Bible Text: Matthew 6:11 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Give Us This Day St. Matthew 6:11 by William Klock In the last three weeks we’ve looked at the first three petitions in the Lord’s Prayer and we’ve seen that one of the great lessons we need to learn about prayer is that we always need to put God’s interests first. Before we focus on ourselves and on our needs, we first honour God’s name, we first submit ourselves to his sovereignty, and we humbly subvert our own will to his. And this is why it’s so important that we fuel our prayers with Scripture, because it’s in the Bible that God reveals himself. It’s in the Bible that God shows us his way and his will. It’s in the Bible that God tells us the story of his redemptive acts. It’s in the Bible that God gives us his message of the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our prayer and our worship should be like a flame. The Holy Spirit is the spark – the match – that ignites the flame, but it’s Holy Scripture that kindles the fire. If you don’t have the kindling, it’s awfully hard to get the fire going, but at the same time, if you do get the fire going and don’t keep it fed with the kindling of Scripture, it can easily find fuel somewhere else – from the world, from the flesh, and can burn out of control and become a destroyer instead of the heat and light of the Gospel that others should see in us. It’s only after we’ve put God first that we approach him with our own interests – our families, our friends, our relatives, our work and our finances, our health problems and all those other things. That’s not to say that our own needs and concerns aren’t important though. Scripture does tell us to pray for them. We just need to make sure our perspective is right. Jesus tells us that it’s after God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will that we pray: Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven ourdebtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:10-13) Our needs: daily sustenance, forgiveness of our sins, and spiritual victory. All of our needs are covered in those three short petitions. Our whole life is right here. Jesus is so amazingly good at distilling everything down to what’s important and putting things in perspective. There’s nothing we need that isn’t covered by these three petitions. I want to look this week at the first of these three petitions: “Give us this day our daily bread.” That first prayer request deals with our physical needs. When Jesus says “daily bread” he’s talking about all the needs we have for making it day to day. It’s a prayer not just for food, but for clothing to keep us warm and dry, for a roof over our head, and for a job that will provide the means for us to care of ourselves and our families. I think the list could go on – it covers all those things that we need in order to live in this world. But it also needs to be said what this is not a prayer for. Jesus says, “Give us this day our daily bread,” not, “Give us this day a new BMW,” or “Give us this day a big fancy house,” or even, “Give us this day a big healthy bank account.” The rest of the New Testament reinforces what Jesus has in mind. St. Paul writes in Philippians 4:19: And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Paul doesn’t say God will supply all of your wants. It’s not to say that God won’t often supply our needs in style. He does seem, especially in the western world, to allow us a lot of luxuries, but those luxuries are often the first cause of our spiritual poverty. But we are never told to ask for those things. We’re only told to ask for the necessities of life. God may bless you with a fancy new car, but it’s far more likely that he’s going to provide for your needs by keep your twenty-something-year-old Honda running. Remember what I said at the end of last Sunday’s sermon? John Calvin wrote, “Love God, and do what pleases you.” I think we could apply that same principle here: “Love God, and pray for what you need in order to carry out what pleases you.” But the key is that if you are truly following God and if your will is in line with his, your desires will be for your needs to be met so that you can do the work of his kingdom. His kingdom come! His will be done! Jesus tells us to pray for our daily needs because God has promised to give us the things we ask for. A master provides for his slaves. A general meets the needs of his soldiers. A father makes sure to provide for the needs of his sons and daughters. The master, the general, and the father are all willing and want to provide. And in the same way our Father cares for those who have become his children through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe we sometimes doubt that God will answer our prayers for the needs of life, but we shouldn’t. Jesus himself teaches us that God is willing. He tells us to pray it here, and in the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel he tells us why. Look at Matthew 7:7-11: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give hima stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Jesus tells us three things here: First, we come before God as his children. We must be his children before we can come to him. Remember that he tells us to pray, “Our Father in heaven.” Again, prayer is for Christians and Christians alone. Second, as God’s children we are invited and even urged to come. Prayer isn’t something we can do. It’s something we’re expected to do. I think we too often tend to look at it as something we have to do – like a chore – instead of as something that’s a privilege. God invites us. And third, God delights to answer those who come before him. We come into the Father’s presence through the Lord Jesus Christ and led by his Holy Spirit. And when we come that way we come not as God’s enemies, but as his children. We’re family. Think about it. There are lots of things an earthy father would never do for a stranger. There are even more things he’d never do for an enemy. But there’s almost nothing a loving father wouldn’t do for his sons and daughters. And in the same way, we come not to a God who is distant, and harsh, and stingy or who is begrudging and tight-fisted with his gifts. We come to a God who is loving, willing, and merciful, and who is actually anxious (if we can use that word of God at all) to be known and loved by his children. Our God is a God who urges us to come and who wants us to come! And he doesn’t want us coming every once in a while like a son or daughter who comes home every year at Christmas to visit their father. Notice how Jesus tells us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” “Give us today our daily bread.” Think about this. Do you notice how Jesus suggests there that this needs to be a regular and repeated prayer? A daily prayer? “Give us today our bread for today. He repeats that same idea twice – and he does that in a prayer that in whole totals only sixty-five words. If he’s being that tight with words and chooses to repeat himself, it’s probably because it’s important. The word that’s used by St. Matthew for “daily” when he says “daily bread” is a Greek word that isn’t used anywhere else in the Bible and until fairly recently no one had ever found it used in any other ancient writings. No one was sure exactly how to translate it – so we just followed the tradition of the ancient translators who said it meant “daily.” That was confirmed in the last century when archaeologists found ancient paper fragments in Pompeii and an ancient papyrus in Egypt that used this word and confirmed what it means. And you know what those ancient fragments were? They were basically ancient shopping lists and the word referred to a daily ration. Jesus tells us to pray each day for a daily ration of life’s necessities. So what do we do with this? Well, when we see that Jesus is giving us a simple prayer for the things we need in life and that God invites us to pray this way, we should see three great truths here. First, Jesus reminds us that God cares for our bodies – for our physical well-being. There have always been people in the church that taught that the body was bad and that only our souls are important or good. That’s where the idea of celibacy as preferable to marriage came from. That’s where the idea of hair shirts and sleeping in the cold without a blanket came from. Some have even outright abused their bodies – beating themselves and mutilating themselves thinking that their bodies were evil. But that’s just not biblical. Even if we are fallen and sinful, we still bear the image of God. And think about the fact that Jesus spent so much of his time healing diseases and satisfying real, bodily hunger. When the crowd followed him into the wilderness to hear him preach, he was concerned that they have some food to eat – and he performed a miracle to feed them. Jesus himself, in coming to redeem us, took a body just like ours. He didn’t come just to save souls, but came to save body, mind, and spirit. Now we have to be careful. There are plenty of preachers out there picking people’s pockets saying that God’s will is for everyone to be fully healthy and that if you suffer from sickness of disability it’s because you don’t have enough faith in God’s promise. The “faith” teachers on TV preach this. And yet consider that even these guys get old and die – a lot of them from heart disease, strokes, and cancer. Disease is part of our fallen state. God’s will is first and foremost for the health of your soul. If healing your body gets in the way of the health of your soul, it’s probably not God’s will that you be healed! We have to be careful with this stuff. Second, Jesus teaches us here that if we live as God intends for us to live, we need to live one day at a time. That means that we shouldn’t be anxious about the unknown future and we shouldn’t get stressed out about it. We need to live in a moment-by-moment dependence on God. That said, I think it’s important to note that the way we live this out is going to be different from culture to culture. Jesus’ point is that we shouldn’t be worrying about tomorrow and that we ask God and depend on him for what we need today. This plays out differently in a culture where future needs are met through the family structure and a culture where we meet future needs through financial planning and saving. In our society it would be wrong for a father to neglect to save for his children’s education or his retirement on the belief that he should ask God only for one day’s ration at a time. In the world we live in, part of today’s ration is the money that we set aside for tomorrow. For that reason we shouldn’t neglect our families by neglecting insurance policies, pension plans, or savings accounts. To do that would be to misread what Jesus is saying here. But at the same time, we shouldn’t become wrapped up in these things as if our life and our future ultimately depend on them. We need to wrap ourselves in our confidence in God! Think about it. As a Christian, have you ever known God to be unfaithful to you? Have you lacked the necessities of life? There are plenty of times that God deprives us of our wants – usually because we need to get our focus back on him. God is always faithful. We can trust him to provide today and we can trust him to provide tomorrow. Finally, third, we need to feed spiritually on God. Jesus isn’t just telling us to look to him for our physical needs. There’s only one other place in the New Testament where people make this request, “give us bread.” It’s in the middle of Jesus’ sermon on the spiritual bread that St. John records in chapter six of his Gospel. Jesus said to the people listening to him, “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:32-35). Just like the woman of Samaria who met Jesus at the well was thinking of physical water when Jesus talked about giving her a drink, these Jews were thinking about physical bread. But Jesus tuned them away from these physical things and turned them to himself as the One who could satisfy the far greater hunger of their souls. What does it mean to feed spiritually on the Lord Jesus Christ? It means that he becomes the source of all spiritual life and that we will grow spiritually only as we draw close to him and learn about him. Dear friends, you need to understand that if you don’t do this – if you don’t draw near to Christ and draw your strength from him daily – you will starve spiritually. It’s true, but very tragic that so many Christian let things get between themselves and Jesus and end up going hungry. This is what God tells us happened over and over again in the Old Testament. Scripture tells us that the Israelites desired “things” instead of God. The scary part is that God gave them those “things,” but also allowed their souls to starve (Psalm 106:15). We do the same thing today. One of our hymns describes our situation very well – we’re “rich in things, but poor in soul.” We’re often just like the Israelites, getting distracted by the world. And God lets us starve spiritually. We use every opportunity and every means to satisfying our physical hunger, and yet we never look to God for spiritual food. We pray, “Give me my physical bread,” but we never pray, “Give me that spiritual bread that comes down from heaven.” I’ve seen first hand how God uses these principles to draw us closer to himself. Back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s my parents were attending Bible school. For part of that time our family lived off of the proceeds from the sale of our house. When that was all gone, my dad started working part time, but the economy was bad and every place he got a job at either went out of business or let him go not long after he was hired. We were truly living from day to day at that point. It was during that time that a neighbour came by the house and asked if we’d be interested in taking in two canaries that she had to get rid of. The fact was that we didn’t