The objective of this lesson is to increase the student's insight into Jesus and discipleship by challenging the student to look at the sermon on the mount from an "overall" view rather then considering it in bits and pieces. The focus will be on Jesus' comprehensive meaning in the entire sermon.
Jesus' view of God radically differs from the way religious people typically look at God. Jesus' viewed people differently because he viewed God differently. Jesus viewed proper treatment of people differently because he viewed God differently. Jesus viewed godly behavior differently because he viewed God differently.
Christians will not permanently change the way they treat people until they change the way they look at God. Until a Christian man or woman changes his or her perspective on God, he or she will not be transformed in treatment given family members, or neighbors, or coworkers, or church members, or friends, or strangers, or the poor, or the needy, or people of other cultures.
What does that mean? The meaning is powerful and significant! It means those who are committed to being Jesus' disciple must allow Jesus complete opportunity to teach us how to look at God. If Jesus does not direct our view of God, we will not see people or treat people as God wants; nor will we correctly identify godly behavior.
The greatest single power to change behavior and attitudes in human conduct is God. When people fundamentally change the way they view God, the result will be a change in attitudes and behavior. The great single factor in changing people's view of God is Jesus Christ. He has the power to transform us by transforming the way we see God. A person becomes Jesus' disciple because he or she wants Jesus to change his or her view of God, and thereby change the way he or she treats people.
One striking verification of this fact is declared by Jesus' longest recorded teaching: the sermon on the mount. Let's begin with a brief overview of Matthew 5, 6, 7. It starts with Jesus' description of the righteous person (the beatitudes, 5:3-12). Jesus' declaration of discipleship responsibilities followed (5:13-16). Then came his declaration that he was not being destructive, but was insisting his disciples' righteousness go beyond the Pharisees' concept of righteousness (5:17-20). Next followed a lengthy list of contrasts that distinguished Jesus' concepts of righteousness from Israel's current, traditionally accepted religious standards (5:21-48). Then came his emphasis on "motives matter in religious deeds" (6:1-15). This emphasis followed: "Godly existence is not based on material ambitions or anxiety" (6:16-34). He then declared, "People are not called to function as God's judges, but to base life on dependence on God" (7:1-12). Jesus closed the lesson with a series of admonitions: "Treat people like you wish to be treated. Though difficult, follow God's path. Make your behavior consistent with your true identity. Realize divine acceptance is based on more than words and religious deeds" (7:13-23). He closed by declaring, "My teachings benefit you if you change the way you live your life. More is involved than mere agreement" (7:24-27). His listeners were astounded.
The last paragraph is a brief overview of Jesus' sermon on the mount. It is essential that a person develop a good comprehensive view of the sermon before he or she attempts to gain in-depth insights into Jesus' points in the lesson. Note: most of the lesson deals with the manner that disciples use in their treatment of others. There is a definite connection made in this sermon between the way a disciple treats people and the way he or she views God.
If we are tempted to conclude the listeners' astonishment resulted only from his manner of presentation, we miss a significant truth. Yes, they were astounded because his presentation was different. However, they also were astounded because the content of his presentation radically differed from the content of typical rabbinical teachings.
To the Jewish audience who heard this lesson, there were two astounding factors. Factor one: Jesus did not teach in the style of the rabbis. Rabbis linked a series of authoritative statements together to make or verify their points. Jesus said, "I say to you," and he pointed to the problem. Factor two: Jesus' understanding of and emphases on God's teachings were radically different. Because Jewish religious leaders misunderstood God, they misunderstood God's teachings and priorities. Jesus stressed their spiritual focus must change.
The critical, key understanding is found in 5:20. If his listeners understood this point, they could see the contrast between his insights and the Pharisees' positions. Remember, the Pharisees were the "spiritual/religious elite" in that society at that time. Jesus' declarations in this lesson contrasted sharply with accepted positions of that day.
The primary religious influences in first century main stream, common Jewish populace had their origins in the Pharisees' positions and teachings. The Pharisees often were the symbol of righteousness. For Jesus to say that the disciples' righteousness must exceed the Pharisees' righteousness was unthinkable in that society at that time. The rest of the sermon verified Jesus was not discussing "out performing" them. It was impossible to exceed the Pharisees in the performance of religious acts. Jesus' emphasis: his disciples must have a focus on God and God's works that was (is) superior to the Pharisees' focus. How was that possible? The disciple is concerned about accomplishing God's desire, not finding a way around God's desire. The objective of his disciples' thinking and reasoning is to serve God's purposes, not to justify evading God's purposes.
In some ways, times have not changed. If religious leaders of that day successfully declared Jesus attacked scripture (the law), people would classify Jesus' teachings either as insignificant or dangerous. We often adopt the same approach. If we successfully cause people to think a view that differs from ours is "an attack on scripture," they dismiss the view. In verses 17-19, Jesus plainly declared his statements could not be dismissed so easily. Yet, in verse 20, he was also clear. His disciples' understanding of righteousness must go beyond the Pharisees' understandings and standards.
