Both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain are delivered early in Jesus’ ministry, with newly chosen disciples and large crowds present. These two sermons of Jesus present the important basics of the spiritual life of a Christian. Both sermons lay the groundwork for the new Christian church. Their messages are timeless, for they speak to Christians today as well as to those in the first century. 

The Sermon on the Mount—given to a primarily Jewish audience that Jesus was attempting to avoid by walking up a mountainside—lays out the basics of obedience to God. There is an emphasis on the spiritual life of a person, their attitudes reflected in actions and outcomes. For example, it is written that Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8). The text of the Sermon on the Mount is often found to be intangible and open to wide interpretation, yet it inspires the hearer and reader to live a godly life.

Jesus preached the Sermon on the Plain after a night of praying on a mountainside and a morning spent choosing his 12 disciples (Luke 6). He delivered his sermon on level ground and the Sermon on the Plain’s message is grounded in real-life issues. It encourages the poor and disenfranchised in society and warns those more fortunate that their lives will change for the worse if they don’t change their ways. For example, Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20); But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort (Luke 6:24). Luke recorded the Sermon on the Plain for a Gentile audience. The Gentile audience would not be as familiar with Jewish law and perhaps needed a more practical approach to the Christian life, as contained in the basic beatitudes and threatening woes of Luke’s recorded Sermon on the Plain.

Whether the two sermons were given on one occasion or over a longer period of time, is not certain. Disciples Matthew and Luke listened to Jesus’ teaching over the course of His ministry and recorded overlapping lessons in the two sermons; one-third of the material in the Sermon on the Mount is in the Sermon on the Plain. The formats of the two sermons are similar, with beatitudes—reading Blessed are the…—and parables. Matthew and Luke recorded in their gospels what they deemed the most important instructions for themselves and future Christians.

What Was the Sermon on the Plain?

The Sermon on the Plain contains guidance in living within the world of the New Testament, which had social inequities and personal conflicts—as has been the case in all time periods of human history. Luke is passionate about explaining God’s care for people on the fringes of society. The last of the Sermon on the Plain’s four woes directs privileged people to care for the poor and miserable in this life. The large audience attending the Sermon on the Plain learned God’s plan of caring for brothers and sisters in Christ. And Jesus’ healing ministry followed the same guidelines as those He presented in His Sermon on the Plain.

The Sermon on the Mount has nine beatitudes, the verses that being with Blessed are the…(Matthew 5:3-11), while the Sermon on the Plain has four beatitudes (Luke 6:20-23). The two sets of beatitudes are about reversals of fortune, with this pattern: a description of a difficult situation on earth contrasted with a great fortune in the kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Plain beatitudes address poverty, hunger, weeping, and hatred. For example, verse 21 says Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied. A similar beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount describes those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Jesus spoke in Luke’s Gospel of those who suffer physical hunger, most likely due to poverty. The Sermon on the Plain has an earthier tone.

While the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount outline Jesus’ idea of a fulfilled spiritual life in Christ, the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Plain deal with how to respect economic and social differences. In Matthew 5:3, the first beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount discusses the poor in spirit. Luke 6:20 makes Jesus' message more concrete: in a similar beatitude in the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus addresses His message to people who are simply poor. The Sermon on the Plain goes on to reference people who are hungry, weeping and hated for being Christians.

The four beatitudes recorded by Luke are followed by four “woes.” They are warnings to new and future Christians to live as Christ lived. These woes are addressed to people who are prospering now. Jesus warns comfortable people of reversals of fortune in each of the four woes; that is, present ease will result in oppression in the future. The woes or warnings contain advice regarding having riches, being well-fed, laughing, and being praised by other people. Good fortune in this current life will not last, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Plain. Ahead, there is less comfortable, and more hunger, mourning, and weeping. Jesus also warns that people’s popular opinion of the current winners in life will change for the worse.

What Did Jesus Teach at the Sermon on the Plain?

The Gospel of Luke has been called the social Gospel because of its sympathy with the poor and its emphasis on kindness. The sermon contains several revolutionary “zingers” of Christian principles—often quoted throughout the ages—dealing with interpersonal relations, such as:

·      Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27).

·      Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31).

·      Do not judge, and you will not be judged (Luke 6:37).

  • For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).

The Sermon on the Plain concludes with Jesus telling the large crowd a parable contrasting a house built on a firm foundation versus a house built on an infirm foundation (Luke 6:48-49). A common interpretation of this parable is that listening to and living by God’s word—spoken by Jesus in His sermons—will lay a firm spiritual foundation in a person. The person’s “house” will not be shaken and damaged by the storms of life.

What Was the Main Purpose of This Sermon Series?

The Sermon on the Mount was prompted by the Pharisees and Jesus’ own disciples questioning his ministry practices. The Pharisees were alarmed that Jesus forgave people of their sins in the name of God. They also did not approve of his healing on the Sabbath. Jesus broke Jewish law, according to the Pharisees. Jesus sets the Pharisees' beliefs straight in the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus is also orienting His disciples, new recruits, in the Sermon on the Plain. Luke 6:20 says, Looking at his disciples, he said… and then Jesus launches into the meat of his sermon. In Luke 6:46, Jesus admonishes his disciples with the words Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? Jesus is like a teacher reprimanding His students.

The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain instruct early Christians and us on several key issues, as Russell Benjamin Miller writes in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915. These vital issues are the duty of universal love; the equality of people; and the obligation to serve the less fortunate as a charitable spirit. As the Sermon on the Plain says, Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back (Luke 6:30).

Are the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain Different?

Both sermons lay out a code of conduct for Christians. The content of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount works to reform the spiritual attitudes of Christians. The overall message of the Sermon on the Plain is for Christians to follow Christ’s example of performing kind, generous actions to those less fortunate in this life.

One major difference between the two sermons is the Sermon on the Mount has five more beatitudes than the Sermon on the Plain. The additional beatitudes in Matthew 5:5-9 bless the meek, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. These beatitudes address the spiritual nature of people listening long ago and today.

The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain lay the groundwork for the new Christian church. The sermons’ messages are timeless and eternal for all Christians and seekers.

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Betty DunnBetty Dunn hopes her articles in Crosswalk.com help you hold hands with God, a theme in her self-published memoir Medusa. A former high school English teacher and editor, she works on writing projects from her home in West Michigan, where she enjoys woods, water, pets, and family. Check out her blog at Betty by Elizabeth Dunning and her website, www.elizabethdunning-wix.com