have the money to take care of those two birds, but my parents said yes and took them in as a reminder that if God would care for the birds, he would care for us too. Every time the pantry was empty, he provided. I remember at the worst of it, we were sitting down on a Sunday after church to eat the last thing in the house: boiled millet with some pancake syrup on top, when friends came by with bags full of groceries. God let us get all the way down to empty, but he did it to show us that it was his provision that got us through. But our physical care wasn’t really the point. And it never is. God provides for our physical needs so that we’ll learn to trust him with our spiritual needs. Jesus healed the paralytic not just to heal him, but to demonstrate that when he says he has the power to forgive sins, he really does. He wanted to show to show those people that he really was the God he claimed to be. And he does the same for us as he gives us our daily bread – sometimes in miraculous ways. But that’s not the only way he gets our attention. In Portland I had the privilege through our parish of working with ministry shares the Gospel with people in the homosexual community and disciples them, helping them come out of that lifestyle. And I remember talking one day with one of the men there. We were talking about when he had become a Christian. And he shared with me that when he became a Christian, his one great desire was that God would take away his homosexual feelings. But he said that didn’t happen. But he also said that as months went by he realized that God had left the temptation there to teach him something more important: that he needed to lean daily – constantly – on Jesus Christ. He needed the constant reminder that he could never live his life spiritually victorious without relying on the Saviour to give him power over sin. And that really struck me. I had to ask myself how much of the time I struggle with sin on my own simply because I fail to lean on Jesus Christ daily. How often do I come to his Table to receive the outward signs and symbols of the sustenance he gives to me, but live the rest of the week almost completely ignoring the fact that he is with me as the bread of life to spur me on to spiritual victory. So as we gather at his Table today, remember that your heavenly Father desires for you to come into his presence each day. He invites you to give him honour and glory and that he delights to show his glory by giving you those things you need to make it through this day – not just your food, clothing, and shelter, but his grace and the indwelling of his Spirit to give you new life and victory over sin. Please pray with me: Our Father in heaven, you tell us to first pray that your name would be hallowed – honoured – in our lives, by what we say and by what we do. Remind us also that you are honoured and glorified as you bring your promises to pass for us – as you care for us the way you have promised. Reminds us to daily come before your throne to seek our daily ration of bread, trusting in you to provide, but not only that, Father; let your provision of our daily bread be a reminder to us that we also need to come to you for our daily ration of grace – that we find no spiritual health and no spiritual victory in and of ourselves, but that we find it only in your grace and through the Cross of Jesus Christ. We ask this in his name. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 6:10 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Your Will Be Done St. Matthew 6:10 by William Klock So far in Jesus’ model prayer we’ve seen how we are to come before God as our heavenly Father. We’ve seen that our first petition is that God’s name be honoured – not just in our words, but in how we live our lives. Do we honour him in how we live or do we bring shame on his name. Last week we looked at the second petition: that God’s kingdom come – that we would humbly submit to his lordship in our lives. That we would acknowledge him as our sovereign in our hearts and lives. You see, that’s what it’s all about. Mere belief that Jesus saves will never save you. Appropriating him as your personal Saviour is what saves you and the New Testament writers tell us over and over again that if you’ve truly done that, your one great desire will be to make him your Lord. You will desire to follow him. You’ll desire to do what is pleasing to him. You’ll happily humble yourself and submit to his authority and to what he tells you in his Word. Now, the third petition in the Lord’s Prayer follows naturally: Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10b) Do you notice how each of these first three petitions turns our hearts towards God and away from our natural inclinations? The natural man seeks only his own honour and glory, and yet Jesus tells us to pray that God’s name be honoured. The natural man’s desire is to be his own king, and yet Jesus tells us to pray that God’s kingdom rule over us. And the natural man’s biggest desire is to assert his own will, and here Jesus tells us to pray that God’s will, not our own, be done. So let’s talk about wills. You see, at the root of sin is the assertion of our own will over God’s. Satan was cast out of heaven because he decided that he wanted to be in charge. And think about Adam and Eve. God wanted people who would love and trust him. He created men and women as finite beings. We’re not all-knowing. But God is all-knowing. He isperfect in every way. And so his expectation was that his creatures would lovingly trust him to care for them. When God gave Adam the one rule not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he wasn’t being a celestial killjoy. He wasn’t trying to keep something good from Adam. He was giving Adam a command based on his perfect knowledge of what was good for him. And yet tricked by Satan, Adam and Eve looked at the fruit of the tree, saw it looked pretty good, and decided to take God’s role on themselves. And yet human beings were never created with the capacity to determine morality for themelves. Our view is very limited. We don’t have the ability to see that what looks good right now, will do us harm further down the road. But that’s what sin is: it’s the assertion of our wills over God’s. It’s us saying that God doesn’t know what he’s doing or that he doesn’t know and desire what’s best for us. It’s a sign of disloyalty to our Creator. It’s cosmic treason. And that’s why the most telling evidence that the Holy Spirit has regenerated a human heart, is that that heart has become willing to pray, “Your will be done.” That’s the one thing the natural man or woman will never do, but turning our wills to conform to God’s holy and perfect desires is the very first work of grace that happens in the Christian’s heart. It’s this desire for what God wants that gradually shapes our new life and renews our mind. It’s this desire for what God wants that drives us to his Word, that drives us to seek out his character, that drives us to purge the sin from our lives, and that drives us to conform ourselves to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it has to be said that if you aren’t driven in that way, you really need to go back and look at where you are with God. Is the knowledge of Jesus Christ the redeemer just head knowledge for you? Or have you appropriated his promises for yourself? And the big question: Are you still your own lord or have you made Jesus your Lord. Because Scripture tells us that making Jesus our Lord and submitting to his will is the most basic evidence of our faith – it’s the most basic fruit of the Spirit. And yet that begs the big question: “How do I know God’s will?” We want to do what God wants, but how do we know what he wants? That’s the problem. God has given us a way to know his will, but too much of the time we try to find shortcuts because we’re lazy and don’t want to do the work. When I was a teenager there was a girl at school I really liked. I was too gutless to just ask her out, so every time I walked past her house I’d ask God to give me some kind of sign as to whether or not she liked me. “God, if she likes me, let the sprinklers be running,” or something like that. At least once I remember asking God to show me what I should do with the Bible, so I closed my eyes, opened it randomly and dropped my finger on a verse. Well, first, asking God for that kind of sign simply isn’t biblical. It’s like Gideon putting out his fleece. God had already told him what to do, but he didn’t have the faith to believe what God had told him. Doing that sort of thing is trying to force God to follow pagan ideas about divination, and that’s sinful. But even still – and more importantly – I wasn’t asking the right question to start with. This girl wasn’t a Christian. It didn’t matter if she liked me or not – she wasn’t someone I should have dated anyway – that would have been outside God’s will. The two men who had the most profound impact on my Christian growth were both the sorts of people everyone would always go to if they were seeking to know God’s will. They always gave wise counsel. But in both cases, I figured out, the reason they were always so able to give wise and godly counsel was because they were both deeply and profoundly steeped in Holy Scripture. And I realised that if I ever wanted to be even an ounce like them, the only way to get there was to steep myself in Scripture too. And that’s the hard part. That’s why so many people are always seeking out that sort of Christian for advice. But you know, those two men didn’t start out that way. Both of them had done the hard work and it had taken their entire lives. Our problem is that we live in a fast food, instant gratification culture. We want what we want and we want it now – even when it’s something good like a knowledge of God’s will. And so we look for a sign, or we look for a word from God or some kind of prophetic direct revelation, or instead of doing the work ourselves we constantly seek the advice of someone who has. And it’s not to say that sometimes God doesn’t give a sign, or a word, or counsel us through a wiser brother or sister, but ultimately what we need to understand is that if we want to know God and to know his will, we have to know the Scriptures. We have to devote ourselves to God’s revealed Word. If you’re married, think about when you first met your husband or your wife. You wanted to get to know them. Did you ignore them, or did you spend time with them to learn what they like and dislike, to know what drives them and what they love? We need to do the same thing with God. We need to spend time with him and most importantly we need to spend prayerful time in his Word. We also need to understand that God doesn’t play hide and seek with us. He isn’t into playing games. He doesn’t hide his will from us. He wants us to know it and to live it. That’s why he gave us the Bible. It’s his direct revelation to men and women so that we can know him and follow him. There’s nothing hidden here. God put it all in plain black and white because he wants us to know it! Do you want to know God’s will for you? If you’re a Christian that should be your greatest desire. Turn to 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and look at what St. Paul writes: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, thatthe man of God may be competent, equippedfor every good work. The first thing Paul says there is that God gave us the Scriptures for to teach us. The Bible offers us lessons and instructions for life, so that we can develop skills, knowledge, and insight that will help us live in ways that are pleasing to him. But that’s not all. St. Paul also tells us that the Scriptures were given to rebuke us. God loves us and that’s why he never hesitates to reprimand his people when they stray or turn away from him. The Bible shows us when and where we’ve strayed from God’s path of truth and warns us when we’re headed in the wrong direction. That word “rebuke” literally means “to force back,” and that’s what Scripture does when it forces us to face God’s truth. The third thing Paul says is that the Scriptures were given to correct us. Correction changes something from wrong to right. Remember when your teacher would mark your test up with a red pen, showing you where you were wrong and what the right answers were. God’s Word shows us where we’re wrong and shows us what’s right. God never just reprimands or scolds us. He always gives us correction so that we won’t make the same mistake again. Scripture puts us back on the right path and back into a right relationship with God. Finally, Paul tells us that Scripture was given for training in righteousness, so that we will conform our lives to God’s standard. The Bible helps us to grow and mature. It shows us what God’s goals are for us and shows us how to get there. But here’s the thing (and this is important) you’ll never reap these benefits if you don’t read and study God’s Word. Holy Scripture is God’s immediate tool for shaping your life. I don’t know how to make this point strongly enough. If you are a Christian, it is absolutely critical that you spend time in God’s Word each and every day. If you don’t, you will never come to truly know God. The work of the Holy Spirit in your life will be stunted. The Bible is how God chose to reveal himself and his will to us, and there’s no better way – no substitute – to know and experience God than through his living Word. If you pray, “Your will be done,” but find yourself asking what God’s will is, look at 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18: See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do you want to know what God’s will is? It’s that you would rejoice, pray, give thanks, and seek after that which is good for everyone. God wants you to be a mature man or woman of God. He wants to see your character develop. He wants you to draw close to him and be changed. And he’s given each of us the indwelling Holy