Walking through the Sermon on the Mount

By Kathy Ferguson Litton

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” (Matthew 5:1)

Days ago, I walked the hillside where this sermon was to have taken place. Standing there, it’s easy to imagine the crowds around Jesus as He begins His first public teaching ministry with His longest recorded sermon. It was a revolutionary message. His primary theme was the characteristics of true disciples who embrace the kingdom of God. According to some scholars, the Sermon on the Mount was the most cited text of Scripture in the first few centuries of the Christian church.

Perhaps we have become too familiar the Sermon on the Mount and lost sight of what we have here: a rich, vibrant description of what a true disciple looks like, straight from Jesus’ lips.

I can’t speak for you, but I have failed to see that His sermon has dynamic connection to the Great Commission. These two teachings of Jesus provide bookends to the Gospel of Matthew. While in chapters 5-7 we have Jesus epic sermon, at the end of the book we have: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

These two passages are deeply intertwined. How? Jesus gives the Sermon on the Mount in order to produce disciples living a lifestyle of the kingdom of God, which will create a spiritual impact on the nations.

From that angle, as we look at the Sermon on the Mount over the next few weeks, I think we will clearly come to see that the ultimate goal of this sermon is transformation, discipleship, and mission.

Let’s briefly look at mission and discipleship in this sermon:

Mission: He enables us to be salt and light

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13-16)

When His disciples’ lives are bearing fruit and being set apart because of the adhering to these practices and attitudes, their uniqueness is what causes them to be “salt,” “light,” and “a city on a hill” to a lost world around them.

This quality is transferable to every generation that follows them. The Great Commission is given to ordinary people — His disciples — who are reflecting a growing measure of the character of God and His kingdom. Then they plant themselves, their families, their careers all over the world, with the primary purpose of spreading the kingdom of God as “salt and light.” The Great Commission was not handed off to “professionals,” but to everyone who names Jesus as Savior.

He says, “You are the light of the world, let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works.” He is speaking of works of justice, of showing mercy, plus practicing peacemaking and reconciliation. When lost souls observe this type of transformation, they cannot easily dismiss the one we call “Father.” Preaching must be accompanied by observable good works as well.

Discipleship: Obey what I have been taught

If the Great Commission in Matthew 28 tells us to “make disciples” and “teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” what is it that Jesus has commanded? To find out, we’ve got to go back in our Bibles to Matthew 5 because that is where Jesus’ teaching began on a Galilean hillside. He unpacks the essence of kingdom life in the specific teaching and applications of the Sermon on the Mount.

We should be eager to discover what Jesus teaches about discipleship and how to practice it. Jesus defines discipleship as obeying everything He has taught. In other words, not picking and choosing what we find convenient to obey. It is very comprehensive: “Obey everything I have taught you.” That is the definition of discipleship.

Why would we ever invite others to be disciples and not look deeply into what Jesus actually taught?

We are going to emphasize the Sermon on the Mount in the days to come. I urge you take a fresh look at the vibrant description of what the kingdom of God is to look like and how as disciples we bring that kingdom into reality.

Have we — you and I — failed to see that this is the way forward in advancing the gospel?

Lets’ sit at the Teacher’s feet and listen.

Published January 15, 2018

Kathy Ferguson Litton

Kathy lives in Mobile, Alabama, with her husband Ed, pastor of Redemption Church. Both lost former spouses in car accidents, and God uniquely gave them new love and life together in 2009. Kathy enjoyed 26 years of life and ministry alongside Rick Ferguson. She has three children and ten grandchildren. Presently she serves as Director of Planting Spouse Development.