Sermon on the Mount: The Sermon’s Ideals

Humanly Attainable?

When Jesus went up on the mountain and sat down to teach, he delivered what we now call the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7). In it, he set out a description of the Christian counter-culture, a picture of what citizenship in the kingdom of God should look like. The church’s reaction has ranged from the original audience’s astonishment over this authoritative teaching (Matt 7:28–29) to admiration or dismay at its ideals. Some have set it up as a new covenant law code, a law for Christians, and then either figured that it’s as unattainable as Torah proved to be or gritted their teeth and said, “Okay. I’ll get to work on that turning the other cheek bit and praying for my enemies.”

A Canonical Approach

But it’s striking how much light the wider context of Scripture can shed on anything in particular when we’re reading our Bibles. I can’t do anything exhaustive along those lines for the entire Sermon on the Mount; however, I can think of a good exercise that will point us all in the right direction.

What if we read the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3–12) and Jesus’s contrast between Judaism’s tradition adaptation of Torah (Matt 5:17–48) and let a couple Pauline texts set the stage for how we might live out the Sermon on the Mount? Let’s just read them without any blogger’s commentary:

What Love Is and Isn’t Like

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Cor 13:4–7)

Sinful Nature versus the Indwelling Spirit

Sinful Nature

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19–21)

Indwelling Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Gal 5:22–23)


Now perhaps you could read over the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3–12) and Jesus’s contrast between the Jewish tradition and his fulfillment of the law (Matt 5:17–48) then re-read the texts I’ve just mentioned (1 Cor 13:4–7; Gal 5:19–23). Then I’ll leave it to you to meditate on individual points that catch your attention, or verses that prick your conscience—in any of those texts.


  1. Can you see how the kingdom of this world that Jesus counters flows from “the works of the flesh,” or humanity’s sinful nature?
  2. Can you see how this is a matter of a changed heart, not just behavior rules—whether from Sinai or Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount?
  3. Can you see how the only way you can live out the counter-cultural ethic of the kingdom of God is by the power of the indwelling Spirit?


I think I’ll just use the language one of the first ever to translate the Bible into English, that of William Tyndale. Perhaps it will focus your mind on the words more than a quick read in the familiar tones of either the King James Version or a contemporary English translation:

9 After thys maner therfore praye ye.

O oure father which arte in heven

halowed be thy name.

10 Let thy kyngdome come.

Thy wyll be fulfilled as well in erth as it ys in heven.

11 Geve vs this daye oure dayly breede.

12 And forgeve vs oure treaspases

even as we forgeve oure trespacers.

13 And leade vs not into temptacion:

but delyver vs from evell.

For thyne is the kyngedome and the power

and the glorye for ever.


— Matt 6:9–13, Tyndale New Testament (AD 1534)

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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