My Life Group lesson for Jan. 3, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...
How did everyone ring in the New Year?
Anyone make any New Year’s resolutions?
A new year is seen as a turning point. Choosing to follow Jesus is also a turning point.
Let’s check out the verses today to see how our lives should change when we follow Jesus.
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT
*** Matthew 5-7 is the Sermon on the Mount.
--- This is regarded as when Jesus' ministry really takes off.
--- The teachings probably took place near Capernaum, Jesus’ unofficial headquarters on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee.
*** In the opening verses that we'll study today, Jesus promised blessings for believers who exhibit His character.
*** Jesus also used salt and light to illustrate how Christians should act in the world.
THE NEW MOSES (Matt. 5:1-2)
1 When He saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He began to teach them, saying:
*** The Savior who went up a mountain.
--- Even as multitudes were attracted to Jesus, He went up a mountain, pulled up a rock to sit down and gave the disciples the best lesson in history.
--- It’s possible the crowds tried to listen as well, but Jesus was focusing on His closest followers here. Jesus spent His entire ministry training the disciples. They got more intense instruction than the crowds.
--- Just as Moses went up a mountain to meet with God and receive the Ten Commandments, Jesus went up this mountain to teach and offer a revelation from God.
*** Question – What are some characteristics of a speaker that make you want to listen? … What did Jesus do that caused others to stop and listen to Him?
THE NEW BLESSINGS (Matt. 5:3-12)
3 “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 4 Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted. 5 The gentle are blessed, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled. 7 The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy. 8 The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God. 9 The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 11 You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. 12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
*** The Beatitudes.
--- The Beatitudes describe the character of a true believer of Christ.
--- The first four (verses 3-6) describe a Christian’s attitude toward God. The second four (verses 7-12) portray a Christian’s attitude toward other people.
--- The Beatitudes are not characteristics from which believers pick and choose what suits them. All should be incorporated into the Christian life.
--- One thing that I notice when reading these verses is that all of these blessings are for people who exhibit grace, kindness and peace. Nothing about people who are aggressive or violent.
--- The word “blessed” means “happy” but it's so more, because happiness is just a reaction. To be blessed is to feel joy. There was little room for joy in the religion of the Jews at this time. Jesus taught that those who follow Christ can experience spiritual well-being, having the approval of God, and thus a happier destiny:
Psalm 1:1-3 -
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
*** “The poor in spirit are blessed.”
--- What does this mean? Does this mean if you stink at having the spirit you are blessed? Or if you are dirt poor then you are blessed more?
--- No, Jesus is saying that believers who recognize that they cannot rely on themselves and depend on God alone.
--- You will never discover the true riches of the Christian life until you admit you are spiritually bankrupt without God.
*** “Those who mourn.”
--- This isn't deep sadness over the dead, but being broken over personal sin and its harmful effects. Sin separates people from God and destroys relationships.
--- It's a mourning over the failure of mankind to give proper glory to God. This world is dominated by injustice, conflict and disappointment because of sin.
--- What happens when we go to God over the coldness in our hearts? We will be comforted. And that's why we can feel blessed and grieve at the same time.
*** “The gentle.”
--- This verse is more popularly interpreted as "The meek shall inherit the earth."
--- We may think that this means weakness. In reality it is the opposite of pride, of being teachable and humble. It is submission to God's direction. It is strength that is under control.
--- Jesus said He was "gentle and humble" or also translated as “meek and lowly” (see Matthew 11:29), but He definitely wasn’t weak.
--- We don't have to be defensive or pick fights to advance Christianity.
--- The earth Jesus said the meek would inherit refers to the new heaven and new earth promised to believers (Rev. 21:1).
*** “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
--- God made us so that we can't exist for long without food and water. No one can ignore the appetites of hunger and thirst. (And I don't mean a hankering every Thursday night for Taco Bell.)
--- Sure, you may quench your thirst with a gallon of Gatorade, but you'll be thirsty again.
What is a starving man interested in? The latest football scores? The flower arrangement at the pink lemonade society? The number of stars in the universe? No! He’s only interested in one thing – food!