Spirit to teach and to guide us in all of that. But there aren’t any shortcuts. God’s way is to build our character through his Word and through the Holy Spirit in order to make us like Christ. Still wondering what God’s will for you is? Turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4: For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. Or how about 1 Peter 2:13-15: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. That’s God’s will: your sanctification, that each of us, maturing in our faith and submitting to God’s authority and commandments, practising the fruit of the Spirit (like self-control) and being pure and spotless in our actions will be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world. Are you maturing in righteousness? By your life and actions do you draw unbelievers to the Cross, wanting to know what you have? Or by your actions do you bring shame on Christ and make his Body a laughing stock? Jesus Christ has given us an example of how we are to live our lives. The way we can come to know him better and follow his example is to read about him in our Bibles. And yet we struggle to do that. We live in an age of books. Our bookstores are full of good and helpful books on the Christian life, but the downside is that too often we end up reading all about the Bible, but we never read the Bible itself. We read the latest books on God or on the Church or on the Family, but we forget to pickup the Bible and read what it has to say. And yet the Bible is the only book that is God’s direct message to us. If you want to know his will for you, you have to spend time reading and studying it. If you don’t you will never mature in the faith. If you struggle in your walk with God, if you struggle to overcome sin in your life, or if you struggle to know what God’s will for you is, I ask, “How much time do you spend reading God’s Word?” To know what pleases God and to grow in godly character you have to know his heart. And to know his heart, you have to draw close to him. Reading his personal message to his people is the way to know him. If you’re serious about your walk with God you will spend time listening to his message. And by way of specific application, I want to suggest three things that you keep in mind as you read and study Scripture: First: Pray. If you want to know the mind of God, pray through his Word. Pray as you read that God would enlighten your heart and mind, so that you may know him. That’s why he gave us the Holy Spirit – to lead us into truth. One of the driest spiritual times I can remember was when I was in seminary working on my master’s thesis. I was spending more hours than I could count immersed in Scripture, but the problem was that it was I had made it a strictly academic exercise. I’d lost sight of the real purpose of what I was doing. And then my advisor told me about a Bible scholar he knew who had had the same problem. And he said that that man had decided to begin approaching Scripture prayerfully, asking God to open his eyes and his heart, asking “Lord, speak to me through your Word.” And after several weeks he started finding an amazing change and his soul started to burn for God and to desire more. God heard his prayer and started speaking through his Word. In his introduction to Colossians, St. Paul prayed this for the Christians in that Church. He knew that the people needed a vibrant experience with Scripture if they were to be “filled with all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” He knew that the result of meeting God in this way would be spiritual maturity. You need to immerse yourself in Scripture every day, but before you do so, you need to pray for the Lord to speak directly to you through his Word. Ask the Spirit to enlighten you. There’s nothing mystical about it; it means having God’s Spirit teach you. You can never separate prayer from God’s Word. Second: Memorise and meditate. If you really want to know God’s Word, not only will you read it, but you should also memorise it and meditate on it. That way the Word can speak to you, counsel you, and guide you. When you face decisions or temptations in life, it’s the Scripture reservoir that you’ve built up that you can draw on to know God’s heart. If you don’t have that reservoir, you’re going to come up empty. David wrote in Psalm 1:1-3: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. This is what Solomon tells us to do when he writes about God’s commandments, “Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you” (Proverbs 6:21-22). He’s not talking about the legalistic and Pharisaical practice of some modern Jews who literally wear God’s Word on a necklace or tied to their foreheads. He’s saying that God’s Word needs to be committed to our hearts and minds if it’s going to do us any good. Think of learning to ride a bike. You see a tree ahead and everything in you wants to not hit it, but you do anyway, because your attention is so focused on it. The same thing happens in our spiritual life too. If we focus on temptation, we always seem to run smack into it. But Jesus teaches us a little lesson here. Remember when he was fasting in the desert for forty days? Satan came to tempt him three times, but in each case, Jesus turned him away and rebuked him using Scripture. You and I can do the same thing. If you struggle with sin, no matter what it is, commit Scriptures to memory that deal with that sin so that you can put your focus on God’s Word instead of the temptation. When the world, the flesh, and the devil assault you, do what Jesus did. Finally: Humbly Obey. It’s not enough just to hear God’s Word. You have to humbly obey it. In our culture we think of someone who is a fool as being uneducated, but in the Bible, especially in Proverbs, he’s not an ignorant person; he’s a person who has the truth, but does nothing with it. St. James says, But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25) He’s saying that only a fool gets up in the morning, checks the mirror and sees that he needs a wash and a shave, then walks away from the mirror and forgets all about it. The wise man or woman reads Scripture, meditates on it, memorises it, and puts it into practice. Most of the time what Scripture tells us is the opposite of what the natural and sinful man wants to hear. But that’s the whole point. By his Word and the working of his Spirit, God humbles sinners and changes their desires to be in line with his own. That’s what God desires from each of us. He wants us exposed to his thoughts, thinking his thoughts, so that he can change us. That’s why St. Paul tells us: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9) When we pray, “Your will be done,” we’re asking for God to develop in each of us a heart for himself. When he was asked about what it meant to do God’s will, John Calvin said, “Love God and do what you please.” That’s the key. If we truly love God, our great desire will be to know him and to know his will and ways, and the more we come to know him, the more our desires (our will and our way) will conform to his desires as we give up our whole selves as living sacrifices to him. And so I urge you to cultivate that love for God – read, study, pray through, memorise, and obey his Holy Word – then do what you please, because God will have given you desires that are in accord with his own. Please pray with me: Our Father in heaven, we give you thanks that you are working out your perfect will for your creation. But Father, we confess that too much of the time we fail to conform our wills to yours. We call you Lord, but we continue to do our own thing. We confess that it’s often through ignorance, because we’ve failed to seek your will by knowing your Word. Forgive us Father, we ask, and give us new hearts that hunger to know your will and your ways. Give us a passion, we ask, for your Word that we might come to know you better and to humbly submit to your will and obey. We ask this through our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 6:10 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Your Kingdom Come St. Matthew 6:10 by William Klock Two thousand, five hundred, and forty-seven years ago the last Babylonian king, Belshazzar, threw a party. The prophet Daniel tells us that to celebrate his greatness and the greatness of his empire, Belshazzar invited a thousand of his lords to come and drink wine with him. You can imagine how great this king thought he was; consider that it was his father, Nebuchadnezzar, who had built the 90-foot-tall golden statue of himself and commanded everyone to bow down and worship it. And so to show everyone his greatness, Belshazzar not only threw a feast, but ordered that the vessels of gold and silver that his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem – vessels set apart for God’s own use – be brought so that he could drink from them. It was his way of saying he was bigger than God. His father, Nebuchadnezzar, had claimed divinity, the God of the Israelites had humbled him, driving him into the wilderness to live like an animal until he acknowledged that God was sovereign. I’m sure Belshazzar resented that. His treasury would have had sacred items from all sorts of different conquered places, but he specifically chose to bring the things belonging to the God his father had acknowledged as sovereign – it was his way to deliberately thumb his nose at God. And in the middle of that drunken feast, God’s hand suddenly appeared and he wrote on the wall with his finger: “mene, mene, tekel, parsin.” The king new this was something bigger than himself. He was scared. He called for all his wise men, his priests, and his magicians to tell him what those words meant. Each of those words described a unit of money. In modern terms, it would be like the hand wrote: “Tooney, Tooney, Looney, and Quarter.” Nobody knew what it meant until they called in Daniel. God gave him the wisdom to read the words differently, changing the vowels he told the king the words read: “Number, numbered, weighed, and divide. God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; he’s weighed you in his balances and found you wanting; your kingdom is divided between the Medes and the Persians.” And history tells us that that very night while Belshazzar was having his drunken feast, Darius the Mede diverted the Euphrates River, sneaked into Babylon with his army, going under the walls through the dry river channel, and killed Belshazzar and defeated his army. Thus God orchestrated the end of the greatest empire the world had known up to that time. He showed the world very vividly who the real sovereign is in this world. But that’s what we see throughout history. Think of Egypt. Three to four thousand years ago it had a mighty empire. Now it has nothing. Forty years ago it lost a war with tiny Israel. Babylon was once even greater, and yet a couple of years ago her president was found cowering in a hole in the ground, hiding from invaders who had toppled his government and army. Syria, Greece, and Rome aren’t drastically different. Many of you, in your lifetimes saw the decline of the British Empire, that a hundred years ago controlled nearly a quarter of the world. In my short lifetime I’ve seen the fall of the Soviet empire and today we’re witnessing the decline of the United States as both a military, economic, and moral superpower. No matter the empire, God has a law that we see played out over and over again throughout history: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Every kingdom ruled by men has followed the same pattern. God allows a man or a group of men to rise up above others in power, but that triumph sooner or later brings pride, and God removes them, often in a very brutal and bloody end. Men rise and fall, but you see, God reigns over all of human history. God is sovereign, even over those people and places that are in rebellion against him. His kingdom has always and will always prevail. That’s why when we talk about the “kingdom of God” it should bring us comfort if we’re followers of Christ, because we know that no matter what turmoil happens in our lives and in the world around us, God is sovereign. That’s how Jesus had the confidence to tell us to be anxious for nothing. There will always be “wars and rumours of wars,” but Christ’s followers – God’s kingdom people – have no reason to fear. And that’s why the second petition in Jesus’ prayer is “Your kingdom come.” We pray “Your kingdom come” in the knowledge that God is sovereign and always has been. We pray “Your kingdom come” in the knowledge that at the end of the age, Christ will come as victor and judge and consummate his rule. