The Sermon on the Mount (Part 1)
March 15, 2008 Length: 55:44Part 1 of a talk given at a Lenten retreat for the Council of Orthodox Christian Churches on the Niagara Frontier on March 15, 2008 at the St. Stephen Serbian Orthodox Church in Lackawanna, NY
The Sermon on the Mount is kind of a centerpiece of the teaching of Christ. It occurs in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. That’s where you find it. It runs from the beginning of the fifth chapter to the end of the seventh chapter, so it’s three chapters long. As you may know, there are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And sometimes people ask, “Why are there four Gospels?” And until rather recently, I used to answer that question when it was asked of me, “Why are there four?” with the answer, “I don’t know. There are.”
Early in Christian history, already in the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd Century, St. Iranaeus noticed that these four Gospels, and he gave a kind of symbolic meaning. Four in biblical symbolics, if you know for example how that language works in the Bible, is a symbol of a kind of cosmic completion.
You have north, south, east, west; the four corners of the universe; the four winds. You have the four dimensions to earthly measurements and things like this. In the Apocalypse, you have the four horsemen and the four beasts. In fact, Iranaeus even symbolically connected each of the beasts of the Apocalypse with one of the Gospels.
Sometimes you even see in our churches, when they have frescoes or paintings of the four Gospels, they’ll have the ox with one, the lion with one, the man with one, and the angel with one, and so on. And so there is this issue with four Gospels as one that exists through Christian history, but I will tell you that I personally believe in a plausible theory of why four, and that there are four that I will share with you, which is very, very relevant and very pertinent to the Sermon on the Mount.
First of all, these four Gospels existed from the beginning. Scholars will discuss how they were written, how they were put together, which was first, which was not, and what the origins of these Gospels were. Three of the Gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke are very similar. If you read them, they are similar. They are so similar that they are called technically in the trade, in the guild, the Synoptic Gospels.
So if you ever hear that expression, the Synoptic Gospels, that means Mark, Matthew, and Luke. And it means they look alike. They look the same. And St. Paul wrote his writings before the Gospels actually appeared in written form. And that expression, Gospel, is the term that comes from St. Paul. He used the expression, “God’s Gospel in Jesus” in the very first Christian writing in history, 1 Thessalonians, where he speaks about, “God’s Gospel in Jesus.”
Then, when he writes to Galatians and Romans, he uses the expression, “The Gospel of God,” or “The Gospel of Christ,” or “The Eternal Gospel.” There’s many ways in which this word Gospel is used, Evangelion in Greek. And then it exists also in verb form – to proclaim the Gospel or to proclaim the glad tidings.
So, before the Gospels were written, there was already the Gospel. You have the one Gospel of God in Christ Jesus that is already proclaimed and written about in the writings of St. Paul before you have the written form of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. But once these four get written, then they are the ones that the Orthodox Church, and generally speaking the classical Christians (Protestants and Roman Catholics), would consider to be the canonical, dependable, legitimate, true Gospels, because there were a lot of other writings in the early Christianity about Jesus.
And here, we have to see something very important. There never was a time when people agreed about Jesus. There never was a time when there was the one, true Church that taught the one, true teaching and then other people split off from it and so on. Excuse me, but that’s mythological. That is not the fact.
The fact of the matter is that people were fighting about who Jesus was; how He was to be understood; how He is to be confessed; what His teaching is; how valid is His authority; what does it mean that He’s confessed as God’s Son. This was controversy from the beginning. And as a matter of fact, if you read the New Testament you’ll see that the Apostles whom we venerate (Members of the Twelve and the other apostles of the earliest Church, sometimes numbering in 70 and the people who were preaching) that they didn’t agree with each other.
Peter fought with Paul. Paul fought with James. And the fighting is witnessed to in the pages of the New Testament about how to understand Jesus; how to understand who He is; how to interpret the Gospel; how to relate it to Judaism, because they were all Jews, and Jesus was sent to the lost sons of Israel, and He was the Messiah of Israel. He was Israel’s Christ, Israel’s King and connected to David, Abraham, Moses and the Prophets. So that was a huge controversy.
Then, there was a huge controversy about what to do with people who weren’t Jews – the Gentiles. Could the Gentiles be Christians? Could they become members of the Church? If they did, did they have to become Jews and get circumcised and follow the laws of kosher and so on? Or was that not necessary, since the Messiah had come; was crucified; and according to some people anyway, raised from the dead?
You see, at the center of Jesus’ life was His death. The Passion of Jesus is the center of the story, at least in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Now, there were other writings that emerged that had the names of the Apostles on them, i.e., The Acts of Peter, The Acts of Mary, The Letters of so-and-so, The Gospels of this one and that one.
