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“Revival is God’s people doing God’s work, God’s way.” Vance Havner (2008)

“The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is having His way with us.” Oswald Chambers (1995)

I recently learned an important lesson about doing things God’s way. When a local Sunday School class invited us to lead a study of the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM), I suggested a twenty-six-week series. The class leadership countered with twelve weeks or less and only thirty minutes of teaching each week!

How do you cover fifty-plus sayings of Jesus in such a limited timeframe? Concerned twelve weeks would not allow for anything more than a compromised exploration of the most important sermon ever preached and that generalizing the Sermon would not adequately encourage the doing necessary to produce strong houses (Matthew 7:24-25), I pressed for more time. The leaders stood firm.

Much to my surprise, the syllabus we developed together turned out to be God’s way for the study. He used what I would call an overly simplified approach to reveal several foundations of His kingdom and its good news. Honestly, I am amazed at the revelation and encouragement I received from the study.

In the process, I also learned that deep technical dives into Scripture are not always the best method for teaching, and that God orchestrates teaching opportunities with more consideration for the audience’s needs than the teacher’s abilities and preference.

Lastly, I was once again reminded that God has a way for everything; finding and following His ways always leads to exciting adventures and discoveries.

It should come as no surprise that Jesus has much to say about doing things God’s way: the only way He did everything (John 5:19, 30; John 12:49-50; and John 14:24). In this article, we will explore two of God’s ways for doing the sayings of Jesus. But first… Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus gave ten examples to help us understand that the kingdom is a matter of the heart. We will conclude our review of these here, as well as draw some general conclusion from Chapter 5. In these final examples, it is particularly easy to identify the “doing” associated with Jesus’ sayings – and that is a good thing.

However, we must remember that Jesus’ focus remains on our hearts, not our performance; the goal is to be made into kingdom citizens, not to make or justify ourselves. This is a very good thing; only the most immature Christian would think they could do these sayings in their own strength.

Love, Bless, Do Good, and Pray for Your Enemies

Several times in this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has used “You have heard…” to extend and enrich our understanding of the Father’s heart desire in the Law and the Prophets. As we will now discover, not only is our understanding potentially more limited and shallower than we would like, in at least one case, it might just be wrong.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:43-45

In this case, Jesus is addressing a humanly devised extension of the Law which was not intended by God. While they were told to love their neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), God never commanded the Israelites to conversely hate their enemies.

Israel had many nations as enemies, and God did identify a few who would suffer for their opposition to His people. However, these were exceptions. In fact, it was God’s intention to bless the nations through His people (a promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3). The religious rulers of Jesus’ day had turned a few specific references into a general rule. In doing so, they caused the entire nation to lose sight of God’s eternal plan. As a side note: We would be wise to recognize our own tendencies to do this very thing, particularly those of us who are teachers and preachers of the Word. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus gave ten examples to help us understand that the kingdom is a matter of the heart. We will explore three more here. Because they are examples, the “doing” of these sayings is easier to identify – and that is a good thing. However, we must remember that Jesus’ focus remains on our hearts, not our performance; the goal is to be made into kingdom citizens, not to make or justify ourselves.

Do Not Swear at All

Most of Jesus’ sayings in the Sermon on the Mount – you know, those sayings we are to do – are truly beyond our human ability. They are only accomplished by the life of Jesus Christ, the One who has come to live in us. Here we find an exception – one saying that appears quite easy to obey. And yet, mankind has amazingly chosen to do something in complete opposition to what Jesus has said. Truly, how do we excuse ourselves?

Consider the matter of oath taking. Jesus said:

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. Matthew 5:33-37

Could anything be more clear? Whatever is more than our “yes” and “no” is from the evil one. Why then do so many followers of Jesus Christ submit to the courts of this nation, put one hand on a Bible, raise the other, and swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Is this not taking an oath? Does it make it okay – or does it make it worse – that a Bible is used in this process?

These questions lead us to a deeper kingdom principle; something deeper than dos and don’ts. For those with eyes to see, this is a great example of the subtly of the evil one’s deception; leading to our conformity to the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus gave ten examples to help us understand that the kingdom is a matter of the heart. We will explore three more here. Because they are examples, the “doing” of these sayings is easier to identify – and that is a good thing. However, we must remember that Jesus’ focus remains on our hearts, not our performance; the goal is to be made into a kingdom citizen, not to make or justify ourselves.

