Reading Scripture through the Lens of Context

Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? Just flipped open your Bible to Matthew 5-7 and read it start to finish in one sitting? Did you walk away from that sermon feeling overwhelmed, maybe scared, or confused? I know the first time I read it, I thought it was hard.



I wonder what it would have been like for the original audience. As people coming at this sermon so far in the future, and knowing the end of the story, I think it's hard to place ourselves in the crowd, what they would have taken from Jesus' sermon, what they would have thought about what he had to say. But even with the perspective we have now, I think it's still a hard sermon to just read once and understand fully.

In this sermon, Jesus makes statements such as;

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (5:17-20)

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (6:34)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (7:7)

These verses, taken out of context, and given a quick read, may leave you confused, intimidated, or even scared, which is why context is always important when we're reading scripture. I like to tell our students that we are 2000 years too late to this conversation to glaze over it once and fully grasp it. The Bible requires, and deserves, more attention than that.

Well, a lot of this makes a whole lot more sense if we go back to the beginning. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' first big public sermon. He has only called four of his twelve disciples by this time, and he's sitting them down to teach them about the kingdom of heaven. His first comment about it? Matthew 5:3 records it like this, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Or, as the NLT translates it, “Blessed are those who realize their need for him...”.

Right off the bat, Jesus says, Look, the kingdom is not for people who boast in themselves. The kingdom is for those who realize they need him, that they can't do this on their own.

We come before God, spiritually impoverished. We have nothing to offer and we come before Him as beggars in need of grace. When we view Jesus' sermon through this lens, it brings a lot of light to what he's saying. And for the past eight weeks in Student Ministries, we've been looking at Jesus' first big public sermon through this lens. It's an important lesson, because when we come across a teaching by Jesus, and we find it difficult, or maybe even impossible to understand, it's because we're trying to do it on our own strength, when Jesus has called us, from the very beginning of His ministry, to rely on him, and not ourselves.

I hope this encourages you this week, church.

Mike Sanders, Director of Student Ministries


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