The Sermon on the Mount
Discipleship Bible Study
April 22-May 27, 2020
Chris Coon, Park Boulevard Presbyterian Church
April 22, 2020
Jesus called disciples to himself. A disciple is one who follows and learns from a great teacher, just as an apprentice learns from a master craftsperson. Beyond simply gaining knowledge or skill, a disciple seeks to imitate the teacher and become like them.
Jesus announced the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near (Matthew 4:17.) By this he meant that life lived in loving relationship with God, under God’s rule, is now available to all people through faith in Himself.
The life of discipleship – the life of following and living as Christ teaches us – is the way of life in God’s kingdom. Disciples obey and put into practice what Jesus taught and demonstrated for us. In this way our lives are changed, and we become more like Jesus – in other words, we become the people that God created us to be.
In order to be disciples, we must learn what Jesus taught us. Discipleship Bible Study gives us the opportunity to do this together. Our goal is to follow Jesus and learn from Him so that we can become like Him.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ longest and most well-known set of teachings, found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7.
Question: Who do you consider to be well-off, or blessed? Who does our culture consider to be blessed?
Read Matthew 5:1-12. The Beatitudes (“Blesseds”) are one of the most famous passages in the Bible. It is significant that Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount – and all of his teaching ministry – with this description of who is blessed in God’s kingdom.
Question: How does this passage resonate with you? How do you feel as you read it? Is there a particular verse that grabs your attention?
If we simply think of Jesus as telling us how to behave properly in this passage, we will miss the point. These blessings (think “wonderful news!”) are not saying “try hard to live like this.” They are saying that people who already are like this are in good shape – they should be happy and celebrate.
Jesus is not suggesting that these are timeless truths about how the world is – mourners often go uncomforted, the meek don’t inherit the earth, etc. This is an upside-down world that Jesus is describing, not the world that most of us live in, and certainly not the world of the first century.
Or maybe Jesus is describing the right-side up world – and Jesus is saying that with his work it is starting to come true. This is an announcement – something is starting to happen! It is good news, not good advice.
Wonderful news for the poor in spirit! The kingdom of heaven is yours.
Wonderful news for the mourners! You’re going to be comforted.
Wonderful news for the meek! You’re going to inherit the earth.
Wonderful news for people who hunger and thirst for God’s justice! You’re going to be satisfied.
Wonderful news for the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves.
Wonderful news for the pure in heart! You will see God.
Wonderful news for the peacemakers! You’ll be called God’s children.
Wonderful news for people who are persecuted because of God’s way! The kingdom of heaven belongs to you.
Jesus invited his first disciples to follow him because in him God was doing a new thing; God is at work in fresh ways, and this is what it looks like! In our world, people still think that good news consists of success, wealth, long life, victory in battle. Jesus offers good news for the humble, the poor, the mourners, the peacemakers. This is what the kingdom of heaven looks like.
Question: How does this understanding of the passage challenge your own worldview, particularly when it comes to who is blessed by God?
So when do these promises come true? It is tempting to say, in heaven, after death. But this is a misunderstanding of the meaning of heaven. Heaven is God’s space, not necessarily far away, but where everything is under his rule. In the Lord’s Prayer (chap. 6), we are taught to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The life of heaven is to become the life of this world, and those who follow Jesus are to live in this rule right now.
So this first section is vitally important for us, not because it gives us instructions, but because it challenges our view of life, specifically the life that is blessed by God. The kingdom of God is upside-down – or right-side-up – and followers of Jesus must begin to have their value-systems challenged, disrupted, and transformed.
Read Matthew 5:13-16. Again, it is significant that this is at the beginning of the sermon. Here we are told that the invitation to discipleship is not merely for our own benefit, but that we will have a profound effect on those around us.
Question: How might the metaphors of salt and light describe the life of a disciple?
Salt was both an important flavoring as well as a preservative in the ancient world. Both of these purposes can describe the life and witness of Christ’s followers: providing the “zest” that brings out the best in other people and the world, as well as preserving and protecting that which is good in life. God’s people are to provide a distinctive “taste” to the world. We know that salt cannot lose its saltiness, because saltiness is its very essence – without saltiness, there is no salt.
In the same way, the purpose of light is to be seen, as in a beacon, and to help to see, as in a lantern. If we are following Jesus, our lives will be light like a city on a hill – it will be impossible to remain hidden.
Question: How do you feel about “public” aspect and implications of discipleship, as expressed in the metaphors of salt and light?
