GOD OF MIRACLES – WEEK 3 (Leader’s Guide)

God of Miracles – Week 3 (Leader’s Guide)

Positioning ourselves for a Miracle

LEADERS:  We have provided a lot of background information, questions, and additional study for you in this series.  PLEASE REMEMBER THAT YOU HAVE THE FREEDOM TO DO – AS MUCH – OR AS LITTLE – AS YOU THINK IS APPROPRIATE WITH YOUR GROUP!   

We are pivoting a bit in direction this week from looking directly at one of Jesus’ miracles to learn how we can better ‘position’ ourselves to see and be open to all God wants to do in our lives.  What better way to do that than by studying the Sermon on the Mount?

If you want to save time, you can skip the background on the Sermon on the Mount and get to some of the questions.  You know your Group Members better than we do – so please feel free to customize the lessons throughout this series.  We recommend that you read this Chapter by Chapter and then review the questions for each Chapter. We recognize that we could do an entire study on the Sermon on the Mount for the entire 8 weeks, however, we are trying to allow the Spirit to pierce our hearts so that we can be experience MORE of God and posture ourselves so that we remove the “cataracts of complacency” we discussed in week one and see God at work all around us!

VIDEO: Show tonight’s video here: God of Miracles – Week 3

ICEBREAKER:  Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount?  If so, what is most memorable to you? What teaching do you struggle with the most?  

SUNDAY REVIEW:

[Q] Briefly discuss the message from Sunday.

[Q] Name one thing that stood out to you from Sunday’s message.

[Q] Is there one question from Sunday’s message that you would like to ask or discuss?

[Q] What did you sense the Holy Spirit saying to you during the message?

[Q] Pastor Nithin discussed how confrontation is not the same as retaliation. What does it look like to confront rather than retaliate?

[Q] Pastor Nithin asked if there was someone you need to go the extra mile for? Who came to mind?

 

[Q] How have the Beatitudes come to life for you in a new way?  

Allow your Group Members to share what stood out to them from Sunday’s message.  The Beatitudes introduce Jesus’ most impactful teachings for life in the Kingdom of God.  They are completely counter-cultural to our life here in North America! We can dismiss them as words of a lowly, wise spiritual guide, however, as followers of Jesus, He tells us that we are blessed for being reviled on his account. Not God’s. His. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”  And what’s more, he says we can rejoice in that day, because we are in the same category with the prophets who were persecuted on God’s account.  

It is extraordinarily difficult to love others, but particularly those who are actively opposed to us! Allow your Group Members to process Sunday’s message as you transition into this week’s lesson.

APPLY THE BIBLE:

Leaders’ NOTE and TIP:

Your Group Members may be very familiar with the Sermon on the Mount.  They may have read it multiple times or studied it in numerous ways over the years.  OR, this could be brand new to them and maybe life-changing! Whatever the situation in your Group, there is ALWAYS more God is calling us to in Jesus’ teaching!  Our focus and purpose in looking at this teaching is to remind us what the Christian life really means — who are we called to be in this world? We are called to be in the world, but not of the world.  (John 15:19)

In these chapters, Jesus teaches his disciples how to live as Children in the Kingdom of God in this present world.  There are many interpretations of this teaching, so here are 2 of the most common ones:

1) Jesus meant to describe a moral perfection so impossibly high that it is relevant only for a future millennial kingdom;

2) others have thought its primary purpose was to portray the absoluteness of God’s moral perfection and drive people to despair of their own righteousness so they will trust in the imputed righteousness of Christ.  Both of these perspectives fail to recognize that these teachings if understood correctly, form a challenging, but practical ethic that Jesus expects his followers to live by in this present age. These teachings were explained by Jesus as not new laws or moral teachings, but rather, a guide to the heart of discipleship.  These are not meant to be theoretical or theological but quite practical: a call to unconditional forgiveness, renunciation of violence, faithfulness in marriage, and freedom from wealth.  

The Sermon on the Mount was “preached” in Matthew’s Gospel. It was a device that Matthew used, paralleling the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai from God to Moses, to bring some of the central teachings of Jesus together. The law revealed through Moses led the people of God to strive for humanly impossible standards. However, the truth Jesus shared in the Sermon on the Mount led to the knowledge AND empowering through the Holy Spirit to live a Spirit-filled life! On this side of eternity, we always have room to grow in this area. Posturing ourselves to identify our need and reliance on Jesus and His Spirit will result in deeper dependence on Christ… which is ultimately the goal of our faith! We can’t live up to what Jesus taught in our own strength, but rather we need to realize our weakness and depend on Jesus!

