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Opening Question
What makes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount so challenging, yet relevant today?

Matthew 4 records the call of the first disciples. They, and other crowds, follow Jesus to hear Him speak and to bring the sick, demoniacs, and cripples to Jesus, and He healed them. This summary seems to do injustice to what must have been amazing, miracle-filled events; yet we’re only given this brief glimpse as a setting for the next 3 chapters—teachings of Jesus—where Matthew devotes more space than the other Synoptic authors to the ethics of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 5:1-12—The Beatitudes
These nine confirmations seem to go against just about every value we would consider a blessing or fortune: money, happiness, satisfaction, revenge, inner integrity, strength, power, peace, and security. These seem to speak to issues of the heart toward external situations that are sometimes beyond our control.

To whom are the beatitudes written? Who would benefit most from hearing them?

Is Jesus right? Have we been duped by the values of this world as to what truly constitutes “blessing” or ‘fortune” or “happiness”?

Matthew 5:17-48—Jesus Relationship to the Law
Jesus addresses several issues of the Old Testament Law that had been perverted by the oral traditions of the Rabbis and had thus lost their force in Jesus’ time: murder and hatred, adultery and lust with marriage/divorce, making vows or promises, and revenge toward enemies. The section concludes with a call to be perfect as Father God in Heaven is perfect: He loves his enemies, and wishes good on those who wish him evil.

Are any of these more difficult for you than the others? Are any of them outdated or irrelevant to our culture or human nature?

Can the Old Testament laws really be summed up with “love”? Is it possible to actually love our enemies? If I don’t feel love for someone, should I give up hope?

Matthew 6:1-18—Inward Piety
Outward show in the Christian life cannot fool God, the One Whom we ultimately serve and pray toward. In a religious culture, there may be temporary gains by pretending piety through influence and reputation, but in the end, these cannot please God; they will only earn temporary rewards and forfeit eternal ones. Jesus called such people “actors,” “hypocrites.”

Who is most susceptible to the temptation to live an outwardly pious life while harboring selfish motivations?

Matthew 6:19-34—Treasure in Heaven
If I cannot be assured of anything during life on planet earth because of things that destroy: violent people, weather, pestilence, disease, etc., then it seems silly to preoccupy life with the attempt. Yet we should have food, clothing, and shelter.

Jesus says I shouldn’t worry about the basics of life. Is He suggesting I shouldn’t work, and just trust Him to give me what I need? Where is the balance between providing a living, and worrying about the needs of this life?

What, according to Jesus in 6:34-35, is the antidote to worry?

Matthew 7:1-27—Judging
Jesus begins the section by warning against judging others, then proceeds to say that false prophets are known (“judged”) by the fruit they bear, whether they “do the will of the father.” What matters most to Jesus seems to be carrying out God’s will rather than comparing oneself to others.

How do we unravel Jesus’ statements about judging? Are they contradictory? Or is that too simplistic a conclusion?

Closing Comments
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is amazing for its depth of insight into human nature, its highest spiritual/ethical/social standards, and comprehensive nature. If all people made these principles the foundation of their interactions with God and other people, a piece of heaven would be felt here on earth. That is God’s plan!

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