Read Matthew 5:17-20. Here Jesus is preparing us for the more specific teaching that follows. Jesus assures his listeners that he is not a revolutionary bent on destroying the Jewish religion and scriptures. Rather, Jesus says that he has come to fulfill them.
Question: How do you think that Jesus fulfills the Law?
Jesus is the reality towards which all of Israel’s life and tradition pointed. This statement had layers of meaning, including: 1) the purpose of the Law was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah, 2) the Law (specifically the ritual Law) had served its purpose, pointing to Jesus; and 3) Jesus was the only human being who had perfectly kept, or fulfilled, the Law.
Question: What do you think it means that our “righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven?
It may appear that Jesus is adding layers of expectation and requirement onto the existing Law, especially the Ten Commandments, thereby calling his followers to be even more righteous than the Pharisees, who were known for their meticulous keeping of the Law. Rather, what we shall see, is that Jesus takes his followers to the heart, or spirit, of the Law, so that we can understand how life in God’s kingdom is the fulfillment of all that God has called us to throughout scripture.
Read the entire Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, with special attention to 5:21-48.
April 29, 2020
The word disciple occurs 269 times in the New Testament, while the word Christian occurs three times and was introduced to refer to Jesus’ followers when it became necessary to differentiate them from other groups of Jews. There is no difference between Christians and disciples - to be a Christian is to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus!
The entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a description for Jesus’ followers (and his would-be followers) of what life in the kingdom of God is like.
The Beatitudes (“Blesseds,” 5:1-12) describe the people for whom the arrival of the kingdom will be good news; the values of the kingdom are upside-down compared to the world around us - the poor in spirit will be blessed vs. the proud, the peacemakers vs. the winners, etc.
Jesus’ followers are to be salt and light to the world (5:13-16), meaning that our lives should bless those around us and point them towards God.
Jesus teaches that he is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law (5:17-20); from now on all of the Law should be understood in light of Jesus’ own teachings and commandments. Most importantly, Jesus wants his followers to have a righteousness of the heart rather than merely superficial obedience of the rules.
In this next section (5:21-48), Jesus will begin interpreting the Law, specifically the Ten Commandments, for his followers so that we can understand what kind of person can be a part of the kingdom of God. As N.T. Wright says, Jesus takes the commands of the Law and shows how “they provide a blueprint for a way of being fully, genuinely, gloriously human.”
Jesus begins by addressing the issue of anger - smoldering anger against another person.
Question: Have you ever been so angry with somebody that you wanted to hurt them, or at least wished that something terrible would happen to them?
The point of the commandment against murder was not that you should stop short of killing someone, but that you should never get near even the thought that you wish they were dead. Every time we let our anger smolder on inside us, we are becoming a little less human, a little less the image of God. Anger is the root of all kinds of violence, causing human beings to diminish and destroy one another.
The particular words we use to insult one another (5:22) are not so important - they are different in particular times and cultures of course; this is not legalistic. The point is anger leads to contempt - the feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. When we hold someone in contempt, it is as if we are murdering them in our heart.
Question: Have you ever experienced contempt - either feeling it yourself, or being the object of someone else’s contempt?
The smoldering fire inside of us may become all that left of us, as hell (literally, Gehenna - the smoldering garbage dump of ancient Jerusalem) consumes us completely.
As an alternative, Jesus offers two practical commands: Be reconciled, and make friends. These are both simple and difficult. It involves humbling ourselves, and becoming more human in the process. Reconciliation takes precedence even over worship: Jesus tells the comical story of somebody returning home before finishing a sacrifice in order to clear up a conflict. The goal is that we live in such a way that there is no anger between us and our neighbor.
The final image in this section is of a man settling issues with a neighbor before they go before a judge. Focus on making friends, and if you cannot have full reconciliation, at least all you can to settle your differences. Jesus becomes the model for us of reconciliation and peace, rather than the way of anger and vindictiveness.
Adultery refers to sexual relations outside of marriage; it almost always refers to a married person having sex with someone other than their spouse. However, scripture is also clear that marriage is the only context within which sex is intended to be expressed.
Like murder, it is also possible to avoid the actual action of adultery while still having a heart filled with lust. While sexual desire is natural and created by God, lust is an unbridled passion or inordinate desire for physical sex. Lusting after a particular person not only objectifies them, but is the first step leading to the act of adultery. Even if the act of adultery is never reached, there are sinful steps along the way that show that our hearts are not pure.
Question: What do you think it means to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand if it causes us to sin?
