I was in a church recently and heard the pastor express his concern over the church in America and her loss of distinctiveness from the world. Many of us share a similar unease about our conformity to the world around us. Now what struck me about that was that the loudness of the music in the worship service was just like the loudness of the music we experienced at an amusement park the evening before. Our culture is loud and full of noise, and I found myself wondering if the pastor had thought about his message and the music. I do think he was right in saying that the church in America may be overrun by the culture and lose her distinctiveness. What do we offer a weary world if we are just like the world?
We are beginning a study of the Sermon on the Mount and it presents a portrait of a follower of Jesus, but it is a portrait that is thoroughly counter-cultural. John Stott wrote, "Thus the followers of Jesus are to be different - different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere of the Christian counter-culture. Here is a Christian value-system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, life-style and network of relationships - all of which are totally at variance with those of the non-Christian world. And this Christian counter-culture is the life of the kingdom of God, a fully human life indeed but lived out under the divine rule."
This week we will begin where Jesus begins: with Christian character. Read Matthew 5:1-12 carefully and twice. Then use the questions below to help you meditate on this familiar passage.
1. Jesus begins with what are commonly called "The Beatitudes." What is a beatitude and what do you think it means to be "blessed"?
* How many beatitudes does Jesus list here?
* Do you think there is a difference between having "blessings" and being "blessed"? Explain.
* Do these beatitudes describe different groups of people or are they qualities that are to characterize all followers of Jesus? What do you think?
* Are these beatitudes achievable in our own strength or are they supernaturally wrought in us?
* Finish this thought: "The world tells us we are blessed if we...."
2. The first beatitude is "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Think for a moment about being poor. What does it mean to be poor?
3. What do you think it means to be poor in spirit? Consider these texts: Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2; Matthew 9:12-13; Luke 18:9-14 and Revelation 3:17-18. What do you think?
4. What is the promise for those who are poor in spirit, and why do you think Jesus begins here with this beatitude?
5. What is the opposite of being poor in spirit? What is the message of the world?
6. The second beatitude is "Blessed are those who mourn." How would you describe mourning?
7. What kind of mourning do you think Jesus has in mind? Consider these texts: Psalm 119:136; Ezekiel 9; Daniel 9:1-6; I Corinthians 5:1-2; Philippians 3:18; James 4:8-10.
* Mourning often has to do with the deep sense of loss. What have we lost?
8. What does Jesus promise to those who mourn? What do you think that will be like?
9. In what way is this a counter-cultural virtue?
10. "Blessed are the meek" is the third beatitude. How would you define or describe meekness?
11. Consider these passages: Numbers 12:1-16; Matthew 11:29. What do you think meekness looks like?
12. The original word in the New Testament for "meekness" is often translated as "gentleness." See Galatians 5:23; Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians 3:12-13. What do you think is the relationship between meekness and gentleness?
13. What does Jesus promise the meek? (Psalm 37:10-11)
14. What does the world say about meekness? What does the world value?
15. When can we expect the "rewards" of these beatitudes, now or in the future?
16. What did the Lord impress on you from this meditation on the first three beatitudes?
Hope to see you on Sunday, and God be with you,