Monday, January 25, 2016

Two Paths, One Choice

My Life Group lesson for Jan. 24, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

“Where do you want to eat?”

Who has had lengthy arguments about this question?

If that’s the hardest decision you have to make this week, then Hallelujah, am I right?!

What other simple choices can cause great debate?

Small but important debates might include: When to let your daughters get their ears pierced, wear makeup, go on dates … On a trip do you take the shortest route or the scenic route … Do you watch channel 3, 5, 13 or 24 for severe weather coverage? (Hopefully 13. Just sayin'.)

Of course, many daily alternatives may not matter greatly, since the consequences are not serious or long-lasting either way.

However, some choices matter greatly.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Matthew 7:1-29

*** We've spent the past few weeks discussing Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. This week we'll wrap it up.

*** Chapters 5 and 6 describe how we as Christians are supposed to act. The Beatitudes promised blessings on those who act according to His character. Jesus called for us to be salt and light to the world. Jesus called us to go above and beyond the law of the Old Testament and be more righteous than the hypocritical leaders. Jesus then provided a model for how we are to pray and fast with your heart in the right place.

*** Jesus ended his sermon with warnings for those who would build their lives on anything other than Jesus and His teachings.

NARROW VERSUS WIDE? (Matt. 7:13-14)

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.

*** The road not taken.

--- We have the free will to choose between two paths. One leads to glory, one leads to damnation.

--- I don't know if Robert Frost meant to evoke Christian imagery in his poem "The Road Not Taken," but he was certainly onto something when he ended it with "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."

--- Jesus is the only path to truth, so in his sermon He wanted people to understand where the alternative path leads.

--- When I leave work I have to go around a dozen different potholes on Highland Avenue, plus construction at the 40/240 flyover, but it's worth it because it leads me to the promised land of my wife and children (who may not run to the door in delight anymore but I'm glad to be home).

--- Likewise, the narrow path to the narrow gate of heaven may be rough, full of persecution, but it also brings joy and blessings.

--- People may be traveling the wide path without even really knowing. It's the natural path, appears to be more pleasant, without risk and all the cool people may be on it. How could so many people be wrong?

--- However, things are not always as they seem: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12).

--- If you notice surveys they always seem to show a majority of the country considers themselves Christian (78 percent in a 2007 survey of 35,000 Americans), which means a lot of people have been fooled by Satan into thinking they’re on the correct path.

*** Question - What keeps people from choosing the narrow path?

Deuteronomy 11:26-28 provides an example of God’s desire for us to choose wisely: “Look, today I set before you a blessing and a curse: there will be a blessing, if you obey the commands of the Lord your God I am giving you today, and a curse, if you do not obey the commands of the Lord your God and you turn aside from the path I command you today by following other gods you have not known.”

GOOD VERSUS BAD? (Matt. 7:15-21)

15 Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.

*** Don’t be a big faker.

--- Verses 13 and 14 dealt with salvation. In these verses Jesus deals with false prophets, those who claim to speak and work for God but aren’t, and those who have deceived themselves into thinking that they are on the right path.

--- These wolves in sheep’s clothing are dangerous because they work from within the church and among believers, speaking with a lot of influence.

--- God knows who the pretenders are, so it is a doomed strategy to pretend to follow Him.

--- As believers we have to be careful which teachers and preachers we allow to shape our lives.

*** Let your light shine.

--- We will recognize whether prophets or religious leaders are genuine by the fruit they produce.

--- Fruit in the New Testament is a metaphor for good works rooted in a life devoted to God.

--- The inner change that following Jesus brings is shown through our conduct in public. The way we act isn’t a path to salvation, but proof of it.

--- True believers still sin, but we should also be striving to be more like Jesus and to do His will.

*** Cut off from God.

--- It's going to be a rude awakening in the end days when many people who thought they were on the fast-track to heaven are turned away.

--- Jesus used this metaphor several times, such as John 15 when he said that branches that don't bear fruit would be cut off and thrown into the fire.