SETTING: The traditional site of this sermon (although Matthew does not pinpoint the location) is above Tabgha, near Capernaum, on a ridge of hills northwest of the town, with a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee.  This ridge is also likely where Jesus went to a desolate place (Mark 1:35) and where He went up to the mountain (Matt 14:23).

During the three years between His baptism and His death and resurrection, Jesus traveled throughout Israel ministering to the people. There were two main aspects to the public ministry of Jesus. One aspect, which we have been studying, are the miracles He performed. But before we go further, we want to look at the other aspect of Jesus’ ministry, which is His teaching.  

As a reminder, we read in the introduction to this series, that Kerry Shook tells us in his book, Find Your Miracle, that God’s miracles always lead us to what we really need most – a deeper relationship with God.  Shook says only God can provide a miracle, but we have to put ourselves in a position to receive them.  So, how can we practically posture ourselves to be in a place of surrender so that we are open to all God wants to do in our lives?  As we embark on this Pilgrimage of the Heart together, we can take comfort in the fact that God never leaves us to figure life out on our own – He is with us every step of the way!  This week, we will look at Jesus’ extraordinary teachings on the Sermon on the Mount and learn how to surrender our hearts so we can grow in a posture of humility, faith and expectation!  

The Sermon on the Mount in Chapters 5-7 in Matthew’s Gospel contain some of the most important teachings of Jesus. Pastor Tim Keller called these teachings of Jesus the “Upside-Down Kingdom! ” It is upside down to the way the world expects us to live – Jesus says “You have heard that it was said,” many times throughout this teaching, in an attempt to help those in attendance, and us, what those Mosaic Laws really meant.  He begins with the Beatitudes, and their call to humility, peacemaking, purity, and righteousness, and continues on to sharp condemnations of anger, lust, revenge, and hypocrisy, and then to the beautiful example of the Lord’s Prayer. This is followed by strong admonitions against materialism, worry, and judging others. These teachings end with Jesus’ encouragement for His followers to pray frequently and fervently, to live by the Golden Rule, to bear good fruit, and to build their lives on His Solid Rock.

Here is one great quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on these teachings: “Humanly speaking, we could understand and interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it.”

Have several people read Matthew Chapter 5

[Q] What parts of this Scripture stand out to you?  

The Holy Spirit speaks to each of us individually and personally.  Help your Group members understand that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in our hearts, especially as we read God’s Word!  Allow your Group to chat briefly about the way the Spirit illuminated certain sections of Chapter 5. Prepare for diversity! That is a good thing!  You may even want to comment on the way that the Spirit is at work in your Group.

[Q] Verse 17 is a summary statement by Jesus regarding His entire ministry.  What do you think it means?

The Law or the Torah refer to the first 5 books of the Old Testament, while the Prophets includes the rest of the Old Testament, which was traditionally held to be written by all the ‘prophets.’   Jesus fulfills all of the OT in that it all points to Him, not only in specific predictions of a Messiah but also in its sacrificial system, which looked forward to his great sacrifice of Himself.   Many events in the history of Israel foreshadowed His life as God’s true Son, in the laws which only He obeyed perfectly and in the Wisdom Literature, which sets forth a behavioral pattern that his life exemplified.  Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom does not replace the OT but rather fulfills it as Jesus’ life and ministry, coupled with interpretation, complete and clarify God’s intent and meaning in the entire OT.

Think about what it must have been like for the crowd!!  For any flesh-and-blood human being to quote a Bible verse to a bunch of Jewish listeners in the first century and then follow it up with, “But I say to you. . .” is remarkable, breathtaking. It would be like a lowly clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court standing out on the steps of the court building in Washington, D.C. to relay the justices’ decision to the reporters at a press conference. He reads the detailed, multi-page decision, and then adds, “That was a good opinion the justices gave, but I think. . .” That clerk has no authority to say what he thinks. No journalist holding an audio recorder cares what he thinks. Jesus’ six antitheses work in this passage only if he has the right not only to interpret but even to add to the law of God (as Jesus will do later in the passage with oaths). And who but God can do that?

