Sermon On The Mount [Part III]
Key Verse 6:1
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
We are still reflecting on the wondrous Sermon on the Mount which Jesus delivered to his disciples and to anyone who has ears to hear these life giving truths. Jesus began the famed Sermon On The Mount with the nine beatitudes. Then he taught his disciples the standard and heart of the Law of God. He literally took certain laws in the Old Testament such as murder, adultery and divorce and expounded on their true meaning. He ended that teaching by extolling one of the two supreme laws that bring all laws together— and that is the law of love! The law of love is central to the Sermon On the Mount and a fundamental characteristic of the Kingdom of heaven. Then Jesus challenged all of us who believe in him to: “Be perfect” he said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect”. What an impossible challenge this is! But it’s only impossible when we try to fulfill it with our own effort and by our own strength. Jesus wants us to look to him who alone fulfilled the law and to trust him and live by faith in him. Only then can we be perfect in all things, especially in loving God as well as our neighbor.
Now Jesus began teaching something else that also characterizes the kingdom of heaven and the Christian life. He talks about “acts of righteousness.” He explains these acts of righteousness or acts of faith which all Christians are expected to engage in, in three ways— giving, praying and fasting. These fruits come from the true inner Christian life that reveals themselves through giving, praying and fasting. We need to know that the Lord doesn’t talk giving, praying and fasting as if they were optional. He talks about them as an obligation of every Christian who considers themselves the disciples of the Lord! He wants all his disciples to exercise them in faith. But in all these things, there is always the danger of hypocrisy which was common among the Pharisees and religious leaders of the time who practiced them. Jesus warns us that in the course of practicing these acts of righteousness, we not make the same mistake as they did.
What is hypocrisy? I think if you’d read verse1, you might get a good idea on what hypocrisy is all about. “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” The hypocrite outwardly pretends to be what he or she really isn’t on the inside. Anything the hypocrite does ends up nothing more than a show for others to see. A hypocrite pretends to live for the glory of God when in his heart he really only wants self-glory. There’s always been hypocrites in the world. Jesus called the religious leaders of the time hypocrites especially because they didn’t live by their own teaching. They spoke very well. They did many good deeds. Supposedly they did so in the name of God. But Jesus who looks at the heart exposed their hearts and their real motives in all the righteous things they did. In their hearts, what they really wanted was to be honored and recognized by other people. Everything they did, they did for show. Jesus who knows the hearts of all men saw to the depth of these people’s hypocritical and sick hearts. And he really didn’t want his disciples to be caught up in that. Instead, he wanted them to do whatever acts of righteousness they did with a genuine Christian heart. He wanted them to do everything in love and in faith and with a sincere heart. Jesus teaches all of us the importance of love and faith in action! Our love for God and our faith in him must be at the heart of whatever we do for God and for others. Why? Because any action motivated by our love for God and faith in him makes whatever act of righteousness we do genuine and beautiful to God. It’s what God really wants and expects of us!
There’s a story that Jesus tells in the gospels. One day while He sat in the temple opposite the place where the offerings were put, crowds offered their money gifts to God. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow put in two very small coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Then Jesus said to his disciples: “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything— all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44) Look at her beautiful act of righteousness! What could have motivated her to give the last penny she had to live on except her love for God and her faith in him! Others delighted that everyone saw and heard the clinging of their money as it hit the offering pot, and marveled at their generosity. But at heart Jesus knew that they loved themselves more than God, and cared more about self honor than the honor of God. They’d received their reward, and would have none from God. But not this poor widow! Jesus the Lord of glory himself recognized her, and her story still encourages many and still puts many to shame.
Jesus knew that most acts of righteousness (That is, not just giving, prayer and fasting but the many more that the Bible talks about), are usually not self-motivated nor are they inherent to the human nature. In other words, Jesus knew that human beings are neither inclined to do acts of righteousness on their own, nor is it in their human nature to do them. In the world, everything people do (even acts of righteousness) is usually motivated by selfishness for the sake of self serving. For this reason, our Lord wanted to help and guide his disciples (as well as all of us) towards doing acts of righteousness that go against our human nature— that is, acts that truly require our self-denial, love and faith. If we do these acts in self denial, in love and in faith, then surely God will accept them no matter how small and insignificant they may be. God will reward these acts himself.
The First act of righteousness Jesus mentioned was giving to the needy and the importance of it. Read verse 3. “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Giving to those who are in need is a profound part of being a Christian and of the Christian faith. God’s very character is “giving”. Our Father God is a giving God. He actually gave his One and Only Son to a world that is hostile to him. Our world is in desperate need of God. We all are in desperate need of forgiveness. Some are in desperate need of healing. We all are in desperate need of salvation. No human being could possibly give us what we really need. But in our need, God gave his Son. Some people never come to understand or appreciate what God has done in giving such a precious gift to us. But when we finally come to realize the enormity of God’s gift to us, that’s when we can really see how important it is for us to give back to God and our brother or sister in need. Giving to those who are needy is really a divine virtue. It is a divine necessity.