Last year, around Easter time, they came out with this publication in English of The Gospel of Judas. And these writings all existed. And if you take the writings about Jesus that were spurious; that we Orthodox Christians and classical Christians through the centuries would consider to be wrong, spurious, not true, not accurate, not to be followed, they would fill a book five times the size of the New Testament.
If you go to the library and get the Pesuedepigrapha, the false writings of Jesus, it’s a huge collection. I once made a list of all of them, and it was twenty-something different writings all with names of Apostles – The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, The Gospel of Judas. Now sometimes and in our time, these spurious gospels are making a comeback. People are getting interested in these writings.
And if you go on the Discovery Channel or History Channel or something on TV, you can see all of this. Some lady named Anne Rice wrote a book about Jesus using this material about His childhood and all those kinds of things. Well for us, they’re just not true. And sometimes, they’re even presented, like on TV, as the lost books of the Bible. But what you should know is they were never lost, and they are not of the Bible. It’s as simple as that. They were never lost.
They were well known, the above mentioned Iranaeus that I mentioned and who reflected on why there’s four Gospels and so on, he wrote a whole book called Against the Heresies, and the heresies were all these writings. And he knew about The Gospel of Judas, and all that kind of stuff. Well, maybe not that one, because that one appeared after Iranaeus. It was like a 4th Century thing.
So, these kinds of writings were being produced, and it was the custom of the time to stick a name of an Apostle on them to give them authenticity. So the question emerged and emerges still today: which books are dependable, and which ones are not? Which ones do we really believe are accurate, according to God’s Gospel in Jesus, and which are spurious?
Now, to make the long story short, and it’s not really our topic today, but I hope you will see why I am telling you all of this from the beginning, because it’s really important to our topic today. The claim was that there was in the earliest Church, called by the same Iranaeus by the way, a canon of faith, or sometimes it was called a canon of truth.
And it was a preaching of a Gospel that certain Christians held to be the true one. And that would be what we Orthodox today in the 21st Century would think is the true one. This is the truth, right? And making the matter oversimplified, what happened is that certain writings were accepted by certain churches, and all churches didn’t have all of the writings from the beginning.
For example, St. Paul never mentions the name of Jesus’ mother. And as you heard, I now serve with the nuns. And it’s very nice to be the priest for the nuns, because you have nice long sermons, and no one’s looking at the clock. You hear all the songs. You can preach long, and you can shock them! You can have fun with the nuns who are there ready to listen.
And you tell them on Christmas, St. Paul writes, “Born of a woman; born under the law.” He doesn’t even give us her name. And then I said to them, “You know why not? He probably didn’t know it.” And he probably didn’t know it when he wrote Galatians. He wasn’t one of the Twelve. He wasn’t an eyewitness. He never met Peter until he went down to see him. He may not have known even that that was her name.
He saw the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus; started reading the Bible, and saw that it was all there in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets; studied it; and went around preaching that Jesus was the Christ according to the Scriptures. But he knew incredibly little about Jesus’ human life. In fact, in the fourteen letters ascribed to St. Paul in the New Testament, he never mentions the teaching of Jesus even once.
Read them. He never makes an argument by referring to what Jesus taught, and my hunch is because he just didn’t know. In fact, St. Iranaeus wrote a whole work in the beginning of the 3rd Century called A Complete Exposition of the Apostolic Preaching and never once quotes the New Testament. He quotes only the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets.
So you have this gospel of Paul, and it was a Christian tradition, by the way, that John Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark and Luke the physician who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts (The Gospel of Luke is the first part of two books. It’s a two volume work. The Gospel according to St. Luke and the book of Acts, and they’re two parts of one book), but it’s pretty much accepted, not only by scholars today but by Tradition, that Mark and Luke wrote their Gospels under the influence of St. Paul and under the influence of his interpretation of Scripture and applying it to the person of Jesus.
But neither Mark nor Luke were of the Twelve Apostles. And in fact, there are old illuminations in old Armenian manuscripts of Scripture that show Mark and Luke writing with St. Paul standing over their shoulder.
But to make the story quick here, what happened was that the canon of faith of those that agreed with Paul, and then Paul met Peter and James, and they agreed, so by the time you get around to the year 80 or 85, you have a group of people agreeing that this is how Christian faith is to be understood. This is how Jesus should be understood.
By that time, you had these different writings, and only these four of them were accepted as true, as according to the canon of faith – only Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. All the others were rejected as being not true. And then, as time went by, fourteen of the writings attributed to Paul were included in the canon. And then there was two letters attributed to Peter, three to John, one to James, one to Jude, and then it took 400 years, but finally the book of Revelation was included.
And by the time you get to the ferial letter of St. Athanasius the Great at Easter time in the middle of the 4th Century, you have the 27 books that we now call the New Testament. There’s 27 writings that we consider to be true. They’re canonical. They’re according to the canon of faith. But by the way, in our Eastern Orthodox Church, there’s no such thing as a canon of Scripture.