These commands are not only exaggerations, but are also highly ironic - they are the extreme solution to making sure that we do not violate the letter of the law; however, we could still have lust in our hearts after our hand or eye is gone!
Life in God’s kingdom means not allowing any desire to consume us or to become out of control. Life in the kingdom is about allowing the goodness of God to penetrate deep into our hearts so that we become a new and different kind of person.
When Jesus himself comes to deal with the rightness of persons in divorce, he does not forbid divorce absolutely, but he makes it very clear that divorce was never God’s intent for men and women in a marriage. The intent of marriage is that two people become one flesh (Gen. 2:24) and as Jesus says, what God has brought together, humans should not separate. (Matt. 19:5).
In Jesus’ time, it was the man’s prerogative to choose divorce, often for any reason, so long as he provided a certificate of divorce for the woman, which proved that she was no longer married and could theoretically remarry. However, the reality was that ancient society simply would not support a divorced woman to any degree, and was likely forced into some sort of prostitution or other degraded sexual condition.
Hard hearts may make divorce necessary to avoid greater harm, but kingdom hearts are not to be hard, and God desires that His people find ways to bear with each other, to love, and to change so that marriage can be honored.
This passage seems to be a deepening of the second commandment, not to take the Lord’s name in vain. One way of using God’s name in vain is to convince someone that what we say is true, or that we will honor an oath.
Two issues are addressed here: basic honesty, as to whether or not we are trustworthy; and the manipulation of others, when we use oaths and even God’s own name to convince others to do or give us what we want.
Let your yes be yes… Without qualifiers, without manipulation. We are to people of truth, without hidden motives, trusting in God for results.
Question: Would you say that you are an honest person? Could you be more honest?
In this section, Jesus challenges traditional teaching about retaliation. “Eye for an eye” justice was actually designed to prevent revenge from running away with itself through escalating retaliation. But Jesus takes it further: better to have no revenge at all, but rather the amazingly patient love of God.
Living in the kingdom of God, we know that anger and contempt do not run our lives. We have a larger view of life and our place in God’s world. We begin to see our injurer as a human being who is loved by God. As a result, we are enabled to respond differently:
We “turn the other cheek,” meaning that we remain vulnerable, rather than taking our defense into our own hands.
We “let him have our shirt also,” meaning we conscientiously try to help those who are bringing legal cases against us.
We “go the second mile,” meaning we do more than is strictly required of us as an expression of goodwill.
We “give to him who asks of us,” even if they have no prior claim of any kind to what they are asking for.
These are illustrations of what a certain kind of person, the kingdom person, will characteristically do in such situations. They are not laws of “righteous behavior” to be legalistically followed. This is characteristic behavior of the person with a kingdom heart. They reverse the normal presumption of human order.
This section is perhaps the most dramatic example of the upside-down kingdom. The conventional knowledge was that we are to love our friends and hate our enemies. But Jesus calls his followers to love our enemies and pray for those who would harm us.
Question: Do you have any enemies? Does this teaching to love our enemies seem realistic to you?
This is not only idealistic teaching, but this was the blueprint for Jesus’ own life. He allowed himself to be persecuted and abused by people because He was on a mission to save them. He prayed that those who crucified him and mocked him would be forgiven for what they were doing.
Beyond this, we remember that we used to be God’s enemies, and while we were still sinners, God sent Christ to die for us. Being Jesus’ followers and entering the kingdom of God means that we take on God’s heart for people. We no longer follow the logical behavior of our human systems, but we seek to do the will of our heavenly Father, who loves us all and desires that all should be saved.
This section ends with verse 48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” While we do not believe that perfection is something we can achieve on our own, the calling to follow Jesus means to become like Him, which is to become like God. We are moving towards perfection as we move closer to God.
Re-read the entire Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, with special attention to 6:1-18.
Spend time in prayer each day as you read these scriptures. Ask God:
In what areas of my life do You want to make changes?
How can I begin to become the type of person for whom the behaviors taught by Jesus are normal and natural?
May 6, 2020
Jesus does not call us to be merely believers, but disciples. Becoming a Christian is the beginning of a life-long journey of following Christ and becoming like Him. The Sermon on the Mount is both an invitation and a challenge for us to the life of discipleship in God’s kingdom.
In Week 1 (Matt. 5:1-20) we learned about the nature of the kingdom of God, often described as the upside-down kingdom - the values of the world are not God’s values. As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to be salt and light in the world, having a life-giving positive influence on those around us. As His followers, our righteousness is to go deeper than mere rule-keeping; we are to have hearts that are like God’s own heart.
