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 5:1-2, NLT)
I had planned to do this series back in May, but we also moved during the month of May, and I wound up in the hospital with a pretty serious illness (not COVID). So, I am just now getting back to this topic for the blog.
If you are new to this blog, I post each episode of my podcast here as well as the written blog posts. The podcast is for parents and anyone who has children in their lives that they hope to teach and help grow in their faith. On the podcast we look at lots of children’s books that spark important conversations with our children. I also share great books for parents and grandparents on the podcast.
The written blog is for us. It is talking about living out our faith and helping others to grow in their faith – basically, discipleship.
Both of these types of posts are meant to bless, equip, and hopefully challenge us as we walk with God.
Before I get started on today’s topic, I want to just add one more thing. I want to praise God for His healing and protection on my life these past few months. I did not realize how sick I was. By the time I went to the hospital, I had sepsis and wound up with MRSA. I thought I had a pulled muscle, and I had an infection in that muscle that could have taken my life. God is good, and He has given us miraculous bodies that fight hard to heal. I’m praising God for His help through the last few months and for His grace in my ignorance. Thank you to those who prayed for me and to the medical staff who did such a wonderful job at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I also have to say thank you to my sister who just happens to be a wound care specialist and who helped me walk through this time with her vast knowledge and care. I am truly blessed.
Thank you for indulging me in letting me share these things with you. I appreciate you very much. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to get back to writing, but I hope to be able to share the richness of God’s Word with you and that we can grow together in our walks with God and our love for Him and each other.
So, what did Jesus do? How did He disciple His followers? What can we learn from His ways of mentoring and leading them?
Jesus teaches His followers through His example, through parables, and through sermons. He also teaches through those teachable moments, often when His disciples are struggling or fearful. We’ll look at these as we continue this series, but today, we’ll look at one of His first major sermons recorded in scripture. I will deal with each verse in separate blog posts over the next few weeks.
Let’s look at the first verses of The Sermon on the Mount today. I love to see what Jesus felt was most important to impart to His followers. Last time I talked about His first recorded teachings with his closest disciples as they were in the storm on the sea. But I want to step back a few chapters to the Sermon found in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6.
Jesus taught about our attitudes, but in the midst of that, He is actually teaching us about coming to Him in faith. We call it the Beatitudes. Don’t you love that Jesus starts His teachings by talking about how we can be blessed? But what we find is that blessing comes from surrender and sacrifice. It’s not what we usually think of when we think of blessings. In fact, in our culture today, we think of blessings as our right to the pursuit of happiness. We think in selfish terms. We often feel we deserve blessings. We certainly tend to want blessings and not struggles and trials. I know that’s true for myself anyway. But Jesus taught us that blessings come from obedience and giving up our lives.
These verses also show us two important points: 1) we are most blessed through the Gospel and coming to be a follower of Christ. No blessing is bigger than that in this life. 2) Jesus starts discipling with the Gospel. We often think discipleship starts once a person prays a prayer to say they want to follow Christ and believe in Him as Lord and Savior. But discipleship begins with the Gospel and helping people know who Christ is. It is vital. We need to stop separating “evangelism” from “discipleship.” They are part of the same thing.
So, let’s look at what Jesus shared in the first part of this sermon.
(By the way, I will usually use the New Living Translation in these blogs and the Easy to Read Version for children. These are two very good translations of the Bible in easy-to-understand English).
The New Living Translations says it this way in Matthew 5:3-12:
3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
11 “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. 12 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.
Today we will look at verses 3-4.
Our Need for a Savior (Verse 3):
As we read through these verses, we can picture the metamorphosis of the human soul. We must first understand our need for a Savior. We are poor (bankrupt) spiritually. Only then can we become a citizen of heaven. If we do not understand that we need Jesus to save us from our sin—that we cannot earn our salvation in any way—then we will never find heaven. We will merely strive in vain to become something we are incapable of becoming—right with God, righteous, spiritually whole and alive. These are only found by first understanding our need for a Savior Who is Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
If someone has not grown up in the church or wasn’t exposed to the Bible, but has been told their whole lives how wonderful they are (the whole “self-esteem” thing that’s permeated our educational system since the early 80’s), then it may be hard to acknowledge the need for a Savior. But this first step is imperative. If we do not recognize our spiritual emptiness and lack of hope and our need to be right with God, we can never find our way to faith in Christ and reconciliation with God.
Sorrow for Our Sin (verse 4):
Only when we realize our sin and complete spiritual hopelessness outside of Christ and our own weakness in our desires and temptations do we mourn. We grieve that we are so far from God. We feel such sorrow for our part in nailing Christ to the cross. Our sin put Him there and weighed on Him as He died.
We can stubbornly blame Adam and Eve or Satan or even God for our failings. As humans we are good at that. But the truth is, we have each chosen to sin. No one forced us to sin. It is at the core of our hearts and minds. It should break our hearts. It should bring us to repentance and crying out to our Savior for mercy and grace. Then we will be comforted in our sorrow as it is turned to joy in new life.
This is the beginning of discipleship: understanding where we are without Christ and beginning to understand what Christ is offering us.
When we work with our children, we must help them see these same truths. We are not little perfect princes and princesses. We are all willful, stubborn people who’ve chosen to rebel against God. But we have hope in Christ.
With a child we might talk about how sin makes us dirty, and forgiveness makes us clean. We can talk about our stubborn attitudes because I think all children understand that from about age two onward. Instead of using words like sin and repentance, we can talk about making wrong choices and doing wrong things and deciding to change our minds and do the right things, but first we need to ask God to forgive us or clean us from those bad choices. We can emphasize that we may want to do everything right, but we don’t, so we need to trust God to wash away the bad things we’ve done and to forgive us. We also need to forgive others who have hurt us. If kids are searching and if they are ready, they will begin to understand. It is like a light comes on when the Holy Spirit is revealing Truth to them.
Next week we’ll dive into the next verses in this wonderful passage.
If you are struggling with any of these concepts or have questions, please feel free to post a comment on this blog. I read and answer every one.