Protestants speak about a canon of Scripture. There’s no such thing. There are canonical Scriptures, but there’s no canon of Scripture. And as a matter of fact, you have many lists, but the only one that has the 27 books exactly as we have today was the Easter letter of Athanasius the great in the 4th Century and then by the time you get to the Sixth Ecumenical Council.
And even a person like Gregory the Theologian was against the book of Revelation. He thought it was a spurious book that should not be in the Bible, because nobody could understand it, he said. So it took a long time for the Apocalypse to get into canonical Scripture, but it made it, finally, and we end up with these 27 writings.
Now, what distinguishes these four Gospels and Paul’s writing and generally the writing of the New Testament, including the book of Revelation, what’s the main feature that distinguishes them from the false writings? What would be the difference? And again, this is oversimplifying, but the easy simple answer is that the canonical early Christian writings that we believe are true, their focus is the crucified Christ; that He is crucified in the flesh, according to the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets; that He had to die, and He had to die on a cross, and He had to be put to death in the way that he was put to death in all the details of the story.
It’s essential to the Gospel that He was crucified, how He was crucified, where He was crucified, and in what form He was killed. All of this is essential to the faith. If you read the Gnostic gospels, the false gospels, the Passion is practically not even a part of the story. It’s just Gnostic and meditation, and everybody has Jesus inside of him. Basically, it’s like New Age religion. In fact, it is New Age religion.
That’s why the New Age people like it so much is because what people do not want is Christ crucified. Yet, if you take Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, more than half (if you count chapters) are of the story of the Passion. In St. John’s Gospel, there’s more than half the Gospel. All that long speech of Jesus with His disciples that we read on the first of the twelve Gospels that we read on Holy Thursday. That’s given at the Lord’s Supper in John.
They’re already in Passion Week. It’s already post-Palm Sunday, and the same thing is true with Mark, Matthew, and Luke. It is all moving toward His death. And even in the infancy narratives, the stories of Jesus when He was a child, which are only in Matthew and Luke, they are already showing that He is born to be persecuted, to be rejected, and to be killed.
In fact, that is so much in the New Testament writings and so much in our Orthodox liturgies that if you go to church for the pre-feast services before Christmas and Epiphany, you could use the Pascha books and just change a few words, and you’ll sing the same services.
When we started doing that in English at St. Vladimir’s, we didn’t have a lot of those odes and hymns translated, but we had Pascha/Easter and Holy Week translated. So we took the Holy Week books; crossed off Pilate and wrote in Herod; crossed out sepulcher and wrote in cave, and we had the Christmas service. Go to church and you’ll see it.
And if you’re interested, it’s not here, but I have a six hour CD on Putting Christmas Back into Christ. You can’t put Christ into Christmas, but you can put Christmas into Christ. You do it by meditating His birth, His childhood, and His baptism in the light of His death and resurrection. That’s how the New Testament does it. That’s how our Church does it.
Now, in any case, what we would say is that the four Gospels that we say are true and dependable and that we read in church are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. No other ones. And on our altar table in church, that’s what’s there. It’s not the Bible. It’s not even the entire New Testament. It’s Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It’s the Evangelos, the book of the Gospels. And these are the four Gospels that we believe our are truth.
Now, why are they called Gospels? What’s a Gospel? What does the word Gospel mean? Well, most folks know that it means good news or glad tidings. Even modern paraphrases, which in my opinion should never be used and should be stowed if not burned, I’m not for book burning, but you know. They’re even called Good News for Modern Man.
So most people know that Gospel means good news. And in Greek ev means good and angelos is message or messenger, so Evangelion means a good message. In old King James, it was called glad tidings. In RSV, it’s called good news. But what we have to know folks is that it wasn’t good news in general.
It wasn’t just some kind of good news like, “Good news, I saw Jennifer today,” or “Good news, I saw Roscoe and Vicki,” or “Good news, we’re having this retreat,” or “Good news, I found my lost wallet.” It’s not good news in general. The term was a technical term of an imperial decree that the King sent out that His subjects were obliged to accept as good news.
And it was a formal document, not only that the king sent out to his subjects that he had good news for them, but it was particularly good news in the battle against the enemies who had been destroyed. In other words, it was the good news that our king has been victorious in battle, and we are saved. We are protected. Our enemies are destroyed. We are free. Our king is taking care of us. We don’t have to worry about anything anymore. That’s what a Gospel is.
If it’s God’s Gospel, it means God is the King who is proclaiming His victory, and His victory is made in His Son Jesus. And by the word, in Hebrew language, the word for salvation and the word for victory is the same word. They don’t have two different words. And the name Jeshua, which is savior, it means victor.
