Why the Sermon on the Mount Matters

Why the Sermon on the Mount Matters

Why the Sermon on the Mount Matters

By Dr. Darrell Bock- Dallas Theological Seminary

Imagine the pressure of walking into church knowing you must follow hundreds of rules perfectly. During Jesus’ time, God’s people lived according to a collection of 613 mandates extracted from Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The religious leaders of the time defined their faith by how perfectly they could keep the minute details of each law, even adding stipulations to increase their perceived righteousness. 

Today, we may be free from many of these stipulations. But, just like those religious leaders, we’re often tempted to measure our righteousness by our rule-following.   

For many of us, biblical teachings can represent countless opportunities to fail or fall short. We’re either tempted to ignore God’s standards, knowing we can never measure up, or we cling to them, trying to earn the favor of God and men. 

Jesus, however, challenges both extremes. In the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, He offers a path forward that holds onto high standards without tying our status to them. 

Rather than a presentation of a new list of rules to follow, the Sermon on the Mount is an invitation into the very heart of God. Jesus gently moves us from a shallow reading of what we should do to the true fulfillment of the law — who we should be. This transforms our understanding of blessing and identity from external indicators to an internal and eternal perspective.  

Blessing Redefined

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines “blessing” as “a thing conducive to happiness or welfare.” 

With that definition in mind, we’re tempted to think of relationships, finances, or hobbies, just as the religious leaders were tempted to think of position and influence.  

Jesus presents a radically different definition of blessings. His blessings are not about external comforts. Instead, He promises the kingdom of heaven, mercy, and to call His followers children of God. The one who is blessed is full of internal traits drawn by the grace of God:  

the poor in spirit 

those who mourn,  

the meek,  

those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,  

merciful,  

pure in heart,  

peacemakers,  

persecuted,  

and those insulted because of Jesus.  

These are all characteristics of the heart — internals, not externals. 

Jesus does not promise “theirs is financial security, they will be shown job promotions, or they will be called popular.” His is the promise of being part of the kingdom both now and yet to come. 

In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus teaches: 

“Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus forces us to examine our idea of “treasure” and “blessing.” We are challenged to ask, “Where is my heart?”  

When we humbly go before Him, confessing our sin with a hunger and thirst for righteousness, we receive an eternal blessing that is far richer than anything we could possess on earth.  

Identity Established 

In Jesus’ time and in Roman culture, Jewish believers were easy to recognize. Their clothes, their holidays, and their eating habits clearly established their religious identity. Our identity as Christians isn’t always as visible, but in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly tells His followers  we are to be distinct. 

So, what sets us apart from our neighbors? 

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus establishes our identity as salt and light. This is the true purpose of our good actions — through our heart for others, we show God’s heart for them. A true fulfillment of the law is not about our own status, but about our purity of heart and our representation of God as His people.  

We are a people who understand that murder comes from anger, adultery from lust, and divorce from a broken commitment. We don’t need to make oaths, because our word is good. We value forgiveness over revenge. 

Jesus calls us to be different because He is different. We are transformed because He transforms us. We ask what the Father desires of us, and we prioritize what is precious to Him. 

When our daily lives reflect the teachings of Jesus, we reflect the light of Christ. We are not defined by the commands we keep, but by a heart that seeks to keep them. 

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). 

Want to learn more about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew? Check out our blog archive for more posts like this one.

Dr. Darrell Bock

Dallas Theological Seminary

Dr. Darrell Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He hosts The Table Podcast, leading discussions related to God, Christianity and culture.

What is God teaching you?

Dr. Bock shared his insights from the Sermon the Mount. We want to hear yours! In the form below, share how God has been working through His Word this year.

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Is your waiting God’s preparation?

Is your waiting God’s preparation?

Is your waiting God’s Preparation?

By Chad Lackey – BSF Chief Adminstrative Officer

Have you ever felt like the future is unclear, even disconnected from the present? You know you have skills and potential. You can do more. But circumstances have left you thinking, “What is God’s purpose for me?”

For years, our daughter Chelsea prayed for the opportunity to own her own business. She dreamed of opening a CrossFit gym that fostered a community centered on love, focus, and passion. Chelsea was on a mission, viewing a gym as an opportunity to share Christ’s love with others. When a location in Seattle became available in 2018, it seemed like God’s provision.