Jesus cursed the fig tree, so did He also curse the temple because it was not producing the fruit God intended—namely, to be a house of prayer for all nations (Matt. 21:12-13,18-19; Mark 11:12-17).

*** Question - How can you tell whether a Christian is producing fruit?

ROCK VERSUS SAND? (Matt. 7:24-27)

24 Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!”

*** Two sets of Jones'.

--- Jesus compared the choice facing His hearers with the building of a house on sand or on rock.

--- In their day, they mostly lived in houses made of mud bricks and thatch roofs. Heavy rains and flash floods were pretty dangerous. If you didn’t build on solid rock then woosh! See ya!

--- Likewise, choosing to live your life on anything other than Jesus Christ and the Bible leads to disaster.

*** How we respond to Jesus’ teachings.

--- If we act on what Jesus has taught us correctly, then we’re building a solid foundation.

--- If we don’t act correctly, then it will be very apparent when the storms come.

--- What is a house but security from the outside? That’s why our spiritual security is not in our deeds but in Jesus.

*** Question – (Out of curiosity) Does anyone have a story about riding out a hurricane, a tornado or even just a really bad storm? What was the experience like? Did it matter what kind of building you were in?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Making choices is part of our everyday experience. While many choices don’t result in severe consequences, some choices matter greatly. Regarding spiritual choices, we have alternatives to Jesus. How we choose will determine our eternal destiny and the life we will experience. Today’s session was about making the choice to follow Christ every day.

*** Do you know anyone wrestling with an important choice? Is there something you can do to help them make the right choice that affects their eternal destiny?

*** Have you built your spiritual home on rock or on sand? Are you prepared for what comes your way?

*** Trusting Jesus is the only way to experience a real, fruitful and stable life. Any other way leads to destruction.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Carrying His Values

My Life Group lesson for Jan. 17, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

So none of us here won the Powerball lottery last Wednesday night. If you did, you wouldn’t be here, you’d be in hiding with your new personal accountant. Y’all would be in the Caribbean planning your life of luxury.

Whether you have 1.6 billion dollars or just a few, we put a lot of faith (*cough*) into our money. What gives our money its value?

Our money used to be backed by gold, which meant that there was a solid foundation for it. Now we just have faith in what the Federal Reserve tells us is its worth.

Our Scripture today teaches us about our spiritual foundation.

God would have us as Christians to value all human life as well, as much as He does.

Jesus teaches us to love and show kindness, even to those who are less than lovable.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Matthew 5:17-48

*** We back up a chapter from last week, when we talked about the Lord’s prayer and hypocrisy in fasting. These verses come between that and the Beatitudes, which we studied two weeks ago.

--- In the Beatitudes Jesus offered eight traits of a believer, all of which the religious leaders of the time weren’t showing.

*** In these verses we’ll talk about how Jesus not only upholds the Old Testament’s laws, he provides context to show the religious leaders how they should have been interpreting it all along.

LOOK TO THE SCRIPTURES (Matt. 5:17-20)

17 “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

*** I’m your Huckleberry.

--- In the movie "Tombstone" we see two examples of how to run the law in a town, obeying the law strictly or leave some gray areas. Some are Wyatt Earp, some are Doc Holliday.

--- The religious leaders of the time – especially the Pharisees – not only enforced Old Testament laws strictly, they had an additional 600 (!) interpretations.

--- Jesus stressed that he didn’t come to abolish the Old Testament. What He wanted was for the people to see how the Old Testament points to Himself as the Messiah.

--- The leaders accused Jesus of undermining the law. (Picking grains on the Sabbath to eat! The horror! – Matthew 12)

--- On the contrary, Jesus said that even the smallest aspects of God’s law will endure “until heaven and earth pass away” (v. 18).

--- The Pharisees were always trying to rank the importance of laws. In verse 19 Jesus said that even what they considered the least of them should be treated the same as the ones considered most serious.