And that’s by the way, why if you were in church this morning, on the church bread, you have a stamp that says Isus Christos Nika, which means Jesus Christ the Victor. And if you may have noticed, it said on the vestments today too. You see the vestments where with the covers, you see Isus Christos Nika all over it. The Nike symbol, I think it’s the mark of the beast, but Nike means victory. Jesus Christ the Victor.
I can’t resist saying this. I say this on practically every talk I give, but it’s such a nice story, and some of you knew Fr. Alexander Schmemann. I think you may have heard this story how I was putting a vestment on once at St. Vladimir’s Seminary chapel, and it had all over the vestment Isus Christos Nika, and it even had the term with a Slavonic abbreviaton for God. And that was all over the vestment too.
And so I said to Fr. Schmemann, “Isn’t it kind of funny we’re putting this cloth on our bodies and all over this cloth it says God, God, God, and then it says Jesus Christ, Victor, Jesus Christ Victor?”
And he said, “No. Probably nobody even knows what it means, and they look at it and think it’s holy or mystical or something.”
“But if you did it in English with God all over it and Jesus Christ, Victor on it. Then, you walk around and you sit down in it and all sorts of things.”
And after he heard me out for a few minutes, he was listening and half-smirking, and when I finished my tirade, he looked at me and said, “Tom, just be glad and give thanks that it doesn’t say OCA.”
But it’s God’s victory, that’s what the Gospel is. It’s God’s victory in Jesus. And the Divine Liturgy is nothing but a victory celebration. I’m writing a little book about this right now actually. It’s the victory celebration of the Savior and the Victor over all of God’s enemies; over stupidity, untruth, and foolishness. That’s the way we proclaim the Gospel. It’s victory over disease; over suffering; over injustice; and the last enemy, as St. Paul says, death itself, the demons.
Everything is destroyed by God that is ungodly, and everything triumphs. That’s why, by the way, the Paschal Psalm in our Church, which we’re going to have when we celebrate Holy Pascha and when we sing “Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death;” it’s actually the canticle of Numbers in the Torah of Moses that became Psalm 69 in the Psalter.
“Let God arise. Let His enemies be scattered. Let those who hate Him, flee from before Him,” and then we sing, “Christ has risen from the dead.” You see. “Arise O Lord, judge the earth.” It’s a victory. So the Gospels are a victory, but for Christians, the victory is in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. That’s where the victory takes place. The weapon is the cross.
That’s the Christian Gospel. That’s the canon of faith. And this is what Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John testify to. This is what they witness to, which you will not find in the Gnostic gospels. You will not find this emphasis.
By the way, another little thing, well not so little, in the canonical Gospels, you don’t have anything about Jesus’ childhood. You have the infancy narratives already in the light of the Resurrection, and the only thing you have is in Luke’s Gospel when He’s twelve years old. He goes to the Temple and already has to show that He is the Son of God and has to be about His Father’s business in His Father’s house, which means He’s growing up, and He’s understanding who He is. That’s the only thing.
However, in the Gnostic gospels, it’s filled with stories of Jesus’ childhood. He plays with His friends. They hit Him. He hits them back. They die. Mary comes out and says, “Don’t do that Jesus. You’re the Son of God.” He says, “Okay. Get up.” He makes little birds and tell them to fly away, and Mary says, “Don’t do that. You’re not supposed to tell anybody yet that you’re God.” It’s all crazy stuff. It’s nuts. It’s for good reason it’s pseudo, false.
But you’ve got Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, right? You have these four of them. But why the four? Because there was a time in the early Church when they tried to make one gospel out of the four. There’s a guy named Tatian. He made a Diatessaron where he tried to harmonize the four stories and put them into one story. It was done in Syria. And it was condemned by the Church. It was forbidden.
You cannot harmonize these books. And I can tell you, if you’ve ever studied them in detail, they are not harmonize-able. There’s no way you can harmonize the four books historically. If you just take the story of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke, they’re two different stories. The main elements are the same, but the details are radically different. Mark doesn’t have it at all. John has a theological introduction.
“In the beginning was the Word. The word was with God,” and so on. It doesn’t even have the story of the infancy. They all begin with the Baptism. They are all centered in the preaching. They all end up with the Crucifixion, and certain elements are in all four. But they are very different. Sometimes the chronology and when things happen are different, because they have different purposes. And that’s why there are four of them.
And I believe that the most plausible theory of why you have the four is because you have to have God’s Gospel in written and Scriptural form according to the different literary genres of the Old Testament. You have to have the interpretation of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets connected to the Messiah and His death on a cross and His being raised from the dead and glorified at the right hand of the Father.
And so in shorthand, Mark is the apocalyptic Gospel. It’s the shortest. It’s a clash between good and evil right from the get go. We heard it in the Gospel today. He’s in the field. He breaks the Sabbath. He’s the Lord of the Sabbath. He heals the person. They get mad at Him, and He gets mad back.