From the moment she opened the gym doors, however, Chelsea faced some of the hardest and yet most rewarding circumstances of her adult life, one after another. The calling for the gym was clear, but every day brought new challenges.

As it turned out, that experience was God’s purpose, just not how we pictured. I mean, who can anticipate a pandemic?

Six months after the first COVID case was reported in the U.S., federal and local restrictions forced Chelsea’s gym to close. After years of careful planning, Chelsea faced the painful reality that her business would not survive the pandemic. It was hard for us to understand why God led her to this difficult place.

Without a clear path forward, Chelsea clung to God’s character. Trusting His faithfulness allowed her to persevere, even when the outcome was uncertain. I watched my daughter pray and wait, because with God nothing is wasted. His purpose stretches well beyond our plans. He is always shaping us to fulfill His bigger mission.

Jesus Prepared the Disciples

In Matthew 10:6-7, Jesus sent His disciples on a mission.

“Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’”

The mission was clear, but the instructions were a real challenge. Jesus required His disciples to be generous, unoffendable, and courageous. He challenged them to rely on God, promising He would provide for their needs.

We don’t know how the disciples reacted to Jesus’ instructions, but we do know they went. They were obedient. They walked in faith and experienced God’s provision along the way. After months of following Jesus, they were given authority and trusted to practice their preaching and reach the lost. Under the threat of persecution and rejection, the disciples went, and we know they all returned.

So why did Jesus send them on this mission?  Was it to teach them that God provides, that He is reliable? Was it to test their faith in difficult circumstances? Probably all of this and more.

Jesus used this experience to prepare them for the future. The disciples’ success wasn’t measured by a count of those healed or those who followed Christ. In Matthew’s account, the emphasis is on experience, obedience, and preparation.

In Matthew’s final chapter, Jesus gives the disciples their ultimate mission.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus’ words echo Matthew 10:6-7, but He expands their commission. This time, they are to reach all people and all nations. Earlier, Jesus taught them that His power was enough to complete the mission He gave them. Through Him they found the strength to be generous, unoffendable, and courageous. Their faith was enough because God is enough.

Jesus Prepares Us Today

For Chelsea, God led her through some very difficult experiences to prepare her for what was to come. When her business closed, she had time to reflect on God’s character and His mission. When presented with a new opportunity to open another gym, Chelsea had to make a choice. Would she take a risk and step out in faith? Could she trust God to provide?

Chelsea opened her new gym in October 2020. Her past experiences are helping her build a community of love, focus, and passion. As a family, we continue to pray that this gym will be a place where people come to know the love of Christ.

You have probably been where Chelsea was, asking, “What is God’s purpose?” Or maybe you are there right now. I encourage you to take some time in those moments to reflect on what God has taught you. Where has He been faithful? How has He loved you? What do you know about God and circumstances for certain now that you just thought you knew before?

Knowing that God has given you these truths and experiences, be encouraged that He is able do more for you than you can imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Stay strong and stay on mission because He is reliable.

 

Interested in joining a BSF group? Learn more at https://www.bsfinternational.org/

BSF CFO Chad Lackey learned God's purpose through waiting.

Chad Lackey

BSF Chief Administrative Officer

Chad is the Chief Administrative Officer at BSF.  Chad and Lauri, his wife, are blessed with three children, two children-in-law and five grandchildren!  Chad lives in the Seattle area where he served as a teaching leader and group leader before answering the call to BSF HQ.  Chad loves God, loves people and loves to see life change one step at a time!  Chad and Lauri love to hang out with friends, travel some and spend time with their family!  Of course, there is golf too…

What is God teaching you?

Chad Lackey shared his insights from Matthew 10, we want to know what God is teaching you! In the form below, share how God has been working through His Word this year.

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Jesus’ Ultimate Lifestyle Guide

Jesus’ Ultimate Lifestyle Guide

Jesus’ Guide to the Ultimate Lifestyle

By Dr. Mark Bailey- Dallas Theological Seminary

How do ordinary people, living ordinary lives, live “in the world, but not of it?” 

