The Sermon on the Mount

Twenty-five years ago in 1991, the first For Dummies book was published. It was titled DOS for Dummies and it was the first in a long line of instructional books that presented complex subjects in simple, non-threatening ways. From that first computer software book the brand has expanded to cover a huge variety of topics covering almost all aspects of life. There is and has always been a need to have the seemingly complex explained in a way that is easy to understand. And Jesus did it first in The Sermon on the Mount.

 “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”Matthew 7:28-29

The Sermon on the Mount has been hailed as the most profound talk ever given on the Kingdom of God. It is a masterpiece of simplicity, walking hearers through what it means to be righteous before God and how to live in the present world. It provides an eye-opening, “aha!” moment. It could have been termed “Righteousness for Dummies.”

It is clear from the people’s response that the truths Jesus shared that day were distinctly different from what they had ever heard. One would think that in an ultra-religious nation the masses would have clear concepts of righteousness and salvation. Every facet of their lives was governed by a religious rule. How could the people not know such simple truths?

This ignorance of the truth was not confined to the masses. Remember the nighttime meeting between Christ and Nicodemus? Christ’s explanation of the new-birth experience puzzled Nicodemus. Christ’s question could have been asked of the entire nation:

“Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” John 3:10

“And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” Matthew 15:14

As Jesus taught the people, He constantly confronted the erroneous teachings and ill-founded traditions that held power over them. In His Sermon on the Mount He spoke of truths that had the power to free their minds from the chains that bound them.

In hushed silence the people heard blessings pronounced, not on the rich and favored as would be expected, but on the simple and destitute. Jesus spoke to their inner-most feelings, and it was as the voice of God to them. Not only did He reassure the powerless of their value, He gave them practical direction in everyday living. They were to be lights shining in a world of darkness.

As if to leave no room for error on what constitutes true righteousness, Jesus laid bare the fallacy of what was commonly assumed as the height of righteousness and favor with God.

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20

As we read those words today I suspect that we fail to grasp how mind-blowing that sounded to the hearers. So mesmerized were the people to the outward show of piety by the religious rulers that even Christ’s loyal disciples failed to recognize the extreme hypocrisy they witnessed. Even as they saw the evidences of divinity in Christ, they still feared the Pharisees.

Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” Matthew 15:12

By contrast, the Sermon on the Mount reveals how prone man is to place his eternal interests in the hands of others, even today. It’s an indictment of the misuse of power and influence by many who are chosen to be mouthpieces for eternal truths.  It’s also a reminder that religious activity does not equal righteousness.

Do we even now understand those principles given by Christ? Are piety, sincerity, selflessness, charity, love and tolerance evident in our lives? If not, it’s time to prayerfully contemplate Christ’s “Righteousness for Dummies.”

Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:

  • Describe a righteous person.
  • What does it mean to “hunger and thirst for righteousness?”
  • What, if anything, is wrong if a person feels no need to “hunger and thirst for righteousness?”
  • How could the people’s righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees?
  • Explain the difference, if any, between good and bad traditions.
  • What does it mean to be “pure in heart?”
  • Matthew 7:7 says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Does not that mean whatever I ask God for will be given to me? Why yes or no?
  • Matthew 7:12 says “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” How does this apply, if at all, to our use of social media?
  • Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: Man cannot be righteous so we should not try to be righteous. Explain your answer.

We close this week’s lesson with what can be called the bottom line. It could not have been said any plainer:

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!

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