By the way, I didn’t mention this in the sermon, but it’s the one place in the Gospel where you have Jesus getting angry and grieving. It says, “He looked upon them with wrath, grieving with how they were.” That clash is right there from the beginning in Mark, and it runs right through. And no human being in Mark confesses Jesus as the Son of God. None, until the soldier at the cross says, “Truly, this was God’s Son.”
And then in Mark’s Gospel, if you don’t take the ending that was added later, because the end of Mark was not original, it ends with the empty tomb. The only announcement of the Resurrection in Mark is by God through His angel. No man announces the Resurrection. God does, and vindicates His Son. So Mark is the shortest, the sharpest, and the clash. And it’s written in the style of what is called Biblical apocalyptic.
Luke is a two-volume history with Luke and Acts. It patterns the historical books of the Old Covenant, and it’s put in the context of world history, not Judaic history. And that’s why Luke’s Gospel is so different in these different points, because he’s making different reasons for what he is saying. Now basically, the subject matter is the same, but there’s these differences, you see.
John is the wisdom literature. John is theology. John is the metaphysical teaching of the relation of Jesus to the Father; to the Holy Spirit; to the world. And He’s the Logos on the first page. He’s God on the first page. He’s God on the last page. Thomas, my saint (I have his bone right in my pocket here), called Him, “My Lord and my God.”
In the beginning the Logos was God, and in the end He’s God. And John is a completely different structure from Matthew, Mark, and Luke for a completely different purpose. And it’s very interesting, at least to me, that in the Gospel of John, the word gospel isn’t even used. You will not find the word gospel in the Gospel of St. John. In a sense, it’s not a Gospel. It’s a theological reflection on the Gospel.
And in fact, I believe that John’s Gospel was for people who were already baptized. If you were not baptized already; having the Holy Spirit; participating in the Eucharist in the early Church, you never even heard John’s Gospel. You only heard Matthew, Mark, and Luke. That was the Kerygma. John was the Mysteria and the Dogmata.
And that’s why even in our Church to this day, John is read only between Pascha and Pentecost when there is no catechumens, allegedly. Of course, the toothpaste is out of the tube. But I don’t think you should ever give John’s Gospel to anyone who is not a committed Christian. They will never understand it, and they will screw it up for sure.
What about Matthew? Now we’re getting to our subject. It took me a little time, but I hope it wasn’t a waste of time. When you get to Matthew, what’s Matthew? If Mark is the apocalyptic Gospel, Luke/Acts is the historical Gospel, and John is the theological Gospel, what’s Matthew? Matthew is Torah. It’s the Law. It’s the Law of God given through Moses with Christ as the ultimate Moses and the interpreter of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets for the Christian Church. That’s what Matthew is.
And even by historical traditions in the early Church, it was taught by the earliest Christian writers that Matthew was an Aramaic Gospel. Mark, Luke, and John were written in Greek. Some said even that Matthew wrote it in Aramaic, and it got translated into Greek. Probably, that’s not true, but the sayings were Aramaic. They were Jesus’ sayings.
Matthew is considered the guardian of the Logia of Jesus, the teachings of the human Jesus as He taught, because He’s connected to one of the Twelve; that Matthew is identified as Levi the tax collector. And he writes the whole Gospel like a Torah, like a law, and that’s why the Sermon on the Mount is in his Gospel only. Because it’s the new Torah; it’s the new Law.
And that’s what we’re going to prove for the rest of the day today – why and how that is. But to make the setting of that, it’s interesting and important to know that in Matthew, you have Jesus and His life patterned on that of Moses. For example, in Matthew’s Gospel, the Annunciation takes place in Judea, not in Nazareth. The genealogy is the son of David and the son of Abraham. It’s quite a bit different from Luke’s.
You also have when Jesus was a child, they tried to kill Him, like they tried to kill Moses. He is saved by God, but He goes into Egypt to be saved – the opposite direction. Now, the killing is being done in Judea, not in Egypt. And then Matthew even says that He had to go into Egypt, because it is written, “Out of Egypt, have I called my Son.” Because Israel, the firstborn son of God, was taken out of Egypt into the Promised Land, Jesus goes there and comes back again as the leader of the people.
Then, when he comes back into Judea, they’re still trying to kill Him. So then, He is hidden until He comes out, and then He is baptized in the Jordan. The Jordan is the stream that marked the boundary of the Promised Land. Moses was not allowed to cross Jordan. Only Joshua was, and Joshua was Jesus. It’s the same name. It’s simply the Hebrew form of Jesus. If we were speaking Hebrew, Jesus Christ would be called Joshua Christ.
