The Sermon on the Mount
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
This is our last study on the Sermon on the Mount. Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 7:28-29. Those of you who have the red letter edition will discover that the Sermon on the Mount finished at verse 27. What we are dealing with now in these last two verses is telling us how this famous sermon affected the listeners when Christ preached it. The reason we should spend time studying this is because it gives us opportunity to consider what affect it should have on us. Matthew 7:28-29:
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Number one, they were “amazed at his teaching.” The teaching of Christ was in complete contrast to what the people had been hearing from the scribes and Pharisees. In what sense was Christ’s teaching radical so that they were astonished? You will notice in the whole Sermon on the Mount that Christ did not come to teach another law like the Pharisees; they were always adding rules. Every new rabbi would add rules. Christ, who was recognized as a teacher, did not come to add some new law. In fact, He came to condemn any method of salvation that comes from human effort. In other words, He came to give hope to the people.
He condemned all trust in human endeavors. He said that all human efforts come short of the glory of God. That’s why He said (Matthew 5:20):
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
“Your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees.” What Christ was saying was what He had already said in the Old Testament in Isaiah 64:6:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
He was teaching that the righteousness of man is filthy rags. There is no way that they could get peace, there is no way they could get assurance the way the Pharisees had taught them.
The Pharisees looked at salvation by way of outward performance. Christ said, “No, your Christian living must come from the heart.” And that comes only after you have received the new life, the new covenant where the law is written in your heart. The qualifications for that new life is the beatitudes. Christ said (Matthew 5:3):
Blessed are the poor in spirit....
The Pharisees said, “Blessed are they who are righteous in their own eyes.” So they were astonished at His teaching.
But the main emphasis that is brought out in these two verses of Matthew 7 is in verse 29:
...because he taught as one who had authority...
The authority of Christ was questioned many times. Remember when He cleansed the temple? (See Matthew 21.) They said, “Who gave you this authority?” Matthew 21:23:
Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
The greatest effect, then, that this sermon had on His listeners was not so much what He said but that He spoke with authority. Now remember that this means that He drew the attention of the people not only to His message but to Himself.
The scribes and Pharisees spoke with human wisdom. They quoted — “Rabbi so and so said this,” “Rabbi so and so said this,” etc. But Christ drew attention to Himself. “You have been taught this but I say --.” The essential, vital point of all of His teaching was to draw attention to Himself. Why? Because He claimed to be the Messiah. He said (John 10:10):
“...I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
You must remember that Christ came to draw people to Himself. He said in John 12:32:
“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
We must come to grips with this because the purpose of preaching is to lead people to Christ. Turn to Matthew 28 and look there at the end of His ministry. A very interesting thing happens in Chapter 28. If you look at the second half of this Chapter, begin with verse 11:
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.
In other words, these people who watched over the grave of Jesus explained to the chief priests that Christ had risen from the dead. “This man whom you crucified rose from the dead.” What He had predicted had come true. Now look at verses 12-15:
When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers [who were watching the tomb] a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor [Pilate], we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
The chief priests rejected the authority of Christ. Look at verse 16. Now we turn from the Jews to the disciples [Matthew 28:16-18]:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
This is the authority that hearers of the Sermon on the Mount meant when they said, “He is preaching with authority.” Now He plainly says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus then continues (verse 19):
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit....”
This is the authority that we must never deprive Christ of. 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 23-24:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
...But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power [authority] of God and the wisdom of God.
When Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount, He drew attention to Himself as the only source of salvation. The Pharisees drew attention to the law and the wisdom of the rabbis but Christ drew attention to Himself.
The reason I am telling you this is because we today are facing a real problem. I need to expose you to this because it has not fully come out in the open. I will put it in a nutshell, but first turn to Luke 24. I want to show you the difference here between what the Pharisees taught and what Christ taught and why the hearers were so astonished. In Luke 24, Jesus has just risen from the dead and He meets the two men [disciples] walking to Emmaus and He walks with them. They tell Him how disappointed they were that they thought Jesus was the Messiah and now He is dead (it had happened four days before). And after they had explained their deep sorrow, listen to how Jesus responded in verses 25-27:
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
He took the same Bible that they had been taught from for years about Christ by the Pharisees and He gave it a new interpretation and He showed them that all the Scriptures point to Himself. Verses 28-30 simply go on to explain the event:
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.
Then to verse 31:
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
Suddenly they discovered that the One who was giving them the Bible Study was none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Then in verse 32:
They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Did they not know the Scriptures before? Yes. But they had not seen Christ in the Scriptures. Why? Because the scribes and Pharisees had not presented the Word of God as it was intended.