*** Jesus was speaking against legalism.

--- Religious leaders at the time had the belief that salvation can be earned by obedience to laws.

--- It was a frequent target of criticism in the New Testament writers who pointed out that Jesus Christ is our redemption, the whole point of those Old Testament laws.

--- Galatians 2:16 - know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified.

--- Jesus wasn’t criticizing the Pharisees for obeying the laws (“whoever breaks one of the least … will be called least in” heaven, v. 19). Obeying God is required.

--- But the leaders loved being seen and praised for their adherence to the laws without the right inner attitude. (ex. - Healing on the Sabbath in Matthew 12)

Think of Jesus’ story of the Pharisee who prayed to thank God for him being better than others, and the tax collector who rightly prayed for God to forgive him as a sinner.

*** Righteousness above and beyond.

--- Jesus probably shocked the crowds by saying that they could surpass the righteousness of their religious leaders.

--- How? The Pharisees weren’t humble and weren’t listening to Jesus as the Savior. Their hearts weren’t in the right place. They thought that they were destined for all the coolest rewards in heaven because of how awesome they were.

(Just as the disciples argued over who got to sit next to Jesus in heaven, Jesus replied that those who think they’re most worthy for their actions on earth, aren’t.) (Luke 9:46, Luke 22:24)

--- You can never make yourself righteous enough to enter heaven. We have to depend on God. Make yourself righteous by following Christ, who changes hearts and minds.

Romans 3:10,21-22 - as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. … But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction.

*** Question – What is wrong with the opinion that salvation is achieved and maintained through the keeping of God’s law?

VALUE HUMAN LIFE (Matt. 5:21-22)

21 You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.

*** But wait, there’s more!

--- You know how infomercials hook you into their awesome product but you're not quite ready to pick up the phone and buy it, but then they say, "But wait, there's more!"

--- The religious leaders in Jesus' time were all about following the letter of the laws. Jesus, however, said, "But wait, there's more!" He pointed to the intent behind the law.

--- Jesus gives six examples of higher righteousness that fulfills the law:

1. Murder: God intended that believers avoid not just murder but also anger and hatred, the root causes of murder.

2. Adultery: Jesus said you have to address lustful thoughts that lead to the act.

3. Divorce: Many men were abusing divorce laws for selfish reasons. Jesus emphasized consequences of divorce.

4. Oaths: People were making promises by things associated with God without using God specifically, as if God wasn't aware of loopholes. Jesus said to stop taking oaths altogether and be honest.

5. Revenge: Instead of “eye for an eye” Jesus countered with a demand to “turn the other cheek” and go the “second mile.”

6. Love your neighbor: He called for an above-and-beyond attitude to love not only your neighbor but your enemy as well.

*** Thou shalt not, and then some.

--- In verses 21 and 22, Jesus reaffirms the law against murder, then goes one further to say that unrighteous anger also makes you subject to judgment.

--- The sixth commandment says not to murder, but refraining from killing someone wrongfully is easy. Jesus goes deeper and says that the root cause also must be addressed.

--- Anger shows itself in hatred, revenge, pride, or bitterness. When we disrespect another person in any way, we break God’s law.

It's a lot harder to obey when Jesus says not to be angry than just to say, "Don't murder."

*** Question - Why do we consider anger to be a lesser sin than murder? Under what circumstances might anger be appropriate?

Ephesians 4:26 doesn't say all anger is bad, but it needs to be under control: “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.

Have any of you seen someone whose life is worse for uncontrolled anger? What happens?

LOVE BEYOND EXPECTATIONS (Matt. 5:43-45)

43 You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

*** Say what now?

--- Perhaps the most demanding of all, Jesus challenged His listeners to exhibit righteousness by loving others beyond expectations.

--- This is one of the key doctrines that sets Christianity apart.

--- Everyone was perfectly happy when the law said that you could love your neighbor (Lev. 19:18) and the people assumed that meant they could hate their enemies (not Biblical). To them, “neighbor” meant other Jews and friends. That's easy peasy.