Every morning we wake up and go to work. Most of us watch the news and check our email. We care for our families and enjoy our friends. On the surface, we look a lot like our neighbors. But as Christians, God calls us to be different. That difference is for a distinct purpose. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:16, to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”   

As Christ followers, Jesus asks us to pursue a life that’s fundamentally different from the cultures around us, even in the everyday moments. 

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul tells us to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders …” 

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus casts a vision for a fulfilled life that surpasses all others, the ultimate lifestyle. A life that is fundamentally different from those around us. And, who would not want a secure future, to leave a lasting legacy, to enjoy great relationships and possess unusual insight?

Through the Beatitudes, Jesus promises these things and more to those with a mindset to pursue Godly character. But along with the blessings come distinct conditions. Jesus proposes these unique qualities to us in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12.

A Secure Future

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  

If we want a secure future that extends through this life and into eternity, we need to come to Jesus with a humble heart of faith. This humble approach recognizes our spiritual poverty, which can only be addressed by God’s gracious provision. The assurance of our present possession and future presence in the kingdom of God is only possible by recognizing our spiritual need is total and not partial. Faith is a response to grace that only God can provide.  

A Calm Heart

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  

If we want to maintain a calm heart and a cleansed conscience in a fallen world, a conscious recognition of sin followed by appropriate repentance is a necessity. Mourning in the Bible is almost always associated with the conviction of the sin. Comfort comes with the promise that God is faithful and just to forgive when that sin is confessed (1 John 1:9).

A Lasting Legacy

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” 

If we want to experience all that God intends us to experience in this world, we need to bring an attitude of gentle restraint, and place whatever power or authority we possess under His control. Meekness is not weakness, but a tender heartedness knowing that the reward for servant-hearted leadership will be rewarded in the future when we co-reign with Christ in His kingdom.

A Deep Sense of Fulfillment

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied

If we want to live a fulfilling life of meaning and purpose, we must come with a teachable spirit to learn God’s definition of what a flourishing life should look like. A biblical worldview means living life “rightly” according to the revealed standards of God. 

Great Relationships

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” 

If we want to enjoy meaningful relationships with other people, we need to reflect the gracious love and forgiveness we have received from God toward others. Corrie ten Boon, survivor of Nazi imprisonment in World War II, said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and then to discover the prisoner was you.” As we see in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to ask for forgiveness while we also extend forgiveness to others.

Unusual Insight

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  

If we want to gain unusual spiritual insight into the ways and wisdom of God, we will need to live a life of holiness by allowing God to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Like Moses, we should sincerely pray to the Lord: “Show me now your ways that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight” (Exodus 33:13).

A Great Reputation

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” 

If we want to earn a Christ-like reputation before a watching world, we must be known for promoting reconciliation with a spirit of fairness, free from partiality. According to this text, we are most like Christ when we seek to bring people back into harmonious relationships. In fact, Paul summarized the ministry to which he has called all believers as ambassadors for Christ with a single term: “reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Rest in Future Justice

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  

If we want to faithfully endure hardship, misunderstanding, or slander for the sake of the gospel with the hope of ultimate justice, we will need to come to Jesus with an attitude of patient rejoicing. When we know our heavenly reward is coming, we are in good company in whatever we face. Peter prompts us to remember others suffering around the world by resisting Satan while at the same time standing for the faith (1 Peter 5:9). 

Jesus follows the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:13-14 by teaching, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? … You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” Jesus tells us that people of such integrity make an impact for Him in the world. The beatitudes and their prerequisite behaviors are what make God’s people the “salt and light” that counter the decay and darkness of this present world.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us how to establish a credible witness to our neighbors. He tells us how to be different and find fulfillment in Him. Let us not be a people who lose their saltiness. According to Jesus, living with the values of God’s kingdom, while awaiting its consummation, is the ultimate lifestyle.

Dr. Mark L. Bailey

BSF Board Member

Dr. Mark L. Bailey is the Chancellor and Senior Professor of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, He has served at DTS for 37 years. Prior to assuming the seminary’s presidency, Dr. Bailey served as professor of Bible Exposition and vice president of academic affairs. He pastored churches in Arizona and Texas. He was seminar instructor for the Walk Thru the Bible Ministries for 20 years and is in currently in demand for Bible conferences and other preaching engagements. He is married to his wife, Barby, and they have two married sons and six grandchildren.

