Question: "What is the Sermon on the Plain?"
Answer: Jesus’ sermon in Luke 6 is sometimes called the Sermon on the Plain. The content of the Sermon on the Plain (or the Sermon on the Plateau) is very much like that of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7). In fact, some students of the Bible consider Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts to be different records of the same event. But there are differences, and they seem to be enough to consider the Sermon on the Plain and the Sermon on the Mount to be delivered at different times to different audiences.
Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount after going up a mountain and sitting down (Matthew 5:1). He delivered the Sermon on the Plain after coming down from a mountain and standing on a level place (Luke 6:17). Luke’s record of the Sermon on the Plain does not contain the extended teaching of Jesus on the law, and it includes various “woes” in addition to the beatitudes. Also, it seems that the audience in Matthew came from different places than the audience in Luke (compare Matthew 4:25 with Luke 6:17). It’s possible that Luke’s Sermon on the Plain is simply a condensed version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, but it seems more likely that Jesus preached a similar sermon on two different occasions, making a few changes to better fit the audience at hand.
The Sermon on the Plain begins with some beatitudes (Luke 6:20–23). Jesus pronounces a blessing on the poor (“yours is the kingdom of God”), the deprived (“you will be satisfied”), the sorrowful (“you will laugh”), and the persecuted (“great is your reward in heaven”). Immediately following the blessings, Jesus pronounces a series of woes (verses 24–26), speaking of the tragedy of being rich (“you have already received your comfort”), of being satisfied (“you will go hungry”), of being carefree (“you will mourn and weep”), and of being popular (popularity is no gauge of truth). In this section of the sermon, Jesus reverses the world’s way of looking at things. Heaven’s value system is far different from earth’s value system. Don’t get caught up in the world’s way of ranking things; it’s too prone to error.
Next in the Sermon on the Plain Jesus gives seven startling commands (Luke 6:27–31). Love your enemies, He says. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who use you spitefully. Turn the other cheek to the one who strikes you. Give generously to everyone who asks you. Finally, Jesus lays down the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (verse 31).
As Jesus continues the Sermon on the Plain, He points to four laws that affect our everyday lives: the law of reciprocity (Luke 6:37–38), the law of leadership (verses 39–40), the law of perspective (verses 41–42), and the law of the harvest (verses 43–45).
In teaching about reciprocity, Jesus says that, if you dish out judgment, you can expect to get judgment in return. If you give condemnation, you will get condemnation. But if you extend forgiveness, you will be forgiven.
In speaking of leadership, Jesus teaches that it matters whom you follow, because you will go where your leader goes and you will become like him. It also matters how you lead. Blind leaders of the blind will send everyone into the ditch.
Turning to the matter of perspective, Jesus says that we are often blind to our own faults, and we must beware of hypocrisy when trying to help others. Rather than identifying and criticizing the small shortcomings in the lives of others, we must learn to recognize our own personal faults.
Jesus then uses the principle of the harvest to teach the importance of personal holiness before God. The fruit matches the tree; a good heart will bring forth good deeds and good words.
Jesus closes the Sermon on the Plain with an admonition to follow through on our commitment. It’s not enough to call Jesus “Lord”; we must actually do what He tells us (Luke 6:46). Those who obey the Lord will be unshakeable, like a house built on a solid rock (verses 47–48). Those who disobey or ignore the Lord’s commands will be like a house with no foundation—they will experience a tragic collapse (verse 49).
Throughout the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus points to eternity and commands us to be far-sighted, to live in light of heaven. And He points to Himself as the standard of righteousness and the very foundation of our lives.