The Good Life Starts with Jesus (Matthew 5:1-2)

The Sermon on the Mount shows us that true human flourishing and the good life our world is searching for starts with listening to Jesus.

Everyone wants the “good life.” Everyone is searching for the life that provides joy, satisfaction, purpose and happiness. Every day our world bombards us with its own vision of this “good life.” But to live well in God’s world we must listen to his word. And a great place to start is the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus shows us what life looks like in the kingdom of God for those have repented and believed the gospel.

One pastor said that the Sermon on the Mount “probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed.”1John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 14–15.This sermon, in line with Bible’s wisdom literature, shows us what true human flourishing and happiness looks like under the saving rule of God.2See Jonathan Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Academic, 2017).Jesus is not giving moralistic requirements for entering the kingdom to those who try hard enough, nor is he giving timeless truths about how our world works (the Beatitudes are the opposite of what “works” in the world). He is also not setting up some impossible ideal of perfect righteousness that we can never attain, so that we collapse in despair and throw ourselves on the righteousness of Christ. Instead, it shows those who are citizens of heaven, as our former pastor David Cook put it, how to “live right-side up in an upside-down world.”

The Sermon on the Mount shows us that the path to true human flourishing, the blessed life that our world is searching for, starts with listening to Jesus.

The Good Life and the Greater Moses

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

It’s easy to skip over the opening verses to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus goes up a mountain, in order to be seen and heard, and he sits down to teach his disciples and the crowds about life in the kingdom. But there’s more going on here. What Jesus is doing is loaded with significance for those who know the Old Testament.

The phrase “went up on the mountain” is used of Moses going up Mt. Sinai to receive the Law for Israel (Ex. 19, 24, 34). It is a clue to unpack the significance of what Jesus is doing. Just like Moses went up the mountain to bring God’s revelation to Israel about life as his covenant people, so now Jesus is going up a mountain to bring God’s law again. Jesus is a new Moses, announcing the way of life in God’s new covenant, that he will make with his body and blood on the cross.

Think about it. Israel had come out of Egypt, through water and wilderness, to receive God’s law before going into the Promised Land. And this is how Jesus’ life and ministry began. Jesus came out of Egypt, through the wilderness and the Jordan River, and into the Promised Land. And now delivering his covenant words to his people.

The Good Life and the Authority of Jesus

But Jesus isn’t just a new Moses; he’s a greater Moses because these are his own words on his own authority:

And he opened his mouth and taught them… (Matthew 5:2)

In one sense, this is just an introductory phrase. But when this is considered with all the connections Matthew makes between Jesus and the Old Testament, we see the significance of this event. In Deuteronomy, God promised to raise up a new prophet like Moses: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…” (Deut. 18:15). And when Jesus is on another mountain, the mount of transfiguration, Matthew tells us, “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.‘” (Matt. 17:5; see also Acts 3:17-26).

Jesus is not going up the mountain to receive the law from God, but to deliver the law of the New Covenant as God’s Son. He is teaching with the authority of God himself because he is the Lord, the God of Israel made flesh. He is a greater Moses because he is Moses’ God.

Listening to Jesus Leads to Human Flourishing

So what do we learn from this brief introduction? What does this mean for us? First, Jesus’ authority, as God’s Son, demands our attention and our obedience. This sermon, and all that Jesus taught about living right-side up in our upside-down world, is not something we skip over to get to doctrine. His way of life is not optional for disciples, because Jesus is showing us what it looks like to be a citizen of his kingdom. If we love him, and have come to know him, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15; 1 John 2:3) What Jesus says about anger, lust, truthfulness, retaliation, prayer, giving to the poor, loving enemies, not judging, and being humble peacemakers matters because it is how we can experience the truly blessed life, and it shows that we have come to know and love him.

Second, apart from the person and work of Jesus, these blessings are out of reach and the obedience necessary for human flourishing is utterly impossible. But the good news is that Jesus makes this good life possible for those who come to him through his death, resurrection, and the power of his Holy Spirit. Of course, true human flourishing will only truly be experienced in the New Creation when Christ’s kingdom is finally established on earth in all its fullness. But with Jesus’ person and work the kingdom of God has been inaugurated. And those who listen to him, who trust and depend on him, can begin to experience the blessings and joy of this good life even now, by grace through faith.

  • 1
    John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 14–15.
  • 2
    See Jonathan Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Academic, 2017).