My college coach’s weapon of choice was a fungo. With it, he hit ground balls during batting practice with precision previously unknown to mankind. And with it, he also let us know it was time to listen. When Coach carried the fungo into the locker room, it meant he was about to give a speech, using the fungo as his symbol of power (and as something to tap on the locker room benches as he made his points). When Coach had the fungo, it was time to listen.
In Matthew 5, Jesus does something like this. “When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them, saying…” The position of authority for rulers and teachers during that day was sitting down. Matthew is the book that presents Jesus as the promised Messiah and King of the Jews. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the King would take the seated position, the “throne,” if you will, as He lays out the description and law of His Kingdom.
If we don’t understand this context, we might think that what Jesus has to say is sort of like a campfire conversation: He’s just sitting around having a chat with His disciples. Obviously, it’s far more than this. There were certainly times when Jesus had a chat with His disciples, but on this occasion, He is speaking as King and lawgiver. What follows establishes the foundation for life in His realm.
Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of context when studying the Bible. Knowing that Matthew portrays Jesus as King and Messiah is vital to understanding the content of the book. Knowing that Jesus taking the seated position means He took the position of authority helps us understand more about the Sermon on the Mount. It’s just like when my coach took the fungo into the locker room. Listen up! This is important! That’s what Jesus communicated by taking a seat.
In the next few days, I’ll begin to work through the Sermon on the Mount. Until then, give some thought to Jesus taking His rightful position as ruler and King. He’s about to lay out the dimensions and guidelines for the Kingdom. Stay tuned.
Here’s a handout on the background of Matthew: Matthew handout