Developing a Disciple’s Attitude
January 4, 2004 | Brian Bill
In a classic comic, Calvin and Hobbes are talking about the New Year when Calvin says, “I’m getting disillusioned with these new years. They don’t seem very new at all. Each New Year is just like the old year. Here another year has gone by and everything’s still the same. There’s still pollution and war and stupidity and greed…I thought things were supposed to improve. I thought the future was supposed to be better.” After listening to this skeptical soliloquy, Hobbes replies, “The problem with the future is that it keeps turning into the present.”
Do you ever feel that way? While it’s difficult to put the past behind us, it’s even more challenging to be proactive in the present so that we’re transformed tomorrow. And some of us make resolutions in the New Year in the hopes that the future won’t turn into the present. I came across a website this week that listed the “Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions” (http://rats2u.com/christmas/newyear). Not surprisingly, the top four are health-related but two of the ten deal with the health of the soul:
- Become a better person
- Become more spiritual
We want things to be different in a new year but we quickly find out how elusive real change can be. We wish each other “Happy New Year” without really thinking through what that means. Is there a way to be happy, or is there more to life than the pursuit of happiness? How can we become better people? I’d like to suggest that we must develop a disciple’s attitude in order to have a happy New Year and to live a holy life.
In the most famous sermon ever preached, Jesus sets forth eight statements that provide the best definition of a disciple ever delineated. Please follow along as I read from Matthew 5:1-12. These opening words from the premier preacher of all time are known as “The Beatitudes” and we’ll be taking a look at each one in the next two months. As we go through these life-changing words, could I encourage you to memorize these verses? As we allow the Scripture to sink down into our souls, its power to transform us will be unleashed:
“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’”
Let me make some preliminary comments that will help us interpret, understand, and apply this sermon to our lives.
1. These eight qualities can only be lived out by Christians.
These spiritual standards come about only through surrender to the Savior. Jesus is not saying, “Live like this in order to be saved.” He’s saying, “Live like this because you are saved.” Conduct must flow out of character. A Christian is one who embraces and embodies the Beatitudes. Another way to say it is that if you want to spot a Christ-follower in a crowd, look for these eight character qualities.
2. The Beatitudes are a package deal, not something to pick and choose from.
Along with the Fruit of the Spirit that is to ripen in every believer, a Christian should, and must, display each of these character traits. They are not just for the “spiritual elite,” but are for every believer. In addition, these are not eight separate groups of disciples, some who are meek and others who hunger for God. It’s easy to make the mistake of saying, “I’m just not merciful” or “I’m just not a peacemaker.” Oswald Chambers refers to these words as lovely and poetic, yet their impact is that of “spiritual torpedoes.”
We can’t pick the easy ones and ignore the difficult ones like being pure and being prepared for persecution. Incidentally, many of the Beatitudes are the exact opposite of what we want to do. While easy to appreciate, they are difficult to apply. John Stott writes: “The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly the least obeyed” (“The Message of the Sermon on the Mount,” Page 15).
3. Behavior must flow out of belief.
As Christians, we are to be stamped by Christ, not by the culture around us, or by our tendencies within us
Correct doctrine must always lead to Christlike behavior. We must not only know what to believe; we must understand how to behave. While Jesus teaches content throughout the Sermon on the Mount, these opening words deal with character. Jesus is emphasizing throughout this sermon that His disciples are to be different. John Stott suggests that Matthew 6:8 is the key text: “Do not be like them…” as he writes: “They were not to take their cue from the people around them, but from Him, and so prove to be genuine children of their heavenly Father” (Stott, Page 18). As Christians, we are to be stamped by Christ, not by the culture around us, or by our tendencies within us.
A.W. Tozer once wrote: “There is an evil…glaring disparity between theology and practice among professing Christians…An intelligent observer of our human scene who heard the Sunday morning message and later watched the Sunday afternoon conduct of those who heard it would conclude he had been examining two distinct and contrary religions. It appears to me that too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right” (As quoted in a sermon by David Hoke called “Hearing His Voice Today,” www.sermoncentral.com).