A man can exist about forty days without food, about three days without water, and only eight minutes without air. In the spiritual realm of eternity, man cannot exist one second without Jesus Christ. (Adrian Rogers)
--- You may find yourself with all the coolest material possessions, but unless you’re seeking God’s righteousness you’ll never feel full.
*** “The merciful.”
--- Mercy is a primary trait of God. He forgives us when we do wrong and shows kindness to those who are down on their luck. We are expected to do the same.
--- It’s more than just feeling sorry for someone. We need to take action to help those desperate for help.
--- Think of the parable Jesus told of the man who had his large debt forgiven, but then he beat up a guy who owed him much less. He did not reciprocate mercy.
--- People don’t care if we’re Christians who use “Jesus speak” unless they know how much we care first.
*** “The pure in heart.”
--- We should have a single-minded devotion to God.
--- This means more than just avoiding porn or vile thoughts. Doing that is a result of being pure at heart.
--- Psalm 119:9: “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.”
--- Achieve this and you will see God with your spiritual eyes. God is accessible to believers. He welcomes fellowship.
*** “The peacemakers.”
--- We think of this like the 1997 George Clooney movie in which he prevents war, but this is much more.
Peacemaker here means a state of well-being based with God that overflows into good relationships with other people. The children of God make peace, even with their enemies.
--- Do you know how to bring peace to earth and goodwill to all men? Introduce men, women, boys, and girls to Jesus Christ. That is the only way. (Adrian Rogers)
--- God actively seeks a ceasefire with sinners. We do God’s work when we promote peace on any level.
*** Those “persecuted for righteousness.”
--- Christlike people attract insult and criticism, and downright hostility. If Jesus and His disciples were persecuted, why shouldn’t we be?
--- In verse 12 Jesus says we should “be glad and rejoice” when we’re persecuted. The reward in heaven is great.
That’s a tough one to think about. Not only should the Oregon couple who had to pay $135K for refusing to bake a gay-wedding cake be joyful because of it, the Christians in the Middle East who are being rounded up and slaughtered should be joyful at their persecution.
--- If you are living a life that is poor in spirit, that mourns over your sin, that lives meekly through His strength, that hungers and thirsts after righteousness, that is merciful, pure in heart, and making peace…then you will be exceedingly glad for the persecution that comes your way.
--- The world is going in the opposite direction and trying to push us into their ways.
*** Question - Which of the Beatitudes do you find are the most challenging character traits to practice as a Christian? … Which Beatitude do you believe to be the most needed in our world today?
THE NEW EXPECTATIONS (Matt. 5:13-16)
13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
*** Jesus uses salt and light to show how Christians are supposed to influence the world.
--- The world should be a better place because of Christian influence, using characteristics described in the Beatitudes.
*** Pass the salt, please.
--- Who here douses their food in salt?
--- Salt nowadays is used for flavor. If you don't use enough salt you don't get any taste and it’s all bland. Salt enhances food’s flavor just as Christians enhance the lives of those they influence.
--- People of the first century also used salt to preserve. Salt slows food’s spoilage just as Christians direct people to Jesus, the preserver of life.
--- Pure salt never loses its flavor, but Jesus knew that manufacturing salt sometimes allowed it to combine with impurities, which diluted its effect. A Christian who doesn’t have any influence on the world is not effective.
*** You are the light of the world, you are the city on a hill. (We gotta, we gotta let our light shine!)
--- Light is about revealing what’s around you in contrast to the darkness. You put it in a place where you get maximum effect.
--- Christians are to live differently so that God’s truth stands out for the world to see.
Isaiah 60:1-3 - “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. 2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
*** Think about the eight characteristics Jesus used in the Beatitudes. Which areas are you demonstrating Christ's character? Where do you need improvement?
*** Ask God to break the strongholds in your life, break your strong will, and replace it with His strength under discipline.
*** Think of ways you can be salt and light in your homes and workplaces.
--- If we represent Christ to this world, not only will we be blessed, but also the world will see Christ in us.