Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This week I take a look at the first of a 5 week series in Matthew. This week begins a section of the Beatitudes in which Jesus begins to outline what righteousness looks like and what the rules and regulations of his Kingdom are. Keep in mind that the Roman government severely persecuted the early church and the dominant Jewish community did not accept Jesus as the Savior. As the writer recounts the words of Jesus these Beatitudes would certainly be a comfort to a distressed and anxious community. Jesus didn’t do away with the old rules, he made them better. Jesus offers a new agreement, a new covenant, a new testament that is a better covenant based on his teachings which begins in this fifth chapter of Matthew. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
Kingdom of Heaven
The overall focus for the summer quarter is a heartfelt covenant. Lessons will deal with “matters of the heart”. In a broad sense these lessons will speak to why we do, what we do. Our motivations, inspirations, and aspirations say a lot about why we do, what we do. With that in mind I’ll provide some background on the origin of the book of Matthew, a bit of background on the people this Gospel was written to, and then I’ll narrow the focus to this week’s study which is the 5th chapter of the Gospel According to Matthew.
This text is likely written after 70 A.D. “The name Matthew is linked with the Gospel late in the second century, about 100 years after it was written” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible). So this text existed about 100 years before people began to call it the Gospel According to Matthew. Matthew is mentioned only twice in this Gospel (9:9, 10:3). So, no one definitively knows who the author is.
Most scholars agree that Matthew is also “a rewriting of Mark’s Gospel” (NISB). Some scholars suggest it is a rewriting to show how Jesus was associated with Roman tax collector’s (Matthew was a tax collector). The early church was heavily persecuted by the Roman government. If Jesus was connected to people associated with the Roman Government perhaps these new Christians aren’t such a threat is the thinking behind this rational.
The Jewish temple has been destroyed and this text is written to Jewish Christians. The NISB Commentary writes that Matthew’s Gospel is written in part to show “God has intervened to reassert the rightful rule of “the kingdom of heaven” and to impart its blessings to the covenant people of Israel, and ultimately to all nations. Matthew’s main audience is to the nation of Israel and Jewish Christians in particular.
The fifth chapter of Matthew begins Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The sermon covers chapters 5 through 7. Chapter 5 begins with “blessings and sayings (5:3-16) the middle section of the sermon has six interpretations of scripture (5:17-48), instructions on three distinctive discipleship practices (6:1-18), and teaching on social and economic practices (6:19-7:12)” (NISB). Over the next five weeks I will cover all of chapter five and close the fifth lesson with chapter 7. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Kingdom of Heaven
Review Last Week and How it Connects to This Week
Last week we studied how Colossians 2:11 describes Christ as a High Priest of the good things that have come. Those good things were salvation, restoration, and redemption provided through Jesus Christ.
Col 2:12 described Jesus as entering once into the Holy Place. I noted how the New Interpreter’s Study Bible says “this place is ideal and not an actual place, but pointing to the ultimate reality of Christ’s atoning work”. In other words, Jesus symbolically entered into the Holy Place. Note that Jesus did not enter with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood. That’s important.
Verses thirteen and fourteen explained that the blood of goats and calves and ashes only sanctifies the outward flesh. It is Christ’s blood that purifies the conscience or inner person from the dead works of the Old Testament animal sacrifice system.
Verse fifteen explains that because Jesus replaces the old covenant, he is the mediator of the new covenant. Verses sixteen and seventeen have terminology dealing with the ideas of wills, testaments, and covenants. I noted that the Greek word for covenant is interchangeable with testament. It is the same term for which we get the phrase “last will and testament”.
In verse eighteen the author got to the point from the previous verses; “not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood”. I noted how the author was trying to help us understand the importance of Christ’s shed blood. A sacrifice had to be made for the new covenant to become effective.
Verses nineteen through twenty-two dealt with how the Old Testament required blood. The remaining verses describe the other things Moses sprinkled blood on and closed by proclaiming “under the law, almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”.
The overarching theme of this week’s lesson is a heartfelt covenant. This lesson is the first of five from the Gospel According to Matthew. In this lesson from the first part of the beatitudes we hear directly from Jesus as he outlines some of the rules of his kingdom. The beatitudes are a guide for our everyday living that should be heartfelt by all Christians. Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title the lesson Jesus Teaches about Right Attitudes. Standard Lesson Commentary titles it Right Attitudes. The scripture text comes from Matthew 5:1-12.
What Takes Place in This Passage
Verse one and two begin with Jesus taking notice of the crowds, and then he withdraws to an unnamed mountain to address his disciples. “So far there are only four disciples (4:18-22; 10:1-4), but they represent all disciples” (NISB). In verses three through twelve there are nine blessings or beatitudes divided into two groups (vv. 3-6 and 7-12) (NISB).