[Q] In verses 21-48, Jesus starts each statement with, “You have heard that it was said,” and then  changes directions by saying “But I tell you!” Why does Jesus use this method to teach his lessons here?

Jesus calls His Disciples to a different kind and quality of righteousness than that of the Scribes and Pharisees.  They took pride in outward conformity to many extra-biblical regulations, but still had impure hearts (Matthew 23:5, 23:27-28). Jesus wants us to see that kingdom righteousness works from the inside out because it produces changed hearts and new motivations.

As we said in the previous question, Jesus was not just another member in the long line of wise men and prophets. He was the end of the line. In his own person and work, the law and the prophets were fulfilled. Which is why, six times in Matthew 5, Jesus stunningly confronted Scripture and tradition with his supremely authoritative words, “But I say to you” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44).

(If your group has time, take  look at: Ro 6:17; 2 Cor 5:17, Gal 5:22-23, Phil 2:12; Heb 8:10 to see what Jesus says about the actual conduct of Jesus followers.)  

[Q] What effect does this teaching have on your heart?

We want to leave room for the way the Holy Spirit affects hearts- so you may have to model what it looks like when the Spirit speaks to your heart!  Remember, your Group will only go as deeply as you do! We are hoping that for all of us, the teachings of Jesus make us fall all the more deeply in love with him and thankful for His sacrifice on our behalf.  Be cautious if people stay in their guilt and shame – that is not the intent of Jesus’ teachings! Remember, godly sorrow leads to repentance — give people room to confess when the Spirit convicts them – but please remind that we are NEW CREATIONS, in Jesus, the old is gone and the new has come!  2 Corinthians 5:17)

Have several people read Matthew Chapter 6

In this section, Jesus deals with themes connected with the interior spiritual life (attitudes in giving, prayer, fasting, materialism, and anxiety over material things).  

[Q] Which sections/verses of Chapter 6 stand out to you?  

See the question above for Chapter 5.

[Q] Jesus introduces a new theme in Matthew 6: 1-18.  He tells us that we should beware of practicing our righteousness before others, or we will have no reward from our Father in Heaven.  However, in Matthew 5:16 he says, “ let your light so shine before men.”  Is Jesus contradicting himself?  What do you think he means?

Although Christians are to be seen doing good works, they must not do good works simply to be seen.  The idea is when we do righteous deeds for the attention and applause of men, their attention and applause is our reward. It is much better to receive a reward from your Father in heaven.

There are some who say, “All that is important is the doing of the deed. How I do it is much less important than the doing of it.” It is true that in some cases it would be better to do the right thing in the wrong way or out of the wrong motive than to do the wrong thing, but Jesus’ point is clear: God cares about how we do our good works, and with what motive we do them.

[Q] What are the three spiritual disciplines Jesus discusses in Chapter 6?  Why do you think he emphasizes these? Are these part of your regular spiritual disciplines?  How can we encourage one another to grow in these disciplines?

Jesus starts with three spiritual disciplines: giving, praying, and fasting.  It is interesting to note that Jesus never says, “IF” you do any of these things – he says “WHEN” you do them!  These three were (and are) the most prominent practical requirements for personal piety in mainstream Judaism. Jesus assumes that faithful people will practice these disciplines, remember his emphasis here is the proper motivation behind religious practices.

As a Group Leader, you will want to be sensitive to those who are newer in their faith or have not been taught the value of regularly giving, praying and fasting.  Please be gentle and supportive as the Spirit will likely convict people – that is GOOD – be we never want to CONDEMN people. Give them space to grow and offer suggestions for how we can all grow in these areas.  Remember, the Pharisees were very rigid about doing all of these things regularly, but their motivations were wrong. Jesus wants our hearts!

[Q] Jesus begins Matthew 6:25-34, with the word THEREFORE. How should we read this section? How can this help us not to be Anxious?

We want our Group members to understand that whenever there is a “therefore” in scripture, we always look at the preceding verses to understand what is meant.  In light of what Jesus has already said about making sure that the master you serve is God, you are now to obey the following command and then take security in promises following. The command Jesus gives in verse 25 is predicated upon the principle given in the verses prior,  that God is to be our master. We are to serve Him and set our hearts upon heaven rather than on the things of earth. God graciously and lovingly cares for “all these things,” but especially His children. Help your Group members find the awe and delight in this grounding truth!  

