- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Learning from the Teacher
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him. He taught them. (Matthew 5:1-2a)
Most of us have a favorite teacher. It may be someone from school or a coach. It may be a grandparent. It may be a friend. Excellent teachers help us to see in new ways, appreciate our world more deeply, and meet life's challenges. They change us, through example or a direct word. I remember fondly my greatest teachers, including my father. I am so thankful for their investment in my life.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus comes to us as a teacher. In the reading today, Jesus goes up a mountainside and begins to teach. Many people have come to listen. The words he offers change the world for countless individuals, for entire societies, and for all civilization. Jesus' teachings on this occasion, collectively known as "The Sermon on the Mount," still challenge and instruct us today. If we listen carefully, we may place Jesus among our favorite teachers. He still changes lives, for he still changes hearts.
As you read Jesus' instruction in this great sermon, you will find that he addresses the most important questions about living a good life. Do you want to seek peace and justice? Listen to Jesus. Do you want to be generous with money and humble in serving others? Listen to Jesus. Do you want to be free from worry? Able to forgive? In constant communion with God? Listen to Jesus. His words are still relevant today.
Is Jesus your teacher?
English writer and philosopher G. K. Chesterton once observed, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried." It is true that Jesus' words are difficult to apply and challenging to understand. But you can do it. He will lead you. He will teach you. He will provide the power, supply the grace. Listen to his teaching. Ask him for help. To learn useful things from any teacher, one must first be teachable. Give him your everything.
Jesus, you have the wisdom to lead me in the way that brings life, true life! May I trust in you as my teacher; accept me as your student. Amen.CHAPTER 2
The Happy Life
Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. (Matthew 5:3-4)
What does it mean to be happy? Blessed? What does it mean to live "the good life," and how do I obtain it? Turn on the TV. Listen to the radio. Look around.
Think carefully about your friends, coworkers, and family members. How do you define success? What is the life you are hoping for? Who is teaching you? Fill in the blank: "Happy are people who_____________." Make money? Are attractive? Have the most Facebook friends? Have the most power?
Your answers may determine the trajectory of your life. They will identify your greatest goals and your greatest struggles. Everyone wants to live a good and meaningful life. But we need wisdom if we want to live life well, and what Jesus teaches will challenge all of our assumed values, for life in the Kingdom appears upside-down until Jesus turns us right-side-up.
Jesus tells us, "Happy are people who are hopeless ... who grieve." He says, "the kingdom of heaven is theirs ... they will be made glad." How? Was this true of Jesus? Can it be true of us?
Many have struggled to understand exactly what Jesus means. Some have argued that Jesus' words to the hopeless, "the poor in spirit," can be understood as an affirmation of those who reach a position of dependence upon God, who look to God alone as their hope. Likewise, those who grieve or "mourn" can be understood as those upset at injustice and evil in our world. It is true that we should depend fully on God as our hope and express sorrow at the brokenness that surrounds us.
But as we read and think about these words, let us not forget Jesus. It is in him that we discover what it means to inherit the Kingdom through hopelessness and receive gladness through grief. In him, we see one who remained faithful in the face of hopelessness for us so that we might enter his kingdom. In him, we see one who took our grief on the cross so that we might share in his joy.
God Almighty, help me to think clearly concerning the Beatitudes. May I find hope in you alone; may I receive gladness; may I inherit your kingdom. Amen.CHAPTER 3
A New Appetite
Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. (Matthew 5:5-6)
I once read a story about a great evangelist, a man used to speaking to thousands of people about the good news of Jesus. This evangelist had experienced a great deal of success, including many conversions. Another minister, curious concerning the conversions, attended some meetings where the evangelist was preaching. Was the evangelist persuasive in speech? Was he attractive or manipulative? The minister assumed some secret.
But at the meetings, he found nothing remarkable and concluded that the results were plainly the work of God. He told the evangelist so, saying he saw no relation between anything the messenger was doing and the results of the message. The response? The evangelist "laughed and replied that he would be sorry if things were otherwise."
The evangelist's experience of Jesus led him to display qualities that were true of his Lord. He was humble, a servant of God's will. He wished to see people made righteous in Christ and was faithful through telling others about him. There is an explanation for this display of character: this man spent time with Jesus.
Have you? Do you also want to be like Jesus?
