Today's reading from the gospel of Matthew is traditionally referred to as the "Sermon on the Mount." This portion of Jesus' teaching is one the most beloved passages of scripture and has inspired theologians and philosophers for nearly two thousand years. The "Sermon on the Mount" contains well known passages such as "The Beatitudes" and "The Lord's Prayer." However, I would like to focus on how this sermon helps us to understand the identity of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.
Jesus as the New Moses
Matthew very intentionally depicts Jesus as a new Moses. The book of Deuteronomy spoke of one who would be raised up as a "prophet like Moses" and many early Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of this promise. Just as Moses led the people of Israel out their bondage in Egypt, so Jesus would lead God's people out their bondage to sin and the power of death. Here are a few examples of how Jesus is depicted as the new Moses in Matthew's gospel account.
- The Pharaoh of Egypt killed all the male children; Moses was saved.
- King Herod killed all the male children (the Holy Innocents); Jesus was saved.
- Moses is the traditional author of the 5 books of the law (Genesis - Deuteronomy)
- Jesus gives 5 teaching discourses (Matthew 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 22-25)
- Moses goes up to the mount to receive the law from God.
- Jesus goes up a mountain to give a new law (Sermon on the Mount)
Jesus as Teacher
More than any of the other gospel accounts Matthew depicts Jesus as the teacher. As mentioned above, Matthew includes 5 extended discourses, in which Jesus expounds upon the purpose of his mission. Much of this teaching describes the coming kingdom of God, which is being inaugurated through the ministry of Jesus. However, the measure of any good teacher is the success of his or her students. Therefore, the gospel of Matthew calls us to become students or disciples of Jesus, the Great Teacher. The "Sermon on the Mount" is not a idealistic vision of a distant future, but rather it provides us with a blueprint for the Christian life of discipleship. At the conclusion of the "Sermon on the Mount" Jesus describes two kinds of people, those who build their lives on the foundation of his teaching and those who do not. The former are like those who build their house on the rock, and when the storms of life come, that house will stand!