In Week 2 (Matt. 5:21-48) we discussed several Old Testament commandments and sayings, which Jesus reinterpreted in light of God’s kingdom. Not only are we to be people who do not murder or commit adultery, but we are to be people who do not allow anger or lust to get out of control in our hearts so that they develop into hatred or lust. We are to seek reconciliation and friendship, and to be people whose words can be trusted. We are to seek the good of other people, even those who are trying to take advantage of us, and we are even to love and pray for our enemies. In all this, we seeking to grow in authentic love so that we can become like Jesus - and ultimately so that we can be more like God.
In this section (Matt. 6:1-18), Jesus moves from reframing scriptural commands to challenging our religious behavior, so that we are behaving as hypocrites, or religious actors. Jesus provides us with a model for how a disciple should pray with what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer.
Here now the focus is on three things that Jews saw as standard obligations: giving money, praying, and fasting. In each case, Jesus is saying that it is the motive behind our actions that matters.
Question: What are some stereotypical examples of religious behavior that our culture has?
In each case, Jesus warns us not to act in the same way as the “hypocrites.” We usually use this word to mean someone who says one thing but does another. But hypocrite is actually the Greek word for actor; so when Jesus calls someone a hypocrite, he is actually saying that they are religious actors - they are putting on a show.
This is consistent with the other things that Jesus says about the scribes and Pharisees. Elsewhere he calls them “white-washed” tombs, because they look beautiful on the outside, but the inside is all dead. A hypocrite’s actions do not match the reality of what is happening in their hearts.
Jesus does not say that outward things don’t matter. Giving money to those in need, praying to God day by day, and fasting when it’s appropriate - he assumes that people will continue to do all these things. But when we forget who we are doing them for, we run into the danger of becoming like the scribes and Pharisees - religious actors, performing for those around us.
Question: What might be some ways in which we are tempted to become religious hypocrites (actors)?
Jesus also assumes that there will be benefit to be had from doing these things. If the reward we seek is the approval of people, then that is what we will get. There has been much speculation about what God’s reward is, but the next question which discusses treasure in heaven probably gives us a clue. When we love God with all of our heart, then knowing God will be the greatest reward. Dallas Willard says that “the person you become is what you get out of following Jesus. That is also what God gets.” It makes sense, then, that this reward would be unrealized if we are performing for the sake of others, rather than God.
Question: How have you experienced the “reward” of your heart being changed by Jesus?
Jesus wants his followers to be so eager to love and please God what we will do everything we should do for his eyes alone. It’s easy, especially for those in Christian leadership, to fall into the trap of performance and to seek the approval of people rather than God. Jesus gives us specific instructions about how to guard our integrity, specifically doing these good deeds in secret. Give generously without anyone knowing, so that you do not get the credit. Spend time in prayer with God without drawing attention to yourself; make sure that your public prayer life is not the entirety of your prayer life.
Question: How does this teaching to do our good deeds in secret fit with Jesus’ teaching to “let our light shine before others,” in Matt. 5:16?
These passages do not really mean, “don’t let anyone see your good deeds,” but rather, “don’t do your good deeds in order to be seen.” There’s a big difference. Our goal is always to be that God is glorified, not ourselves.
Jesus begins this section on prayer with how not to pray. Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; it was common for pagans to use multiple formulas in their prayers - long, complicated magic words which they would repeat over and over in their anxiety to persuade some god to be favorable to them.
Question: Have you ever felt that you had to pray in a certain way for God to listen to you or answer your prayers?
These pagan prayers had a high level of uncertainty to them - you never could be sure of the god’s intentions toward you, so you needed to try to impress them in order to convince them to treat you well. This not how Jesus’ followers are to pray, because we can trust that God knows us and knows what we need and doesn’t need to be convinced and cannot be manipulated
Jesus now provides a framework for how his followers are to pray. This is not intended to be a verbatim prayer - although it can be used that way - but rather it provides us with a pattern of how we can speak to God. It isn’t a magic formula, but instead invites us into meaningful communication with God using ordinary language.
Everything is set within our calling God “Father” (as Jesus does throughout the sermon). This is the configuration of reality from which we pray. God is in the heavens, the Creator of all, set apart from creation, and yet imminently available.
The word Abba is a familiar form, like “daddy.” Jesus is not teaching us to be casual with God as much as he is describing the intimacy, trust and love between us and God being like that of a small child and her father.
Question: How does it feel to you to relate to God as Father or Daddy?
Even as we relate to God in intimacy, we worship God as the sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe. God is not a man-made idol, but is a living being. God is worthy of our honor and respect. God is worthy of our worship, our love, and the best that we have to give to Him.