 

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Responding to the Wilderness

Responding to the Wilderness

Responding to the Wilderness

By Nate Thoreson – Regional Director

I strained to hear any sounds through the phone. Nothing. I told my son I loved him, but he didn’t respond. He was 3,000 miles away in the Critical Care Unit, and my wife was on a flight to be with him. The stark reality weighed heavily on me as I thought, “My son may die today, and there is truly nothing I can do to stop it.”  

I wept.    

While attending college in Massachusetts, our 20-year-old son contracted double pneumonia. His lungs mysteriously filled with unstoppable fluid. Waiting for news across the country, I prayed, “Lord, I know that you are the only One who is sovereign, and I know that you can choose to let my son live or choose to take him. If you do, I want you to know that I will still follow you.”  

 Everything in me was being tested at that moment. I felt completely alone. But remembering God’s Word prepared me to face the fear of the present. I didn’t understand God’s plan, but I knew I could trust Him. I realized my faith was real, and my God was, too.  

Into the Wilderness

Matthew 4 begins with Jesus in the wilderness. As a man, He had been pushed to His very physical limits. Completely alone, Jesus was tempted by the father of lies. In this gripping passage, Jesus not only withstood temptation but used God’s Words to do so.  

Hebrews 4:15 reminds us Jesus “has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.”  

In my own personal wilderness, waiting for news about my son, I was tempted to fear, worry, anger, doubt and so much more. But remembering Jesus’ response in the wilderness helped me to see beyond my “desert.” Focusing on His Word, His promises, and His character gave me the strength to stand firm in my faith.  

Years before my son was even born, I approached God’s Word as good advice, a way to do good things and avoid bad behavior. But my attempts to earn God’s favor only left me exhausted and joyless. Slowly, God revealed to me the truth: Scripture is not offering good advice, but good news!  

I didn’t need good advice while waiting to hear about my son’s fate. I desperately needed good news. And the truth that Jesus felt what I felt, walked where I walked, and gave His life for mine was more than enough. The ultimate power of His resurrection and ascension secured my hope in His eternal promise and gave me a foundation to stand on when trials came.  

That day, God spared the life of my son and strengthened my family’s faith. We were transformed in the wilderness. When we emerged on the other side, we wondered, “What now?”

Sharing the News

After His testing in the wilderness, Jesus did not go back to His normal life. He went to Capernaum, and in verse 16 we are told He fulfilled the prophecy “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” 

Jesus began to preach to many, and He called a few. Walking beside the Sea of Galilee, in verse 19, Jesus simply said, “Come, follow me, I will send you out to fish for people.”  

For those of us who have experienced Christ, who have seen the light in the wilderness, we are compelled to share that good news  

When Jesus called Simon and Andrew, He offered them more than good advice. He offered them a path to follow, a purpose to pursue and the power to change. Jesus asked them to come, promising He would do the transforming and the sending.  

So where is God sending you? Take a moment to remember your own days in the wilderness. Think about Jesus’ comfort, presence, and power. How will you respond?  

Matthew 4 gives us the framework. Following Jesus’ example, we can simply share and invite. Perhaps God is also calling you to share with a co-worker, a friend, or a family member from your own wilderness experience to offer them some Truth, hope, or peace.  

Today, I see the fruit of God’s Matthew 4 promise in my own life. Our son, who nearly died, is alive and following Christ. As a newly trained pastor, he and his wife are responding to God’s direction to “fish for men.” The seeds God planted through His Word have grown in ways we never imagined. 

A simple way to start is by inviting someone to experience BSF. What would it look like if every person in your group invited someone to join? How would our communities change? How might God transform our families through His Word?  

We may not have good advice to offer in every situation, but that’s okay because we have something better. We have the Good News of the gospel, and that lasts for eternity.  

Nate Thoreson

BSF Regional Director

Nate is the Director of Men’s and Regional Directors at Bible Study Fellowship Headquarters. A physical therapist by training, he and his wife, Barb, moved from Idaho to Texas to answer God’s call to BSF Headquarters. Their son and daughter-in-law, Luke and Sierra, and baby Amira live in Boston. His daughters, Kiana and Sara, are dancers in college. Nate has been a Children’s Leader, Substitute Teaching Leader, and Teaching Leader. He loves Jesus and likes adventures, good coffee, and chocolate chip cookie dough!  