Have several people read Chapter 7.  

[Q]  Which sections/verses of Chapter 7 stand out to you?  

Allow for similar responses to this question as discussed above for Chapter 5.

In this section, Jesus moves from personal temptations to interpersonal temptations.  He warns against inappropriate judging and commends appropriate evaluation. He then looks at God’s guidance as the source of the believer’s stability in relationship to others.

[Q] Even for those who know very little of the Bible, Matthew 7:1-5 are verses that seems to be quoted often.  Yet most the people who quote this verse don’t really understand what Jesus said or the context in which he said it.  How would you explain this verse in the context of the Sermon on the Mount which Jesus is teaching?

We remember that Jesus called for righteousness that was greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). When we compare ourselves to others (the horizontal alignment), we can seem more righteous than others.  However, our standard is not other men and women, but God in heaven (our vertical alignment).

Often misinterpreted, many would seem to think (or hope) that by saying that we should not judge others, Jesus commanded a universal acceptance of any lifestyle or teaching.  It is clear through Jesus’ entire teachings (not just here in the Sermon on the Mount), that Jesus calls us to more!

[Q]   Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 7:7-11 should be an encouragement to us as we are praying for miracles throughout this series.  Is this a guarantee that God will give us anything and everything in prayer? How do we understand this teaching, especially in light of Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6:9?  How will it affect your prayers for a miracle?

We want to always teach our Group members the danger of taking any one verse out of context.  Jesus describes prayer as asking, seeking, and knocking. “Ask” is the act of prayer in its simplest form. “Seek” conveys intensity, and “earnest sincerity.” And “knock” pictures persistence. We knock on the door of heaven and keep on knocking! It is important not to mistake what Jesus is saying as laying down conditions which, if met, will move God to respond to us. Jesus is not saying if you ask ardently enough, then God will answer your prayer. He is simply saying that when we feel a need so intensely that it drives us to the Lord again and again, we need not be discouraged even if the answer is delayed. God really does care about those things that matter to His children. And God responds to our requests by giving us good gifts, according to His sovereign, gracious will.  Matthew 6:10b

[Q] Jesus concludes this teaching with a parable about a wise and foolish man and the way they built their homes.  Charles Spurgeon, famous preacher of the 19th C said, “The wise and the foolish man were both engaged in precisely the same avocations, and to a considerable extent achieved the same design; both of them undertook to build houses, both of them persevered in building, both of them finished their houses. The likeness between them is very considerable.”    While we have only hit the highlights of this important teaching, when you reflect on your life, where may God be calling you to firm up the foundation? Which teaching in this message has impacted you?

Jesus calls us all to make a decision — on whom we will build the foundation of our lives?  Anything other than Him will lead to destruction – it cannot withstand the storms of life. As mentioned throughout this guide, it is never our intent to make people feel guilty or ashamed of the bad decisions they may have made in their lives — all of us fall short of the Glory of God!  Help them see that it is because of Jesus’ love for them that we can start over every day! His mercies are truly new every morning, because of His faithfulness, not ours!

Remember, the Sermon on the Mount isn’t all that we need to know or all that is true of the gospel. The end-game of the gospel story is the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Through his faithfulness he brings about a new covenant between God and humanity. On this basis alone, empowered by the Spirit, we’re made alive.  All of this is by grace, God’s grace.

BEAR BURDENS

Kerry Shook reminds us that when we read Jesus’ teachings, we may feel discouraged that we have not lived up to this standard.  That is never Jesus’ intent! Read what Zechariah the prophet’s son, Jahaziel speaks to King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:17:

You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’

Tonight, as you pray for one another, remind one another that we don’t have to be afraid.  We can position ourselves to receive God’s blessings and miracles when we humble our hearts before the Lord; give God the Glory He deserves, thank Jesus for all He has done on our behalf, and allow our faith to grow as we lean and trust our Good Father in greater measure.

