Lesson 1 – God’s Call to Kingdom Living

The first discipleship material Jesus imparted to His disciples was what we call the Sermon on the Mount. How appropriate it is for each of us to use this same material in our training as the Lord’s disciples! In this session, we will look at how Jesus’ public ministry began and some general material on discipleship. We will conclude with an overview of the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 4:13-16 “And leaving Nazareth, He (Jesus) came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

Jesus left Nazareth where He had lived and worked as a carpenter for years, and He moved His residence to Capernaum. He left His family, friends, and the familiarity of His home to enter into a public ministry to needy people. Jesus had recently been baptized in water and had endured an extended fast and a severe time of temptation in the wilderness. All of this was part of His consecration to God; it was necessary in order for Jesus to be able to fulfill His Father’s call upon His life. In His release into public ministry, Jesus modeled important lessons to us about answering the call of God upon our own lives.

  1. God has perfect timing in releasing us into the call He has placed upon us. He may spend years preparing us for His service, and that preparation may be quite uncomfortable at times. His timing does not always fit into our planned or preferred schedule; in fact, His Word to us may come at a time when we are very settled in our current lifestyle.
  2. We are to be faithful in what we know to do–what is our natural responsibility–until He says something new and different to us (such as releasing us into a new area of service).
  3. God’s call upon us, just as it was upon Jesus, will often necessitate major life changes. These changes move us out of our familiar comfort zones and into a place of total reliance upon Him.

Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” ” Repentance is a decision that results in a change of mind, which in turn leads to a change of purpose and action. It means to turn from going our own way to going God’s way. Repentance means to let go of those things that hinder God’s rule over us. There is nothing worth clinging to that is more precious or important than God’s will.

In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus emphasized the seriousness of the commitment to follow Him. He says that after you begin to follow Him, you are not to look back and long for what the world offers. If you look back, you are not ready to be His disciple. Count the cost, and when you decide to give your life to God, “put your hand to the plow” and begin walking. You may very well leave all else behind.

Consider Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21. When the prophet Elijah called Elisha to serve him, Elisha not only left his family and vocation behind, he even destroyed the instruments of his former work. He slaughtered and boiled the oxen, using the tools of his trade (his plowing equipment) as the wood for the fire. He left all of his former life behind, literally “burning his bridges behind him,” and followed his new master, Elijah.

Read Matthew 4:18-22. We see the call to “come and follow” that Jesus gave to the fishermen. Each man immediately left his net, his family, and his vocation to follow Him. Although it cost them everything to follow Jesus, we see no hesitancy in them. They recognized Jesus’ invitation to them as too wonderful and valuable to refuse!

Just as Jesus called those men to leave everything to be His disciples, so He is calling us today. He invites us to leave our former ways of living and to embrace Him and His ways. We cannot belong to the Lord and live however we please! Being a disciple involves the willingness to leave everything to follow the Master wherever He leads. It is choosing to do whatever He says. True discipleship is a full commitment to His Lordship over us.

Jesus always has a better plan for us than we can choose for ourselves! As we yield to Him, He fits us into specialized areas of service that are custom-made for us, and while doing that, He molds us into His own image and likeness.

Many believers call themselves disciples of Jesus when actually they are only followers of Him. They still live their lives as they please. St. Gregory the Great said, “God never intended a distinction between being a Christian and being a disciple.” Being a disciple of Jesus is defined Biblically in terms of its maximum expression, not its minimum requirements. We are to be fully transformed into His image, not only to part of that image.

Let’s read Matthew 4:23-25. Jesus walked throughout the region of the Galilee, teaching, preaching, and healing the sick. His fame traveled even to Syria, and those who were sick and demonized were brought to Him for healing and deliverance. Multitudes followed Him. Some Bible scholars say that as many as 10,000 people at once followed Jesus.

Many of those followers of Jesus heard His teachings and partook of His blessings. Yet they never became true disciples of His. There are people like that today. Many follow Jesus for what He can do for them. They are self-serving. They recognise that following Jesus can be a blessing to them, yet they never commit themselves to Him in order to bless Him. The heart of a true disciple asks, “What can I offer Jesus?” not “What can Jesus do for me?”

Matthew 5:1 says, “And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.” Some followed Jesus up the mountain–among them were the four disciples and maybe others who were hungry for His teaching. Many of His followers probably stayed below waiting for Him. He was going to teach those He considered to be disciples, those who were serious about choosing Him and His ways.

The other place in Scripture where the Sermon on the Mount is preached is Luke 6:17-20. This is likely the setting of the traditional site in the Galilee region in Israel. It is a natural amphitheater where Jesus could easily be heard as he stood to teach on a level place, looking up toward His disciples. Notice the distinction in Luke 6:17 between the “multitude” and the “crowd of His disciples.”True disciples are always only a remnant of those who proclaim to follow our Lord. In verse 20 we see that Jesus “lifted up His eyes toward His disciples” and began teaching them the principles of His kingdom.

