Just like it did 2,000 years ago, the Sermon on the Mount challenges disciple’s resolve to live the distinctness of the Christian counterculture. Jesus calls us to us fidelity in marriage no matter what, truth telling at all cost, humiliation in the form of nonresistance, and above all to show our attitude of total love even to an enemy. His words here are both most admired and most resented. Yet, despite the difficulty of living our these teachings, our Lord’s word is good – intrinsically good for individuals and society. If you haven’t already, it’s always a good time to start The Life and Teachings of Jesus 2020 Reading Plan.
The Life and Teachings of Jesus – Week 9 – March 2-6:
Monday – Matt. 5:31-32: The third teaching of Jesus follows naturally from the second, inasmuch as sexual sin often leads to divorce. Again, Jesus requires a more exacting standard of His followers than was the norm of His day. The process for divorce under the Law of Moses is outlined in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The bill of divorce, demanded by Moses and mentioned here by Jesus, was a protection for the woman that freed her to marry someone else. The religious teachers of Jesus’ day wrongfully assumed divorce was a part of God’s will and simply sending away one’s wife with a divorce certificate satisfied the Law’s demands (this is especially clear in Matthew 19:1-12). It’s against such a backdrop that our Savior calls on people to appreciate the true meaning and solemnity of marriage. For Him, marriage is intended to be a lifelong union of one man and one woman, and it is not to be dissolved lightly. Jesus’ teaching on divorce clearly contrasts with His and our culture.
Why do you think our Lord has such a high view of fidelity to one’s spouse? What would make your Top Ten List for how to avoid divorce?
Tuesday – Matt. 5:33-37: The fourth, “You have heard…” statement doesn’t actually appear verbatim in the Old Testament, but is perhaps a conflation of Leviticus 19:12, Numbers 30:2 and Deuteronomy 23:23. The situation described is one in which many Jews viewed swearing an oath by “heaven or earth, “or by “the temple,” or even by “one’s head” was not as binding as swearing “by God.” Jesus stresses that each one of these items belongs to God, so that the conventional distinctions were spurious. The point of our Lord’s teaching is not avoiding oaths all together (Paul makes oath statements on several occasions i.e. Romans 1:9; 9:1); rather the issue is telling the truth because God witnesses every word one speaks. Therefore, Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one” (v. 37; cf. James 5:12).
According to Jesus, what’s the problem with making oaths? Why should oaths be unnecessary for the Lord’s followers?
Wednesday – Matt. 5:38-42: Revenge comes easily to us, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” the saying goes. However, in this fifth saying, the Lord Jesus calls His disciples to a higher ethic that transcends tit-for-tat retribution. His teaching stresses the need to decisively break the natural chain of evil action and reaction that often characterizes human relationships. Jesus invites His hearers to grapple with the application of His points. Nonresistance means disdaining one’s honor (vv. 38-39), one’s most basic possessions (v. 40), one’s labor and time when others seek them by force (v. 41), and one must also disdain these things in view of the needs of the poor (v. 42); then, when the kingdom comes, one’s deeds, rather than one’s wealth and honor will matter (cf. Matthew 25:34-46). One’s vested interest must be in heaven, not on earth; if one cannot value the kingdom that much, one has no place in it.
Looking closely at vv. 39-42, how would you contrast our natural responses in such situations with the responses Jesus expects of us? What do you think is accomplished by turning the other cheek or going a second mile?
Thursday – Matt. 5:43-48 (Luke 6:27-36): With this, His sixth and last commentary on how the Law of Moses had been taught, our Lord teaches that one whose righteousness would surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees (ref. Matthew 5:20) must exemplify a higher standard of virtue than loving those friendly to one’s own interest. We all love our friends, but love for our enemies is quite another matter. As disciples of Jesus we are not to take our standards from our human nature but rather, from the God we serve. Our God is a loving God who indiscriminately gives good gifts to all, regardless of whether they are friend or foe. Therefore, we must be like Him loving even our enemies.
How is Jesus Himself an example of what it means to “Love your enemies” (v. 44)? How might you reflect the Lord’s character when you are mistreated? Focus on the one person who could be considered your chief enemy and, this week, reach out to him or her with some practical act of love.
Friday – Matt. 6:1-4: Today’s reading begins a new section in the Sermon on the Mount. In the next three readings, Jesus will teach on the proper practice of piety: Almsgiving (vv. 1-4); Praying (vv. 5-15), and Fasting (vv. 16-18). The overarching thesis of this section is: Do your righteousness for God to see you, not others (v. 1). In all three examples, Jesus warns us to not be like the “hypocrites” seeking public praise (vv. 2, 5, 16). Rather, our focus should be on God’s glory, which in turn will solicit His praise (vv. 4, 6, 18). Jesus begins this teaching with almsgiving. It’s an accepted fact that it is a religious duty to help the poor but, as in all ages, some are more interested in public reputation rather than relief of poverty. Our Lord teaches that it is indeed important to give, just not to be known to give.
According to Jesus, how are we to do acts of charity? Why is it important that we give this way? It what way(s) are you tempted to violate this principle?