4. Jesus wants us to seek the applause of heaven.
Some translations have utilized the word “happy” instead of “blessed” to describe those who exhibit these expressions of discipleship. One author even refers to them as the “Be-happy-tudes.” This doesn’t do justice to the Greek word. While there is a close connection between holiness and happiness, this phrase conveys how God views people who live in a certain way.
Warren Wiersbe points out that “blessed” is “an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that does not depend on outward circumstances for happiness.” Those who are “blessed” have inner lives that are rightly aligned. The root idea is “approval.” When we bless God, we are approving and praising Him; when He blesses us, He is expressing approval of us. In the sight of heaven, those who live out what Jesus is spelling out are “superlatively blessed” because the Almighty is extending His endorsement. Note that this term is used at the beginning of each sentence as if to emphasize its exuberant exclamation of joy.
Max Lucado captures this idea in his book called “The Applause of Heaven” (As quoted by Ray Pritchard in a sermon called, “The Making of a Disciple”).
God applauds the poor in spirit.
He cheers the mourners.
He favors the meek.
He smiles upon the hungry.
He honors the merciful.
He welcomes the pure in heart.
He claps for the peacemakers.
He rises to greet the persecuted.
How much do you crave God clapping for you? Do you want His smile more than your self-centered aspirations? Do you desire His applause more than the approval of your friends? If you want God’s blessing more than anything else, you can have it. But first you must want to please Him above everything else. How badly do you want His blessing?
Chuck Swindoll, in commenting on the beauty of the Beatitudes, writes this: “Most sermons are more negative than positive, more like scathing rebukes than affirmation. Not this one. With beautiful simplicity, using terms any age could understand, Jesus brought blessing rather than condemnation… Having endured a lifetime of verbal assaults by the scribes and Pharisees, the multitude on the mount must have thought they had died and gone to heaven.”
5. God wants to do a new thing in this New Year.
No matter how messed up last year was for you, God loves to bring good out of bad. Isaiah 43:18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” Friend, I believe that God wants to use the Beatitudes in this body in order to extend His approval on each one of us. It’s not enough for us to make some lofty resolutions and then try to make changes by our own willpower. We need a transformation that only Jesus can provide. During His life on earth He never left people the same. Individuals either became fully devoted disciples or enraged enemies. It’s my prayer that you and I will never be the same after coming face-to-face with these Beatitude blessings.
Setting the Context
Before we take a brief look at Matthew 5:1-2, let’s place this preaching in context. Chapters 1-2 contain the Christmas story, the escape to Egypt and then the return of Jesus to Nazareth. We’re introduced to John the Baptist who baptizes Jesus in chapter 3. Chapter 4 begins with the temptation of Jesus in the desert and then concludes with a summary of His three main activities.
- Preaching. His first sermon is very short and to the point in verse 17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Some of you wish my sermons were that short!
- Calling. As Jesus builds his team, we read that two sets of brothers dropped everything and “followed Him” (20, 22).
- Healing. As Jesus preached the good news, He also healed the hurting. Verse 24 tells us that news about Him “spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.”
As a result, verse 25 paints the picture of large crowds from all over the region that followed Him wherever He went. Let’s look at the first two verses from chapter 5 as Jesus prepares to preach.
Preparing to Preach
“Now when he saw the crowds…” We see two concentric circles here in this passage: The inner ring of the committed disciples, and the outer loop, composed of the curious crowd. While Jesus pulls back from the multitudes on occasion, He also loved to minister to the masses. Matthew 9:37: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
The crowds were intrigued by the sermon, as more and more people joined the class of the Master Teacher, much like people are joining our IMPACT classes each week because of the great teaching of David Wong and Ken Marley! Look at Matthew 7:28: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching.” It’s clear that while this sermon is primarily addressed to the committed, the crowd was also listening in. Mark 12:37 says that when the throngs paid attention to Jesus, they did so with “great delight.”
