The Sermon on the Plain — What is it?

The Sermon on the Plain is a sermon Jesus preached to a large crowd before entering Capernaum as recorded in Luke 6:20–49. The Sermon on the Plain is strikingly similar to the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew chapters 5—7. Both sermons are placed in the narrative after the calling of the disciples and before entering Capernaum to heal the centurion's servant. They both start with the Beatitudes and include teaching about loving others, judging others, and knowing a tree by its fruit. Both end with the story of the wise and foolish builders. However, the Sermon on the Plain occurs as Jesus descends a mountain having spent the previous night praying atop it; the Sermon on the Mount occurs as Jesus ascends a mountain in response to gathering crowds. The Sermon on the Plain is markedly shorter than the Sermon on the Mount despite including a list of woes not included in the Sermon on the Mount. Both sermons are delivered to large crowds, but the people groups listed as present in the crowds differ between Luke's and Matthew's accounts.

Due to the similarities, some scholars believe these sermons are simply different accounts of the same event. However, due to the differences, many scholars believe these were two different sermons delivered at two different locations to two different groups. Because sermons in biblical times could not have been printed out and distributed in leaflets nor could they have been recorded and broadcast on media platforms, it was common for the same material to be preached multiple times in different locations with slight variations in order to address different crowds. Whether or not the Sermon on the Plain in Luke's gospel and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's gospel were the same sermon or two different events does not affect the fact that this teaching is Jesus' instruction to the people who came to follow Him. The Sermon on the Plain is worth studying to deduce the wisdom that Jesus wanted to impart to His followers.

After healing the crowd of diseases and evil spirits, Jesus began to preach to His disciples. He started with a list of blessings that seemed counter-cultural. In Jesus' day, people believed that prosperity, wealth, health, and good fortune were signs of God's favor and that misfortune, illness, disease, and poverty were signs of God's judgment. Thus, the Beatitudes where Jesus identified the poor, hungry, weeping, and persecuted among His followers as blessed would have been radical new thinking. Jesus then warned the rich, well-fed, rejoicing, and well-respected in society by pronouncing four woes in an inversion of the previous four statements of blessing. He then called His followers to love their enemies by praying for them, turning the other cheek, and being generous. He pronounced the Golden Rule: "And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them" (Luke 6:31).

Next, Jesus taught about withholding condemnation and instead extending forgiveness. He said, "for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38). Jesus spoke against hypocrisy. A blind person cannot effectively lead another blind person; disciples must be trained. Jesus' followers should humbly consider their own hearts, actions, and beliefs before trying to teach or help others change. "First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye" (Luke 6:42).

Jesus explained that just as a tree is known for the fruit it produces, so too a person can be recognized by the outward speech and actions produced by the good or evil stored within their hearts. Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Plain with a story contrasting the success of the builder who dug a deep foundation on which to build his house with the failure of the builder who built without a foundation. For the first builder, "when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built" (Luke 6:48). But for the one who built without a foundation, "the ruin of that house was great" (Luke 6:49). Jesus said that those who put His teaching into practice were like the successful builder and those who heard it only and never followed through were like the failed builder.

Jesus then entered Capernaum and was amazed at the faith of the Roman centurion who trusted that a simple word from Jesus could heal his servant. In this way, the servant was healed (Luke 7:1–10). In so many aspects this incident parallels the teaching Jesus had just completed. As a Roman centurion that man would have been rich, well-fed, and well-respected in comparison to Jesus and His followers. But because he came in humility to Jesus, recognizing his own need and Jesus' authority, the centurion was blessed. The Jews and Romans were natural enemies, but Jesus exemplified love in His care for the Roman's concern. The centurion humbly evaluated himself to be unworthy of Jesus' presence which is why he asked for Jesus to only speak healing from a distance. The fruit of this faithful man's life (he loved the people of Israel, saw to the building of the synagogue in Capernaum, and spoke of Jesus' authority (Luke 7:4, 5, 8)), reflected the good he had stored in his heart. And his action step of requesting healing from Jesus exemplified the wisdom of the successful builder by actually putting his faith in Jesus into practice. In this short incident, the Sermon on the Plain was brought to life.

We can be thankful for the wisdom God shares with us in His Word, including the wisdom Jesus preached during the Sermon on the Plain.

Related Truth:

The Sermon on the Mount — What is it?

The beatitudes — What are they?

Why is the Golden Rule so important?

What does it mean that you will know them by their fruit in Matthew 7:16?

Why did Jesus use parables so often?

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