To get things started - Sermon on the Mount - Part 1
Well one has to start somewhere. So why not with a teaching near and dear to my heart.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is at once an ethical work of art, a categorical inditement, and an empowering vision, all at the same time. It was so impacting to those who heard it, it says they were stunned (Matt. 7:28). They looked at each other and at Jesus sitting in front of them and they couldn't believe the things they had just heard! He said what no one was allowed to say, what no one would ever dream of saying, and he said it on purpose! But the shockwave of this message spoken on the hills above Capernaum would be felt far beyond it's original audience. In the early Church much of what was simply referred to as, "The Teaching" (Didache), came directly from this message and the Sermon itself would remain the most quoted part of the entire Bible for the first 300 years of the Church's existence.
Shock and awe was pretty much Jesus' modus operandi.
We are often guilty of separating Jesus' teaching from his deeds, or at least disconnecting the context in which people heard him. It is so easy to read the gospels as a sort of logbook of Jesus' activities in a dry and empty way, "Then he went there and healed this lame person, then he healed that blind guy", and in it we lose the sense of glorious chaos that surrounded him on a daily level because of the incredible power in which he walked.
Let's consider a typical Jesus scene in Galilee. By the time he was ready to leave the house in the morning, there was already a crowd standing at the door (Mark 2:2), pushing each other to get in. And this crowd of people was much different than the gatherings of believers we are used to. This was not a crowd of the put together or well-to-do worshipers of our Sunday gatherings. They were the destitute, the needy, and the broken. And actually they didn't come to worship Jesus. They were there to be healed "and he healed them" (Matt. 4:24).
The disciples primary job at that time was to organize the crowds in the best way they could as they flocked to him, just to be touched by his miraculous hands. And the line in front of him of demonized, sick, epileptic, needy people, were transformed in front of their eyes with a single touch. Raw power. We don't really understand what kind of effect it would have on us to see someone with undeniable physical, psychological, or spiritual sickness visibly transformed in front of our eyes. And then multiply this experience countless of times and throw a few dead "raisings" in there as well.
I believe we betray the teachings of Jesus when we don't put the words that he spoke in this context. The raw and undeniable healing and restoring power of the Lord Jesus wasn't only an attention getter for the people. Of course, it was that too (John 3:2, Acts 2:22). But it was also a clear demonstration of the goodness of the Kingdom that he himself had come to introduce to the world. It spoke a message loud and clear - Jesus is a God sent healer. A worker of miracles. Someone whose words have real power and who has come to help and heal the shepherd-less sheep of Israel.
I will make the case in the subsequent articles that Jesus is speaking to the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount as a joyful King, announcing the constitution of His Kingdom (Matt. 5:3-20) and as a warning prophet to those who would neglect and reject His Kingdom ways (Matt. 7:13-27). But above all, he is speaking to them as a skillful and powerful healer, able to correctly identify the deep-seated sicknesses of the human condition, expose the superficial remedies we have made through man-made religion, and bring real healing to those who would believe and receive it (Matt. 5:21-7:12).
Matthew's gospel is begging us to see the context of Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount through the lens of Christ's incredible healing power.
His lead into the Sermon itself should be noted, as it says,
"23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them." (Emphasis added)
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 4:23–24). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
But the immediate context after the Sermon on the Mount gives as much if not more emphasis on this point. Matthew relays to us ten miracle stories (Matt. 8:1 - 9:38), one after the other leading up the the next big speaking block where Jesus sends out the disciples to expand the Kingdom work in Israel (Matt. 10:1). Of the ten miracle stories, nine of them involve someone either being healed or being delivered from demonic oppression.
Matthew 9, however, gives us the clearest context in understanding Jesus role as divine healer as it also relates to the Sermon on the Mount. Two stories are told to us back to back as Matthew sees in them a parallel thought.
The First story is in Matthew 9:1-7, which says,
"And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. 2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he rose and went home."
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 9:1–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
In Mark's account of this story (Mark 2:3-12), we are told that in order to get this paralytic in to see Jesus, this man's friends had to cut a hole in the roof and lower him in! We can be sure that they went through all this effort with one goal in mind, to get this friend of theirs some of that Jesus healing power. But Jesus had something else he wanted to do first. He looked at that man lowered into the house and said to him, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven!"
We don't really know what happened inside of that man at that moment because we can't visibly see the internal effects of someone being touched by God's forgiving power. However, when the religious leaders start accusing Jesus of overstepping the boundaries of his authority, he made it clear that he was not speaking empty words to that man, rather powerful, transformative words of life. The same life-giving power that came when he said, "Rise, pick up your bed and go home" was expressing forgiveness deep into that man's heart! His point was brought home well when the man got up fully restored.
Here Jesus himself makes a direct connection between the physical power that he has to heal to sick with the transformative power he also brings to the human soul through releasing forgiveness.
The second story takes place immediately afterward and has also to do with our author himself. Matthew recounts the moment that the Lord came to him and called him to end his tax collecting businesses in order to follow him. It is interesting to note that Jesus didn't call Matthew so as to pull him out of his circle of friends, rather that through Matthew, he could reach them. We read that after his calling, Matthew hosts a big party for Jesus and all of his morally depraved friends are there too and the religious leaders are not happy about it. They confront Jesus by pressuring his disciples to account for Jesus' activities. Matthew 9:10-13 tells us,
"And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 9:10–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Both of these stories in Matthew 9 make the connection between Jesus as healer of the body and him being the healer and restorer of the soul. Jesus himself likens sickness with the soul's need for forgiveness and with the sinful condition. He also equates himself with a physician and one reconciling people to God. Both of these stories reflect the entire context of Matthew's gospel from the end of Chapter 4 all the way to Chapter 10. Jesus, the divine Healer is restoring humanity.
We will look more into the role of Jesus as divine healer in the Sermon on the Mount in later posts. However, in my next post, I want to look at Jesus' big announcement, which he makes as he begins to introduce his Kingdom to his captivated audience.