Lesson 2: Teacher

Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer.

– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Devotion: Matthew reports Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” in chapters 5-7. Today we cover the first half of this extensive collection of teachings. Our reading is a little longer than normal, but Jesus’ teaching in this section is essential if we are to understand how to live under the reign of God. As you read, remember “blessing” in this context does not mean a good or happy thing. A blessing is that which draws us closer to God. (See lesson #1 under “Patriarchs and Matriarchs,” page 30.) Read Matthew 5:1-6:18.

Followers of Jesus must do more than keep the Law. They must change how they view the world and themselves. The “blessed are…” section (called the Beatitudes) invites us to understand that sometimes difficult circumstances help form us into God’s people faster than prosperity. What has to happen in our lives to welcome the lessons of painful situations?

Far from rejecting the Law (5:17), Jesus is more strict, asking followers to seek pure hearts as well as righteous actions. Each “you have heard…but I tell you…” challenges us to move beyond the letter of the law to internal self-reflection. We must go the second mile, living today under the reign of God as someone who lives in heaven. Which of Jesus’ teachings strike you as most difficult to embody in your life? Does our Church’s culture make living out God’s reign more easy or more difficult?

Personal Worship Option: Reread Matthew 5:13-16. Followers of Jesus are to stand out in the world because of their good works. Where are you being pushed to stand out right now? When you perform good works, does God receive the glory from other people or do you?

Dig A Little Deeper:

5:1 Just as Jesus’ fasting ties him to Moses (Deut 9:9, 18), so now he re-interprets the Law on a new Mount Sinai. Compare Matthew’s account with Luke’s presentation (Lk 6:17-49).

5:3 The beatitudes are paradoxical, opposed to the values of Jesus’ time as well as our own. What should our attitude be regarding difficult times? How is this “blessed are” section connected to Jesus’ words on being salt and light for the world (5:13-16)? When are good works and faith most evident to the world?

5:17 Jesus’ statement about coming to fulfill the Law and Prophets is a key for understanding his teachings on murder/anger, adultery/lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation/submission, love of enemies, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The Law provides boundaries for our actions in each of these areas. Yet, God desires more than obedient slaves. Only the Holy Spirit can guide us, aligning our external actions with God. We can outlaw murder, but only God can deal with the anger leading to murder. We may punish adultery, but only God can help us overcome lust. We cannot expect rules to rid the community of sin, only reconciliation with God accomplishes that. How might Jesus’ way of looking beneath the surface of laws and rules to the internal spiritual issues found there give us a valuable perspective on hot button issues of the church today?

Which of Jesus’ these teachings do we generally ignore? Why do we? What would be required for us to be obedient to them? How do his words on perfection (5:48) prevent us from settling for less?  

6:1 The warning to avoid performing good works in order to gain human approval or favor is found in the almsgiving, prayer, and fasting teachings. What rewards do people seek from their financial giving, attendance at worship, participation in small groups, and study?

6:9 Break down the different parts of Jesus’ model prayer. What does each part communicate? Write a prayer for yourself or for the church based on his model.

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