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess on that day that he is Lord. And we pray “Your kingdom come” in the knowledge that God’s kingdom already rules in the hearts of those who have been redeemed by the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ, and in whom his Spirit dwells. When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we give voice to our desire that all men and women will come to know what we already know and that they will submit to the rule of Christ in their lives and that they will acknowledge God as sovereign over his Creation. When God created the world and placed Adam and Eve in it, his desire was to bring into existence a people who would be obedient to himself and who would be in tune with his purposes in history. Think of what God told King David through the prophet Nathan: Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. (2 Samuel 7:11-12) It’s interesting that David’s response was one of humility. But that’s how you respond when your desire is for God’s kingdom and not your own. You know, Belshazzar didn’t build his kingdom – his father did it all. But that didn’t stop him from throwing a party to celebrate how great he was. That’s what the natural man does. He celebrates himself and he celebrates his own rule. Just like Belshazzar, he’s blind to the reality of God’s sovereignty over Creation. But David, a man who knew where he truly stood before God, one of the great kings of the ancient world, understood that he was only where he was because God had put him there. And so when God promised him a great kingdom, David responded humbly, acknowledging that if it’s going to happen, only God will be able to bring it about. God created this world and he rules over it – he always has and he always will. But when Jesus came to earth and started his ministry here, the kingdom of God came in another sense and was much closer. In Christ the kingdom came to be among human beings. That’s how Jesus could say, “The kingdom of God is among you.” And at Pentecost he sent his Spirit who now lives and works in the lives of those who follow Christ. At Pentecost the kingdom of God came even closer. That’s how St. Paul could travel the world “preaching the kingdom of God” and talking about it as the new life we live of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). God’s kingdom comes today whenever and wherever his righteousness, his peace, and his joy transform a life and bring the fullness of spiritual blessing. As his Church, as the Body of Christ, we his people make up his kingdom. We are his people and he is our Lord. But Jesus warns us: don’t expect it to get any easier. Some Christians have thought that eventually the entire world will be converted to the Gospel and that God’s kingdom will take over that way. But Jesus pretty much tells us the exact opposite. He made it clear that much of the world would never be converted and that the children of the devil would be here until the end – even in the Church! He taught that his kingdom will only come in its totality at the end of time, and that even then it will only be established by his power – men will always be fighting against Jesus and the good news of the Gospel. In Matthew 13 Jesus gives a string of seven parables – parables of the kingdom – beginning with the sower who went out to scatter seed and ending with the parable of the dragnet. Those parables give us a preview of the Church’s history. In the first one, the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us about a man who went out to sow his seed. Some of it fell on hard ground where the birds ate it; some fell into shallow soil and started to grow, but the heat of the summer sun made it wilt and die; some fell in the thorns, which choked and killed it; and some fell on the good soil where it grew, thrived, and reproduced itself. Jesus explained to his disciples that in the story, the seed was the Word of his kingdom and that the Word would have different effects in the lives of those who would hear it preached. Sometimes the Word falls on deaf ears or on hard hearts so that it isn’t really heard at all; sometimes the devil and his demons snatch it away. Some people hear the Word and receive it, but they don’t truly understand. It’s a novelty and eventually they lose interest, especially in the face of persecution and especially when they’re called on to make sacrifices for the Gospel. This is what I fear the modern Church has become. We’ve put so much focus on being like the world in order to attract the world, that we have churches full of people with a “what’s in it for me” attitude. Their only interest is in what God can do for them. And the minute the Word calls them to give instead of take, the minute it points out their sin, or the minute it calls for self-sacrifice, they’re gone. If you come to God with a “What’s in it for me?” attitude, you can never truly pray, “Your kingdom come,” because you’re still living life as your own king. And a church made up of this kind of people is never going to get anywhere because they haven’t made Christ their Lord – they haven’t submitted to his rule and to his sovereignty. Sadly, this kind of seed seems to dominate today’s church in our part of the world – people who call themselves Christians, but have never truly made Christ their Lord, never truly committed themselves to him and to his rule. Jesus warns: not all the seed that’s scattered will end up bearing fruit. In fact, in all those types of ground and soil, its only in one that the seed does what it’s supposed to do. Jesus really drives his point home in the second parable – the parable of the wheat and the tares. We read this just a couple of weeks ago in our Gospel. A man goes out and sows good seed, but in the night his enemy comes along and scatters weed seed throughout the field. Both the wheat and the weeds grew up together in the field. Some of the plants were wheat and the others looked a lot like wheat, but were worthless as food. As Jesus tells the story, the man’s workers asked if he wanted them to pull the weeds, but the man told them not to – in pulling the weeds, they’d end up pulling a lot of the wheat too. Instead, the man told them to let the weeds grow with the wheat, then at harvest everything would be cut and sorted. The grain would go to the granary and the weeds would be burned. Jesus explained to them that the man’s field represents the visible church, the wheat represents those who belong to him, and the weeds represent the children of the devil. In other words, according to Jesus, there will always be people in the Church who imitate God’s children – who look like us, and talk like us, and even do a pretty good job of acting like us. His point is that this is what we need to expect until the end of the age. This is why the Church has an obligation to preach the Gospel, even when we think that everyone here has already accepted it. It’s also why the Church has the duty to hold her members accountable for their actions. If you’re not acting like a follower of Christ, it might well be because you aren’t really one of his people and you need a wakeup call from the Church to get your attention. If we were to run all the way through Chapter 13, we’d see Jesus’ point made over and over again: that as long as the Church exists, it will always be imperfect because of the influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The final parable gives the solemn warning: The kingdom of God is like a dragnet thrown into the water by fishermen. It drags and scraped along the bottom catching anything and everything. When they pull it up and haul it ashore they open it to find a lot of good fish, but they also find a lot of bad fish. Remember that the Jewish dietary regulations stipulated that some kinds of fish, not to mention bottom feeders like shellfish weren’t to be eaten. So the fishermen would sort the good and the clean fish and throw back the unclean, the shrimp, the prawns, the lobsters, the crabs, and the catfish. Jesus paints a vivid picture to explain what that means in spiritual terms: At the end of the age God’s harvest will be brought before him and he’s going to pick out the good fish, he’s going to pick out the wheat – he’s going to pick out those who have been made righteous through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ and he will gather them home. The rest will be thrown in the fiery furnace where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” You see, we might tend to think of those whom God rejects as being more like old boots or tires caught in the dragnet; they don’t even look like fish. Or we think of them as rocks in the wheat field; no one’s going to mistake them for wheat. But Jesus talks about those being cast out, and says that in many respects they look just like the good fish or look just like the wheat. Again, there are a lot of people who call themselves Christians, but they’ve never truly made Christ their Lord. They still live for themselves. They may say the right things, but by their actions, by their lack of fruit, they prove their true state. They’re willing to give up an hour or two on Sunday, but they live the rest of the week for themselves. They may say that Christ is their redeemer, but their lives aren’t truly charaterised by the fruit of the Spirit, by love, joy, and peace. They may recite the Creed every Sunday, but during the week they cheat their boss, they act like a jerk, or they fail to meet their obligations to their wives and children. The come and sing praises on Sunday to a God they spend no time with the rest of the week and whose Holy Word they know nothing of because the only time they crack it open is for a few minutes in church. And yet, God is gracious and loving. He “desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live.” He ushered in his kingdom with the coming of his Son, Jesus Christ, and when he gave his people the gift of the Holy Spirit. But he hasn’t consummated it yet. Even the Canaanites, an evil and wicked people if ever there was one, God gave four hundred years to repent before he came in judgement and wiped them out. He gave them a chance: to turn to him or to prove just how much they deserved his wrath and punishment. And God has done the same thing again. He’s giving sinful men and women a chance to repent and turn to him. But his patience is not eternal in that sense. We have his promise that one day this two kingdom situation will come to an end. When his kingdom came, it marked the beginning of the end for the kingdom of the world, and when he returns God’s kingdom will be fully and totally realised. Jesus himself taught this. He told his disciples that there was not only to be a spiritual kingdom through this church age; he also told them that there would one day be a literal, physical, future kingdom too. In another parable he compared himself to a nobleman who went away to a far country to receive a kingdom and would then come back. In the meantime, though, that nobleman left gifts in the care of his servants, charging them to be faithful and to be ready to give a good accounting when he returned. At another time, after his resurrection, the disciples asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6). You see, they were still thinking he was the earthy Messiah who would drive out the Romans and restore the glory days of David and Solomon to Israel. Jesus answered them and said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8) When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” we acknowledge that Gods kingdom is here, but we also acknowledge that he’s still giving sinners a chance to change their loyalties. But we know time is short. When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” we remind ourselves that the work of the kingdom is to be witnesses of our Saviour and Lord. That we’re called to carry the message of God’s rule through Christ to our community, to our nation, and to our world. In conclusion, let me say again, God is using this present age to call out a people for himself. He’s taking people of every kind and every state and every condition from every part of the world and he’s turning them into men and women in whom Jesus Christ is present and in whom his character can be seen. But we also know that his kingdom will come fully in power in the personal rule of the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of history. The time is short. Each of us needs to ask: “Is Jesus Christ truly my Lord? Am I truly committed to him as my sovereign? Am I living as a citizen of his kingdom, loving and following his commands, and making his priorities my priorities? Or am I still living in my own kingdom? And we need to remember that as citizen of the kingdom of God, we represent it, we bear witness of the true king, in a world full of men and women who have rejected him and are blind to his sovereignty. We need to ask what we’re doing to win their souls for God and for his kingdom. Jesus commands us to go out and share the Good News, but he tells us even more emphatically, that the faith we profess with our lips has to be backed up by the way we live – by our making Jesus our Lord, not just our Saviour, by making his priorities our priorities, by knowing and keeping his Word, and by bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Please pray with me: Our Father in Heaven, we know that we are called to hallow and honour your holy name. We pray now that we would do that by humbly submitting ourselves to your sovereignty, that we would acknowledge your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ as our Lord and Master, not just as one who redeems. Work in us by the power of your Spirit, to give us a desire for you, to give us a desire to make your priorities our priorities, and give us the grace to be living witness of your kingdom. We ask this through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 6:9 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Hallowed be Your Name St. Matthew 6:9 by William Klock This morning I wan to continue in our study of the Lord’s Prayer by taking up the second half of Matthew 6:9. Jesus introduced the prayer by telling us to whom we pray; we start our prayer, “Our Father in heaven.” We saw that last week. Those words tell us who can pray and they remind us what a privilege it is for us, sinful men and women, to be able to come before the throne of our Heavenly Father. It’s a reminder that prayer is for Christians and Christians alone – that we can come only before the Father as his sons and daughters. And we can only be his sons and daughters by humbly acknowledging that we’re sinners and by putting our faith and trust in his righteous sacrifice on the cross. If we’re willing to put off every attempt to earn salvation on our own merit and if we’re willing to let Jesus do it for us, then he who was “firstborn among many brothers” presents us before his Father and we become is brothers and sisters by adoption. Again, prayer is for Christians – for those who follow Christ, for those who have made him their Saviour and Lord. But what do we do once when we’re in the presence of God? What do we ask him? What do we say to him? That’s what the disciples wanted to know as they saw Jesus in his all-night prayer sessions with