking about judging, and cautions against judging others before we have properly examined ourselves:
Matthew 7:1–6 CSB
1 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2 For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. 3 Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye. 6 Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.
He’s not saying that we shouldn’t be accountable to each other. To the contrary, God is a god of justice, and his kingdom is one of justice. He’s saying that we ought to hold each other accountable, but that we ought to withhold judgment of others until we have judged ourselves.
Next, Jesus talks about the generosity of God and the availability of the kingdom:
Matthew 7:7–12 CSB
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him. 12 Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
He’s saying that God is abundantly generous to his children and welcomes all who would seek him. And he’s inviting his listeners to do just that. To seek God, to ask for what they need, to pursue the gate of the kingdom. But he also turns it around on them with another “therefore” and says that if they would like to be on the receiving end of generosity, they ought to be just as generous towards others. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
He then expounds on the idea of the entrance to the kingdom in 13-14:
Matthew 7:13–14 CSB
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.
He says that there are two roads, two gates, one narrow and one wide. The narrow one leads to life, the broad one leads to destruction. One leads into God’s kingdom, the other away from it.
As we can see in John 14:6 and John 10:9, Jesus came to BE the road, BE the gate, and lead others into him. And he called his followers to go out and spread the good news and lead others through that gate, to show them the way, so that many others could be saved. So that those who wish to find it DO!
Next, in verses 15-23, Jesus talks about wolves and fruit, and both are metaphors to invoke caution and promote discernment.
We ought to be able to recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing, so we can protect ourselves and others from them. We ought to be able to tell good fruit from bad, both in others and ourselves. And we should be able to honestly examine ourselves and ask whether we simply know “about” Jesus, or if we truly know him.
Finally, we come to last week’s passage in verses 24-27.
Matthew 7:24 CSB
24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
Matthew 7:26 CSB
26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
He’s making a very bold claim that HE is the foundation for God’s kingdom. The cornerstone that will make building the kingdom possible. He ends his teaching by saying that it’s ONLY through his teaching that anyone can expect to have solid footing, and that it’s as foolish as building a house on sand to not heed his wisdom.
Then, of course we get the last two verses, which give us a glimpse into the astonishing effect of this sermon. The people were astonished! Amazed! They were struck by the authority with which he spoke!
As we wrap up this section of his teaching, I want to acknowledge that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the most significant and consequential thing to happen in human history. I think it’s easy for us who have been around church a long time to take that for granted sometimes! Have you taken time lately to just sit still and be astonished by who Christ is and what he’s done for you?
I think it’s a healthy thing to be amazed, especially now that we have the hindsight this crowd on the hill didn’t have. We can see the bigger picture and HOW Jesus broke ground for the foundations of the new kingdom by allowing his own body to be broken. That crowd had no idea how Jesus was going to fulfill the law by allowing his own innocent blood to be shed for our sins.
It’s astonishing, but it’s true. And following Jesus doesn’t always have the results that we expect or think we want, and sometimes the way he shines a light on the corruption in our hearts is uncomfortable. Sometimes he needs to do some massive, painful repairs, but no heart is too hard for God to soften, no soul is so far lost that the light of God cannot reach them.
1 John 1:7 CSB
7 If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
And WE are the light of the world. Let us let our light shine before others so that they may give glory, not to us, but to our loving, generous, compassionate Father in heaven.
And with that, I believe our study in this sermon comes to a close! I hope you’ve enjoyed marinating in the words of Christ with us, I know I have! I’m also looking forward to a little change of pace when we switch back to narrative, Lord willing next week. Knowing we have quite a way to go in Matthew, I’m kind of glad that it’s structured this way, alternating back and forth!