--- But they missed the spirit of the law. Jesus excluded hatred of anyone.

--- In His story about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus saw a neighbor as anyone who needs help. He placed no limits on love.

--- Jesus showed us this kind of love on the cross. He prayed for the forgiveness of His accusers and tormentors. He defined sacrificial love for Christians.

*** Question - How do you relate to a person who holds different political, philosophical, or religious views from yours? How do you maintain a warm relationship with a fellow believer with whom you differ in spiritual matters? (Which is more difficult?!)

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Last Tuesday the president delivered his final State of the Union address.

For the past seven years, President Obama has spoken against cynicism in the government. You can decide for yourself if he was a cause or a victim.

The message in all of Washington is usually the same as ever: If you agree with me, you’re reasonable. If not, you're my enemy.

Dealing with government is certainly one of the harder things for a Christian to do. Government forces Christian companies and colleges to pay for abortions, forces bakers to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings, and treats believers of other religions with more respect and tolerance.

In today's verses Jesus makes obedience a matter of the heart and not just an action that everyone can admire. One way we do that is by showing love to those who oppose us.

*** How is your heart today? Are you following the Lord with your heart or just what everyone else sees?

*** Are you having anger issues? Pray about how God can change your attitude.

*** Pray for those who persecute you, or those whom you just don’t like. It’s a lot harder to actively hate them and might actually change your heart if not theirs.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Approaching the King

My Life Group lesson for Jan. 10, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Who spent much of the holiday season watching Hallmark Christmas movies?

(Who won’t admit it, but your spouse says yes?!)

Every movie follows a familiar formula. What is it? What makes it work?

In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus offers a formula for effective prayer and how we are to connect with God from the heart through prayer and fasting.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Matthew 6:1-34

*** We continue our study of the teachings of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.

*** In Matthew Chapter 6 Jesus describes the proper motivation of a Christian's practice of faith.

*** Jesus gives us instruction on effective prayer and fasting.

BETWEEN HIM AND US (Matt. 6:5-6)

5 “Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 6 But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

*** Everyone! Look at me! I’m super!

--- Jesus calls out hypocrites who are full of pride praying without sincerity just to get the attention of those watching.

--- True righteousness emanates from a desire to honor God, not a motivation to get public accolades.

*** Top secret.

--- Jesus stressed that our relationship with God is private and intimate.

--- One advantage of removing yourself from others to pray is that it reduces disturbances and the temptation to pray to impress others.

--- Your only audience is God. The reward is a richer relationship with your Heavenly Father.

--- Jesus didn’t prohibit public prayer, which has an important place among worship and groups of Christians gathering in Jesus’ name.

*** Question - What can you do to protect your regularly scheduled prayer times from distractions?

HONEST COMMUNICATION (Matt. 6:7-8)

7 When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.

*** Babble, babble, babble.

--- How many times have you rolled your eyes or chuckled at someone’s prayer in church? Either it goes on for a long time, they say “Dear God” after every sentence (guilty?), or they use flowery language such as “O God, Eternal Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth, we beseech Thee this day that Thou wouldst bestow up us, Thy vassals, benedictions of mercy and grace, commensurate with thy great loving-kindness.”

--- The disciples heard a lot of bad prayers in their day, especially by pagans who thought they could manipulate their gods through meaningless speech. (You know, sort of like speeches in Congress. Boom!)

--- Question - Do you find yourself using the same words or phrases often in your prayers? How might you go about freshening up your prayers by limiting the use of tired, worn-out phrases?

*** Stay on target.

--- Jesus says that God already knows what you need, so don't beat around the bush. Stay focused and be honest. You aren't fooling Him.

--- Luke 18 stresses that we should keep asking God for what is believed to be His will. Jesus here is telling us that God isn’t impressed with quantity of words.

*** Question - If God knows our needs, then why is prayer important? Why does God want us to approach Him?

--- Prayer is a matter of relationship, not ritual.

--- When we pray we’re admitting that we meet our spiritual needs. We are dependent on God.

