One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them: – Matthew 5
Mondays, for the next few weeks, I’d like to invite you to journey with my Sunday morning class as we make our way through the Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus.
Yesterday we launched our study… discussion… conversation… inquiry… around the Sermon on the Mount. Our direction as a class is to explore the basics of what it means to be disciples, so what better place to kick off our second year together than the mountainside, with Jesus laying it all out.
We started by talking about the kind of world this new message was being delivered into. These were severely oppressed people: conquered by Rome; pushed around by the occupying force; trying hard to work out a meager living, but seeing so much of it siphoned off by those in power; dominated by a religious system that was long on legalism, and short on grace.
People were waiting for a messiah, a deliverer, someone who would drive Rome from the region, rescue them from their desperation, and reestablish Israel as a powerful kingdom.
So along comes Jesus; he teaches, he heals, he begins to make an impact, and a groundswell of hope and promise sweeps across the region. One day, right at the very beginning, the Great Teacher shares a series of lessons that point clearly to the fact that God’s agenda is not what the people were expecting.
And, it turns out, God’s agenda is not what we were expecting either.
WHAT IS THE GOOD LIFE? Our discussion – before even beginning to study the text – ranged around the question, “Have we been sold a bill of goods when it comes to the ideal of The Good Life.”
The disconnect – especially here in our 21st Century North American culture – comes mostly because happiness is viewed as an end in itself. If our goal is personal happiness, then I believe it’s inevitable that we are going to be disappointed. “Happiness” is presented as the prize, and then we are told what we must do – or, more commonly, buy – in order to attain the happiness we “deserve.”
Whereas the truth – in both the words of Jesus and our experience – is an entirely different story.
The people Jesus was speaking to felt that they would be happy if they were not hungry, if their lives were easier, and if someone ran the Romans out of town… But Jesus told them, “you are already the blessed ones.”
We live in a culture today where we are told, “The good life means eating expensive food, driving luxury cars, wearing designer clothes, and spending time and money on ourselves…” But the happiest guy I know felt that way after spending the week with a bunch of middle-school kids on a mission trip; he ate bad food, invested long hours, worked at dirty, sweaty tasks, slept on the floor of a church, and paid money for the privilege.
“Best week of my life,” he said. “I searched for meaning, committed myself to serve others, worshiped God with all that I had, and came away with a full heart.”
The good life is all about what we can give, who we can help, and following Jesus with our whole hearts.
UPSIDE DOWN: Jesus walked on to the mountainside, looked out over the Sea of Galilee, sat down, and addressed the crowds. “Listen, beloved children of my Father; I’m here to invite you into the Kingdom of God. But you’re going to have to set aside your expectations, your preconceptions, what you’ve been taught about the meaning of life, and – most especially – the false god of self. I have some really good news, but it’s not what you think.”
One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them:
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” – Matthew 5:1-12