He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,Matthew 5:2(NASB)
Christ's Sermon on the Mount is interpreted by various groups differently. Some suggest that Jesus is setting out a message of salvation; live this way and you will be saved and go to heaven. Others identify it as the perfect way to live, if humanity is to bring in everlasting peace and prosperity onto the earth.
Some suggest that this only applies to Christ's Jewish disciples during His pre-Cross ministry, while others suggest that this is to be the standard required during the 7-year Tribulation or Christ’s Millennial kingdom on earth. Some insist that these instructions are binding on the Church of today, while others refute this interpretation.
In context, this sermon was delivered early on in Christ's earthly ministry. Jesus had been identified as the Jewish Messiah by John the Baptist. He was the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, and He was the prophesied King of the Jews. His teaching in those early days, was only addressed to the lost sheep of the house of Israel – especially those who had repented of the nation's past sin of apostasy, through John's 'baptism of repentance'.
Knowing that the message of salvation is: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved," indicates that this 'Sermon on the Mount' is not addressed to unbelievers, but a message to those who believed in God and was actually delivered to Israel, during Christ's early ministry.
Christ's 'Sermon on the Mount' points out that sinful actions are conceived in the heart, and that a false 'righteousness' is hidden within man's fallen nature. It seems to be setting the stage to show that righteous living can only be achieved from a changed heart that has trusted in God for the forgiveness of sin – for only those who believe in Him are credited with righteousness.
It is pointing out that all men are sinners, for only God is perfect. It shows that keeping the Law outwardly is no criteria of righteousness. The Sermon on the Mount appears to be showing that the Law cannot save a soul. The Law cannot forgive the sins of a sinner, but is a school-master that points lost sinners to Christ, in Whom is life and light, hope and salvation.
It demonstrates that godly living emanates from an inner attitude of a changed heart that trusts in God for salvation. But sinful man cannot change the hard coldness of a heart of stone. Only God in His grace, can give a repentant sinner a new heart of flesh – and God the Father has determined that it is by grace through faith in Christ.
Jesus came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel to establish His kingdom, which was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. He came to fulfil the Law and the prophets, and to establish the New Covenant, promised by God, to the house of Judah and the house of Israel.
He came to replace the nation's heart of cold stone, with one of soft flesh. He came to bring peace on earth and goodwill to all men – for He was that light for the Gentiles. He came to bring in everlasting righteousness – as prophesied by holy men of God. He came as Israel's Messiah. He came to pay the price for man's sin and to be crowned as Israel's King of kings.
Whoever may be the main target audience, the Sermon on the Mount is not for unbelievers, but sets out a pattern of holy living for Jew and Gentile alike, that can only come through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit – when the inner heart of a believer has died to self, and lives for Christ alone.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the Sermon on the Mount and the many things that can be learned from the truths contained within its message. Thank You that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel Who will one day be crowned as their King. Thank You that He came as my Saviour to pay the price for my sin and break the power of sin and death. Thank You for the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, and that by Your grace my heart has been made new. May I live a life that honours Your name, and may I walk in spirit and truth all the days of my life. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.