Once Jesus goes through the water like Moses, what happens after that? He is driven into the desert, just like Moses was. And as Moses was 40 days and 40 nights, and they were 40 years in the desert, Jesus was 40 days in the desert being tempted by the devil. And He’s victorious over the devil in the desert place, and then He starts His preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand; that the Messianic Age has come.
Well, this is a real sketchy view of what’s going on here, but what you want to see from the beginning is how much that is connected. And it is Matthew who has five times as many references to the Old Testament than any of the other writers. And he keeps saying, “That the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
He’s the one who has, for example, “A virgin will conceive and bear a child. His name will be Emmanuel. Out of Egypt, I called my Son. He shall be called a Nazarene.” You see, all these things are in Matthew, because it’s the Jewish Gospel that shows the new Torah and the new covenant. Moses’ covenant is over. The covenant of the Messiah is now here.
Now, when Moses came out of Egypt, God led him out and led the people out. And Moses was the mediator between the people and God. And you may know that when the people were brought out of Egypt, they did not follow God. They were making golden cows. Moses had to get the Ten Commandments twice. He goes up and down and smashes them, and then goes and gets again.
God is so angry with His people, He says, “Why did I ever even bring them out?” And Moses has to intercede. He says, “If you’re going to wipe them out, wipe me out too.” And Moses stands in the breach and intercedes, and God has mercy on the people and all this story. All of this is kind of repeated, so to speak, ultimately in the person of Jesus as a kind of a new Moses or beyond or even greater than Moses; incomparable to Moses. But nevertheless, it’s put in the Mosaic setting, so any Jew would understand this automatically when they started hearing what He was doing.
Now, in the Old Covenant, when God brought the people out, He gave them a Law – 600 something laws. The heart of the Law was the Ten Commandments. The 1st Commandment is, “I am the You’re your God; no other god,” because the problem was idolatry. There was also, “No graven images. Keep the Sabbath holy. Remember that I am God. Honor your father and mother. Don’t kill. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t bear false witness.”
These are the teachings of the Ten Commandments. And many people think that the Ten Commandments are a kind of universal, ethical code for humanity. They are not. No. If you read the Bible, as it’s written, and that’s highly recommended; first of all, it’s recommended to read it, especially if you’re going to have an opinion about it. What is the Law of Moses? It’s a covenant law for the people that God saved.
In other words, this is what you have in the Old Testament, God says to these people, “I chose you. You are mine. I saved you. I gave myself to you. I conquered your enemies. I gave you the Promised Land. I’m taking you out of this Egyptian hell. I’m giving you victory over all these people. You are mine. Do you believe that? “And then, at least in theory, they said, “Yes, we do.” And God said, “Okay, if you believe that, here’s your Law. That’s how you’re going to live.” It was a covenant deal. It was a covenant law. “You say I’m your Savior, therefore, here’s how you have to live.”
So it was only for the Jews. How could you make a universal law out of, “I am the You’re your God. You shall have no other gods.” I mean, everyone else has all these other gods. So the Ten Commandments in the Law (Torah means Law), generally that’s what the people who believed that they had been saved by God; called by God; that they were God’s own people; that they were elected; they were a holy priesthood; they were the chosen people; this is how they had to live.
Now, when you get to the final covenant, something brand new takes place. Now it is not, “I am the one who brought you out of Egypt.” Now it is, “I am the one who raised you from the dead. I am the one who has forgiven all your sins. I am the one who has destroyed all of your enemies, and the last one is death.”
“I have raised the dead. I have given you the Kingdom of God. You say that I’m your Lord, your Master, your Teacher, the great High Priest, and so on. If you believe that, here is how you are to live.” That is St. Matthew’s Gospel. That’s what it is. It’s written for disciples of Jesus who believe in Him as the Lord, the Christ, and the Son of God who is crucified, raised, and glorified. That’s who it is given to. It’s not given to the world. It’s not given to the crowd. It’s given to the disciples from the Teacher.
Now we’re getting to our subject here. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the giving of the Sermon on the Mount is given on a mount like Moses. Moses went up to the mountain, and the people couldn’t go with Moses. Moses spoke face-to-face with God, and then he came down and told what God told.
In the New Testament, it’s very different. Jesus still goes onto a mount, but He speaks for Himself. Not like the scribes and Pharisees, He speaks on His own authority, because He’s God Son. He’s God’s Word. He’s the final revelation of God on the planet earth. It’s the last covenant that’s here. So He goes on the Mountain.
And many times, if you see these popular pictures, you see these popular pictures; you see Jesus up on a mountain; He’s surrounded by all these people, and it’s like He taught them. Well, if you read Matthew, that’s not the way it is at all. He goes apart from the people to the mountain, and His disciples go apart with Him.
And it says, “sitting down,” and it’s very important that it says, “sitting down,” because the master taught in the Temple sitting down. In fact, in our Christian Church, until very recently, the bishop’s throne was behind the altar on a high place, and he preached, sitting down, to the people from his cathedra – ex cathedra.