Actually, that’s the way our Sunday services are designed. We want believers to grow through our praise and preaching but we also want those who are curious, and even skeptical, to be awakened to the truth and beauty of Christ. We shouldn’t focus just on the crowd, nor should we speak only to the convinced. Those of us who are followers must be challenged to become more committed; those in the crowd need to hear about Jesus in a setting where they can believe. It’s a both/and, not an either/or situation.
“…He went up on a mountainside…” While Jesus communicated to the crowds, He was not swayed by the accolades they heaped upon Him. His mission involved pouring His life into His disciples and so He went up on a mountainside instead of just being with the multitudes. Jesus is making it a bit more challenging for the crowd to follow Him as He hiked up into the hills. Tradition says that this was a small mountain near Capernaum called the “Horns of Hattin.” This area had a natural amphitheater so people would have been able to hear everything Jesus said.
When we lived in Mexico, we would go up a mountain to get our Christmas tree each year. As we looked at those above us who were searching for the perfect tree, we could hear everything they said (though I couldn’t understand what they were saying). Their voices boomed down the mountain, echoing off the surrounding slopes. When Jesus spoke, the people did not have a hard time hearing.
While Jesus had no permanent place to preach from like the scribes and Pharisees did, He made use of a common mountain. Commentators have suggested that Jesus deliberately used this mountain to draw a parallel between the message given to Moses and the one coming from the Messiah. But there are also some contrasts between the barren mountain Moses was on and the grassy hillside in Galilee that served as the pulpit for the great preacher.
- When the Law was given, God came down (see Exodus 19:9). Jesus “went up” to spell out His sermon.
- When the Commandments were dictated, thunder and lightning crashed through the stillness (see Exodus 19:18). When Jesus spoke, people listened without fear or trembling, as grace and truth penetrated their lives.
- When the Law came, the people were told to keep their distance (see Exodus 19:12). Now they are invited to draw near.
“…and sat down.” It was very common for teachers back then to sit when they taught. This is reminiscent of what Jesus did when the crowds pressed in on Him so much that He had to get into a boat in order to speak to them in Luke 5:3: “Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” We see this also in John 8:2: “At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.” This makes me think of a king sitting on his throne, or a judge sitting on a bench. When Jesus spoke, people were moved because they had never heard anyone speak with such clarity and conviction. This is evident in their response to the Sermon on the Mount in the last two verses of chapter 7: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
“His disciples came to Him…” The word “disciple” literally means a “student” or “learner.” In the time of Jesus, people didn’t go to college but instead became apprentices of those they wanted to learn from. If someone wanted to be a lawyer, they studied under an experienced lawyer. A shepherd hung out with shepherds. If you wanted to catch fish, you listened to fish stories from seasoned fishermen. The basic point was to hang out with the teacher you wanted to be like. Interestingly, they were so drawn to Jesus that they left their careers in order to study under the Savior. For three and a half years they watched, listened, observed, and asked questions.
Loving, Learning and Living
I see three attitudes exhibited in these first Christ followers that should be evident in our lives as well.
1. Love Jesus.
At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter a question three different times: “Do you love me?” This is really the ultimate question, isn’t it? Because the disciples were developing a love for their Master, they came near to Him. They didn’t want to miss anything He said, so they hung on His every word. If you and I say that we love Jesus, we will get as close to Him as we can. Let’s flesh this out a bit.
- Meet with Him every day. This may mean that you will have to break away from the crowd, or free yourself from your crowded schedule. If this is going to happen, you’re going to have to make it happen. Remember one of the things we learned during the 40 Days of Purpose? You’re as close to God as you want to be. If you want to be close to Christ, then set up a time and a place to read your Bible and pray every day.