We who have always had the written Word of God accept the Sermon on the Mount as a matter of course. We have been taught that the Holy Spirit indwells the believer, and that the kingdom of God is spiritual and not of the natural realm. Those men that Jesus addressed that day, however, believed that God’s kingdom would only come after the Messiah recruited an army that would free them from the Roman Empire.

They believed that the Messiah would annihilate the Romans with a Jewish liberation force, and then would rule over a physical Jewish kingdom like King David’s kingdom centuries earlier. They looked for a Messiah who would restore their personal liberties and fortunes in freeing them from Rome. They believed the Messiah’s kingdom would actually surpass King David’s in wealth and power, and would never be overthrown or even weakened.

Jesus preached a hard sermon to them that day. He dashed their hopes by teaching them that the kingdom of God is internal not external, and that it is built for God’s glory, not for the glory of man. Through that sermon, Jesus was inviting His listeners to surrender their selfish dreams of an earthly kingdom that would bring them personal and national honor, and to embrace the idea that in order to gain their lives, they would have to lose them.

In many ways, the sermon Jesus preached that day is a commentary on John 18:36. In this passage, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world…” The Sermon on the Mount is a practical teaching on how the kingdom of God is not of this world. The standards of God’s kingdom demand a life that is completely different from life as we know it. To live in the kingdom of God is to be in contrast to the world, for His kingdom is the opposite of the world. The Sermon on the Mount challenges us to count the cost of being a believer in Jesus and eliminates the opportunity of an “uncommitted” walk with the Lord.

Jesus began this teaching with a series of beatitudes that reflect seven chief qualities of God. Each beatitude challenges us to live by dying to ourselves in some way. If we live out these qualities of God, we will exhibit His character and His fullness. As we embrace the kingdom of God, willingly dying to self and surrendering the control of our lives to Jesus, He establishes His life in us.

Beginning with the poor in spirit, we see how life begins in the kingdom of God. It is only those who are empty of themselves who can live in the kingdom because only the empty ones can allow the King entrance. The poor in spirit die to self-reliance. To mourn is to have godly sorrow for sin. We must hate sin so much that we are uncomfortable with it in us and in the world. In godly mourning, we die to self by letting go of self-comfort.

To be meek is to be gentle through exercising self-control. True strength is characterized by letting go of the drive to prove ourselves. In giving up our self-assertion, we inherit the earth from the Lord. We trust Him to give us our worth. In hungering and thirsting for righteousness, we forfeit selffulfillment and realize we are only satisfied in God. We die to attempting to find satisfaction outside of the Lord.

In being merciful, we die to self by letting go of self-righteousness. We repent of judging others. We receive mercy as a result of giving it away. To be pure in heart includes an inner moral purity and an outward holiness. It implies an acceptance that our bodies and lives are not our own. We die to self by giving up the freedom to do whatever we want.

To be a peacemaker is to avoid strife by relinquishing our rights. We lay our rights down for the sake of promoting peace. In doing that we resemble our Father, and we are given the rights of a son. To be persecuted for the sake of righteousness is to be accused falsely. It is sharing in the sufferings of Jesus, losing our reputation and glory for His sake. In laying down our glory, we are entitled to share in His glory!

A brief summary of Matthew 5-7:

In chapter 5, Jesus uses the word “blessed” nine times, the first seven defining godly character traits, and the last two describing what will happen to us as we live out His character in our lives. In chapter 6, we see how these seven traits of God become ours through the three areas of self-sacrifice that we are to live by: giving, praying, and fasting. In chapter 7, we see some of the obstacles and hindrances that come along to block the implementation of these godly attitudes.

It is interesting to see that the seven attributes of God mentioned in Matthew 5 correspond with the seven qualities lacking in the churches referred to in Revelation 2-3. Many believe these churches relate to specific time periods in church history; others claim that the qualities could refer to attitudes that influence the entire Body of Christ at any point in history.

We will consider each beatitude as a quality of God that is missing in one of the seven churches, appropriate in any time period. For instance, the first beatitude, poverty of spirit, is exactly what was missing in the first church of Asia, Ephesus. The second beatitude, mourning, matches the second church, dealing with the spirit of suffering. The third church was lacking in meekness, the submissive willingness to obey. The church of Pergamos was disobedient and compromising. And so on. The lack shown in each church is the quality of God revealed in the corresponding beatitude.

Seeing the qualities that each of these churches needed to develop, we realize that we personally are in need of developing these same qualities. If we embrace each of these beatitudes, we have the potential of walking in the fullness of the Spirit of God. As we walk in the fullness of God’s Spirit, we will exhibit the character and conduct of His kingdom.