Matthew 1:1-4:25, prologue to the Sermon on the Mount
The events that led to the Sermon on the Mount started with Adam and then played out through the entire of Biblical history, as documented in the Hebrew Bible (for a detailed analysis of this see The Emmaus View). Matthew’s Gospel, however, compresses all that went before into a single genealogy, then picks up the story at the time of Jesus birth. At that time Judah had strayed from Godly ways and its ruler, Herod the Great, was perfectly happy to shed innocent blood in the pursuit of his personal objectives (a trait noted in both the Bible and the secular histories of the time).
The birth of John the Baptist, followed about six months later by that of Jesus, initiated a process that would offer Judah salvation from their spiritual failings. Moreover, this offer would ultimately extend beyond Jesus’ own nation, to encompass the world.
After Jesus birth and his presentation at the temple, which was in accord with Jewish law, a group of magi arrived in Judea. Heirs of a great Magus called Balaam, and propelled by his ancient prophecy of a rising star, they had come to announce the birth of a king, for they had seen a star that heralded the rise of a great leader from the amongst the descendants of King David. Herod’s advisers recognised perfectly well the prophecy in question, for, although they referred to the much later words of Micah, they pointed the king to a prophecy that referred back to Balaam’s words.
Faced with this challenge to his dynasty, Herod sought to murder every child who might become the prophecy's fulfilment. The holy family were, however, forewarned, allowing them to flee to Egypt before Herod's executioners arrived. Once things had quietened down they returned, but not to Judea, where Herod's son Archelaus was still following his father's example. Instead they headed further north, for Jesus to grow up in the relative obscurity of the Galilean town of Nazareth.
When John the Baptist began to prophesy and call Judea back to obedient godliness, he oversaw the creation of a willing people amidst which God would work. This prepared the way for Jesus, after baptism and time in the wilderness, to step into the role of law-giver.
The Sermon on the Mount is the first of several great blocks of Jesus’ teaching found in Matthew’s Gospel. As such it introduces us to Jesus’ foundational teaching on the divine law.