For example, St. John Chrysostom gave all his sermons sitting down on a throne high, because he was giving you the Word of God, and the people stood around Him and listened. So He sits down. It says, “Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him.” His disciples came to Him, not the crowd.
And by the way, in Luke’s Gospel, you have a little different version of this story. You don’t have it in the details. You don’t have it put in systematic Torah form. But just to make my point, one little difference in Luke is that Jesus gives that main teaching not on the mountain, but He comes down and stands at a level place, and He speaks to the crowd, because Luke’s Gospel is the message of Jesus for the nations. Matthew is for the disciples.
So He sits down, and He opens His mouth, and He teaches them. Now on Sinai, it was God who opened His mouth, and He put the words into Moses’ mouth. Well, there ain’t no Moses when Jesus is here. It’s His mouth. He teaches them. And we’ll see the poetic conclusion at the end of the sermon is, when it says, “He opened His mouth and taught them,” well, this is put in a chiastic form.
And chiastic means that the punch line is in the middle, and then it concludes with the end where you get back to the beginning, and that’s why the Sermon on the Mount ends with the words,
“When Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowd was astonished at His teachings, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” So His disciples are amazed at how He taught.
Now, another little trivia point that I think is interesting is this expression, “When Jesus had finished His sayings.” They’re His sayings. They’re His Logia. They’re His words. And so you have a conclusion. But it’s very interesting in this Gospel of Matthew, because that’s how the sermon ends. But then in the next section, you have Him instructing His disciples, and that section ends, “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples.”
And then, you have the next section about the parables. And it says, “And when Jesus had finished these parables.” And I missed one, but the last one is, “When Jesus had finished His sayings,” that’s how the whole Gospel ends. And it says that when He finished His sayings, that’s when He gets crucified.
But some scholars say that the reason you have five times, “When He had finished the disciples, finished the parables, finished the twelve, finished the crowd, and finished all the sayings,” then you have the five books of the Pentateuch. It’s the Torah again, because the Torah has five books – Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, and Leviticus. So it’s patterning it after the Torah/the Pentateuch in its actual structure.
So in any case, we’re now at the Sermon on the Mount. So He Himself teaches from His mouth. Now, how does it begin? It begins with the Beatitudes. And if you count the Beatitudes, and if you count the “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad,” which is the first eleven chapters, there are ten of them, like the Ten Commandments.
And they’re positively put. There’re not, “Thou shalt not” anymore. But it is rather, “How blessed are” or makarios. And by the way, there are two meanings of the word blessed. One is blessed like God blesses you. But makarios means how blessed, how happy, how lucky, and how fortunate. So that’s actually what the word means. So it says, “And you,” meaning the disciples, “who believe that I am the Son of God, the Messiah, raised from the dead and glorified.”
Don’t forget. This was all written after Jesus is risen from the dead. It’s written for them and for them to preach for all nations, as it will say at the end of Matthew: “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations now, and bring them into the vineyard of Israel.” Graft them to the people of God, through the Messiah. That’s what Christians have to do.
So what do you have here? And what are these happy, blessed things for a person?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit. Theirs is the Kingdom of God,” because, don’t forget, it’s the Gospel of the Kingdom. It’s the Gospel of the victory of the King, who is victorious over the enemies. So if you are going to be in the Kingdom of this King, you must be poor in spirit. And as Gregory Palamas said in his Letter to Xenia, “You have to be physically poor and also poor in spirit, which means that you are not vain, proud, or arrogant over the fact that you are poor.” You don’t flaunt your poverty, but you got to be poor.
And in fact, in the New Testament writings, anawim was a technical term for Christians. Christians were the poor. Jesus, who was rich, became poor. He had nothing. “So if you’re my disciple in the final covenant, you have nothing.” You are poor as far as this world is concerned. It doesn’t mean destitute and lying on the street, but it means you have northing worldly, nothing earthly, and nothing of this age that passes away. Your treasure is God. We’ll see that later on when we get into the Sermon itself, and how a person who is poor how they behave.
Then He says, “How happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” because if you belong to Jesus in this age, it’s nothing but weeping. In fact, if you went to church the last few weeks, you know that the songs of our services of the Publican and Pharisee, Prodigal Son, and all that, say that if you can’t weep, then you can’t be saved.
John Climacus said, “When the Messiah comes in glory, He’s not going to ask you why you didn’t do miracles; why you weren’t mystics; why you weren’t contemplatives; why you weren’t theologians, but He will ask you why you have not ceaseless wept,” because if you belong to Christ in this world, you weep, because this world killed Him. He is pushed out of this world. He has no place in this world. He is not of this world. He is crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem.
God’s Kingship is not of this world, but it’s in this world, and the Christians are in this world. So if you’re in this world, you will be poor, both physically and spiritually, and you will be mourning and weeping.