 

A Place to Belong

A Place to Belong

A Place to Belong

By Hollie Roberts – BSF Executive Director

I was just another face in the crowd, one of 150 women gathered to study God’s Word in a BSF class. 

Nothing about me said “BSFer for life.” I was six weeks away from having our first child, and I walked into that group with a temporary mindset. “I’ll give it six weeks. This may not be for me.”  

But through God’s grace, my Group Leader saw beyond the shy woman before her. She saw me. In fact, she saw and sought to know every woman in our group. Her goal was not to win us to BSF. Her desire was that God would plant a deep love for His Word in each one of us through study and real community.

Six weeks turned into eight. Eight weeks turned into a year. And one year has stretched into many as I write to you from BSF Headquarters.  

This is my BSF story. God has faithfully used these studies to shape and grow my faith through times of real struggle and true victory. 

But my story is only one of many. This year alone, BSF will have 400,000 unique stories to share as members gather around the world to study Matthew.

In such a great crowd, will one story make a difference?  

Unique Stories

Matthew 1 begins with a genealogy. The author could have opened with a mighty miracle or listed the many prophecies Jesus miraculously fulfilled. Instead, Matthew begins with a list of names.  

Some names are familiar, such as Ruth and David, but who is “Eliud the father of Eleazar” or “Azor the father of Zadok”?  

These are easy verses to want to skip. But like every word of Scripture, God included this list for a reason. He knit together each story as part of His grand narrative – His salvation plan for humanity through His Son.  

Every name on this list is a person who matters to God. Psalm 139 tells us God created their inmost being. He knit them together in their mothers’ wombs. He knew their fears, their worries, their sins, and their hopes. He walked beside them as they led thousands and comforted them in great loss.  

God intimately knew every man and woman included in Matthew 1. And God knows you completely. There may not be a book in the Bible called “Azor,” or even a passage about his life, but his value before the Creator of the universe is absolute.  

So often, we want to become an Abraham or a David. We long to measure our faith by the actions of Ruth and Rahab. But David did not become “a man after God’s own heart” in a day. And God spent years preparing Abraham for the moment that his belief was “credited to him as righteousness.” God built these men and women of faith over a lifetime. He met them in the small, everyday moments, preparing them for the times their faith would be tested. 

We may not know anything about Azor’s life, but God does. And if God used Azor to weave the bloodline of Christ, how might He be using you? 

Woven together

Genealogies throughout Scripture remind us that God links us together, from one generation to the next. Matthew 1 is a collection of wealthy and powerful leaders divinely linked to outcasts and exiles. Together, this group leads to the birth of the greatest Leader and Outcast the world has ever known: Jesus Christ, our Unexpected King. 

The genealogical path to the Messiah was crooked and messy. But that was God’s perfect plan. 

In these names we see that God is sovereign over all things. No wealth, power, influence, or affluence was greater than God’s plan. And no tears, pain, struggles, or hardship escape His notice.  

Nothing we do has the authority to shift God’s purposes or plans. But through His kindness and grace, we are invited to participate in His story. 

So how will your story make an impact this year? And whom will God use to help you write it? 

Just as every person listed in Matthew 1 matters to God, so does every person in your BSF group. He knows the woman on your Zoom screen and the man sitting next to you as you learn from one another. Will you take time to know them, too?

Without a Group Leader who was willing to get to know me years ago, I would not be writing this blog today. I pray that each of us, whether the world sees us as Abrahams or Azors, would see one another as God does. Through His Spirit and the power of His Word, we are all connected as part of God’s wonderful redemption story. 

May we remember Matthew 1 as we meet each person who comes to our groups. May we invite those whom God places in our paths. May our group list read like the genealogies in Scripture. There is room for anyone and everyone who wants to come. 

Hollie Roberts

BSF Executive Director

Hollie joined the BSF Headquarters Staff in 2018. She served as a Regional Director and Chief Field Development Officer before becoming the Executive Director. Hollie first attended BSF in Amarillo, Texas, where she began serving in leadership as a Children’s Leader (CL) and Group Leader (GL). After moving to Houston, Texas she continued to serve as a CL and GL, before becoming a Teaching Leader. Hollie and her husband Kevin have two sons, a daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. Her family is actively involved in BSF.

 

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