Now we go to the New Testament. All of the Old Testament points to Christ who was to come. All of the New Testament points to Christ who has already come. With this in mind, turn to John 1. I am trying to lay the foundation to face the problem that we are facing. We as members have to face it. Chapter 1 of John, verse 1, tells us:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Who is this Word? How do you know? Because verse 14a says so:
The Word became flesh....
Now look at verses 12 and 13:
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Bible points to Christ. So the Bible is simply the authority of Christ in written form. Here is where the crisis is coming. Today the authority of Scripture has been questioned. I want to give you the background. The moment we question the authority of the Word of God, we question the authority of Christ. You cannot separate the Word of God from Christ.
Let me explain the problem step by step. When the Christian Church was established, the disciples and their followers preached the Bible as it is: the Word of God. This lasted for 300 years. During that time, the Christian Church’s primary concern was to survive the persecution and preach the Word. That is all they did. When the persecution was over in the Fourth Century and the Church became popular, the Christian Church divided into five camps; not five denominations but into five headquarters — let us say five divisions: Byzantine — which was in Turkey — that became Constantinople; Antioch, another headquarters; Alexandria in North Africa; Jerusalem; and Rome. These five were headquarters.
Now that peace came in, the controversies came in. There were all kinds of controversies. There was the Agape controversy, the Easter controversy, the Christological controversy, and they argued. In this argument, one of the big questions was the issue of authority. By the Seventh Century, the Christian Church in the Middle East, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria — these headquarters were swept (in the 7th and 8th centuries especially) by Islam and they lost their power. And the Church that began to become dominant was the Church at Rome. (Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., so its power was lost.)
What happened at that time is that the Church of Rome took the authority from Scripture. The authority was moved from the Bible to the Church and what the Church said you had to believe whether you liked it or not. The authority came into the hands of the Church. For example, the Church said the earth is flat. You had to believe it, you had no choice there because the Church said so. All through the Dark Ages the Church said that the blood in your body was pumped by God Himself. You had to believe it. Then came the Reformation. The Reformation destroyed that authority. It moved the authority from the Church to Scripture. So you have the famous statement “sola scriptura” [“scripture alone”].
Well, that did not last long. By the 17th Century, we entered what is known as the scientific age. The issue of authority began once again and the authority was between the Bible [revelation] and reason. The scientific method uses reason to arrive at truth. So there was the French Revolution where reason was elevated above the Word of God. One of the problems that came up during that time was how to reconcile the Word of God and reason and the scientific discoveries.
So, to keep up with the scientific age, many of the Bible scholars moved into a new approach to Bible study. The technical name by which we call this today is the “historical, critical method.” Adventists as a Church, ever since its beginning, have believed in the authority of the Word of God. Our Church was founded on the authority of the Word of God. What the Word said we agreed with, regardless of the scientific method. One of the key areas, of course, was creation. We believe that the world was created in six days. We can’t prove it scientifically. Hebrews 11 makes it clear that it is by faith that we believe that God created this world without depending on pre-existing matter. Hebrews 11:3:
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
By faith we believe God’s Word.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, we began sending our scholars to universities to get their Ph.D.s and they came back with the historical, critical method. And it has been building up and it has been producing controversy until the year 1986 (or 1987 — I can’t remember the year) but it was at the Annual Council in Rio de Janeiro that the Church took an action and, in that action, it said: “The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not accept the historical, critical method as a valid approach to interpreting Scripture.” (I am paraphrasing, but that is the action they took.)
Let me explain the difference. You have two things: you have revelation [what the Bible says] and you have reason. Which decides what is truth? We have taken the position that the Bible, revelation, decides what is truth. The historical, critical method says, “No, reason must decide what is truth.” And that argument has been going on.
Well, I am afraid the action of that Annual Council did not solve the problem. It got worse and worse and today a majority of our scholars are leaning toward the historical, critical method. In 1989, very concerned about it, a group of scholars who are conservative got together and founded a new society. You may have heard of it. It is called “The Adventist Theological Society.” I (jokingly) accuse them of being a secret society. It is not really a secret society but they are very careful who joins it.
In the Spring of 1990, they put out their first magazine. It is called The Journal of the Adventist Theological Society and its real concern is to try and bring the Church back to the Word of God. I will give you an example. At the General Conference at that time, they had an Adventist Forum at the Hyatt Hotel. All attendees were Adventist scholars and they said they no longer believe that the earth is 6,000 years old. They said that it is at least 150,000 years old.