Do you want to be humble? In Philippians 2:8, we are told that Jesus "humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Jesus put aside the privilege of divinity and took the place of a lowly servant, for us. Paul, noting a pattern to follow, writes, "Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4 NRSV). This is the meaning of humility.
Do you want to hunger and thirst for righteousness? Spend time with Jesus, and that will be the result. You will want to become holy, like Jesus. You will want justice and goodness to prevail. Your life will look different. So will your family, school, workplace, and community. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be active in the work of God to redeem all things. They will be fed until full.
Jesus, help me to live humbly. Alter my appetite so that I might hunger and thirst for righteousness. May I see life in your kingdom as a great feast. Amen.CHAPTER 4
Growth Requires Practice
Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. (Matthew 5:7-8)
You may have heard it said, "Don't get mad, get even!" We live in a world short on mercy; our hearts lack purity.
Persons who are pure in heart and abundantly merciful are rare, and yet Jesus has the power to change us into such people. Jesus can identify our need for redemption, repair, and restoration. He comes to heal, to instruct, and to renew. Trust him, and he will give you all you need to be a person who is "happy" in mercifulness and pure in heart.
In order to grow, you may want to plan experiments in mercy or time for reflection to achieve purity of heart.
Think about how to extend mercy to those around you. Can you offer a listening ear or a helping hand? Could you offer forgiveness for a past wrong? Could you give a bottle of water to the homeless person you see on the way to work or give time to a ministry that serves in your community? Growing in mercy requires practicing mercy.
Purity of heart is more challenging. This teaching commends those who seek God with all they have, saying those who do so will see God not only in the present moment but also in eternity. Each day, you can reflect on your motives, prayerfully asking God to instruct you in seeing where you acted on God's behalf, and where you have gone astray.
Regarding Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, the early church leader and preacher St. John Chrysostom wrote, "Assuredly, there would be no heathen, if we Christians took care to be what we ought to be; if we obeyed God's precepts, if we bore injuries without retaliation, if when cursed we blessed, if we rendered good for evil. For no man is so savage a wild beast that he would not run forthwith to the worship of the true religion, if he saw all Christians acting as I have said."
If we were merciful in our present world of vengeance, many would be curious. If we truly were pure in heart, more people would "see God." By God's grace, may it be so.
Lord of heaven and earth, teach me to be merciful and give me a pure, renewed heart. Amen.CHAPTER 5
Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God's children. Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:9-10)
The world is in need of peacemakers and those of strong character who stand up for what is right. Two examples spring to mind.
The first example, Martin Luther King Jr., is well-known as a civil rights activist. Each year, the United States celebrates the life of Dr. King for his work in establishing equal rights for people of color. Dr. King is remembered as an advocate for racial minorities and for instructing others in nonviolent resistance. As an ordained Baptist minister, King drew from the life of Jesus to impart his message.
A second example, Rosa Parks, is from the same era. From a place of quiet strength, she accepted harassment after defying an unjust law in Montgomery, Alabama. The law required her, as an African American, to give up her bus seat for a white person and move to the rear. On December 1, 1955, after being told to move, she didn't budge. Her actions that day and throughout her life served as an inspiration for multitudes. She did not regard herself as extraordinary; she simply did what she thought was right.
There are many ways to serve as a peacemaker and an advocate for what is right. When you do so, you will experience what it means to be a child of God and a citizen in the heavenly kingdom. This experience deepens when you do so as one who has called on Jesus as your savior and look to him as your teacher. A natural outcome of following Jesus is a strong sense of the need for peace and for doing righteousness. He will help you do these things.
So, where do you see division, and can you work for peace? Perhaps you have friends in conflict to whom you can offer healing. Where do you see injustice, and how can you stand up for righteousness? When someone is left out, bring him or her in. When someone is at the bottom, lift him or her up. When someone is wandering a destructive path, help him or her turn around.
Lord Jesus, give me your peace so that I might make peace. Lead me in your paths, so that I may live righteously, standing for what is right. Amen.CHAPTER 6
"Because of Me"
Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
Some of my most painful pastoral experiences have been when others have said hurtful and critical things about me. I took some of the criticisms very personally. Looking back and reflecting on them, I concluded that some were valid and based on failures or personal shortcomings. But some were based on resistance to something God was doing in my life and ministry. The hard part is distinguishing the latter from the former.
