The Sermon on the Mount is kind of like the TV series Lost; it is very popular and yet few people know what it actually means. I did say that it is kind of like, because unlike Lost, this sermon does mean something, a great immeasurable something. John Stott commented, “The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood and certainly it is the least obeyed.”
There have been a variety of approaches to this sermon. I came across lists of 4, 7, 8, and 12 different interpretative approaches. Grant Osborne says there are as many as 36 different interpretations I think the most popular way evangelicals approach the sermon can be seen in how they handle this first section (5:1-12). They add a “t” and subtract the cross. What are the beatitudes? Don’t add a “t”. They are not simply attitudes that you ought to be. Beatitude comes from the Latin beatus, meaning blessed, fortunate, happy. The Beatitudes are a description of the character of the Christian, those who possess the kingdom, the saving reign of God come in our Lord Jesus.
Notice Jesus is directly addressing His disciples (Matthew 5:1-2), though the crowds soon gather around to listen in (Matthew 7:28). Jesus is addressing those who are the salt and light of the world, those who call God Father (Matthew 5:45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11).
The Beatitudes then are a description of those who enjoy the favor of God, those who are regenerate and have a new heart. The unregenerate man is incapable of displaying these qualities. He is lost, they lose their meaning for him. To expect the unregenerate man to live the kingdom life described here is heresy. It denies the sinful nature of man and the necessity of regeneration.
The Sermon on the Mount , or as R.T. France better titles it, “The Discourse on Discipleship,” then is not about how we get into the kingdom, but what the kingdom does when it gets into us. It’s not about how we can bring the kingdom, but what the kingdom does when Jesus brings it.
Don’t read the message and forget the Messenger. Normally this is what you want to do during a sermon. You want the preacher to disappear and the Word of God to become prominent. But with Jesus the message is the Messenger, He is the Word of God. When read simply as a new morality, or as the good news itself this sermon is ripped from its greater context in Matthew. The cross is lost and we forget that it is Jesus who came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21); not just the guilt of them, but the practice of them.