The Life of Jesus Christ - Jesus\' Most Famous Words

The Life of Jesus Christ :: June 14, 2020
Jesus’ Most Famous Words :: Matthew 5:1-16

So far in our series we have taken our time to investigate Jesus’ birth, childhood, baptism, temptation, the engagement of the first disciples and the beginning of His miracles. Now, at last, we come to His words. “The Sermon on the Mount," as it has been called in the last 500 years, is perhaps Jesus’ most famous words. The problem is, the simplicity and power of these words has caused a sea of interpretation, examination and even sterilization. One scholar counted over thirty specific and unique interpretations of just the purpose of the sermon.

For our purposes, I pray we suffice it to say, there is a large debate and a deep history of the interpretation of this passage and the rest of the sermon, not to mention its sister passage in Luke 6, called “The Sermon on the Plain.” Rather than plumb the depths of this history, we will approach the passage itself, with respect to the history.

The context should be quickly noted. This happens in Galilee, likely close to the Sea of Galilee. Jesus “saw the crowds,” a reference to Matthew 4:23-25, and “went up on a mountain,” perhaps one of the main steep hills surrounding the sea. His disciples came to Him and He “opened His mouth” and began to teach. Perhaps Matthew’s phrase here connects to Matthew 4:4, when Jesus counters Satan’s schemes by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

“Moreover, the setting given by Matthew to the ‘sermon’ —a mountain, and the posture of the preacher—when he was set (sitting being the usual practice of the Rabbi when teaching), seems to suggest that the evangelist is deliberately portraying Jesus as the second and greater  Moses, who on a ‘mountain’ (though in fact it was a Galilaean his-side) gives to the new Israel a new ‘law’, though to be sure a very different kind of law from that promulgated by Moses from Mount Sinai.” R.V.G. Tasker

With His first words Jesus begins in an important place. Don’t miss this. Think of all the things He could have said. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is how Jesus began teaching, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (compare the summary statement of Jesus’ preaching in Matthew 4:17). Jesus begins with the heart and the kingdom.

The eight or nine statements, called beatitudes from the Latin, that follow have long since captured the heart and mind of believers, disciples, scholars and critics alike. Their simplicity is only matched by their power. He begins with a focus on character rather than conduct.

Our friend Dr. Paul Looney, pastor, doctor and psychiatrist, has used the beatitudes extensively in the counseling office for years. His book, CrossTies: The Beatitudes for Every Believer, uniquely expresses their individual meaning and connects them in a powerful way. His applicational outline is worth some thought.

“One - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. — We admit our powerlessness. In brokenness we find our need for God and others.

Two - Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. — We express grief over losses and our attempts to manage our pain. We look to God, believing He can comfort and restore us.

Three - Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. — We commit our lives and our wills to Christ’s care and control. We become teachable, choosing to trust and surrender.

Four - Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. — We order our lives to seek God first, putting aside instant gratification. We humbly ask that His character replace our shortcomings.

Five - Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. — We view others as fellow strugglers, recognizing all are alike. We choose acceptance and forgiveness over judgment, and share freely what we have received.

Six - Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. — We examine our heart. We bring everything into the light by rigorous honesty with God, another and ourselves.

Seven - Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. — We seek restoration of relationships. We offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us and make amends for the harm we’ve done except when to do so would cause further harm.

Eight - Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. — We yield our lives as servants, willing to suffer as Jesus did, for the joy set before us.”

The introductory statements of blessing are how Jesus begins the “sermon” in Matthew 5 as well as Luke 6. Matthew sermon is captured in 106 verses while Luke only has 29.

Jesus continues the “general” section of His message (5:2-16) before He gets to the specific (5:17-7:27) by now discussing salt and light, two images very familiar with Christians and the Church throughout the ages. While the image of salt carries multiple relevant points of contact, perhaps its best to simply notice its presence as always distinctly different than what it’s added to. The converse scenario is that is it wholly un-different, worthless, good only to be thrown out  atop to dirt and completely discarded.

Jesus’ words on light are also powerfully memorable and visual. This image contains an explicit statement of application from Jesus in 5:16. It is about your witness, testimony, influence and worship of God. Beginning with character, now Jesus addresses presence and influence. These three ideas, seen in this way, speak to both the nature and purpose of the sermon, as well as its application.

Character is the heart of the matter. Is yours good enough? Does it reflect God’s character?(LIFE HACK: No one’s character is good enough to earn salvation or heaven. Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect glory. You included. This is why you need a sacrifice and substitute to be perfect in your place. Jesus is that substitutionary sacrifice. Faith in Jesus is the only way to forgiveness and eternal life. Because Jesus paid all that was required to satisfy God’s wrath on sin, God offers salvation as a free gift of His grace.)

Only godly character carries the weight of presence. What do you bring to the party? While powerful, rich and connected people often have a popular gravitas, only a truly godly character conveys a presence that is deep and lasting.

Real influence is the combination of character and presence. We have an impact on people proportionate to how much we reflect God’s character and how much we engage their heart and life. This is letting your light shine, such that others see it and glorify God.

Family Discussion Questions:
1. What does it mean to be blessed?
2. In what ways do you want acceptance and approval? Share a few examples with your family.
3. Read Matthew 5:3-13. Focus just on the first half of each statement. What do these characteristics tell you about yourself. Yes, focus just on you.
4. Read Matthew 5:3-13 again. Focus on just the second half of each statement. What do these blessings tell you about God?
5. How is your life like salt?  
6. How is your life like light?

Small Group Discussion Questions:
1. What about Jesus’ sermon connects back to Moses? Why would this be important?
2. Discuss the meaning of each beatitude with your group, one at a time. Refer to Dr. Looney’s explanatory application above for help.
3. What is the point of Jesus’ image of salt? What is He trying to say?
4. Why does Jesus use the image of light? What is His main idea here?
5. How do you understand the purpose, context and audience of Jesus’ message?

Weekly Reading Plan:
As I suggested last week, the best way to engage this series is to read slowly through the Gospels. May I suggest reading one at a time, starting with Matthew, instead of trying to read them simultaneously in parallel. Read slowly and intentionally. After Matthew, read John.

This week, it may also be good to focus on Matthew 5-7. We will likely be spending more time here on Sundays.