This world is full of needy people. Of course, the material needs of many are enormous! And we ought to be concerned about the needs of my fellow man, doing what we can to alleviate that need. But honestly speaking, in our generation the spiritual need of people is so much more than their material need. Especially the youth of our time are so terribly needy because their souls are parched. Listen to what the prophet Amos says in prophesy: “The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it. In that day the lovely young women and strong young men will faint because of thirst.’” (Amos 8:11-13) We know that these days are already upon us now. We cannot ignore such desperate need in the hearts of people. Offering spiritual help to the needy soul is our obligation and duty before God. That’s why we need to learn to give— to give of ourselves— to give of our time and effort in every which way in obedience to God who called the Christians among us to give of what God himself has given to us— that is, the best of gifts— the gift of his Son.
The Second act of righteousness Jesus mentioned is prayer. (5-8) Read verse 6. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Jesus impressed upon his disciples another act of righteousness here— a discreet one. He taught them the act of prayer. Jesus tells us how important prayer is in our lives. What did he say about prayer? He said that prayer isn’t some repetition of words; it’s not the babbling of nice sounding words. Why did he say that? Because most religious leaders of the time recited prayers from old composition of the Rabbis. They had a prayer book that they read from. It’s interesting to know why they did that? Mostly because they had no relationship with God. They had no idea how to speak to God words that come from the heart, words that come from love for God and from faith in him. So it seems that they recited the same words of prayer over and over. Jesus considered this kind of prayer the prayer of pagans— the prayer of non believers. But he did teach us how to really pray before God— how to pray for God’s ears alone. Jesus definitely wants us to have a prayer life. For this reason Jesus also taught us that a good attitude in prayer is also so very important. “When you pray” he said, “Go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen”. (6) In other words, when you pray, humble yourself before God. Don’t try to make a show of it like the hypocrites do. Don’t try to impress anyone. Pray from your heart. Even a word of prayer from the heart is good enough. Through prayer you can share with God what’s on your hearts. In your weakness you can fight in prayer. It’s a weapon against all the dark forces that work against us. Prayer is a gift. It’s a privilege. In your helplessness you can serve others in prayer.
The Third act of righteousness (or faith) Jesus mentioned is Fasting. Besides the act of giving and prayer, Jesus also considered the act of fasting important. Look at verses 16-18. Jesus understood why the Pharisees and religious leaders fasted. They did it to serve their own purpose to be recognized as righteous (or spiritual) people. They wanted to be admired and honored by those who often looked up to them. But here’s the thing about fasting. Hypocritical fasting is futile and serves no good purpose. But whatever reason a person has to fast (and there are many good biblical reasons to do so), it must be done in faith and with only one thing in mind— it must be done to glorify the God we love. Only then is it considered an act of righteousness that can truly please God. There’s something else we ought to know as well. The Bible always relates fasting to prayer. These two are usually done in harmony with one another! In other words, when a person matures in their prayer life, they also often grow to incorporate fasting with their prayer. Fasting in essence is a form of self-denial in things related to the taking in of food or other such bodily appetites. And Christians often deny themselves the appetites of their bodies in order to offer themselves more fully to God in prayer. Let me emphasize to you however, that if you genuinely desire to fast, do so in faith. Do it for the glory of God. And don’t try to draw attention to yourself!
There’s something else that Jesus taught his disciples while teaching them about righteous prayer! In verses 9-13, he also taught them (and us) the basic content of prayer. This is the Lord’s Prayer which we may base our life’s prayer on. This amazing prayer includes both God and people. It teaches us of our obligation to both— to God and to people. What we need to pray for when we consider our relationship with God and with people! Of course, it includes us as well, as we relate to God and to other people. Why is this prayer so precious and so important? Because it serves as a foundation of all our prayers, since the heart of this prayer above all else is to glorify God.
Look at verse 9a. This then is what Jesus said to all his disciples: “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven’”. The first thing Jesus wanted us to do is to call God “Our Father in heaven”. Why? Because it reflects what our relationship with God was intended to be. Not many people know this, but Jesus taught us to address God like a son or daughter calling out to their father. If you are a confessed Christian, then God is your Father, and you are his son or daughter. There is no doubt about that! He created with a purpose and a very high calling to belong to him as his sons and daughters. Because of sin, many are lost to this world as strangers to God. But for those who are born again through faith in what Jesus has done, and through the Spirit’s work in their lives, they are absolutely God’s redeemed children. In this world, people are orphans who have no one. But not you who call Jesus Lord! You and I are not orphans! We are his dearest children. You need to learn this truth deeply and accept it from your hearts— only then you can confidently cry out to God in your prayer: “Our Father in heaven”. Only then you can also realize that other Christians are more your immediate family than flesh and blood.
