Small Group Discussion
Sermon on the Mount (Part 2)
(Mark Conner - August 8-9th, 2009)
The book of Matthew is a revelation of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah of the world. He came to introduce the kingdom of God – God’s rule and reign on the earth - and to invite people to enter it and be part of it. Entrance into the kingdom is not by self-effort or personal goodness but by faith and trust in the atoning work that Jesus would accomplish through his death on the cross and his resurrection.
Jesus called people out of the CROWD to be his ‘DISCIPLES’ – his followers. Being a Christian is not just about believing in Jesus (Saviour) but about following him (Leader or LORD) and seeking to be like him in every area of our life. At CityLife Church our mission is clear. We desire to “... raise up fervent followers (discipleship) of Jesus Christ ... who will reach out and impact communities, cities, and nations for the kingdom of God (evangelism).” As disciples, we are then commissioned to go into the world, to preach the gospel, and then to make more disciples (Matt.28:18-20). Being a disciple begins with faith and then moves on to obedience. He calls us then to ‘drop our nets’ and follow him, which includes taking up our cross daily, putting to death our old nature and taking on the new nature of the kingdom. This can only occur through the empowering of the Holy Spirit but it does include our co-operation and our surrender.
Part of the disciple-making process is “... teaching them to obey everything I (Jesus) have commanded you (Matt.28:20).” The commandments of Jesus that we are to obey are contained in the Gospel writings. One of his main teaching moments was the Sermon on the Mount. As disciples of Jesus, it deserves our full attention. The Sermon on the Mount does not contain a new standard to try to live by. Rather it describes the result of the transformation that takes place in a disciple through the work of the Holy Spirit in their life. It is not a list of rules for how to get into the kingdom of God. Rather, it contains guidelines for those who are already in it. It is not so much a list of things for us to DO as it is a description of life in the kingdom led by the Spirit. This teaching is instructional for disciples and invitational for the crowd (seekers and searchers looking on). It is not an impossible ethical ideal (dream) but rather a realistic goal for every Christ-follower. God does not ask us to become what he does not empower us to become.
The Purpose of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)
Along with the Ten Commandments, the Twenty-Third Psalm, and the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes (from the Latin word for ‘blessed’ which is ‘beatus’) are seen as among the highest expressions of spiritual insight and inspiration in all of literature. We can reflect on them, meditate on them, memorise them, and even engrave them on plaques to hang on our walls.
The Beatitudes serve as a sort of preamble or introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. Think about how Jesus’ audience would have responded to these opening statements. They were definitely counter-cultural and different from what they would have expected ... from a new king. Who is blessed in this life? Who is really well off? Who is to be envied? Who attracts the wonderful news of the gospel of the kingdom? Maybe Jesus’ audience would have expected something like this: “Blessed are the wealthy, the religious, the righteous, and the influential.” In today’s culture, we’d expect something like: “Blessed are the rich, the famous, the popular, the thin and good looking, the young, the healthy, the strong, the smart, and the wise.” In many ways, Jesus’ statements are the very opposite of what we would naturally think about the ‘good life’.
As we reflect on this, how are we to live in response to these Beatitudes? Are these conditions really a ‘blessing’? Are people blessed because they are poor, hungry and grief-stricken OR are they blessed in spite of their current miserable condition - because of the arrival of the kingdom of God? If we think that these are conditions to be pursued or qualities to be developed then we tend to try to work our way into acquiring blessings from God. If we can all just mourn, be meek, and be persecuted ... we’ll all be blessed! This can become nothing less than salvation by works. If these are keys as to how to be blessed then we should seek to become poor, sad, persecuted and so on, but very few people actually do this. In reality, for Jesus, the blessing is on these people in spite of their condition not because of it.. These are not the basis of blessing in the kingdom. Blessing is available to ALL now regardless of what condition or situation they may be in. This is the hope of the gospel.
Through the Beatitudes, Jesus is clarifying his message that the free availability of God’s rule and righteousness is available to all of humanity - even the most hopeless. Jesus welcomed everyone into his kingdom. Anyone could come and they still can. This is the gospel of the beatitudes. The Beatitudes are primarily pronouncements of grace, not law. In addition, however, there are also some instructional insights from the Beatitudes for followers of Christ. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees focused on external righteousness, while Jesus went for the transformation of the heart first. The Beatitudes are not commands or required standards in order to obtain God’s approval but they do contain some guidelines for the kind of life God desires within his disciples as the Holy Spirit transforms them from the inside out.
Applying the Beatitudes to Our Lives
- The poor in Spirit are those who realise that they desperately need God’s help. They don’t have the resources to make it on their own. Physical poverty is not a good thing but poverty of spirit can lead a person to seek God. When we’re at the end of our rope we’re more open to God. In contrast, when we are ‘rich’ and in lack of nothing, we can become overly content and satisfied with our own progress.
- Those who mourn understand that there are many things in life that can break our heart and cause us to grieve. Yet, in the kingdom, Jesus promises us comfort and joy, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. We do not mourn like those with no hope.
- The meek are not weak but rather they are those whose strength is under control. They refuse to take the domineering, aggressive, harsh approach of so many who seek to dominate others.
- Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are not satisfied with what is, but they eagerly desire the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. They have a good appetite for God’s righteousness and justice.
- The merciful understand God’s mercy and seek to show it to others, even the undeserved. They feel what others feel and see things from other people’s perspective, then act with love and mercy.
- The pure in heart seek purity on the inside first, rather than a superficial external religiosity. Like the psalmist, they seek for God to create a clean heart within them (Ps.51:10).
- The peacemakers seek harmony in all of their relationships. They not only seek peace, they make peace, building bridges and tearing down walls that divide. In doing so, they are most like God.
- The persecuted understand that standing for truth and what is right is not always popular. It can lead to insults, harassment, and even verbal or physical abuse. Disciples identify with their Master who experienced the same and refuse to give up hope even in the face of opposition and persecution.
Sample Discussion Questions
- When did you first hear of or read the Sermon on the Mount? What were your initial impressions?
- When did you first hear of or read the Beatitudes? What were your initial impressions?
- Do you think that Jesus’ intention for the Beatitudes was for them to be pronouncements or instructions . . . or both?
- Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ involves a conversion – a translation from spiritual darkness to light. Jesus described it to Nicodemus as like being ‘born again’ – experiencing a brand new life (John 3). What are the steps to being born again and what are the indicators that a person has been born again?
- Being a disciple is not just about believing in Jesus. It is also about following Jesus. Many people ‘believe in’ Jesus today but far less are ‘following’ Jesus and living the life of a disciple. Why do you think this is so and what is the difference between a believer and a disciple?
- The Christian life is not about ‘doing’ a whole new set of religious duties (law) but about allowing the life of Christ to be lived out in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit (grace). What are some keys to living in the Spirit and not allowing the sinful old nature to continue to rule (see Romans 8)?