the Father. How does he do it? What does he say? That’s what they were asking. And so Jesus outlines six petitions in verses 9 to 13: Our Father in heaven, (1) Hallowed be your name, (2) Your kingdom come, (3) Your will be done, On earth as in heaven. (4) Give us this day our daily bread. (5) Forgive us our sins As we forgive those who sin against us. (6) Lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. Notice the order of those petitions. The first three have to do with God’s honour and his interests. The second three have to do with our interests and our needs. Jesus didn’t order them that way randomly; he had a good reason. And again, this ties into the fact that prayer is for Christians. We all have unbelieving friends and family. We’ve been around them when they pray or when they talk about having prayed for something. Do you ever notice that when unbelievers talk about prayer, it’s always in respect to something they need. They’re having a hard time with life, so they prayed about it (or they want you to pray about). They’re having financial difficulties, so they ask God for help. They’re sick or a loved one is sick, so they ask God for help. And that’s just it. The natural man or woman is concerned only with the things they think are important – and God isn’t one of those things. In our natural state all we’re interested in getting from God is our needs met. If we do think about God, it’s only after we first think of ourselves. But Jesus reverses that. He puts first, Thy name, Thy kingdom, Thy will, and then, give us, lead us, deliver us. That’s a lesson we need to learn. And this doesn’t have to do just with prayer, but with every aspect of our worship, whether it’s what we do here on Sunday morning or the way we lead our lives in the world out there: If our worship is true and real worship, then the Father has to come first – and not just first – he has to be everything. We need to learn that it’s not about us. In fact, true worship happens when we forget ourselves and when we’re overwhelmed with the desire to see God glorified. In true worship and in true prayer, we need to sacrifice ourselves to the glory of God in the knowledge that nobody ever loses by what he sacrifices to the Father. This is a hard lesson to learn. Our natural tendency is to think of prayer as something that brings God into line with our own desires. We want something, so we’re going to petition God until he decides to give it to us. We pray as if God doesn’t know what he’s doing and we need to show him where he’s wrong. Think about it. God is sovereign. God is all-knowing, he’s all-powerful, and on top of that he is perfectly good, perfectly holy, perfectly righteous, perfectly just. God doesn’t make backup plans and he doesn’t need our feeble advice to help him figure out what he should do. What’s sad is that even those of us raised in Christian homes are often taught to do this right from the start. How many of you were taught to pray as kids, saying: Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake; I pray the Lord my soul to take. Right from the start we’re taught that prayer is little or nothing more than bringing a list of our personal requests to God. And then as we get older we keep doing the same thing – we just get more sophisticated about it. Do you ever bargain with God? Do you ever offer him this in exchange for that; you’ll do this for him, if he’ll do that for you. “I’ll scratch your back, God, if you’ll scratch mine.” This is what Jacob did the morning after he ran away from Esau. God gave him a vision that first night of a ladder going up to heaven with angels going up and down. Jacob was worried about what was going to happen to him and God gave him a not-so-subtle reminder that he was looking out for him. But what does Jacob do? He made a vow, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you” (Genesis 28:20-22). Wow! Isn’t that generous and noble of Jacob? “God, ifyou prove yourself doing all these things for me, then you can be my God and I’ll start tithing.” And yet we tend to do the same thing. We pray for things first (that might take us from God), for friends (that might compete for his friendship), or for an ordering of events (that might accomplish our plans, but not his). When I first went away to University I was an immature Christian riding on the coattails of my parents’ faith. I didn’t really know God. But he put me in a situation where I was utterly alone and had no friends. And for most of that time I was praying and asking him to give me friends – even just one – until I was finally desperate enough to turn to him as my friend. And it’s funny that once I acknowledged God’s presence and made a commitment to look to him to meet my needs, that my prayers for human friends were answered. You see, we need to learn to start our prayers thinking about God’s honour and the advancement of his purposes in the world. We need to start by looking for what he wants from us. What we want from him comes last. And so Jesus tells us that when we pray our first petition to our Heavenly Father is: “Hallowed by your name.” Someone asked me this week, “What does that mean?” She was specifically asking what “hallowed” means. And I realised that it’s not really a word that we use much anymore. The Greek word that St. Matthew uses here is a form of the word that we translate into English as “holy.” In other places in the New Testament we translate it “saint” or “sanctify.” Most of the time it describes something that’s been set aside for God’s use. The altars and utensils in the Temple were set apart for God’s use in the worship of Israel. As Christians we bless or consecrate things like our Holy Table, or the Communion vessels, our building, or even our ministers for the purpose of setting them apart for God’s use. We as Christians are called “holy” because God has set us apart for his use. But what does it mean to set God or his name apart? There’s only one other place in the New Testament where this word is used of God and it helps show us what Jesus means. First Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (KJV). What St. Peter is saying is this, “Give God the place in your heart that he deserves. Put him first.” And that’s what Jesus is getting at when he tells us to pray, “hallowed by your name.” But what Jesus says is a lot broader. Think of it in terms of the first of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:2-3: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” When we pray Jesus’ model prayer, when we pray “Our Father in heaven,” we’re addressing the God who brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and who, through the death of his Son, brought us out of slavery to sin. And when we pray “hallowed be your name,” we affirm that we have no other gods – no things, no people, no things we’ve made into idols – before him. You could sort of rephrase those first lines of the Lord’s Prayer saying, “My Father in heaven, my first desire is that in everything you might have pre-eminence.” That’s the first half of the petition; that’s what it means to “hallow” something, but what does it mean that God’s name be “hallowed.” We don’t think much about names. We pick our kids’ names based on the fact that we like the sound of them or because we had a friend or a close relative with that name, but it’s not very often we name our kids based on what the name actually means. In fact, it’s often a surprise when we do find out what our names mean. And yet that wasn’t the case in the Bible, and it’s definitely not the case with God. He has lots of names in Scripture, but those names reveal who he is – they tell us about his character, his acts in history, and his very being as Saviour and Redeemer. Think back to Moses standing before the burning bush, kicking his shoes off at the realisation that he was standing on holy ground. Not that the ground was holy of its own accord, but that it was holy because both he and the ground were in the presence of a holy God. Moses asked God what his name was, and God told him, “I AM who I AM.” That’s where the Hebrew word “Yahweh” comes from. God is the I AM. He’s so great, so awesome, so magnificent, so powerful that his very name isn’t so much a proper name (like Zeus or Baal), but something that reflects his being. Do we honour God for who he is? Do we honour God in his perfection of being? Think of him as Creator. In Genesis 1 we’re told at the very beginning of the story that “God created the heaven and the earth.” He’s the one responsible for the sun, moon, starts, and planets. He created the trees and the mountains, the flowers and the plains, the fish and the sea. He formed and brought life to every thing that lives. He formed man out of the dirt and breathed into him the divine breath of life. Do you honour him as the one and only Creator? Isaac Watts, the famous poet and hymn writer wrote: I sing the mighty power of God, That made the mountains rise, That spread the flowing seas abroad, And built the lofty skies. I sing the goodness of the Lord, That filled the earth with food; He formed the creatures with his word, And then pronounced them good. Lord! How thy wonders are displayed Where’re I turn my eye! If I survey the ground I tread, Or gaze upon the sky. Creatures as numerous as we Are subject to Thy care; There’s not a place where we can flee, But God is present there. When we pray “hallowed be your name,” we can ask that God be honoured as the Creator – not just by us, but by all the world. What about honouring God as the “Most High” – as ruler of the heavens and the earth? Do you honour God in that? When Abraham arrived at Jerusalem, he was met by Melchizedek, who was the king and high priest there. We’re told he was a priest of El Elyon, of God Most High, and he blessed Abraham saying, “Blessed by Abraham by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” El Elyon, God Most High, describes God as sovereign over his creation. Moses used the same name for God when he sang his praises: “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God” (Deuteronomy 32:7-8). Do we honour God as ruler of heaven and earth? We don’t give him that honour when we doubt his sovereignty in our lives and in the lives of others. We don’t give him this honour when we complain about the state of the world or ask how we’re going to make it through this week, or this month, or this year. But we do honour him when we acknowledge him as the one who does all things well, who cares for us, and who continually works to preserve and govern all his creatures and all their actions. Do you honour God as Redeemer? As the one who has Redeemed you? Because of sin, God determined to destroy our entire race with a flood, but he also determined to save Noah and his family in the ark. God showed Noah how to build it, he instructed him how to take two of every animal into it and seven of every clean animal, and finally the Redeemer himself shut the door and sealed Noah into the ark, safe from his own wrath as the flood came pouring down. Who saves? God does. That’s the meaning of the name Jesus: “I AM saves.” In fact, God even taught Noah a new name for himself: Yahweh Yireh which means “the Lord will provide.” But this isn’t just God manifesting himself to Noah. We experience God as the one who saves and the one who provides and we experience it personally through the saving work of Jesus Christ. Do you know God as your Redeemer and as your Provider? Do you know him as the one who came in the person of Jesus Christ to die on the cross for you, to purchase you out of the slavery of sin and to draw you back to himself in love? You can never fully honour God until you honour him in his character as Redeemer. But that’s still not enough. The most frequent name for God used by the Jews was Adonai – “Lord.” Is he your Lord? Is he the one to whom you give your highest allegiance? Is he the one who directs your life in every way and in every thing? It isn’t enough to honour God as Redeemer – he has to be your Lord too. And we never fully honour him until we make him our Lord. You see, as Christians we bear the name of God. When we walk out these doors into the Comox Valley, we bear his name. We say we are his followers, but do we honour his name in the way we live? We say we love Jesus, but Jesus tells us that if we love him we will keep his commandments – that if we love him we will do our best with the help of the Holy Spirit to conform ourselves to his image. None of us will ever do it with perfection, but are we even trying? Or are we tarnishing the name of God by the way we live? And that brings us full circle, because, dear friends, God’s name will be hallowed and honoured. Through the prophet Isaiah, God promised that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. But there will be two kinds of people there on that day. There will be the people whom Christ has redeemed for himself by his own blood, people who know God intimately, who know his ways, who know his Word given in Holy Scripture, who have spent their lives growing in godliness and growing in holiness. These are the people who knew that once they were enemies of God, that the only thing they were capable of was hating God and hating his name and hating his holiness. These are the people that know that while they were yet sinners, while they were his enemies, Christ died for them that they might be given new life and renewed and reborn hearts full of love for God. These are the people who bow their knees to honour God because they love him, because he his holy and because he has redeemed them. But there’s another group of people who will bow their knees before God on that day. These are the people who rejected Christ. These are the people who insisted on doing it their own way, who insisted on coming to God based on their own merit. These are the ones who created a false image of God – an unholy God who was willing to tolerate or even praise their sins. These are the natural men and women. And yet God tells us that on that day, when they see him revealed in all of his glorious majesty, when they see his holiness revealed, when they see his justice revealed, they will bow before him too – and in light of the awesomeness of God’s holiness, they will know immediately that their own unholiness merits the Lake of Fire. And as much as they won’t want to go there, I suspect that on that day there will be no complaints, because what we see darkly in a mirror now, will shine on that day like the noon-day sun in brightness that we can’t even comprehend. As the redeemed bow their knees to give honour to their saviour, so will the unredeemed – but for them it will be too late. Each of us needs to ask: “Which am I?” Talk is cheap. Jesus warned that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” is really his follower. His real followers are the ones who show they love him by keeping his commandments. His followers are the ones who faithfully show his character to a world in need of a Saviour. His followers are the ones who daily seek to know him and to know him better. His followers are the ones who daily study the Scriptures to know God better and his followers are the ones who daily come before him in prayer, truly seeking to know how they can see his name honoured. Please pray with me: Our Father in Heaven, teach us what it means to honour your name. Give us a hunger to know who you are and to know your ways, that we may honour you in how we live our lives. Show each of us how to turn worship into the way we live, not just what we do on Sunday mornings. Show us how to honour you as we live our lives in the world outside these walls, that other would be draw to you because of us. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 6:9 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Our Father St. Matthew 6:9 by William Klock Last week we looked at Jesus’ introduction to his teaching on prayer. And if you remember, what we saw there was that true prayer is prayer that is made in the presence of God the Father, that we enter (and can only enter) the Father’s presence through his Son, Jesus Christ, and that we are taken there by the Holy Spirit who indwells each of us in fulfilment of the promise of Jesus. And yet understanding all this only gets us so far. It gets us to the point of prayer, but it doesn’t tell us what we do when we enter into God’s presence. And that’s the real question that so many Christians ask. Most of know some great saints who spend hours every day in prayer, and if we don’t know anyone like that personally (or because of how those great prayer warriors are, you may know them, but not know about their prayer life), we’ve all read about some of the great saints of the past who excelled in prayer. I remember as a kid going with my mom to visit one elderly lady from our church. She was blind and didn’t make it to church much at that point, but she prayed for our church, for our ministers and for our missionaries ever day. Mom would go to pray with her sometimes and I can remember as a kid having to wait downstairs in a dark and formal living room that hadn’t been redecorated since 1925. I’d take a book to read, but even then I’d start to get bored and I would wonder how anyone could possibly pray for that long. I remember my youth minister who talked about spending an hour or two every morning to pray. At that time I thought they were crazy. I could barely fill five minutes with prayer. But as I got older I began to appreciate more those saints who were not only able to pray for hours at a time, but actually wanted to prayed for hours at a time and enjoyed it! I read about men like John Wesley who was known for praying four hours or more a day and who questioned the Christian maturity of anyone who spent less time than that in prayer. As someone who felt pressed for time in praying and left it out of my routine when things got busy, I read about Martin Luther who also prayed for hours a day. And when someone once asked him what he did for prayer on the days when he was busiest and had the most going on, he replied that those were the days he spent the most time in prayer. Have any of you ever heard of Peter Beskindorf? Peter Beskindorf was a Wittenburg barber who also happened to have the privilege of having Martin Luther sit in his barber chair on a regular basis. Master Peter knew about Luther’s prayer life, and one day he screwed up his courage and asked the great Reformer if he would be willing to teach him how to pray. And out of that request came Luther’s little spiritual classic, A Simple Way to Pray. But it’s not only Master Peter, or even we ourselves who are so often at a loss as to what to pray. Even Jesus’ disciples asked this question. They saw Our Lord himself at prayer, sometimes praying all night long, and they had to be asking themselves, “What does he talk about with God for so long? How does he stay focused? I run out of things to pray about after five minutes. What is it that allows him to pray for so long? How is it so easy and comfortable for him?” And so, as St. Luke records, they went to him and asked, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” I think that all of us have been at that point. I think we all realise that more than anything else, this is probably our greatest need. Any other problem we might have in our spiritual lives is pretty small in comparison and, if we knew how to pray and could throw ourselves into it like Jesus did, most of those other problems would probably resolve themselves. And so in answer to this question, Jesus gives us his model prayer. He says, “Pray then like this:” Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins As we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. His point wasn’t to say, “Every time you pray, pray this prayer word for word.” It does provide us with a common form that we pray when we gather together, but it points us beyond just reciting it. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives us a model to follow, and in his model is everything we need to pray for in outline form. Luther advised Peter Beskindorf to daily pray through the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer – not just praying them, but praying through them and allowing those three texts to direct his prayers. But Luther also commented that many times, after a long day, it was all he could do to recite the Lord’s Prayer before he fell into bed – and when he could do nothing more, that was enough, because it’s all there. If you want to study on your own, go onto the Internet and lookup what Luther had to say about the Lord’s Prayer. He wrote a lot about it. Or go to the Church Fathers. Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Tertullian, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Cyprian all wrote at length on the Lord’s Prayer and we still have their writings. Go to the Prayer Book and read what the Catechism has to say about Jesus’ Prayer, or better yet, study the last nine questions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It was Luther’s advice that started me off on the right track as I asked that question, “How should I pray?” But the two things that really revolutionised things for me are the Prayer Book and the Psalms. It was when I began praying the Daily Office using Morning and Evening Prayer from the Prayer Book that I suddenly came to understand what Luther was getting at and it was that form in the Prayer Book that fleshed out the model that Jesus gives us and that took the focus of my prayer off of me and put it on God himself. And it was the Prayer Book that really introduced me to the Psalms. I struggled with them for a long time and then a good friend said, “Don’t read the Psalms; pray the Psalms.” That was revolutionary. The Psalms are the prayers and praises of the Old Testament saints sung to God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Suddenly I came to understand what Christians have done for two thousand years in taking God’s Word and praying it back to him. And again, the Prayer Book, in keeping with Christian tradition, breaks up the Psalter so that you can pray it twice each day and cover the whole thing once every month. And it was as I found these disciplines of prayer that Christians have used since time immemorial, that I began to understand how the great saints could spend hours in prayer each day. Once the focus was on God instead of myself and my own needs it made a huge difference. For the next few weeks I want to look at the model prayer that Jesus give us in the Sermon on the Mount, because if we can understand his model better it we can pray as he prayed. Today I want to look at how Jesus begins his prayer. Notice the first line. Jesus addresses the prayer to “Our Father in Heaven.” I hope that reminds you of what I said last week. This answers the question of who can pray. To really understand what Jesus is saying when he tells us to address our prayers to our heavenly Father, we have to understand that no Jew in the Old Testament ever addressed God as “my Father.” When Jesus spoke these words to the people gathered there on the hillside that day, or even to his disciples as St. Luke records, those words would have been shocking. The Jews did understand God in an abstract sense to be the “Father of Israel,” but it wasn’t in a personal sense. David writes in Psalm 103:13, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.” Isaiah wrote, “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). But no Jew addressed God directly as “my Father.” In the handful of Old Testament passages that describe God as a father, the point was to show how Israel had failed to live up to the family relationship. God makes this point through Jeremiah: I said, How I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beautiful of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me. Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband, so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 3:19-20) The fact is that between the time of Jeremiah and Jesus the gulf between God and his people was even wider. In that time the Jews even stopped using God’s own proper name when they prayed or talked about him. And so Jesus stepped into that time of separation between God and man and called God his “Father.” We know that the disciples were impressed by this, because all four Gospels tell us that Jesus prayed like this and that he prayed like this all the time. The only time we’re told that Jesus didn’t address God as his Father was when he was dying on the cross and cried out, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” That prayer was wrung from his lips at the very moment he took on himself the sins of our entire race and the moment in which that intimate relationship he had with his Father was temporarily broken. The rest of the time Jesus always and everywhere prayed boldly to his Father in Heaven and it caused the religious leaders of the day to accuse him of blasphemy. So what does this mean for us when we pray? I mean, Jesus was truly the Son of God. Of course he could address him as Father. And yet in telling his disciples to pray the way he did, he’s telling them that the same relationship he has with his Father can be had by all who put their trust in him and whose sins were to be forgiven in short order by his suffering on their behalf. Jesus tells them to come to God as God’s own children and that God was their Father. Remember what Jesus said to Mary after his resurrection? He told her, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17). You see, it’s as God’s children that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ come to him. And that’s something key we need to take away from this. There are a lot of people out there claiming God’s their Father when he’s not. Lots of people make the claim that we’re all sons of God. And yet Holy Scripture makes it clear that God is most certainly not the father of all men and women. He is uniquely the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Period. And he becomesthe Father only of those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ and who are united to him in faith through the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the only natural Son of God and those who believe in him become the adopted sons and daughters of God. Jesus didn’t just imply this. Think about the Jews. If any group of people had a right to claim they were sons of God it was they. And they did that by virtue of their circumcision and their being descendants of Abraham, and yet when a group of Jews came to Jesus thinking they were God’s sons, Jesus told them they were really children of the devil. St. John tells us (Chapter Eight) that Jesus had been teaching in Jerusalem and had made the statement, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Jews were indignant at that and they said to him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” And Jesus said, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you….If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.” And of course the Jews got angry at that and accused him of being illegitimate. Jesus responded in righteous anger and told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. Those are harsh words, but they serve as a warning. You see, there are two families in this world. There’s Adam’s family and there’s God’s family. Every one of us is born into Adam’s. God’s elect are reborn into his family. St. Paul tells us that those reborn were once children of darkness, but are now children of light (Ephesians 5:8). They were dead in their sins, but are now alive to Christ (Ephesians 2:1). They were once children of wrath and of disobedience, but now they are children of love, faith, and obedience (Ephesians 2:2-3). These are God’s children and they and they alone can come to God as their Father. But there’s another side to addressing God as our Father that we need