I was privileged to lead my precious Hope Las Vegas ladies’ Bible gathering this morning, and thought I might share my notes and the questions for the breakout groups here.
We are currently walking through the Gospel of Matthew, one chapter at a time. I did a short recap of the first part of the the Sermon on the Mount and then added thoughts and reflections (and challenges) for the final section. The summaries are my own, so any inaccuracies are also mine.
Final piece of Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)
First block (Matthew 5): How to live by the Law. cf Galatians 3:19-26
The purpose of the Law was to illustrate just how far from holy human effort can make us. It was designed to turn people to the one one who can save: Messiah.
Second block (Matthew 6): How to live like a believer daily. cf Galatians 5:22-26
The Spirit allows us to keep in step with its fruit, becoming people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Our very natures are being changed from earth-centered to heaven-bound. That change is HARD because our sin nature keeps pushing through. But as we learned in Matthew 4, God has given us His Word so that we are able to put the enemy in his place even as we are sustained by the Father. It’s a DAILY experience. It may seem like change isn’t happening, but when we look backward, we can see the unmistakable hand of God on our lives.
Third/Final block (Matthew 7): How to live out a spirit-filled life in an increasingly secular world. cf Galatians 6:9-10
This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door,
and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
We may not feel at home in this crazy, violent, turbulent world, but we are stuck here until the Lord calls us home or Jesus returns. The events of recent days just illustrated how broken this world is and how human attempts to fix it just seem to accelerate the downward spiral. The worse it gets, the more dependent we need to be on the Way the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). While the first sections of the Sermon on the Mount addressed activities visible to the outside world, this last section focused on issues of the heart, the things no one else sees.
Key verse: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).
The crowds were astonished, not by the person speaking, but by the words of the message and the authority by which they were spoken. Why? What set Jesus apart?
- Ancient synagogue services were divided among presenters. While the synagogues had officials, they rotated roles within each service. The chief ruler (Rosh-ha-Keneseth) identified different attendees to read the various parts of the formal service. One person read the prayers, seven people shared reading the law, another person read the prophets, and if someone in the room didn’t know Hebrew, an interpreter was required. Finally, a congregant was chosen to speak a message from the texts. Jesus took on all the roles himself.
- Ancient practices separated men, women, and children. Jesus didn’t.
- Further, the old ways followed a call-and-response format (sort of). The prayers would be read, and the congregants would respond with a scripted, traditional response.
- Jesus interpreted the ancient words in new ways.
- Jesus taught by the Spirit. Matthew Henry wrote:
The scribes pretended as much authority as any teachers whatsoever, and were supported by all the external advantages that could be obtained, but their preaching was mean, and flat, and jejune: they spake as those what were not themselves masters of what they preached: the word did not come from them with any life or force; they delivered it as a school-boy says his lesson; but Christ delivered his discourse, as a judge gives his charge. He did indeed, dominari in conscionibus—deliver his discourses with a tone of authority; his lessons were law; his word a word of command. Christ, upon the mountain, showed more true authority, than the scribes in Moses’s seat. Thus when Christ teaches by his Spirit in the soul, he teaches with authority. He says, Let there be light, and there is light.
So, in this third section of the Sermon on the Mount, what did Jesus say?
Jesus started with the thing that drives everyone nuts–and everyone does it, at least in their heads: Judging. James talks about showing preferences and the problems therein. We can hide our judgmental thoughts, but Jesus makes it clear that we have no space to be judgmental; we have our own issues that the Spirit is dealing with us all the time.
Additionally, we have to be aware of how we use God’s word when we DO correct (lovingly, gently) our brothers and sisters. They may not be in a place to let you work on their specks–even if your logs are completely removed.
Continuing the theme of internal actions, Jesus reminds His listeners that they are LOVED by God. The teachings of the Pharisees/Sadducees and the focus on keeping the Law (legalism in modern parlance) makes God look like a cosmic killjoy whose eyes run to and fro over the earth to see whom He can condemn (2 Chronicles 16:9). That is NOT TRUE!
God loves us (1 John 4:10),but that doesn’t mean we can celebrate our fire insurance and do whatever we want. Back to James: Faith without works is DEAD (James 2:14-26). Working out our faith, especially internally, is challenging because our sin nature keeps tripping us up. We WILL have trouble in this world (John 16:33) and some of that trouble comes by way of false teachers. Don’t listen to them. I won’t name them here (that would take too long), but you recognize them by their fruit. Are they servants or influencers? Do they preach Jesus plus nothing? Is their gospel message unadulterated by the culture of this world? If Jesus isn’t first, RUN.
And if YOU happen to be teaching falsely, or if YOUR works are for your own glory, you may be in for a surprise when you get to glory and your name is not in the Lamb’s book of life. What motivates you to work out your salvation? Fame and followers? Or Fear and trembling? (Philippians 2:1-12)
Can you imagine the people sitting and hearing these words? They’re contrary to anything else they knew. They had been taught that adherence to the words of the Law, the Prophets and the sacrifices were sufficient to be saved, but Jesus told them that the whole purpose of everything they thought they had to do was to show them that they actually couldn’t do it! In fact, the things they tried to do to earn their way into the eternal Kingdom were nothing more than a foundation of shifting sand; anything built on that ground would disappear.
Is it any wonder people were astonished? Dumbstruck, even? Here was a man who spoke the scriptures, interpreted the scriptures, and preached the scriptures without needing to check with another person to make sure He was on the right track. His authority rang out in the way he held “church” (outside in a mixed crowd speaking the words of the Law from memory) and in the way He blended familiar things, like fig trees and construction with the Scriptures in ways no one had heard before. He talked about the impossibility of keeping the whole law while reassuring people of God’s great love for them. He told them they needed to not only act on what He taught them, but they had to take His words to heart and let the Spirit make internal changes that no one could see. And He reminded them that people only see the external things, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:17).
Burton, E. DW. (1896) The Ancient Synagogue Service. The Biblical World, 8(2). 143-148. The Ancient Synagogue Service
Henry, M. (2021). Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary. Christianity.com Matthew 7 Bible Commentary – Matthew Henry (complete) Original work written 1708-1710.
Group breakout questions:
Key verses: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).
Matthew 7: 1-6
- What is the difference between judgement and accountability?
- How do you handle dealing with differences of opinion when it comes to biblical and/or moral gray areas?
Matthew 7: 7-12
Consider and define the verbs in the section (ask, seek, knock).
- What is significant about these words?
- Why does Jesus compare God to a human parent?
- How do you go about asking, seeking, and knocking for God’s good gifts?
Matthew 7: 13-23
- Why is the road to the kingdom hard and the gate narrow? If God loves everyone, why not make it easy?
- What does Jesus mean that not everyone who says “Lord, look what I did” will enter the Kingdom of God?
- How do you determine the trustworthiness of a speaker who claims to be a spiritual authority or guide?
- Read Galatians 5:22-25. What kind of fruit do you produce?
Matthew 7: 24-27
- What does Jesus mean when he talks about rock and sand as foundations for building? Where might he have gained his expertise in structural security? What did he expect his audience to know about construction?
- Why is it important to base your faith on a reasonable and responsible understanding of the Bible?
Matthew 7: 28-29
- Why were the crowds astonished?
- When you find yourself astonished by a message, how do you respond?