Pay careful attention to Jesus. He says, "Happy are you when people insult you ... all because of me." Jesus did not tell us we would experience the blessed life whenever we were criticized, or gossiped about, or wounded by others. He told us the "happiness" would come whenever we encountered these experiences because of our association with him. This is a sobering statement. Following Jesus has a tremendous cost, but the reward is worth it, for it is Christ.
There are times in life when following Jesus will bring with it all kinds of trouble and persecution. In John 15:20, Jesus remarked, "Remember what I told you, 'Servants aren't greater than their master.' If the world harassed me, it will harass you too." But in today's Scripture Jesus also said, "Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven." When you face trouble because of Jesus, he is with you, he is good, and he will see you through.
"Prophets" have always faced opposition. Jesus did, as did Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others before them. You will too, if you come to know God as the prophets did. Study the Bible, pray and develop a conversational relationship with God, and draw near to Christ. When you speak up, speak his words, letting his life show up in yours. Only then will you be living the "happy" life.
Father in heaven, help me to know you as Jesus knows you. Help me to discern when I am facing opposition on account of my life in Christ. Give me the joy and gladness he speaks of, delighting in your work. Amen.CHAPTER 7
Living the Story
The stories of Scripture were told not just for information but also for transformation. It is possible to know the Bible cover to cover. However, if it has not changed your life—forming, shaping, and reshaping your heart and habits in the image of Jesus Christ—then you may be missing the point.
If you are reading these devotions as a family, use the ideas and activities in the Small Talk children's handout for this week. If you are reading the devotions alone, as a couple, or in a small group, you are invited to take up two practices: Scripture reading and stewardship of resources. These practices will challenge you and enable you to grow as a follower of Christ. They will create space where God can transform you, speak to you, guide you, and teach you, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Beatitudes are a brief, powerful example of the profundity and complexity of Scripture, yet they are only an introduction to Jesus' larger discourse, the Sermon on the Mount. To better understand the Beatitudes, you might consider reading the entire sermon, found in Matthew 5–7. To better understand the sermon, read all of Matthew. To understand Matthew, become familiar with the entire Bible.
On the suggestion of a friend, our family and two other couples gathered on a Saturday and read through the Gospel of John in one sitting, rather than in small sections as we often do. On your own or with a group of friends, select a book of the Bible and read through it from start to finish. Choose a Gospel or a shorter book such as a New Testament epistle. Consider making routine Bible reading part of the rhythm of your life, so that you might fully grasp the story of God.
Stewardship of Resources
Stewardship is often associated with giving money to the church, but as a biblical principle it applies to all of life. If Jesus instructs us to cultivate mercy, purity of heart, a love for justice, joy in hardship, and other qualities, then we must allocate our time and dedicate our practices to live according to his teaching.
Sit down with a notepad or open a word processor on your computer. Evaluate your life. Are you making the best use of your time, treasure, and talent in faithfulness to Jesus? If yes, write down where you are succeeding, noting areas for improvement. If not, begin formulating a plan for better stewardship.CHAPTER 8
The Judge Who Is Fair
Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33)
Every four years the Olympic games showcase the world's greatest athletes and attract people from all over the world to gather and celebrate the diversity of human culture. Some events are more technical than others, requiring the careful observation of a referee, judge, or panel of judges. Everyone watching wants the events to be judged fairly and impartially, but from time to time an outcome is disputed, or we wonder whether a judge was biased. When that occurs, we cry out for fairness, for what is right.
Why do we want equity and fairness? Where does our sense of justice come from?
When Jesus tells today's story about a great shepherd-king, gathering the nations and placing them on his right and left, he is tapping into our sense of justice. The king Jesus speaks of is not only powerful; he knows the flock, discerns their hearts, and judges justly.
Knowing there is a ruler who judges fairly is a good thing. It means that actions count. The good things we do are seen and honored, and the bad things are punished. When we see good, we rejoice. When we see injustice, we name it, but we are not its ultimate judge.
The God that Jesus reveals is like a king, powerful and in charge; yet also like a shepherd, near and knowledgeable of those in his care. Get to know the Shepherd-King. You can trust God, who judges justly and with loving care.
God, I see that you are the true and ultimate judge of human affairs, that you see the actions of all people. You are the only one who can perfectly discern the good from the bad, and I trust that you do so with fairness and equity. May I trust that in Christ I have found favor in your sight, and may I thus live according to the grace you have bestowed upon me. Amen.
Excerpted from Table Talk: Bible Stories You Should Know Volume 2 by Carl Frazier. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.