In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard stresses that to understand the Sermon on the Mount we must look at why and when it was given. After all, context is always important. It is interesting to note that Jesus doesn’t kick off or close out his ministry with this foundational sermon, and it is given in front of “great crowds” of people. Where did these crowds come from? We see in Matthew 4 that Jesus had just been teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction of the people. Therefore this sermon wasn’t delivered to just a handful of people or even to a random group, but to a group of people that Jesus has just ministered to in a very concrete way, healing their disease and afflictions.
Imagine if you were a bitter social outcast from Galilee, barred from society because of disease, and Jesus healed you — essentially giving you a brand new life. You are part of the crowd that follows Him and when He begins to speak, he points at you and says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I think maybe that’s what it was like. Jesus healed individuals; He didn’t wave a wand and heal throngs of people. Jesus longs for each and every person to encounter Him and His love, and it is only after demonstrating His loving concern for individuals that Jesus talks to them as a group.
So perhaps before we really get into the Sermon on the Mount the first step is take a look at what Jesus has done in our lives. How has He healed you physically or spiritually? How has He protected you from your just desserts? How has He drawn you closer through trials and heartaches?
When we sit on the side of the hill to hear His sermon, we want to have the grateful hearts, the open eyes, the willing ears that the crowd had. They had encountered the Living Christ and were ready for truth and direction. Are we?