 

CHANCE TO SERVE

We hope your Group has been able to serve together or has made plans to serve actively outside of the Group.  The Relief Bus usually has a wait, so if you sign up now, could serve in the next couple of months. Or Liquid’s Parents Night Out is held monthly.  It would be great if you could coordinate your calendars to find a way to serve! There are always opportunities for you to sign up to serve on our Web Site. 

 

DIGGING DEEPER

This lesson is a rather long one, but if you have Group members who may have already studied through some of the main concepts discussed above over the course of their lives, you may want to key in on some of the more difficult passages in Chapters 5-7.  

 

[Q] Read Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Matthew 5: 31-32.  How does the passage in Matthew reveal Jesus’ heart for women?

 

Divorce was widespread in the ancient world, and many men exercised their power over women by divorcing them in accordance with the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 241-4).  Jesus was attempting to protect women from being divorced for no reason because once they were, many were forced to go and live with their parents in shame and it would have been difficult for them to remarry.  Women had very few rights, especially if they did not have a husband.

Please just be sensitive to those in your Group who may be divorced.  We never want to shame people or make them feel condemned. Clearly, Jesus is for the marginalized and abused, as a Church we would fully support divorce in cases of Adultery, Abuse and Abandonment, when the offending spouse is unrepentant and unwilling to change.  

Read Matthew 5:43-48

[Q] What does Jesus mean when He says that God causes the sun rise on both evil and the good  and the rain on the just and the unjust? Also, we talk a lot about not having to be perfect, but v. 48 says, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect!”  What does that mean?

 

God certainly hates evil, but He still brings many blessings into the lives of even His enemies!  Isn’t He good? Stop and give Him a praise! “Common Grace” is a term which means God gives favor to everyone, not just believers.  Of course, God hates evil, especially those who insist on unrepentant evil but His blessings of common grace demonstrate his actions toward all of mankind here and now.  

 

Perfection: Of course,God alone is perfect, but as his followers, we seek to live in conformity to Scripture, and therefore, pursue the very perfection of God.  We ALL FALL SHORT (Romans 3:23)- even on our best day, however, Jesus died so that we can be new creations – (2 Corinthians 5:17) our old nature is gone and the new one has come!  We have been given Holy Spirit power to be all that God has created us to be – finding completion once we are with Jesus for eternity.

Read Matthew 6:22-23

[Q] How can our eyes guide us to darkness?

The eye is similar in Hebrew literature to the heart.  The eye is a lamp that reveals the quality of the inner life.  A healthy eye (clear vision) suggests that the person is attempting to follow Christ.  An unhealthy eye connotes that the person is looking for other ways to find fulfillment for their lives other than Christ and can lead to darkness.  The author of Hebrews reminds us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” 12:2

Read Matthew 7: 21-23

[Q] Jesus says something that can be disturbing to us as His followers:  “I will declare I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”  Who is Jesus speaking to?

 

Jesus is speaking a warning to us as the Body of Christ.  Just because people call Jesus Lord, does not mean that they have repentant hearts and are true believers.  It is clear that even in Jesus’ day there were ‘false teachers’ who could drive out demons, heal the sick and do ‘mighty works’, but remember, Jesus has been teaching that it is our motivations which are important, not necessarily what we do!  

 

[Q] Any other comment or question you may have?  

Just give room to Group Members to stand in awe of the amazing teachings of Jesus!  

No wonder Matthew follows up the Sermon on the Mount with a comment that the people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching: he wasn’t like their scribes, always quibbling and quoting; “he was teaching them as one who had authority” (Matt 7:29). Jesus is implicitly claiming to be the New Authority on the scene.

We are hoping that this time in the Sermon on the Mount reminds us of the glorious Kingdom Life Jesus invites us into!  This wisdom from God, invites us through faith, to re-orient our values, vision, and habits from the ways of external righteousness to whole-heartedness toward God. This isn’t “law” but “gospel.” Jesus is inviting us into life in God’s kingdom both now and in the future age. This is grace.  No one can perfectly perform the vision of the sermon (except Jesus), but this doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant to our lives. By faith and through grace Jesus is inviting us into a practical life of discipleship. We participate in and (imperfectly) imitate his Father-trusting, kingdom-awaiting way of being in the world.  We are hoping that this rightly ‘positions’ us as we continue to look for miracles, to trust more deeply our beautiful Savior and Friend, Jesus and His perfect wisdom and will for our lives!

 

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