I would like to just expose you to this as I am sure most of you have not seen this yet. But I will give you the first three articles in this Journal, all dealing with the issue of authority. The first article is by Francis Wernick and his article is “The Power of the Word.” The second article is by Hagele, “The Crisis of the Authority of the Bible as the Word of God.” (He is meaning in Adventism.) And the third article is by Davidson, a professor at Andrews, “The Authority of Scripture: A Personal Pilgrimage.” The latter is an excellent article because he belonged to the historical, critical method and discovered that it was bankrupt and has moved now to the authority of the Word of God.
Let me read you a few statements from the first and the last articles:
“Any uncertainty about our basic beliefs and mission would soon halt our growth and result in the loss of power. This is why pluralism of beliefs upon substantial issues [on fundamental beliefs] would soon rob us of our purpose for existing and weaken the will of our people as it has in other churches.”
I agree with this. Then he quotes from Ellen G. White and listen to what he quotes from: Signs of the Times, June 25, 1902:
“‘The life of Christ that gives light to the world is His Word’. [This is his response] To neglect the study of the Bible is to neglect the only source of power that can change our lives for the better. Could this be the cause of lifelessness among so many Christians? How the Bible is studied is also important. It should not be approached as we study a secular book but as the Word of God. Even though it was written by human beings it must be studied with an implicit faith that it comes from God and is the Word of Life. It should be approached with awe and reverence. Of course, we need to bring to bear all the discipline and skills of scholarship as we seek to understand its language, its background, and its writers, but we must do so always keeping in mind that it is the Word of Life given to us by God.”
Listen to this one:
“The supreme authority has been reserved for the Scriptures as the Word of God. They are the test of every other authority [and I would say including my reasoning]. Even the authority of the Spirit of Prophecy, which we fully believe and accept as given to the Church through Ellen G. White, rests upon the Holy Scriptures. We test the validity of Ellen G. White’s writing by the Bible.”
Then he gives a whole pile of quotations from Ellen G. White herself defending this. And now the last one is from Ellen G. White:
“Before accepting any doctrine or precept [that is, teaching] we should demand a plain ‘thus saith the Lord’ in its support.” Great Controversy, p. 595.
Now let me turn to the last writer. Davidson gives his background. What he saying here is, unfortunately, the experience of many young men and women:
“I have not always held the Scripture authority that I now maintain. I am now convinced that the issue of the authority of Scripture is basic to all other issues in the Church. The destiny of our Church depends on how its members regard the authority of the Bible.”
Then he gives his history:
“Please let me share my experience with you. I was born in a conservative Adventist home and given a solid grounding in historic Adventism’s teachings and practices under godly parents and academy Bible teachers. But in college I found myself confronted with a crisis over the authority of Scripture. In a class entitled “Old Testament Prophets,” the professor, who is no longer teaching Bible in our school, [but the damage was done] systematically went through the traditional messianic passages of the prophets and explained how they really did not foretell the coming of the Messiah.”
Compare this to what we read in Luke. Jesus took the prophets and showed the disciples how they pointed to Him. Here is now a professor who says that the prophetic messages from the Old Testament did not point to the Messiah.
“He then went through the passages Adventists have regarded as referring to the end of time [apocalyptic prophecies] arguing that they really applied only to local situations in the time of the prophets. Then he took the passages in the prophets that are quoted in the New Testament and insisted that the New Testament writers misinterpreted and twisted them.”
How do you expect our young people to deal with that? This is a young man who had been training for the ministry. He continues:
“By the end of this course, my faith in the authority of Scripture was greatly shaken.”
Then he goes into his experience. After he finished college, he went to the seminary.
“My seminary experience in the late 1960s served to confirm the conclusion of my college Bible teacher. In an Old Testament course, I was given an assignment that amounted to half of my grade. This assignment consisted of reading a scholarly debate over the proper method of approaching the Bible and writing a critique that had to reveal my decision as to which side in the debate was right. This assignment was a watershed in my hermeneutical pilgrimage. I agonized over the two opposing views for weeks. I was not told in class which way to cast my vote but the general tenor of the lectures, I now see, was designed to lead me in the direction of the historical, critical method.”
And, of course, this article (that Davidson was agonizing over) was by a Harvard University graduate and he (Davidson) said to himself, “How can such a man be wrong?”
“For years, while I served as a Pastor [the college sent him out as a pastor], I was an avid proponent of the historical, critical method. It was a heady experience for me. I felt good wielding the critical tools and making decisions on my own as to what I would accept as authority in Scripture and what was culturally conditional and could be overlooked. I rejoiced in my mind being the authority now.”
Then, he says, he came to the Bible Conference of 1974. And it was this that shook his position and brought about a change. And he compares his experience with that of Eve. He said:
“Like Eve, I had felt the heady ecstasy of setting myself up as the final norm, as the one who would judge the divine Word by my rational criteria. Instead of the Word judging me, I judged the Word.”
