Matthew 5–7; 6:9-13
Even if Jesus never performed a single miracle, His teachings would have secured His place as one of the greatest moral philosophers who ever lived. In fact, Jesus is a moral philosopher in the truest sense: He intends that His teachings be not only contemplated but acted upon. As Jesus Himself says, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who builds his house on sand” (Matt. 7:26).
So what did Jesus teach? In short, a lot! It’s from Jesus that we get such familiar statements as “turn to them the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39), “go with them two miles” (Matt. 5:41), “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44), and the so-called Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
And yet, Jesus’ teachings are not entirely new. Much of what Jesus said had already been expressed in the Hebrew Bible, as Jesus Himself admitted. Still, Jesus’ teachings are unrivaled for their penetrating simplicity and enduring appeal. Let’s focus on two of them.
I. THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT AND THE BEATITUDES
Jesus gives lectures, or sermons, on a variety of subjects. His most famous is the Sermon on the Mount (so named because, in Matthew, Jesus stands on a mountain when delivering this message). A brief look at this sermon gives us a good idea of what Jesus is all about.
In short, the Sermon on the Mount is a body of moral teachings characterized by an emphasis on sincere devotion to God and a corresponding heartfelt benevolence toward others. As this definition suggests, the emphasis is on the heart; therefore, it is to the heart that Jesus directs His teachings.
The Beatitudes, or Blessings (“Blessed are . . .”), make up the first part of Jesus’ sermon (Matt. 5:3-12). Although scholars speculate that the Sermon on the Mount is a compilation of Jesus’ teachings later brought together into one message, the Beatitudes’ emphasis on personal righteousness and patience in affliction serves as a fitting introduction. Among its teachings, we find:
• “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
• “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
• “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
• “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
• “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they
will be called children of God.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus attempts
to change the people’s attitude toward Moses’
law from external obedience (i.e., “I haven’t
killed anyone today”) to internal obedience (i.e.,
“I have forgiven everyone today”). For example,
Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said
to people long ago, ‘You shall not murder’. . .
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a
brother . . . will be subject to judgment. Again,
anyone who says to a brother . . ., ‘Raca,’ is
answerable to the court. And anyone who says,
‘You fool!’ he will be in danger of the fire of hell”
(Matt. 5:21, 22).