This ties back with Jesus’ overall theme of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is the reality wherever God rules. This is the reality in heaven, but it is not the complete reality on earth because we as human beings are a fallen race. God is sovereign, but he does not force himself upon us. We could say that the only place that God does not unconditionally rule is in the hearts of human beings, because God has given us free will.
It is God’s desire that the reality of the kingdom as it is in heaven will become the reality on earth as well. But the kingdom must first become a reality in our hearts. We enter the kingdom by following Jesus and becoming like him. The entire Sermon on the Mount is describing the kind of people who will be at home in the kingdom.
We depend upon God for all of our necessities. God is more concerned about our needs than we even are. Daily bread conjures up images of manna in the wilderness, which the children of Israel were commanded to collect each day and not store up for themselves. In this way we are depending upon God day by day, and not finding our security in other sources. We are invited to ask God for what we need.
Question: What is one need that you have a hard time trusting God to take care of?
Debts are another way to describe sins. Sometimes we hear the word trespasses, which implies an active sinning against God and others, while debts carries the sense of falling short of something that is required of us.
While human actions matter to God, forgiveness is possible and actual. God desires to forgive us, and this forgiveness is possible because Christ has already taken the ultimate consequences of our sin upon himself when he died on the cross. Forgiveness is offered, but can be realized only when we recognize our need for it and receive it. This is why confession is so important. Daily confession keeps our hearts clear of the sins that accumulate on it like barnacles, and keeps them from damaging our relationship with God and one another.
Verses 14-15 tie the forgiveness we receive from God to the forgiveness we extend to others. The heart that will not open to forgive others will remain closed when God’s own forgiveness is offered. Life in God’s kingdom is the life of forgiveness and reconciliation between people.
Question: Who do you need to forgive?
This line can refer to either trial or temptation, and it doesn’t hurt for us to think of it as both. Trials and temptations can strengthen our faith, but there is nothing wrong with asking God to protect us and guide us on a path away from them. We also pray for God’s rescue and protection from evil, both in the abstract and in its personified form, “the evil one.”
The prayer doesn’t end with the traditional ending that most of us know, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” This was added later, but it seems totally appropriate and in keeping with the rest of the prayer.
This prayer provides a framework for Jesus’ followers to pray as those who are living right now in the kingdom of God. As such, this prayer shapes those who pray it. As we learn to relate and interact with God in this way - praying from our hearts - we are being shaped and transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
Read Matthew 6:19-34, and consider what and where your “treasure” is.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer out loud at least once a day this week.
Perhaps spend some time thinking about each line and what it means for you.
Allow the different themes in the prayer to lead you into deeper places of prayer as you seek for God’s will to be done in your life.
The entire Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God. It is training for his disciples, as well as an invitation (and warning) to those who might consider becoming his disciples.
The nature and values of the kingdom of God are at odds with the nature and values of the kingdoms of this world. Therefore Jesus’ disciples will stand out in a positive way as they actively live out their faith. Jesus’ followers will have a righteousness of the heart, obeying the spirit of God’s commandments and demonstrating love, forgiveness, and reconciliation in their actions.
Last week we discussed Jesus’ teaching on our “religious” behavior - giving our offerings, praying, and fasting; we are not to do these things in order to be seen by others, but are to do them for the Lord. We are not to be hypocrites (religious actors), but practice genuine spiritual behavior for God’s sake.
We spent time in the Lord’s Prayer, the model prayer of Jesus that invites us to approach God as our heavenly Father, seeking His will in our lives and the realization of His kingdom. We can ask and trust God for all that we need, for forgiveness, and for protection through our trials.
In this section, Jesus now challenges his disciples’ priorities. He calls on us to lay up our treasures in heaven, to make sure that we are not allowing money to become the master of our lives, and to not let our lives become filled with worry about our daily needs.
The previous passages in chapter 6 spoke about rewards - the reward of doing your good works to be seen by people vs. the reward for doing your good works for God. This theme of reward is followed up with a discussion of where (and what) our treasure is. Our treasure is what we consider to be most valuable in our lives.
Question: What is something that you treasure?
Earthly treasure, while not necessarily bad, has a limited shelf-life - in ancient times, expensive items were susceptible to being eaten by moths (fine clothing) or rust (crafted metal items), or they could be stolen (precious metals or coins). We could think of any number of modern equivalents, such as fires or stock market crashes. The point is that these things have no eternal value; they are not worthy of having the ultimate places in our hearts.
