Passage: Excerpts from Matthew 4-7
Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection
Today, many people ignore Christianity because the church itself seems not to take Jesus’ teachings seriously. It is crucial, therefore, for the church today—and in every generation—to embody the radical difference that Jesus makes in a community centered on his gospel. This difference is described extensively in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which will be the text for this next sermon series.
Jesus is different first because of who he calls into his kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom comes to those who are “last and least”, by the world’s standards. The Sermon on the Mount begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3), and Jesus preaches the sermon to crowds of these very people, including the sick, the paralyzed, and the demon possessed (4:23-25). Jesus’ kingdom comes as a free gift to those with absolutely nothing to offer, and because it is open to them, it is therefore open to everyone…if we are humble enough to repent and receive it.
Jesus is different second, because the righteousness he wants to bring about in us is much deeper and much more extensive than we had previously realized. Jesus calls for a righteousness that penetrates to, and comes from the heart, cleansing us at the very core of who we are, not just in our outward behaviors. Likewise, Jesus calls for a righteousness that is unified—that is, it bleeds into all of our relationships and spheres of life, and unites who we say we are on the outside, with who we truly are on the inside.
Lastly, Jesus is different because of how he comes to reign. Jesus becomes king, not through dominance and power grabs, but through suffering and death, giving away his power in love. During his very “coronation” he is mocked by the Roman soldiers, and his great “ascension” is ascension to a cross—he is “lifted up” in our place! In doing this, Jesus is reversing our whole value system and instituting a whole new way of being for the community who will come to follow him. Jesus’ “administration”, therefore, is based on sacrificial, self-giving love—and this love empowers all that he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. If the church can truly grasp, receive, and then embody this love, we will be “a city on a hill” and the world will take notice!
• Who Jesus Calls into His Kingdom (4:23-5:3)
• The Righteousness Jesus Seeks (5:21-30)
• The Way Jesus Brings his Reign (27:27-31)
Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide
Re-read the passage(s): Selections from the Sermon on the Mount
Who Jesus Calls into His Kingdom (4:23-5:3)
Q) INTRO: Have you read the Sermon on the Mount before? If so, what were your impressions of it? What parts stand out the most in your memory, and why?
Q) Read Matthew 4:23-5:3, which describes the kinds of people who were in the crowd listening to Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount. What does this teach us about who Jesus is calling himself into the kingdom?
Q) Jesus said, “blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:3). What does it mean to be “poor in Spirit”? Why is the kingdom uniquely described as “theirs”?
Q) In general, do you think that being poor, weak, and needy is something we celebrate in the church today, or something we try to avoid? Try to give some examples.
Q) What do you think would be different about the church today if we more thoroughly grasped that Christ’s kingdom comes to the “last and the least”? Give some practical examples.
The Righteousness Jesus Seeks (5:21-30)
Q) Read Matthew 5:21-26 and 5:27-30, which are two examples of the type of “deeper righteousness” that Jesus is seeking from us. How is the righteousness that Jesus wants to bring about in us different than the righteousness the world seeks? How is it different than the way the church itself often pursues righteousness?
Q) Is there an area of your life where you’ve settled for a more external, surface-level appearance of righteousness, rather than a true righteousness coming from the heart? How so? What would it look like to repent in this area?
Q) Read Matthew 6:1-6 as preview/example of the type of “unified” righteousness Jesus wants to bring about—where our outer actions are aligned with our inner motives. Why is it so tempting to serve God “in order to be seen by others”? Where do you notice this tendency in yourself?
Q) Describe what you think a community would be like who sought this kind of deeper and more unified righteousness. What attitudes and characteristics would it be marked by? What would be the effect on its witness to a watching world?
The Way Jesus Brings His Reign (27:27-31)
Q) Read Matthew 27:27-44, which describes Jesus’ “coronation” and “enthronement”. What is different about the way that Jesus’ assumes power (takes up his throne) from the way that every other leader assumes power? Why is this important?
Q) Some Christians tend to teach about the values of Jesus’ kingdom (self-giving love, true holiness, etc) while minimizing the cross, and the substitutionary death of Jesus. What is the danger in doing this—what happens when we “leave out” the cross? Other Christians tend to teach the cross and substitutionary death of Jesus while minimizes the values of Jesus’ kingdom—what is the danger in doing this—what happens when we “leave out” the kingdom?
Q) CASE STUDY: You’re talking to a friend who is not yet a Christian. They tell you that while they respect people who have faith, in their view all religions are basically the same. “Religion is more or less about being a good person—even if different religions teach it slightly differently—and I feel like I’m already a good person, or at least I’m trying. And I’m not sure religion even has a positive overall impact in the community. I hate to say it, but it’s some of the Christian parents in my daughter’s school who are the most pushy, the most judgmental, and actually the rudest to the principal.” How might you continue this conversation with your friend, in light of the Sermon on the Mount, and this week’s sermon?
Additional Application Questions
Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?
Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?
Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.