Keys to Kingdom Greatness: An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. By Steve Elkins. Coppell, TX: Allie Grace Publishers, 2014. 428 pp. Paper, $19.95.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) is the longest extended discourse given by Jesus in all of the Gospels. Over the centuries, it has generated more diversity of interpretation than perhaps any of Jesus’ teachings. The author states: “Without exaggeration, there are over fifty widely varying interpretations of the Sermon in print—most of which are simply unsustainable under Scriptural scrutiny” (p. 5).
In his Foreword, Steve Elkins states his purpose of writing: “Because there’s simply not anything available—that I know of—from this particular perspective. We are very convicted that the Sermon is in reference to Christ’s future literal Kingdom and that it most certainly is not about Kingdom entrance, but Kingdom greatness” (p. 5).
Also, he states: “A more important reason for writing on the subject is because so much of the popular literature being pumped out on the Sermon directly contradicts the Gospel of grace. Seeing the Sermon as how one enters the kingdom —or how ‘true entrants’ necessarily live— will only destroy one’s objective assurance of salvation. But if understood as primarily to believers (who know they’re saved) and about greatness not entrance the Sermon is an amazing short-course on how we’re to live and look at things now as we await the King’s return. The King Himself sets forth a whole new mental composition and character, replete with conduct and commands guaranteed to make any child of the Father great in the Kingdom…if we’ll take Him up on it!” (p. 5, emphasis his).
Elkins has admirably accomplished what he set out to do, and that is to show conclusively that the Sermon on the Mount is intensely relevant for believers today; give down-to-earth and practical ways of applying Jesus’ words; and open up the text in a clear and understandable way.
This book is not written for everyone. It is not directed towards theologians (though it will challenge them), nor is it directed towards unbelievers (though perhaps an unbeliever might benefit from its contents), but it is directed towards believers who do not necessarily make their livings writing about theology. It is written in a down-to-earth manner that anyone can understand—and abounds with illustrations and applications. These chapters are actually sermons which the author has preached and therefore are abundantly practical. The author’s knowledge of the Greek is immediately evident and his careful attention to minute details of Greek grammar is laudable. Yet he writes in a very pastoral and understandable manner. (He always explains Greek terms carefully.)
The book has 32 chapters that break down the Sermon in its order of presentation. The author understands the Sermon as telling disciples of Jesus Christ how to attain greatness in the coming Kingdom of Heaven. This thesis is based on Matt 5:17–19 and particularly v 19: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (emphasis mine).
The author believes that Jesus is giving us directions today as to how we—in the church—can attain this greatness. In fact, his first chapter is immensely important. He shows through Scripture and exposition that, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus turns decisively to the Gentiles (and the church). Elkins says concerning Matt 21:43, “Prophetically, Jesus is saying, ‘The kingdom of God will be taken from you (since you’re not believing) and given to a ‘nation’ (i.e., the entity of the church, largely made up of Gentiles!) producing its fruit’” (p. 15). He also notes Matt 28:19 where Jesus specifically commands the Apostles to go to the Gentiles.
This is a very crucial point. The very qualities that Jesus delineates in the Sermon on the Mount that are necessary for Israel to reign with Him are now the same qualities He is looking for in the church that Christians might reign with Him in the coming Kingdom.
After laying down a good foundation for his overall point-of-view and interpretation of the Sermon, the author proceeds basically verse-by-verse to open up the Sermon. Along the way he provides a number of insights into both the Sermon on the Mount and the book of Matthew itself. I was particularly intrigued by his discussion of why four women are included in the genealogy of Matthew (p. 13). His argument is very clear and powerful and opens up a major insight in understanding the purpose of Matthew’s Gospel. Except for Mary, they’re all righteous Gentiles (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba). And they all had checkered pasts (except for Ruth).
This book is not for speed readers. I found myself going through it chapter-by-chapter while carefully thinking about (and even checking out) what the author had said. And in every chapter the author is strongly, but graciously, challenging the reader to make application to achieve kingdom greatness. That is, this is a highly motivating book. It is not for the weak-kneed reader.
It is disappointing that there is no Scripture index. Hopefully the second edition will include this.
I highly recommend this book to the Christian reader—of whatever maturity level he may be. I am planning on getting multiple copies to give away to friends who are otherwise persuaded about the meaning of the Sermon.