The alternative is to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust don’t destroy and thieves do not steal. The point here is not that we are to invest in eternal, heavenly versions of the same things - heavenly clothing, sports cars and swimming pools. The heavenly treasures that Jesus is speaking of are of an entirely different nature altogether. Also, when Jesus speaks of heaven he is not usually speaking of the afterlife; these are treasures that we can enjoy right now.
Heaven is first and foremost the place where God dwells. It is not far off, but close by. To have our treasure in heaven, therefore means something powerful and profound. Remember, our treasure is what we value most. If God is what we love most, then God has our heart. Where are we storing up treasures? Where are we putting our heart? This is the most important question for a disciple, for it will guide all of our decisions and actions.
This section is a bit confusing, because it almost sounds as if Jesus is comparing our eyes to a window, rather than a lamp. In either case, he is telling us that what we fix our attention on will either provide light or darkness for our hearts. There is not really any gray, or in-between zone. We will either be focusing on the things of God, and letting God fill our hearts, or we will be focusing on the things of the world, and end up stumbling in the darkness.
The connection here can be made between earthly and heavenly treasure, God’s kingdom and the earthly kingdoms around us. What are we allowing to fill our hearts and guide our minds - what do we value?
A person cannot serve two masters - one of them will be the winner. If Jesus is our Lord, then no one else is. Here, the competing master is wealth; we cannot serve God and wealth - this is as appropriate now as it was in Jesus’ time.
Question: How is wealth a competing master or lord over our lives?
Older translations used the term “Mammon”, which almost made a false god out of money. We might not feel that we serve wealth as a god, but money might have more of a hold over us than we realize. We do not have to be rich by our society’s standards in order for money to have an inordinate influence over us; a poor person can be obsessed with getting money. Jesus makes it clear that disciples must have a single-minded focus on serving God alone - no other masters can share our hearts.
In this passage we encounter the love of God, who does not want us to worry.
Question: What do you worry about?
This beautiful passage tells us several things. First, disciples are not to be characterized by worry. Worry is a negative experience that consumes us and keeps us from the joy that God intended. Not only this, but worry is not productive; while it might provide incentive to get to work, more often it is just a waste of time and energy. Can any of us add to our span of life by worry (or make ourselves taller - which might literally be what is meant)?
Second, God loves His creation. See how He cares for the birds and the flowers! And we are worth much more to Him, so we can trust that He wants to take good care of us. So Jesus is again telling us something about the nature of God that we might have failed to fully grasp: God loves us and desires what is good for us.
Third, God is trustworthy, and disciples are to trust in Him. It is the Gentiles - those who do not know God - who are characterized by their worry about what they will eat, drink, or wear. Jesus’ followers are not to follow this pattern, but instead are to be known for their radical trust in God to take care of them. For God knows what we need, and wants us to trust Him for it.
Fourth, Jesus’ disciples are to focus their attention and energy on God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness - following and obeying Jesus - rather than on their daily needs. And as we do this, our daily needs will be taken care of. We will have what we need.
Question: How does the Lord’s Prayer (vs. 9-13) tie in with Jesus’ teaching in this section?
As disciples we are being called to give our whole hearts to God, to be so invested in loving and serving Him that no other goals can compete for priority in our lives. God will provide what we need as we serve Him and seek to do His will.
As you pray, ask God to show you where your treasure truly is, and whether you have any other masters beside God.
Ask God to provide you with what you truly need each day. Trust God to provide it for you.
Read Matthew 7:1-12.
May 19, 2020
Last week’s study really got at the heart of what the Sermon on the Mount is all about with the question “Where is your treasure?” While it might seem more appropriate to ask what is your treasure, the location actually implies for us what sort of treasure Jesus is pointing us toward - he calls upon his disciples to lay up for ourselves treasure in heaven.
The following verses challenged us to be careful what we focus our attention on and what we allow to become a master in our lives. The question of “who do you serve” is similar to what your treasure is. As Jesus’ disciples, we are to allow nothing to compete with him as master of our lives. He draws special attention to money, which is a timeless challenge.
The longest passage in the entire sermon is elaborating on the commandment not to worry. We are to be stand out from the rest of the world because of our radical trust in God to provide what we need. The key verse is Matt. 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things shall be given to you as well.” These words actually define the treasure in heaven that we are to value above all else.
This week we begin with Jesus’ teaching that we are to be very careful to not become judgmental people. Our focus is to be upon our own lives and our own righteousness before God. He then encourages his followers to not be hesitant to pray and ask God for what we need. Finally, Jesus summarizes much of the sermon is what has become known as the Golden Rule.