Then, it said, “Blessed are the meek.” And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will say in the center of the Gospel, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble in heart.” And it doesn’t mean simply being humble; it means having nothing and being a slave.
And then it says, “For my yoke is easy.” In the English, we often translate it as easy. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Well, in Greek, it doesn’t say easy. It says good, like “O taste and see how good the Lord is.” It’s the same word. So, “My yoke is good, and my burden is light,” if you’re with me, because nothing can destroy you or harm you. Why can nothing harm you? Because you’re poor, and as my beloved Flannery O’Connor wrote, “And you can’t be poorer than dead.”
And if you’re with Jesus, you’re dead, because once you confess Him as the Christ, He tells you, “You will take up your cross, and follow me too.” And unless we die with Him, we don’t live with Him. Unless we suffer with Him, we don’t reign with Him. That’s just how it is.
So He’s saying, “You have to be meek, like me.” “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice. They will be satisfied.” So the hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness, He’s the one who justifies. He is the Righteous One of God. The demons confess Him like that in Mark’s Gospel. So to be righteous according to the law is to hunger and thirst for what is right and true.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them.” And the main characteristic of God in the Bible is that He is merciful. “The Lord is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and mercy.” That’s the main definition of God in the Torah; in the Scriptures. It’s in Moses. It’s in the Prophets. It’s in the Wisdom. It’s in the Proverbs. It’s in Jonah. It’s a formula. “The Lord is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and mercy.”
So he says right in the beginning, “Blessed are the merciful,” because if you’re merciful, you’re like God, because He has mercy on everyone without condition or qualification. Now, mercy doesn’t simply mean to forgive sins. It means to do good; to give good things; to be gracious. That’s what merciful means. Of course, it means to forgive also. That’s a great sign of generosity.
But it’s important, and the Sermon on the Mount is going to end with the expression in Matthew, “You therefore must be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” That’s the law of Christians. “You be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” It’s interesting that in the Lucan version of this very same teaching, it doesn’t say perfect. It says merciful. “You therefore shall be merciful, as your Father in Heaven is merciful.”
So you have that in the Beatitude. Then, you have the pure of heart. “The pure in heart will see God.” The only way you can see God is when your heart is purified and when your heart is made new. And the heart in the Bible, in the Old Testament, was where God bore witness to Himself; the place where God spoke in a person. It was the center of the person’s being.
By the way, in the Old Testament, there’s no word for mind. Mind and heart are the same thing in the Old Testament. That’s why I like these trivial things. In the Old Testament, in the Law of Deuteronomy, the center of the old Torah was “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”
Heart meant what you think, do, and want. Soul meant how you behaved and lived. And strength meant your property, money, and possessions. It didn’t mean like a gym. Strength meant your powers. But there’s no mind there, whereas in the New Testament, mind is put in. Why? Because it’s written for Greeks. So you have, “You shall love the Lord God with all your mind, soul, heart, and strength.” There is no mind in Hebrew. That’s an interesting point.
But that’s the center of the new Law. And in John’s Gospel, it even becomes, “You shall love one another as I have loved you.” That’s the new commandment. In the old commandment, you love God with your mind, soul, heart, and strength, and you love your neighbor as yourself. In the new covenant, “You love your worst enemy as I have loved you.” That’s what we’re going to see in this law. It’s going to come up here pretty soon.
Then you have the peacemakers, because the Messiah brings the Shalom of God, the peace to the world. And if you don’t have peace within yourself, you can’t spread peace around. But this doesn’t mean peace on earth. Jesus said, “I came to bring a sword; to set daughter against mother; brother-in-law against father-in-law; sister against brother.”
The peace comes at the end, when Christ comes in glory, for those who want it. But for the disciple, the peace is already here for us, but not for the world. And therefore, if you are in the peace of God, you are being persecuted by this world. The world hates you, and we’ll see that too.
And then it ends, “Blessed are you when men revile you; persecute you; say all manner of evil against you falsely, for the sake of righteousness. Theirs is the Kingdom of God.” Blessed are you when men persecute you and utter all evil against you.
And then the last is, “Rejoice and be glad, your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before them.” So if those who are with Jesus and keeping His law; those who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, they will be persecuted; they will be reviled; they will be rejected; they will ultimately be killed with Jesus, nut they have to rejoice and be exceedingly glad, because their reward of the victory of the Messiah is in the age to come. It’s in the Kingdom to come.
So that’s how the new Torah begins. It begins with the ten – the nine Beatitudes and the Rejoice. And then it continues on, and we will go through it this afternoon.
"It helps me focus frequently, although intermittently, on our Lord while I am working. I especially like the occasional prayers and homilies. The music is a welcome alternative to contemporary Christian music. Thank you."