Verse three declares that the kingdom of heaven will belong to the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness is important language for a people who are oppressed, persecuted, and subjugated by the Imperial Roman government and their fellow Jewish nationals. Keep in mind that the Roman government severely persecuted the early church and the dominant Jewish community did not accept Jesus as the Savior. As the writer recounts the words of Jesus these words would certainly be a comfort to a distressed and anxious community. Also, the poor is defined as “those who are economically or spiritually without sufficient resources. God has special concern for the poor and they are blessed. Contemporary liberation theology emphasizes reading Scripture from the perspective of the poor”. It’s my view that God is especially concerned with poor and the oppressed.
Verse four declares those who mourn will be comforted. Verse five says the meek will inherit the earth, and verse six promises fulfillment for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. “In an imperial world that prizes power, wealth, and status; God’s favor is found among the powerless and poor” (NISB). “The second half of each blessing promises God’s future reversal of these imperial situations” (NISB).
Verse seven declares the merciful will receive mercy. Mercy is defined as kind and compassionate treatment extending biblically to forgiveness and the gracious bestowal of that which is not deserved. It is an important descriptor of God. Our homes are better when mercy is present. Our communities are better when mercy is present, and so are our governmental policies if dealing with poverty is a priority.
Verse eight declares the pure in heart shall see God. I admit my inability to explain what a pure heart is. One definition of the word pure is “unmixed with any other matter” another is “containing nothing that does not properly belong” and another is “free from moral fault or guilt”. At least in terms of righteousness, I’m certain the only way my heart can be declared pure is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross.
Verse nine declares that the peacemakers will be called children of God. Note this verse says peacemakers, not peacekeepers. There is a difference between making peace and keeping peace. Peace makers do the work of justice and righteousness. A peace keeper may or may not do this work.
Verse ten promises those who are persecuted for righteousness sake shall have the kingdom of heaven. If the kingdom of heaven is the ultimate goal, this verse declares how important righteousness is.
Verses eleven and twelve proclaims that we should rejoice and be glad because we will receive a great reward in heaven when we are persecuted falsely on the account of Jesus. It’s important to stress that this applies to those who are falsely persecuted, not justifiably persecuted.
The overarching theme for the summer quarter is a heartfelt covenant. When it comes to matters of the heart I am reminded of Jeremiah 17:9 as it declares “the heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it?” Matthew 15:18 reminds us “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles”. Our text today declares those who are pure in heart shall see God. As Jesus delivers this Sermon on the Mount, he is really outlining the rules for his kingdom. These are the new rules for the new covenant. Jesus didn’t do away with the old rules, he made them better. Jesus offers a new agreement, a new covenant, a new testament that is a better covenant based on his teachings which begins in this fifth chapter of Matthew.
Key Characters in the text
Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity. He was crucified on a cross and was raised from the dead by the power of God.
Matthew – Each of the four Gospels lists Matthew as one of the twelve Apostles. Most scholars believe Matthew and Levi is the same person. As a tax collector Matthew would have been associated with the Roman government. This would have also made him despised by his Jewish countrymen and women.
Beatitudes – Teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the lives and dispositions of his followers.
Disciples – One who follows and learns from another as a pupil. Old Testament prophets had disciples, as did John the Baptist and the Pharisees. It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ.
Kingdom of Heaven – An equivalent term for “Kingdom of God” found in Matthew’s Gospel.
Righteousness – Biblically the term embraces a number of dimensions relating to God’s actions in establishing and maintaining right relationships. Ethically it is a state of moral purity or doing that which is right.
Heaven – The place beyond earth that is the abode of God. In Christian theology, it is the future eternal abode of those who receive salvation in Jesus Christ. It is portrayed as a place of blessedness, without pain or evil, distinguished by the presence of God.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas
1. Matters of the heart.
2. You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you respond.
1. Matthew is writing to a people who are trying to figure out if they will be “old school” Jewish or this new style Jewish (Jewish-Christian) or something entirely different. Have you ever been faced with deciding whether to remain “old school” or live differently?
2. List ways we can be peace makers when being a peace keeper is not sufficient.
This week’s study has a distinct focus on righteousness. It highlights the rules and regulations of Jesus’s new Kingdom. If you have a red-letter edition of the bible you will see a lot of red in chapters five through seven. In his longest recorded sermon, Jesus begins to outline what righteousness looks like and what the rules are for the Kingdom of Heaven. As disciples of Jesus, our task is to strive to meet the high standard of these next chapters in Matthew as well the other teachings of Jesus.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson
Next week I will continue where I left off this week with Matthew 5:13-20. In these verses Jesus teaches about fulfilling the law. As we consider a heartfelt covenant I will outline what that fulfillment looks like and what our part is toward the new covenant with Jesus.