Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. He also serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin. This lesson treatment is published in the January 2021 issue of Christian Standard + The Lookout. (Subscribe to our print edition.)
“Clearing Away the Fog” by David Faust (Lesson Application)
Lesson Aim: Discover Christ’s wisdom hidden in plain view.
People who are committed to Jesus’ upside-down kingdom will discern differently than the people of this world. Their judgments will be more accurate. Their prayers will be more earnest. Their actions will be more generous. Their decisions will be more decisive.
The themes of the Sermon on the Mount flow in and out of one another. Often, because the genre of this sermon is similar to that of Wisdom Literature (Job, some Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon), these themes will balance and help qualify each other. People who work hard at righteousness (Matthew 5:20) might find themselves just being legalistic (5:21-47). People who strive for perfection (5:48) might find themselves trapped by religious pride (Matthew 6:1). And people who seek first the kingdom (6:33) might find themselves unduly judging others (Matthew 7:1). So, Jesus ended this famous sermon by calling for different discernments.
Mother used to say, “When you point a finger at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you.” Judgment always seems to boomerang. When Jesus said, “Do not judge,” he certainly did not mean not to make judgments. In fact, he taught elsewhere that we were to judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). Here, he is teaching against making hypocritical judgments, for these judgments come back to bite us.
Jesus humorously compared a speck of sawdust to a plank. Sawdust in the eye hurts and needs to be removed. Specks are irritants. But failing to first see the obvious plank in our eyes is hypocrisy. We should always check ourselves as we strive to correct others (Galatians 6:1). Tempered judgments must also be made when considering our stewardship with “dogs and hogs.” While the metaphors sound offensive to us, we dare not give the sacred kingdom message and the pearl of great price to people who will trample them (Matthew 13:45-46; Acts 13:51).*
What will help us temper our judgments? Two things—earnest prayer and seeking the welfare of others. It is difficult to wish evil on someone for whom we are praying. So Jesus taught us to ask, seek, and knock. Have confidence to pester heaven to align your judgments with God’s. Jesus’ paternal illustration made perfect sense. Earthly fathers, who are evil (Jesus’ worldview of us), give good gifts to their children. God knows how to answer our prayers and open up the storehouses of heaven for his children (Malachi 3:10; James 1:18). Proactively seeking the best for others (the Golden Rule) also tempers our judgments toward them. It also fulfills the Law and Prophets.
It is not enough to like or agree with the Sermon on the Mount. One must obey it. Jesus ended this sermon with a decisive call to action. He did so with a series of contrasts. First, he described two gates (which lead to two roads which, consequently, lead to two destinations). The way of the upside-down kingdom may not always be easy, but it does get us home (Luke 13:23-24).
Next, he described two prophets—true and false. To whom will we listen? The false ones come in sheep’s clothing, meaning “in disguise” (John 10:1, 5, 12). Their true identities come out sooner or later, just like good fruit and bad fruit are produced by the corresponding trees. The false prophets are followed by people who make two claims. The claims can be earnest (“Lord, Lord”), and they can even be backed up by miraculous gifts (prophecy and miracles). In the end, claims are cheap. To those who give only lip service to the Lord, Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” How could an omniscient God say that? The phrase probably should be understood, “I do not recognize you as mine.”
Finally there are two builders. The greatest sermon ever preached hardly ended with “wooing.” Instead, it ended with a house crashing during a terrible storm. But our loving Savior tied a bow around the Sermon on the Mount with a simple parable. Everyone builds on something. Storms come to all people. The difference is where (and on what) a person builds. The choice is ours. We can choose to be wise and obey these teachings and find ourselves securely grounded on the rock when the storms come, or we can foolishly choose to live in a sandcastle for the rest of our lives. Which will it be?
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*A few scholars see this as referring to the Romans (See Glen H. Stassen’s article in Journal of Biblical Literature), but that might be giving the text more political emphasis than is necessary. It might be better to keep it in the context of false teachers or apostates (2 Peter 2:21-22).