Question: What does the word judgmental mean to you?
This passage is really speaking against condemning, or casting judgment against another person - putting ourselves in the position of being their judge. It is of course not telling us that we shouldn’t make judgments - between good and evil, especially. We can think of this as discernment, in order to differentiate.
The importance of the difference between good and evil is central to the gospel message. It was precisely because of our sin that Jesus came into the world and died on the cross. So we should never imagine that sinful behavior doesn’t matter to God. God takes human sin and self-righteousness, exposes them and deals with them, and yet allows mercy to triumph gloriously over justice (N.T. Wright.)
This is a theme repeated elsewhere in Matthew - those who have been forgiven must in turn forgive others, and those who have been shown mercy must in turn be merciful towards others. Somehow, our own ability to receive forgiveness and mercy is contingent upon our willingness to extend these to others. If we can’t give it, we become unable to receive it, and we are then liable to judgment.
The imagery of the log or plank in the person’s eye is meant to be ridiculously ironic, and yet to point out how blind we can be to our own faults when we take on the uninvited role of judge or critic. Again, the warning not to become a hypocrite, or religious actor. We do well to focus our critical attention upon ourselves and maintain an attitude of mercy towards one another. This does not rule out the possibility of providing correction to a brother or sister, but this must always be done in a clear attitude of love.
This is a difficult and much misunderstood verse. Often interpreted as offering the things of God to those who are unworthy (dogs and pigs), this reading actually contradicts much of what Jesus is saying about the grace and mercy of God. Dallas Willard points out that it is not about whether or not the pigs and dogs are worthy - none of us is worthy to receive the gospel.
Instead, we should see that the pigs and dogs are being offered things that they do not want and don’t know what to do with (they can’t digest pearls). This follows upon the previous section, about offering our judgments or corrections to those who have not asked for it and do not appreciate it - these “gifts” can actually do much damage and create hostility to God and the gospel.
Ask, seek, knock… Jesus encourages his followers to do that which might seem obvious - ask God for what we want and need.
Question: What do you hesitate to ask God for?
Our failure to believe that God answers (and wants to answer) our prayers may come not so much from a failure of faith but from a natural human reluctance to ask for things. We may feel that we are being selfish, or that God has better things to do than to provide what suddenly happen to want.
But maybe it isn’t selfish to ask for things - maybe that’s what children are supposed to do with their parents. Certainly there are warnings in scripture about asking for the wrong sorts of things (James 4:3), but for most of us the problem is not that we are too eager to ask for the wrong things - the problem is that we are not nearly eager enough to ask for the right things.
We can certainly ask for the things that we need each day. We can also ask that God would shape us into people who are more like Jesus. And we can ask God for guidance. Have you ever asked, “God, what do you want me to do?” This is a good question, and does not necessarily have a simple answer. So we need to keep praying - Asking, seeking, knocking - and trusting that God will (and wants to) answer our prayers.
This verse sums up the message of the sermon so far. In 5:17-20, Jesus told us that he hadn’t come to abolish, but to fulfill the law and the prophets. How? By teaching Israel who God really is, and what copying him, trusting him, loving and obeying him are really like. When it comes to our behavior in the world, and with other people, the whole law can be put into one sentence: do to others what you’d like them to do to you.
Underneath the moral lesson of this verse is the love of the heavenly Father. What should distinguish his followers is that, knowing this love, we should find ourselves able to obey this rule - and the other rules that follow from it - gladly and freely. This is how we reflect God’s love and light into the world.
Disciples are focused on serving and following Jesus, focused on their own hearts and becoming more loving people. Our attitude towards others is to be filled with grace and mercy, just as God’s attitude is toward us. We can come to God boldly and honestly in prayer, trusting that He will answer our prayers. The command to treat others as we want to be treated sums up much of Jesus’ teaching up to this point.
Read the final section of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:7-12. How do these verses summarize Jesus’ teaching throughout the sermon? How do they guide our lives as disciples?
Spend time in prayer this week, making consistent time and space in your heart for God to be at work. What is God leading you to “ask, seek, knock” for?
May 27, 2020
In the first half of chapter seven, Jesus focuses on the way that we treat other people, warning his disciples not to become judgmental, not to force their spiritual gifts and wisdom on those who do not want them, and treating people with the same respect with which God treats us. All of this is summarized in the “golden rule” of doing to others as you would have them do to you.
In this final section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus concludes with a series of warnings about taking seriously what he has taught. He contrasts the life of the one who hears and acts with the one who hears and does not act.
Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with a series of signs - warning signs. Now that we’ve heard or read this manifesto on discipleship and life in God’s kingdom, we need to be very careful about what we do with it.
Read Matt. 7:13-14. In Jesus’ day (as well as now), there were many gates in the walls around the old city of Jerusalem. Some of them were wider and were used as main entrances, through which large crowds of people would pass in and out throughout the day. Other gates were smaller, only wide enough for one person to pass through, with maybe an animal or a handcart. It would have been easy to be swept along with the crowd through one gate, while one would have to really intend to enter through a narrower gate.
The life that Jesus is describing, the life of the kingdom, requires intentionality on our part. If we simply drift through life, even with good intentions, we can miss the pathway that God intends for us to take. The path to destruction is an easy path, but the path to life is a much more difficult one.
Our choices and decisions matter, and they have eternal consequences. Learning to follow Jesus in our lives is the most important thing we can do. It requires thoughtful intention, just as it did for the first disciples.
Read Matt. 7:15-20. Unfortunately, there are those who would lead us down the wrong path. In ancient Israel, there were false prophets, those who claimed to be speaking on behalf but actually weren’t. If people listened to them and followed them, disaster would be the result. But false prophets can seem trustworthy - how can we know if they are in fact wolves in sheep’s clothing?
Jesus has an effective standard by which to judge - you will know them by their fruits. In a sudden change of metaphor, Jesus calls us to think of these people as trees; can you see healthy, tasty fruit on this tree? Can you see other people being genuinely nourished by it? Or is it producing a crop of lies, immorality, and greed?
Question: What might the good fruit that Jesus is speaking of look like?
As in the discussion on the fruit of the Spirit, this good fruit is what is naturally produced by God in the life of someone who seeks first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. This is the fruit that Jesus demonstrated in his earthly life, and the fruit that his followers will produce as well.
Read Matt. 7:21-23. The fruit should not simply be showy displays of apparent spiritual power - false prophets can often produce that sort of thing. What counts is something deeper and more personal. In fact, in this section Jesus implies that on the judgement day there will not only be some who claimed to follow him, but also those who have done remarkable things in Jesus’ name - but without knowing him personally. Might deeds are not an indication of whether someone really belongs to Jesus or not. What counts will be knowing Jesus - or, more importantly, being known by Jesus.
These three warnings are somewhat disturbing, as they paint a picture of life that is filled with spiritual dangers. We must take them seriously, as they are an inescapable aspect of Jesus’ call to follow him. The dangers are there whether we choose to follow him or not; the path of discipleship is actually the safe and sane route to God’s intended life for us. And the faith that Jesus calls for from us is an active trust in God’s own faithfulness to us, that if we belong to Him in Jesus, nothing can snatch us from His hand, and nothing can separate us from His love.
We must also remember that Jesus promises us to give us the Holy Spirit, which will guide us and show us the truth. Practicing discernment, rather than being judgmental towards others, is what comes when we ask, seek, and knock.
Read Matt. 7:24-29. The imagery is very stark and timeless - a house built on a solid foundation of stone can stand up to all sorts of natural forces without falling down, while a house built on a poor foundation, no matter how well-built, can easily collapse. The foundation is the most important part of the house in determining whether the house will stand or fall.
This story has been well-used over the years, and put to many different purposes, contrasting wise and foolish builders. The essential thing for us is to understand what sets the wise and foolish builders apart, in Jesus’ estimation. Those who build their house on the rock are not God’s chosen people (Jews or Christians); they are not those who possess the Law; they are not those who hear the words of Jesus. “Everyone who hears and these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” The one who hears and acts on his words…
Jesus of course is the rock, as he fulfilled the words of the Old Testament, “the building block which was rejected became the cornerstone…” And in his words to Peter, “on this rock I will build my kingdom,” to speak of Peter’s faith in Jesus. Jesus was held in awe by the crowd when he finished speaking because he taught as one having authority; he taught by his own authority, not someone else’s. Jesus is the object of our faith, make no mistake. But what Jesus is talking about here is obedience, namely our obedience to his commandments in this kingdom vision of the Sermon on the Mount.
As Dallas Willard said, grace is opposed to earning, not to effort. The call to discipleship requires effort on our part. Following Jesus is the life of discipleship, which is life in God’s kingdom. We are called, received and forgiven by God’s grace, so that we can begin the lifelong adventure of following, obeying, and serving Jesus.
Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, Harper SanFrancisco, 1997.
N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part One, Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.