- Love Him more in 2004 by serving those around you. How we treat others reflects how much we love Jesus. Matthew 25:40: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
2. Learn from Jesus.
We see this in verse 2: “And he began to teach them…” Jesus is known as the Master Teacher. He understood that the only way people could learn was if He taught them. And, according to Matthew 11:1, He continually looked for more opportunities: “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.” Here are two action steps.
- Recognize that we have more to learn. Some of us think we know everything we need to know. There’s probably more pride in us than we’re willing to admit. We hear references to Scripture verses and inside we say, “I know that one already.” Friends, be open to the spiritual torpedoes that God wants to send your way.
- Study the Gospels like you’ve never studied them before. Maybe you could start the New Year by reading each of the four gospels. As we go through the Beatitudes each week, allow them to penetrate your head, your heart, and then your hands.
3. Live out what you learn.
If we say we love Jesus, we will do whatever it takes to get close to Him so that we can learn from Him. Our learning must be more than just listening, however. It must be lived out. Jesus put it this way in Luke 6:40: “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
Those who live out what they learn are like a house built on the rock, while those who simply listen to His words are like the foolish man who built his house on sand
In the conclusion to His preaching, Jesus contrasted those who heard his words and put them into practice with those who just soaked up a sermon without any life change. Those who live out what they learn are like a house built on the rock, while those who simply listen to His words are like the foolish man who built his house on sand: “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27). Here are a couple ways to live out what you’ve learned.
- Cultivate an obedient heart. The true test of whether we love Jesus and that we’re learning from Him is when we put into practice what we hear. We really can’t say we’ve learned something until we’re living it out. Jesus said it strongly in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” He then turns this around just to make sure we don’t have any “wiggle room” in John 14:24: “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”
- Live out one of the Beatitudes each day. Ask God for the grace to apply individually what we’re going to learn together in these next weeks. Let’s not be hearers only, but doers of the Word.
Jesus is calling us today to love Him more by getting close to Him, He longs for us to learn from Him, and He is pleased when we live like we’re supposed to live. I’m told that the number one reason we wreak our resolutions is because we don’t have a plan. And the best advice I can give you is this: Do it now! Don’t procrastinate. While Hobbes didn’t like how easily the future turns into the present, we actually must make changes in the present in order to have the future we desire.
Imagine that you have a bank account that receives a deposit of $86,400 every morning. You’re told that you can spend this money any way you want, but at the end of the day, whatever you don’t spend will be lost. What do you think you’d do? You’d try to spend it all wouldn’t you? Listen. You have 86,400 seconds every day! And you’ve got to use them or they’re lost. Make this year count by loving Jesus, by learning from Him, and by living out the Beatitudes. Let me close with a couple challenges.
- If you’re in the crowd right now, instead of wishing you a happy new year, I’d like to offer you a holy new you! You can have a fresh start because Jesus is extending an invitation to you. Will you respond to Him? Will you take the next step? I received an email this past week from someone who has just started coming to this church. I cried as I read the last sentence: “I am ready to follow his teachings.” The only way to follow His teachings is to first put your faith in Him. He must become your Savior before He can be your Teacher. Are you ready to be born again? Jesus put it this way in John 3:3: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” It’s time to move from the company of the crowd to the comfort of the committed.
- If you’re already committed to Christ, He is offering transformation to you. Perhaps you’ve become a bit sloppy spiritually. Maybe you’ve been sliding, or backsliding. It’s time to come home. Allow the beauty of the Beatitudes to penetrate your hard heart. Make this a year of loving, learning and living!
We want to begin this New Year with a time of reflection on what Jesus accomplished when He died for us. The birth of Christ brought God to us, but it took the cross of Christ to bring us to God. As the men come forward to distribute the bread and the cup, I want us to focus on the fact that just as Jesus sat down when He taught the disciples, He is sitting down right now. He’s seated because His work of redemption is finished.
Let’s meditate on this passage from Hebrews 10:11-14 as we get ready to commemorate what Christ did for us: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”