Guard the Lamp of Your Body

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

The house that stands in the storm will be the house of the man that guards his heart from the lusts of his eyes. This is an incredibly important issue for the church in America; particularly when you consider the houses that are being built around our pastors and our fellowships. Of all the judgment that will come to the house of God (1Peter 4:17), the judgment for this sin will be one of the most severe.

Consider the statistics. A Leadership Journal survey reports that four in ten pastors online have visited a pornographic Web site; and more than one-third have done so in the past year. Expastors.com reports that, of the 1,351 pastors that Rick Warren’s website, Pastors.com, surveyed on porn use, 54% said they had viewed internet pornography within the last year and 30% of those had visited within the last 30 days.

According to Patrick Means (2006), 63% of pastors surveyed confirm that they are struggling with sexual addiction or sexual compulsion including, but not limited to, the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, or other secret sexual activity. Furthermore, 75% of pastors do not make themselves accountable to anyone for their Internet use.

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6:22
Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus gave ten examples to help us understand that the kingdom is a matter of the heart. We will explore the first three here. As with most examples, it should be easier to identify the sayings we can be doing to build stronger houses, and that is a good thing. However, we must remember that Jesus’ focus remains on our hearts, not our performance; the goal is to be made into a kingdom citizen, not to make or justify ourselves.

Guarding Our Tongue

As you might expect, the sayings of Jesus are contrary to the ways of the world. In fact, they serve as a means of inspection: Has our house been weakened and compromised by conformance with the world? With the Holy Spirit’s help, the sayings of Jesus can get us back on the right track – being transformed.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

One of the more subtle and pervasive worldly deceptions can be found in the way Christians use their tongues. What we hear in the world tends to find its way into our vocabulary. In between the hearing and the saying, our minds are at risk of being conformed to the world.

It is time we went on the offensive in this regard. For most of us, there is a lot of conformance that must be undone; and replaced with the image of the glory of the Lord (2Corinthians 3:18). Before considering the following passage, ask the Holy Spirit to use it to renew your mind.

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.” But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire. Matthew 5:21-22

The way we live with our brothers and sisters in Christ – particularly in the way we speak to one another – carries far greater consequence than we believe; for if we believed this passage, we would be truly fearful about the words we throw around at each other. James 3:6 warns that the tongue is a fire. Perhaps we should consider the “hell fire” it can be for those of us that fail to guard it. Read the rest of this entry »

Generally speaking, learning involves adding knowledge to existing foundations. For example, reading requires a knowledge of the alphabet; geometry provides a base for trigonometry, which in turn serves as a footing for calculus. Foundations and carefully constructed frameworks are critical success factors in education.

Occasionally however, students (and their teachers) are faced with information that challenges their foundations (e.g., a round earth that is not the center of the universe). Those able to understand and embrace these paradigm challenges discover and create whole new worlds. Imagine where we would be if mankind had decided to discard the possibility of human flight. How many would still believe flat-earth theory?

In Matthew 5:17-20 (the passage covered in our previous article), we find Jesus drawing on both forms of learning. First, He assures those listening that the Law and Prophets are foundational to the kingdom of God – that following and teaching the commandments of God is critically important. He then challenges their paradigm concerning the interpretation and demonstration of the Law provided by the Pharisees and Scribes by stating that entering the kingdom of God requires a greater righteousness.

There are several important lessons here, for both students and teachers:

  1. Strong foundations allow for paradigm challenges.
  2. Students need help understanding what is foundation and what is being challenged.
  3. Teachers are most often the creators of false paradigms.
  4. Transformation often requires significant paradigm shifts.
  5. Teachers must be willing to speak the truth in the face of potential opposition.
  6. Examples help tremendously – particularly when paradigm shifts are involved.

In Matthew 5: 21-47, being the best of teachers, Jesus gives ten examples to explain the righteous fulfillment of the Law required by God. We will cover each of these in turn over the next couple of weeks. But first, a few general observations. Read the rest of this entry »

It seems we commonly make the mistake of handling Biblical truth as nothing more than facts. In teaching and learning, we must come to understand the differences between the two.

  1. Facts are passive; truth is active (e.g., it makes people free, it is alive and powerful).
  2. Facts are for our head, to be analyzed; truth is for our hearts, to be believed.
  3. Facts are accessible to the whole human race; the truth is accessible only to those whom God gives ears to hear and eyes to see.

The teacher and the student both have responsibility in this regard. I mention this here because, though I did my best to fulfill my part, the following would be easily read as facts. If one does not force themself to receive it as truth, the desired effect will not be achieved.

