What’s the “Sermon on the Plain”?
You may have heard of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. In fact, you can find blog posts by simply searching our site with the word, “Matthew” or “Sermon on the Mount.” The Sermon on the Mount is the most famous of Jesus’s teachings, but what is the Sermon on the Plain?
There are five remarkable differences between how Luke in chapter 6 relays some of the same teachings of Jesus found in Matthew 5-7.
1. The Name Falls Mainly on the Plain
The Sermon on the Plain gets its name because the introduction says “He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people . . .” (Luke 6:17). Matthew 5:1 says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain . . .” So, this is why there is a difference in what we call the sermons. But that’s not all—there are also differences in the actual content, some subtle but important differences.
2. The “poor” and the “poor in spirit”
Another key difference between the two reports of these teachings of Jesus between Luke and Matthew is in what we often call the “Beattitudes.” In our book, Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount, Randy Harris and I make the case for these sayings of Jesus being “blessings” more than attitudes. Yes, we live into these ways of living, but Matthew is speaking of pre-existing conditions of people and how God’s blessing comes to them exactly where they are now. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will see God.” Jesus seems to be blessing people who are already poor in spirit and giving them a blessing, rather than suggesting that we need to somehow achieve poor in spirit status. Even more so does Luke make the point like this. He doesn’t even use the phrase “in spirit” but simply says, “Blessed are the poor.” Are you going to get poor so you can be blessed? Well, paradoxically, that’s exactly what Jesus is saying. The literal poor are blessed, and if you want to find the blessing of God, then literally become poor in this world and rich toward God.
3. Woe now!
Evidence of similarities suggests that Matthew and Luke are recording the same occasion of Jesus preaching to the crowds, but isn’t it likely that Jesus spoke and taught stories and teachings on many occasions? Regardless, there are more differences in the sermons to consider. Matthew doesn’t say “woe,” at least in the sermon context, though Matthew includes a serious set of seven woes in chapter 23. After the blessings, much shorter in Luke, he also has Jesus delivering woes as well. Here it’s cool how they are direct opposites of the blessings: “blessed are the poor . . . woe to you who are rich” . . . “blessed are those who hunger now . . . woe to you who are well fed now” . . . “blessed are you who mourn . . . woe to you who laugh now” . . . “blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake . . . woe to you when all men speak well of you.”
4. Luke doesn’t show Jesus comparing six law interpretations with his own interpretations
A central feature of Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” is a comparison of how Pharisees and teachers of the law interpret scripture and how Jesus interprets scripture. Six times in Matthew, Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said . . .” then Jesus quotes a law or interpretation of the law by religious teachers, then Jesus says, “But I say unto you,” and then Jesus says how He views it. Luke completely omits this whole section and goes straight to the punch line of the whole thing: love and show mercy like God loves and shows mercy.
5. Sprinkle in the teaching throughout the Gospel of Luke
Where it seems Matthew is plowing through a “best of” list of Jesus’s teachings from Matthew 5-7, Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” is much shorter, yet if you look at what is called a “Harmony of the Gospels” resource, you’ll find Luke has taken teachings on things such as prayer and sprinkled them throughout the gospel. If you know this, then you can be more aware as you read through Luke, that you are going to find teachings in the middle of miracles or other actions in the life of Jesus.
Greg Taylor, M.Div.
Greg Taylor is the preacher for The Journey. He holds degrees in Print Journalism from Harding University and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology. Greg is working on his Doctor of Ministry at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where The Journey is located. Greg is married to Jill, who is a math teacher at Broken Arrow High School. They have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, and of course they are very proud of each of what God has done in each one of their lives. Greg is author of several books you can order from your favorite bookseller.