Today there is more interest among too many Christians in "justifying my position/conclusion" than in "understanding the full objectives and purposes of God." If some Christians can "poison the well" of another Christian by declaring he or she is misrepresenting scripture, these Christians declare that no one should feel any responsibility to hear anything the "dangerous" Christian says or teaches. "You can ignore any scripture he (or she) uses."
If you wish to stress to yourself the importance of Jesus' declaration, ask yourself a simple question: why? Why would they change the basic concepts of murder, adultery, divorce, vows, and the treatment of those who abuse you or are your enemies? Why would they realize motives are a part of religious acts? Why would poor people renounce materialism and worry? Why would they understand that godliness was about depending on God, not about passing judgment? Why would they understand they had to accept higher and more demanding levels of personal responsibility? Why would they accept as fact that righteousness was more than agreement with him?
Christians will not accept the challenges of discipleship or the demands of change required in transformation if they do not understand the answer to "why?"
Why? This was Jesus' basic answer. His disciples realized God's concepts of righteousness went beyond common expectations and standards in that religious society.
Our understanding of "why" must go beyond human expectations. Our understanding of "why" must go all the way to God's priorities. Being Jesus' disciple leads us to God's priorities.
When understood in the context of Israel's first century society and religious standards, Jesus' point disturbs us on the deepest level of spiritual existence. Their accepted religious leaders, known for their knowledge of scripture, who "set the standards" for the religious community, who Israel said, "They know what they are talking about"--these people missed the point! The problem was more serious than "doing incorrect or inappropriate things." The Pharisees' basic concept of righteousness was flawed and must be discarded! Their concepts of the godly behavior were actually ungodly behavior! They were experts in scripture, but they did not understand God. Thus the emphasis they saw in scripture opposed God's nature and the priorities that came from God's nature. Those potentially who were God's greatest allies became God's greatest enemies.
Knowledge is not the goal and "cure all" among Christians. The Pharisees had a lot of knowledge. Expertise in scripture's technicalities is not the goal and "cure all" in the church. The Pharisees had expertise in scripture's technicalities. Jesus ended his sermon with this emphasis: being "knowers" is inadequate and will lead to failure; the only avenue to spiritual success is being "doers." Discipleship's foundation is doing what we know. Knowledge is merely the avenue to doing. The purpose of knowing is to enable disciples to do.
Unfortunately, the Pharisees' had an earned reputation for "having expert knowledge in order to pass judgment" rather than allowing knowledge to change their hearts and behavior. They seemed to conclude that knowledge of others' failures verified their godliness. Jesus said that was never the case in relationship with God. Quite simply, people learn to know, and they know to practice. The true benefit of godly knowledge is seen in heart and behavior.
Discipleship's objective is to do, to illustrate, to reflect God in behavior and relationships, to influence, to reflect God's light. Discipleship is not confirmed by enthroning oneself on a judgment seat for the purpose of condemning. Years ago someone said, "You cannot go to heaven on other's mistakes." Disciples do not conclude that their reason for spiritual existence is to condemn the failures of others (see Romans 2:24 in context). Disciples seek light to see the way to God, and they share that light with all who want to see the way to God.
If you struggle with that conclusion, consider Paul's quotation from Isaiah 52:5 in Romans 2:24. Even today, many of the ungodly are not attracted to the hope found in Jesus Christ because of the behavior of some who declare themselves to be godly. Instead of being attracted to Christian hope, they are repulsed by the behavior of some who claim to be godly. When the ungodly cannot see Christian hope in the daily lives of people who supposedly belong to God, the ungodly take neither those people nor their God seriously.
Disciples follow Jesus to give hope to people enslaved to sin. They do not follow Jesus to spread despair and confirm failure. They follow the man who began evangelizing Sychar with a woman who was divorced multiple times, who cast demons out of evil people, who rescued people from diseases caused by ungodly past behaviors, and who gave eternal purpose to the truly poor. They follow the man who rescued by forgiveness. They also seek to rescue others by sharing their master's forgiveness.
A disciple realizes of himself [or herself] he [or she] cannot see God or understand His priorities, His purposes, His ways, or His influence on human life. He [or she] realizes that the essential link between him [or her] and God is Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can help us see and understand God, His purposes and priorities, and His ways in a manner that allows God to influence properly our lives and our behavior.
No one can have a proper understanding of God or God's will without the guidance of Jesus Christ. He shows us what we can see and understand in no other way.
In our society, being religious is basically a matter of holding some conclusions, affirming church membership, and agreeing with proper stances on certain religious issues. Being godly is a whole person commitment to thinking and behaving in ways that are consistent with the nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Being committed and reflecting that commitment in behavior and thought is far more demanding than quietly holding a mental assent that rarely is reflected in thought or behavior.
To refocus requires changes involved in transformation, and many are strongly opposed to any form of change. Attitudes toward the undesirability of change often sustains being religious and opposes the refocusing required by transformation.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 10
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