I have spent a lot of time in school. Of course, I finished the normal kindergarten through senior high school that most everyone in America does. I then went to the University of Montevallo for a degree in music. Finally, I went to Athens State University to study accounting. One thing I was very thankful for in school was the fact that I had some excellent teachers. A good teacher not only explains the material but can help you with individual problems that you have learning it. A good teacher knows the subject matter backwards and forwards and is able to guide students in practical application of the material. Here, in this most masterful sermon, we see Jesus as that kind of teacher revealing God given truth and refuting error that has been taught. As we begin to study this scripture, let us pray for God to speak to us and teach us through the words of Scripture.
First of all, observe the setting of this teaching. Jesus, as noted in verse 1 of this chapter, “saw the crowds”. As noted in chapter 4 of the book of Matthew and elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus drew large numbers of people. Some of them, of course, were just there for “the show”-He was healing and performing miracles and they were interested to see what was happening and what would happen next. We know that there were also people there who were drawn by God and allowed to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah. Matthew does not record the particular instance of this crowd but, for whatever reason, Jesus and His disciples found themselves among a throng of people. Now, imagine, if you will, wanting to teach a small group of people in the midst of a larger group of people. I was a band director for a few years. One of the most challenging things as a band director was fixing a problem with a section, say the trombones, while the rest of the band sat and waited for me to call the whole band to play again. Of course, the little flute players up front would sit quietly as I worked. The further back in the band you went, however, the noisier it would get. Eventually, I had to do something to get the room quite again so I could work. I can imagine that on some level, as Jesus prepared to teach, the large crowd would’ve proved to be a distraction for the students. However, the Master Teacher knew that and provided a better environment for instruction.
Before He began to instruct His disciples, we should notice that He spent some time in solitude. Verse 1 records that “He went up on the mountain”. In a parallel passage in Luke, it is recorded that He went to pray during the night. As He did before He was tempted by Satan in chapter 4 of Matthew, He again seeks time alone to prepare and commune with the Father. Those of us who preach and teach God’s word should take note of this. Our Lord and Savior was the living Word of God. Even with all of His divine power, He still took time to pray and prepare Himself before He would begin to preach this epic sermon. We, too, should earnestly seek God’s face and spend time in prayer as part of our preparation.
When the appropriate time came to teach, Matthew records that “He sat down”. This was typically the position Rabbis took when they prepared to teach. By assuming this posture, Jesus was taking a position of authority. As Jesus noted in Matthew 23:2, the teachers of the day “have seated themselves in the chair of Moses”. Jesus, since He was not given authority by any man but had authority since He was God in human flesh, had more right than any of these so called “teachers” to seat Himself in the position of authority and speak the word of God.
We should observe that not everyone came to hear him teach. The crowds that followed Him were large and it is probably that some came only to see something miraculous or supernatural. The majority of them, therefore, had no interest in spiritual truth. His teaching did not tickle their ears. However, when He was seated and prepared to teach, “His disciples came to Him”. The parallel passage in Luke suggests that he had selected His 12 apostles and certainly they also were among those who came and sat themselves down to hear Him teach. I suspect that the number was larger than just 12. As John records in the 6th chapter of his gospel, many people who had followed Jesus turned back after He preached the “bread of life” sermon because what He taught was a “difficult statement”. Not everyone who came to hear Him teach here on the mountain was there because they truly had saving faith. While they were all numbered among His disciples, they were note all truly His disciples.
Regardless of that fact, “He opened His mouth and began to teach them”. After He was seated in a position of authority and His students were seated around Him, He “began to teach” (Greek-didasko). This was regular, systematic instruction in the truth. These people had the privilege to have the word of God explained by the Word of God. Over the years, men had corrupted the scriptures with their own ideas and twisted the truth to serve their own selfish ends. Here, in this marvelous sermon, the Lord would explain to His disciples what true righteousness was and just how impossible it was for a person to obtain it..
Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.