Look at verse 9b. Jesus taught us to pray: “Hallowed be your name.” What does this mean? It simply means: “May your name oh Lord be blessed, be honored and be glorified in heaven and on earth! May your name oh Lord be honored and glorified in my own heart, and in the hearts of all people”. God is the Creator and all of us are his creation. And for this reason (and many more) everything and everyone should honor and glorify God’s Holy name as the Maker and Owner of all things, including our own lives. At least God’s children should have this deep desire to honor God’s name. The children of the world can think only of how to honor and glorify their own name. They work hard at success so that the one with the greatest achievements receives the greatest recognition and glory. But you and I must be careful to guard our hearts such that nothing is more important to us than to honor and glorify God’s name. God wants us to honor and glorify him in our families, in our nation, but mostly in our personal lives. There’s a life that dishonor God. It’s the life that lives only for itself and cares nothing for God. If a man says he’s a Christian and then lives a life that contradicts the gospel, he’s living a life that dishonors the name of God. On the other hand, you and I should do our best to honor the name of God especially through a life of prayer, a life of faith, and a life of holy mission. “Hallowed be your name in my life and family and my Christian community, O Lord” should be your prayer and mine.
Look at verse 10. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This prayer is about God’s sovereign rule. He’s a king over all creation, so he should govern all things as the rightful king, the heart and life of every human being. But there’s a problem now. The world we live in is in rebellion against God’s rule and many hearts refuse to be subject to God. They are in fact subject to the evil one who rules their hearts and causes them to fulfill his own evil purpose. Most people live in denial to the fact that there is a devil and he controls their lives and actions. Listen to what 1 John 5:19 tells us: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” That’s why Jesus came. He came to restore and establish God’s rightful rule in people’s hearts. Jesus suffered on our behalf so that we might once again give our hearts back to God, the rightful owner and sovereign of our hearts and lives. Jesus’ prayer then: “your kingdom come”, is actually Jesus’ desire to see God’s people delivered from Satan’s rule and restored to God and his kingdom rule! How often should we pray like this? Until every heart once again belongs to God! Until every person, family and nation once again belong to God! Until the gospel transforms this world into a new world under God’s rule. We ought to pray like this: “Your kingdom oh Lord come in my heart, in my family, in my nation, in this world.”
Look at verse 11. “Give us today our daily bread.” There are two things we ought to learn here first, “daily”, and the other is “our” daily bread, that is! God himself sustains our lives. Actually, we need never worry about tomorrow’s bread, nor tomorrow’s needs. Our security is really only in God. God who loves you and me takes care of all our needs, from day to day. So Jesus only emphasized what is true of God: “give us today our daily bread” with faith that God in his mercy doesn’t need to give us two days portion nor a month’s portion, but only our daily bread as we need it. Concerning ourselves too much with tomorrow is no good, wondering why God doesn’t allow us to stack up for the future. But the truth is that God loves us and wants us to trust him and depend on him from day to day for everything, especially our daily needs. You need faith to do that! You and I also need inner healing from all the insecurities that this world has corrupted our hearts with. When you have learned to trust God with you daily needs, then you can genuinely believe that God will provide not only my daily bread but all the needs of his people. So when we pray we pray “Lord give us (not me) our daily bread, because I really care about my brother’s provision as much as I care about mine.”
Look at verse 12. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The “debts” Jesus is talking about here are our “sins”. Look at how beautiful the heart of God is! Forgiveness is at the heart of our Father God’s character and desire. God’s heart is always full of forgiveness for his people. And Jesus had God’s character when he prayed “Lord forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. Jesus also wants us to forgive each other. There are very many difficult standards that we Christians are called to live by. But surely the most difficult command is God’s demand that we forgive others. So many live and die with unforgiveness in their hearts. What a tragic loss! You and I are debtors to God. We owe him for the enormous forgiveness of sins he has granted us in Christ. So the debt of others to us is rarely something worth anything compared with our debt to God. Jesus said in verses 14 and 15: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Look at verse 13. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Most people living in this world think that their enemies are other people. But the Bible talks about a greater danger and a more sinister enemy who really works non-stop to harm us and to fell us. The devil is bent on harming us. He does so by discouraging our lives of love and faith in God. He also does so by distracting us from serving God’s purpose in our lives. His aim is that the gospel never reaches those we are praying for and hope to bring to life through its message. You and I cannot fight against this enemy by ourselves. The best way is to listen to Jesus, and humbly ask God’s protection. This should be our daily prayer— to ask God’s deliverance from the evil one and his temptation! God wants to protect you and those you love. So earnestly pray for that.
Jesus teaches us the act of giving as God himself is so generously giving. He teaches us what the attitude and contents of our prayer should be. It’s so important for you and me to keep growing in the image of our Lord Jesus as a “giver” and as a dedicated prayer servant in God’s kingdom which is upon us even this day. May God purge our hearts from any kind of hypocrisy and purify us with holy acts of righteousness that stem from our gratitude for his grace and truth. Amen.