RESPECTFULLY REQUESTED (Matt. 6:9-15)

9 Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.] 14 For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. 15 But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.

*** Follow me, I know the way!

--- This is called the Lord’s Prayer, but God doesn’t need to pray it, we do. This is a model for our prayers.

*** Glory to God.

--- Look at all the great prayers by the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament authors, and it’s about how awesome God is, not any kind of “name it and claim it” self-indulgence.

Ex. Jeremiah 32:17-25. Jeremiah sits in prison and prays, giving God glory first and foremost. Jonah chapter 2, Jonah praises God with thanksgiving while he’s in the belly of a fish.

--- Jesus also stresses that we address God as our “Father.” God’s not distant and cold. God says to call him “Abba,” the Aramaic word for “Father,” the same word Jewish children used on their dads.

--- The focal point of the prayer is on the glory and the kingdom, the honor of God, the extension of His kingdom, for God to rule over the world.

--- This is not about getting what you want, but His will. We need to pray and read the Word so that we know His will.

*** God provides relief.

--- Now we’re talking about petitioning God for His favor:

(1.) Day to day we need God’s help to keep us from an empty stomach. You never know what circumstances come up. (Illness, losing a job, etc.).

(2.) Sin separates us from God. We need His forgiveness. As a believer who has repented you have been forgiven, so you are to forgive others just as God showed you mercy.

(3.) We need God’s help to keep the Devil at bay. We’re going to be weak, and we need God to strengthen us in those times to endure the trials and testing. Jesus picks us up when we are knocked down, but when we pray to keep evil away we can knock down the devil!

***Question - Verses 14-15 emphasize the importance of forgiving. Why is this important as we prepare to approach God?

(((We make ourselves out to be hypocrites if we ask God to forgive us when we aren’t willing to forgive others.)))

Is there anyone you have had trouble forgiving? Consider how this creates barriers in our prayer lives.

WITH RIGHT MOTIVES (Matt. 6:16-18)

16 Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, 18 so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

*** Keep it secret. Keep it sacred.

--- In addition to praying with the wrong motivation, religious leaders were hypocritical in their fasting.

--- The context here has to do with the Pharisees. In Jesus' day they fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays (Luke 18:12). Instead of using these days as times for genuine prayer and heart-searching, they had a holier-than-thou attitude to impress people with their super-duper spirituality.

*** Question - How did the Pharisees call attention to themselves when fasting?

((Made it look like they were starving themselves instead of just letting the previous night's chili cheese fries settle.))

--- Are you looking to be sincere, or make it a good show for others? The reward is between you and God.

*** Not just about food.

--- In the Bible a fast is understood as abstaining from food. But we can give up anything that we see as turning our focus from God.

*** Question – Where else in our lives can we show discipline in an attempt to get closer to God?

(((What else? Technology. Hobbies. Work. ...))))

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Thursday morning Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong announced that he was stepping down to become the head of security at St. Jude.

In his press conference at City Hall, Armstrong repeatedly stressed that he has been praying about this decision for the past couple of years.

An emotional Armstrong publicly thanked his mother, who died last year, and his family for understanding that heading up police in Memphis is a "calling, not a job."

"I'm just grateful to God I have another calling now, a calling that's going to be just as purposeful as this has been," he said.

Armstrong said that he has prayed for God to show him his next step in life, and he prayed and prayed, and then, boom, this opportunity opened up and he felt God’s unmistakable tug in that direction.

*** Think about any ways you may need to improve your prayer life and make adjustments.

*** We can learn to be better at prayer. Practice makes perfect. If you aren’t sure about how effective your prayers are or how to talk to God, then practice!

*** Read the Bible, focus on how godly people prayed, follow their example.

*** Try a time of fasting as a way of growing closer to our Mighty God.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Cooper and Penny's Christmas morning

The King’s Expectations

My Life Group lesson for Jan. 3, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

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 5:1-16

*** 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.”

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** 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.