Therefore, I encourage you to exercise your spiritual ears with a heart desiring to believe. God promises that, if you do so, He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

Though we may not think of it this way, the Sermon on the Mount is a carefully constructed sermon. As we have discovered, the Beatitudes come first and in a particular, purposeful order. In them, the first listeners (and subsequent readers) are astounded and perplexed by Jesus’ characterization of kingdom citizens. Three dramatic and dynamic descriptions of our relationship with the world quickly follow: we are to be persecuted (vv.11-12) as God’s gifts of proverbial salt (v. 13) and light (vv. 14-16) to the world and for His Father’s glory.

Having given such a radical description of kingdom citizens and their assignment in the earth, Jesus must have felt that it was important to reassure the disciples that God’s Law and the words of His Prophets were fixed and eternal. He did not come to change the Father’s purposes and plans in the earth; rather, it was His assignment to fulfill them. Read the rest of this entry »

The Greek word translated as “repentance” literally means “to change one’s mind”. When Jesus began His ministry, He came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15, NKJV). With that in mind, I want to challenge you to consider how you might change your mind about the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon on the Mount is a description of character and not a code of ethics or of morals. It is not about what we must do to be a Christian, but what God does once we become one (Lloyd-Jones, 1976). In other words, it is not a list of requirements for entering the kingdom of God, but a description of the life we are empowered to live as we enter in.

As we consider hearing these sayings and “doing” them, the greatest challenge we face is coming to terms with not only not being able, but also not being expected, to do them in our strength, power, intelligence, etc. This is not a high-minded spiritual concept. It is a very practical principle for life in the kingdom of God (i.e., our salvation). It is by grace (alone), through faith (alone) that we come to understand and enter God’s kingdom.

In his book, The Sermon on the Mount, Roger L. Shinn (1962) recognizes the salt and light passage as the first half of a kingdom paradox. The second is found in Matthew 6:1, 5, and 16, where Jesus warns His disciples to avoid giving charity, praying, and fasting to be seen by others. So, how is one to be light to the world and not let others see what they are doing? The resolution to the paradox is found in Matthew 5:17-20, the subject of our next lesson.

Before we go there, we must first understand Jesus’ metaphor of salt and light, which itself contains a mystery requiring our repentance (i.e., thinking differently). Doing so will also shed some light (pun intended) on Shinn’s paradox. Read the rest of this entry »

Before we move on from the Beatitudes, there is something more the Lord would have us recognize about the blessings of the persecuted, which are of particular importance to the church in America. Though it is not a saying of Jesus that we must do; it is something we would be wise to consider.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12

A friend of mine was one of the first to enter Communist China when the bamboo curtain was opened for business with the West. He went in looking for the remains of the church, those who had for many years been targeted for destruction by that evil government. While meeting with one of their leaders, he began praising the Chinese church for its endurance against the persecution. The leader listened quietly and then responded in a way that surprised my friend.

The leader explained that they also thought the government’s attacks were persecution, at first. In their crying out to God, they learned from Him that their suffering was a result of His judgment. He had found them lacking for His intended purpose and plan. Most proved His judgment right by denying their faith and betraying their brothers. What remained has become God’s instrument for the most powerful evangelistic movement the world has ever seen. Even now they are going as martyrs, back to Jerusalem.

So what does this have to do with the American church? What are we to do with this?
Read the rest of this entry »

It is our hopeful contention that Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount so very early in His ministry to prepare those who would follow Him for the storms they would face in sharing and living it with others. The gospel of the kingdom of heaven – the good news of God’s reign in the hearts of His people – would be so radically counter-cultural, not only to the heathen Gentile, but to the Jew as well, that it was only fitting and fair to lay it out from the beginning. Full disclosure; nothing hidden.

As we read the Sermon two-thousand years later, we must use our imagination and consider the timing to appreciate God’s approach in the introduction of His New Covenant. It is both simple and instructional: Jesus first taught His followers about life in the kingdom so they could then observe Him walking it out before them and His Father. “He who hears these sayings of mine, and does them…” is the disciple-makers way.

So, what are we to do about these sayings of Jesus in the Beatitudes? Is there a way we should respond to them? Or, are we left to simply hope the blessings will one day be ours?

God intends for every Christian to respond to every offer of His grace in the same way: through faith. It is no coincidence that the process of faith begins with the hearing of faith (Romans 10:17), proceeds through obedience to the faith (Romans 1:5), and culminates with the work that perfects our faith (James 2:22). Indeed, the process of faith answers the question, “How should we study the Sermon on the Mount?” The only way to become a kingdom citizen is by grace, through faith.

The Sermon begins with the Beatitudes for this very reason. Read the rest of this entry »

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