The unit for January 2021 is the “Sermon on the Mount,” and the theme is “Upside-Down Kingdom.” Our lesson writer, Dr. Mark Scott, shares, “The greatest sermon ever preached was so upside down. It was countercultural and counterintuitive in every way. It turned the world’s wisdom on its head. From it we learn who is truly blessed, how high the bar of righteousness really is, where genuine rewards are located, what focused generosity looks like, and how to make judgments that are not warped.”
(This lesson treatment is published in the January 2021 issue of Christian Standard + The Lookout. Click here to subscribe to our print edition.)
“Do the Opposite” by David Faust (Lesson Application)
Lesson Aim: Conform your perspective to Christ’s.
After Israel was “baptized” in the Red Sea, they wandered in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). During that time they received God’s law on a mountain (Acts 7:38). Jesus retraced old Israel’s steps. He was baptized and tested in the wilderness (Matthew 3-4). Now it was time to give the new Israel (Matthew 4:18-22) a new law (of sorts).
The Sermon on the Mount was probably the greatest sermon ever preached. It was the first of five sermons of Jesus recorded in Matthew. The sermon was preached to the crowds and the disciples (5:1; 7:28). Jesus preached in typical rabbinical posture (sitting down) and did so from a mountainside (the traditional site is between Capernaum and Bethsaida on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee). From the start, the sermon content was upside down when compared to worldly wisdom.
Who Gets Congratulated?
Preacher Randy Gariss said, “Our culture has turned honoring the wrong people into an art form.” We honor and bless movie stars, athletes, politicians, and the rich and famous. Jesus, by contrast, honors the poor, the humble, and peacemakers. That could not be more backward to the current culture.
There are eight Beatitudes (though the last one in Matthew is extended—and in Luke there are four Beatitudes and four “woes”—Luke 6:20-26). Each one starts with the word blessed. Seth Wilson used to say there are two words for blessed in the New Testament—one means “goodie for God” and the other means “goodie for you.” This is the “goodie for you” word. The English word congratulations might capture the idea. In his book, Max Lucado calls it The Applause of Heaven.
Jesus congratulated the poor in spirit. He was referring to those who had experienced spiritual bankruptcy, for that is always where real religion begins (i.e., recognizing our need for God).
Jesus congratulated those who mourn, meaning those with the ability to be touched in heart from sin’s personal and cosmic effects. This is real religion’s contrition.
Jesus congratulated the meek, by which he meant those who possess the strength of humility. Humble people will enjoy this world and the one to come the most.
Jesus congratulated those who are hungry and the thirsty for righteousness, for such people long for God’s justice to be established on the earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus congratulated the merciful. When these people give out God’s loving-kindness, it comes back to them in equal measure.
Jesus congratulated the pure in heart. They will habitually seek one thing (“God’s kingdom,” said Søren Kierkegaard) and will be allowed to see God.
Jesus congratulated the peacemakers—those who put themselves at risk and often in harm’s way to reconcile fighting brothers and sisters.
Jesus congratulated those who are “hunted down” because they follow God’s standard. This final beatitude gets some extra emphasis. The antagonists in Matthew’s Gospel were religious leaders. They made life miserable for the beatitude people. Their weapons were insults, persecution, and slander. But the reward for these beatitude people was the good company of the famous prophets of old.
These seemingly backward people were actually the ones whom Jesus commended. They demonstrate some of the biggest things in the Good Book (e.g., meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peace). Some of the congratulations come in this life (notice the present tense in verses 3 and 10, but many of the congratulations are left to God’s glorious future (notice the future tense of verses 4-9).
Who Has Influence?
Who left the larger mark? Princess Diana or Mother Teresa? They both died the same day. John F. Kennedy or C.S. Lewis? They both died the same day. Looking through the list of congratulated people in the former section would cause one to say, “Surely the beatitude people have no clout, sway, or influence.” Wrong! The people described in verses 3-12 are the real movers and shakers of the world. They are the ones who leverage the influence in the world.
Jesus used two of the most common elements of the universe—salt and light—to drive home his point about influence. Salt and light are both known by their absence. Saltless food is bland. Hidden light is useless. Salt that loses it saltiness (Jesus was not speaking scientifically) is good only to be thrown out. Light that is hidden is flatly ridiculous. If the blessed people do not exercise their influence in the world, they will be judged and found to be silly.
The calling of this influence is cosmic in scope. Christ followers are to be salt of the earth. Christ followers are to be light of the world. They let their light shine locally, but they always try to think globally. After all, their Father is all the way in heaven.