I want to add this: it has crept in among even our lay people in a very subtle way. I will give you two statements that I hear quite often. When you hear something being taught from the Bible and you say, “It makes sense to me,” that is a wrong statement. The issue is not whether or not it makes sense to you. The issue is, “Is this what the Word is saying?” You cannot make your rationale the judging. Another statement is, “It sounds reasonable.” Please notice, you must ask yourself, “What does the Bible say?” Because there are some things that do not make sense to me but I accept it because the Bible says so. Now he concludes:
“In Adventism at the present moment I believe I can say safely, though very regretfully, these two approaches...”
[The historical, critical method and the historical method which we call the historical, grammatical method, which is accepting the Word of God as final authority — these two approaches: reason versus revelation.]
“...these two approaches to Scripture are locked in a life-and-death struggle [in our Church]. I do not want to be an alarmist and it is not my mission to seek to stir up controversy, but I cannot pretend that the problem does not exist. There are many who feel that maybe it is only semantics but my own experience based on my own hermeneutical pilgrimage has convinced me otherwise. I believe there is a true division on the issue even within Adventism and that the ultimate authority of Scripture is at stake.”
Now let’s go back to the Sermon on the Mount. The people heard this on the Mount and they were astonished because He spoke with authority. That had to cause a decision among them: Shall we accept Him as the authority or shall we accept what the Pharisees are teaching? And so, when you read your Bibles, you have to ask yourself, “Do I accept the Word of God or do I accept the words of scientific men or philosophers?” Paul said [1 Corinthians 1:17]:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
When we read the Bible, we are not simply reading words; we are reading a Book that is revealing the Words of God pointing to Christ as the only hope for man. The moment you begin to undermine the Word of God in any area and allow reason to dominate you, you will end up eventually by giving up Christ as the authority for your salvation.
There were some who heard the Sermon on the Mount who rejected that authority. Some of the Pharisees rejected that authority. What does Christ say to them? Matthew 23:38:
Look, your house is left to you desolate.
But to those who believed in Christ — let me go back to John and remind you what happens when you accept Christ as your authority, irrespective of what people say, irrespective of what happens. Listen to John 1:12:
Yet to all who received him [the authority], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God....
It is my prayer that you will never allow your education, your brilliant mind, to say, “I know better than the Word of God.” This Book is not human words. Yes, men wrote it. In one of these articles they give an excellent example: Christ was both God and Man; He was divinity that was revealed in humanity. The Bible is men’s words; men wrote it. But they were revealing their ideas, they were not “victims to their culture” or to the mentality of their age. They were writing God’s thoughts. So when I read the Bible, even though it was written by a man, I am not reading men’s thoughts. I am reading God’s Word. It is my prayer that we will accept Christ — not only be astonished at His authority but accept Him as our authority. And that we will make the Word of God the only measuring stick of truth.
The Bible is “thought-inspired.” The words are men’s. I’ll tell you the difference. Here is an experiment. Go to the four gospels and read every one of them regarding what was inscribed on that little card that was nailed on the cross. Every one of them is different in words. But how many inscriptions were there? Were there four inscriptions there or only one? Which one of them was correct? They all agree in thought even if they don’t agree in words. They were quoting the inscription. The words are not inspired; the thought was inspired. If they were “word-inspired,” all of the four gospel writers would write the same words. Do you see the difference between word inspiration and thought inspiration?
There are different meanings to “word inspiration,” but basically the meaning is that the words are dictated, like a boss dictates to a secretary — word for word. God inspired ideas: He gave them to the writers and they put God’s ideas in their own words. All the Bible is united. The Bible never contradicts itself. If I find two texts that I think contradict, I have to ask, “Which of them need I study carefully so that it agrees with the teaching of Scripture?” Otherwise, I make reason the authority.
What I am saying here is that the struggle between revelation and reason is not a struggle of the scholars, it is a struggle of every believer, because we are living in a scientific age and science is telling us many things that contradict the Word of God. One thing that you must be clear on is that science rejects any supernatural acts. So the liberal theologians today no longer believe in the miracles of Christ. Did Christ actually change the water into wine or did He hypnotize the people? One is the Bible and one is human reason. Did Christ actually rise from the dead or did the disciples deceive the people into believing that? This is the issue and that is why, when I come to the Word of God, I must accept what God says to me. When He says that I am a sinner, I accept it. Sometimes I don’t feel it, but when He says I am a 100% sinner, I must say “yes.” When He says I am saved by grace, I say, “Thank God.”