to understand. Here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to pray to our Father and St. Matthew uses the normal Greek word pater. But when we look at Jesus own prayers, he didn’t use the normal word for “father.” He used the Aramaic word abba. And abba means “papa” or “daddy.” St. Mark describes this in his telling of Christ’s prayer in the garden on the night he was taken away to be crucified. “Abba, Father,” he said, “all things are possible for you” (Mark 14:36). That was Jesus way of addressing God, and yet St. Paul tells us that the early Christians followed his example. He wrote to the Romans and told them, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). And he wrote to the Galatians, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6). Think about that. Do you know the almighty God of the universe as your “daddy?” That fact alone right there should have a significant impact on your prayer life! If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have the privilege of coming to God as your “daddy.” I take great comfort in that when I’m aware of my need to confess my sins. I don’t come cowering as a criminal before the throne of the Almighty Judge. I come to my daddy, confident in the knowledge that he loves me and wants to forgive me – and that because I have put my faith in his Son, he will forgive me. And if your prayer life (or your spiritual life in general) isn’t what it should be, think about what a daddy does. Remember when you learned to ride a bike? I remember my daddy at first walking along beside me as he held the back of my seat. Then he’d run along beside me holding the bike until I was ready to take off on my own. And when I crashed and fell, my daddy was there to dust me off and put me back on the bike. Our abba does the same thing for us spiritually. Hosea understood this when he wrote: Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? (Hosea 11:3-4) God loves us the same way. He will keep us from stumbling and he will present us faultless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude 24). Is he your daddy? If he is you can have confidence knowing that he will care for you all the days of your life. Jesus asked the people listening to the Sermon on the Mount: Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11) If we as imperfect and sinful human parents naturally care for our children, how much more will our perfect heavenly father perfectly care for us. Jesus gives us great assurance: Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?...And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25, 28-33) Again, is he your daddy? If he is, you can have confidence that he will always be going before you and leading you by the hand. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1 NIV). Is he your daddy? If he is, you’ll know that you belong to him forever and that he will never let anything get in the way of leading, teaching, and training you for work in his Kingdom. Please pray with me: Abba, Father, through our new life in Christ, you have adopted us as your own sons and daughters. We thank you for the gift of grace that we could never deserve as Adam’s children. Remind us as we come to you, that we come as children to their heavenly Father who loves us and desires the best for us. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 6:5-8 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount When You Pray St. Matthew 6:5-8 by William Klock This morning I want to jump back to Matthew 6:5. Remember that here in Chapter 6 Jesus tells us about the externals of our religion by focusing on the three main outward acts of piety that the Jews were concerned with: giving, prayer, and fasting. We skipped over prayer. Now I want to take some time to look at in more detail, because I think that of these three prayer is the most important, but at the same time it’s one of the least understood (or most misunderstood) aspects of the Christian life. One of the most frequent questions people as me as a minister is “How should I pray?” Or people ask me what they’re doing wrong when they pray and don’t receive an answer or don’t feel the presence of God with them. The fact is that we all have something to learn about prayer. None of us has a perfect understanding of God’s ways and none of us has a perfect understanding of how to approach him. I don’t think any Christian can boast of having a perfect prayer life. And this isn’t a new problem. That’s why Jesus taught his disciples about prayer and we can learn a lot from what he says here and especially from his sample prayer: the “Lord’s Prayer.” But he starts saying this. Follow along with me in Matthew 6:5-8: And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. I want to look at three main points that come out of what Jesus says in these verses about prayer, and the first one of those points is that true prayer is that which is offered to God, our heavenly Father. That might seem obvious, but look at what Jesus says here. He reminds us of the hypocrites, like the Pharisees, who would stand in the front of the synagogue and pray loud and elaborate prayers, not with God as their audience, but only really caring that the other people there noticed them and thought they were extra holy. The Jews were supposed to pray three times a day and Jesus is addressing those who chose to stop what they were doing and make a show of their prayers. If their work required their attention, some men might quietly pause to pray. Others would keep going about their business while praying, but the hypocrite would see the time and stop on the street corner, kneel down, and put on a show for everyone around to see. You see, all prayers are not offered to God. In fact, I’d venture to say that very few prayers are really offered to God. And I’m not just talking about pagan prayers offered to false gods. Even in our churches, I think that maybe one in a hundred prayers might truly be offered to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’re often just like the Pharisees. Lots of our prayers are done to be seen by others. I find that I often have to check myself at the pulpit and at the altar and ask, “Is this being offered to God or to men?” Each of us needs to ask if our prayers bring us into the presence of God or if they’re done for the sake of our audience. If we’re honest with ourselves, when we pray we’re more often thinking about other things. Maybe you’re praying in a group and you spend most of the time thinking not about what is being prayed by someone else, but thinking about what you’re going to pray and making sure you’ve composed it just right. Even when we are focused on prayer, we’re often thinking more about what we’re asking for than about the great God we are approaching when we ask. R.A. Torrey said, “We should never utter one syllable of prayer, either in public or in private, until we are definitely conscious that we have come into the presence of God and are actually praying to him.” That’s a hard thing to do. Torrey’s experience is probably something that a lot of us can identify with. He says, “I can remember when that thought transformed my prayer life. I was brought up to pray. I was taught to pray so early in life that I have not the slightest recollection of who taught me to pray….Nevertheless, prayer was largely a matter of form. There was little real thought of God, and no real approach to God. And even after I was converted, yes, even after I had entered the ministry prayer was largely a matter of form.” “But,” he says, “the day came when I realised what real prayer meant, realised that prayer was having an audience with God, actually coming into the presence of God and asking and getting things from him. And the realisation of that fact transformed my prayer life. Before that, prayer had been mere duty, and sometimes a very irksome duty, but from that time on prayer has been not merely a duty but a privilege, one of the most highly esteemed privileges of life. Before that the thought that I had was, ‘How much time must I spend in prayer?’ The thought that now possesses me is, ‘How much time may I spend in prayer without neglecting the other privileges and duties of life?’” Some of us are like R.A. Torrey and it takes us a long time to figure that out. Lots of Christians never figure out what it means to pray to God. If we’re an average evangelical church, statistically only about 15% of you are spending time in regular prayer with God on at least a daily basis. And a big part of that is that we never grasp what real prayer is – because we never learn what it means to enter the presence of God. Psychiatrists say that a lot of our prayer is nothing more than wish-fulfilment – we just recite over and over what we want to see happen. They’re probably right. Because when Jesus tells us about real prayer he says that we are to pray conscious of being in God’s presence and when we are in real communion with him. And that’s why I frequently say, if you’re prayer life isn’t what it should be – if you aren’t finding communion with God, if coming to his Table isn’t providing you a sense of his presence – you need to deal with the sin in your life. You need to confess it and repent of it and allow that broken communion with God to be restored. And that naturally brings up the second point. If prayer is communion with God, how can sinful men and women enter into the presence of our God who is perfectly holy? Can we do it? If we can, what does that mean for the way that we approach God? And the answer is our second principle. True prayer is prayer offered to God the Father on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ, his Son. The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it this way: Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our heartssprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.(Hebrews 10:19, 22) Jesus teaches us the same principle when he says in St. John’s Gospel: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) What does that mean? Well, this is what we celebrated a few minutes ago when we baptised Ginger into the Church – into the Body of Christ. It means that as sinful men and women God would have to turn us out of his presence. He’s holy – perfectly holy – and we’re not. We and God are kind of like oil and water or like magnetic opposites. Holiness and unholiness don’t mix. You can’t have darkness in the presence of light. God’s very being and character mean that despite his love for us, he must turn away from everything that is unholy and imperfect if he is to be true to his Word and true to his very nature. If Jesus had not come to pay the penalty for our sin, we would have no access to the holy throne of God. Every prayer would be rejected. The Good News is that every sinful man and woman can come into the presence of our holy God. Through Jesus Christ we can be cleansed and purified and, covered by his perfect righteousness, we are accepted into God’s presence. In fact, through Jesus Christ we are not only allowed into God’s presence – we’re encouraged and exhorted to come. He expects us! But this also means that prayer is only for those who come to God through Jesus Christ – for those who realise that they can’t come to God on their own merits. Prayer is not for atheists. It’s not for people who are morally “good,” but think of Jesus as just another good man or great teacher. The best of us, the holiest man or woman who has ever lived, can never compare to the perfect holiness of God. Prayer is for Christians and for Christians alone. None of us can approach God on our own merit and expect him to hear us, let alone give us anything. But it is by the shed blood of Jesus Christ that the worst sinner in the world can come any time and with boldness before the throne of God to pour out the deepest desires of his heart and receive what he asks for. All we have to do is humble ourselves and acknowledge that we merit nothing and then turn to Jesus Christ and let him be the righteousness we don’t and never will have. That’s an awesome thing and it’s possible because of the death of Jesus Christ. God loved us enough to send us his only Son to pay the penalty we deserved. You see, true prayer is prayer to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. But there’s another important point Jesus makes here. Prayer is offered to God and it’s made through Jesus Christ, but it’s also in the Holy Spirit. St. Paul stresses this to the Ephesian Christians. In 2:18 he says, “Through him [that is, through Jesus Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Paul tells us, again, that when we pray, we approach the Father through Jesus Christ, but he also says here that when we do so, we make our prayers in the Holy Spirit. Jesus opens the way to the Father, but it’s the Holy Spirit dwelling in us that leads us through the door into the throne room. The work of the Spirit is to lead us to God, to show us where God is, and basically to make us aware of God as we pray. It’s the indwelling Holy Spirit, given to us by Jesus Christ, that “tunes” us into God. Without the Spirit we wouldn’t know where to go. The Greek word that St. Paul uses actually refers to an “introduction.” And that’s what the Spirit does: he introduces us to God and makes him real to us. And at the same time he shows us how to pray. St. Paul wrote to the Romans: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27) This is why I have a problem with those who say that you can be a Christians, but not be filled with the Holy Spirit. You might as well say that you can be a Christian and not have Jesus Christ or not have access to the Father. All three persons of the Holy Trinity are with us as Christians. Prayer is being in the presence of the Father, but we can’t get there without Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. But even with the Spirit indwelling us, there are times when we pray and feel far from God or we feel like our prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling. When we feel that way one of two things is probably wrong. The first thing is that we may be hindered by sin in our lives. David says in Psalm 66:18, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Sin pushes us out of God’s holy presence. If God doesn’t seem near, ask the Spirit to show where you have missed the mark and then confess that sin to God openly. But the other problem we have is distraction. Other things can fill our attention and crowd out or obscure a sense of God’s presence. Those are times when we simply need to be still. We need to stop and ask God to work through his Holy Spirit to lead us back into his presence. I know from my own experience, from what other Christians have told me, and from many the great saints of the past have written, that some of our best time of prayer are the ones that start out without a sense of God’s presence, but come into it fully by praying. But so far in these three things, we’ve really only looked at our end of prayer – the us talking to God part. Jesus addresses the other half too. He reminds us that God is more willing to answer our prayers than we are to pray and that, because of that, the Christian who prays according to God’s will, can pray with the greatest of confidence. He said, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” John Newton probably had this in mind when we wrote: Come, my soul, thy suit prepare: Jesus loves to answer prayer; He, himself has bid thee pray, Therefore will not say thee nay. That doesn’t mean that God’s like a genie who has to grant whatever thing we ask him for. God is willing, yes. But if we expect to receive the things we ask for, we have to ask according to his will and according to his ways. This seems to be where a lot of Christians get into trouble. They come to God with confidence and ask for all sorts of things, but then they get frustrated when they don’t get them. The problem is that they aren’t asking according to God’s will. And the only place we’re going to learn God’s will is by reading the book he left for us – the book that he gave us specifically so we could know him and know his will and his ways. St. John understood this. In his first, 3:22, he writes something really profound about prayer. He says, “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments anddo what pleases him.” Those are amazing words and they echo exactly what Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount. The Apostle John saw his prayers answered and he had confidence that they would continue to be answered. We look at that and scratch out heads. “John, how can you say that? My prayers aren’t always answered!” And Johns says, “God answers my prayers because I keep his commandments and because I do the things that please him.” John understood just what we’ve been talking about: sin hinders our prayers, and for them to be answered, we need to pray what is pleasing to him and what is according to his will. I mentioned R.A. Torrey earlier. Let me close with a story he tells about a woman from his first pastorate. She attended his church regularly, but she wasn’t a member. One day he approached her about this and her response was that she simply didn’t believe the Bible. He asked her why. And she said, “Because I have tried its promises and found them untrue.” So he asked her to give him an example of one promise that she had found untrue. She said, “The promise that says that whatever things you desire when you pray, believe that you shall receive them and you shall have them. Once I prayed for something very earnestly, but I did not receive it. Isn’t it true that this promise failed?” He told her, “Not at all.” “But doesn’t it say that you shall receive whatever you ask for if you believe?” Torrey agreed that she wasn’t too far off on that one. But he also said, “You first have to ask yourself if you are one of the ‘you’s.’” She didn’t understand him so he asked again, “Are you one of the people to whom the promise is made?” She was a little indignant. “Isn’t it made to every professing Christian?” Torrey said, “Certainly not! God defines very clearly in his Word just to whom his promises to answer prayer are made.” She said, “It does?” When she asked to see the verse, he took her to this last verse we read from 1 John: “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments anddo what pleases him.” The prayers that God answers are made by those believers in Jesus Christ who keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. Torrey told her, “Those are the ‘you’s.’” Then he asked her, “Do you keep his commandments?” She had to admit that she didn’t. And she came back to God and eventually became one of the most active and useful members of his congregation. But you see, I know for a fact that this woman wasn’t alone. There are lots and lots of Christians, even many in our church, who are just like her. It’s sad and there’s no reason for this to be true of anyone. But you need to ask yourself: are you one of the “you’s?” Are you someone who knows the Word of God and who desires God and seeks to follow his ways and keep his commandments. Are you one who desires to please God? If you are, then you can pray with great confidence – to God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. Please pray with me: Almighty God and Father, give you thanks that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us so that the doorway to your throne would be opened to those who put their trust in him. Move in us by your Spirit to purify our hearts and to draw us closer to your throne, through your Son, and give us a desire to do that which is pleasing to you. And drive us to the study of your Word we might grow to know your will and make our petitions in full accord with it. We ask this, coming to you now through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 6:16-18 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount The Discipline of Fasting St. Matthew 6:16-18 by William Klock Today I want to jump ahead twelve verses in Matthew Six, to look at the sixteenth through eighteenth verses. Next week we’ll back up and look at the verses in between, where Jesus tells us about the discipline of prayer and gives us what we know as the “Lord’s Prayer” as an example to follow. Since I want to look at what Jesus has to say about prayer in depth, we’re going to skip over it this week. You see, in these first eighteen verses of Chapter Six Jesus describes the outward religion of his followers – the outward acts of piety. And he does this in a very Jewish way. For the Jews there were three main outward acts that showed their faith: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. We looked at almsgiving last week and this week I want to look at what Jesus tells us about fasting. In each case, Jesus contrast the Biblical understanding of these outward acts with what had become the norm in his day. The Jews had come to see them as things you did in order to show other people how religious you were. The Pharisees made a show of giving to the poor and of making their contributions at the Temple. Jesus gives the example of the Pharisee going to the Temple and praying loudly before everyone there and giving thanks that he was not like the poor, scum, tax collector kneeling humbly in the back. And here he tells us that in the same way, our fasting is to be done before God, not as a spiritual show to be put on before men. Now, I think that we all understand the concepts of giving and of prayer – even if we don’t do those things as often as we should. But fasting is something foreign to our culture, and for that reason it’s foreign to a lot of us in the Church. And yet Jesus, in these verses assumes that his disciples will fast. Look at his instructions in verses 16-18: And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Most modern Christians live as if these verses don’t exist. As Evangelicals we tend to focus on inward religion or religion of the heart, but we have a hard time with an external and bodily practice like fasting. If we think of fasting at all, we might think of it as an Old Testament thing; as something that the Jews did on the Day of Atonement, but a thing that Jesus did away with. After all, it was John the Baptist’s disciples who came to Jesus asking why his disciples didn’t fast like they did. Jesus told them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast” (Mark 2:18). But the fact is that Jesus himself went into the wilderness at the start of his ministry and fasted for forty days and nights. When he answered the people who criticised his disciples for not fasting, he did also tell them, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (Mark 2:20). Again, Jesus tells us here in Matthew Six how to fast on the assumption that we would. And in both Acts and the Epistles we see the apostles fasting. So we can’t just say that fasting is an Old Testament thing, a Roman Catholic thing, or even an Anglo-Catholic thing. S let’s look at the Old Testament first to see what it says about fasting. As I just said, the first instance of fasting is what God commanded the Jews to do each year on the Day of Atonement. God connected it with mourning for sin and repentance of it. On that one day each year the Jews were to mourn their sins and look for the reconciliation that God had provided through the sacrifices. So it’s no surprise that “fasting” and “humbling oneself before God” were seen as pretty much the same thing. When a Jewish man or woman wanted to show their penitence for past sin, they would weep and fast. When the Jews returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian exile, they had forgotten the commands God had given their ancestors. They often lived in gross sin, but didn’t realise it because of their ignorance for God’s Law. So when the Book of the Law was read to them and they became aware of their sin, Nehemiah called the people to a national day of repentance. He called them to put on sackcloth and to fast while they gathered to confess their sins. The book of Jonah tells us that when the people of Ninevah responded to Jonah’s preaching and repented, they did so by proclaiming a city-wide fast and by putting on sackcloth. When Daniel sought after God, he first made a confession of his sins and the sins of his people, prayerfully, having put on sackcloth and ashes and after he had fasted. And think of Saul of Tarsus. When he came to Christ he was moved to penitence for his persecution of Christians and didn’t eat or drink anything for three days. Even today, when we as God’s people are convicted of our sins and moved by the Spirit to repentance, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for us to mourn, weep, and fast. Honestly, I think we could be better served with a national day of repentance and fasting than by a national day of prayer. Back in the middle of the Sixteenth Century, just after the Reformation in England, the leading bishops of the Church of England wrote two books of homilies or sermons to be read in the churches. A lot of the clergy were poorly educated and didn’t know how to preach, but there was also a need to teach the people the Bible – something that had been lacking for centuries. One of those homilies has to do with fasting and it suggests that fasting is one way we can apply to ourselves Jesus’ statement, “when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in that day.” The homily makes the point that Christ the bridegroom is “with us” and that we are enjoying the marriage feast when we are rejoicing in him and the salvation he gives. But it says, the bridegroom is “taken away from us” and the feast is put on hold when we are oppressed by defeat, affliction, and adversity. “Then is it a fit time,” says the homily, “for that man to humble himself to Almighty God by fasting, and to mourn and bewail his sins with a sorrowful heart.” Do you ever feel far from God? That’s a good time to examine your life in light of God’s commandments and spend some time fasting, praying, and mourning your sin, asking for forgiveness and a measure of grace. But Scripture doesn’t just link fasting with mourning; it also links fasting with prayer. In the Bible we see many of the great saints humbling themselves before God as a way of showing how they depended on him for future mercies. It’s not that fasting while praying was what happened all the time, but we do see the example of people who, when the need was great – when they were seeking God’s direction or his blessing – set aside worldly distractions so that they could pray more fervently. Moses fasted on Mt. Sinai after the covenant was renewed and when God had taken Israel to be his people. Jehosaphat saw the armies of Moab and Ammon advancing toward him and “set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:3). Before Queen Esther took her life into her hands by approaching the king uninvited, she asked Mordecai to gather all the Jews and to hold a fast on her behalf. Ezra proclaimed a fast before leading the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem, “that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey” (Ezra 8:21). Again, Jesus fasted at the beginning of his public ministry, and the Apostles themselves followed his example. Before Paul and Barnabas set out on their first missionary journey, the church at Antioch prayed and fasted. They knew that before we set out to do big things for God, we need seek his guidance and blessing. Finally, the third reason we find for fasting in Scripture has to do with self-discipline and self-control. I didn’t really understand this aspect of fasting until I was talking with another priest about the subject of natural family planning. I had always thought about it from a pro-life standpoint and from the position of our being willing to submit to God’s sovereignty. But my friend looked at it from the standpoint of self-control. And that really struck me, because self-control isn’t a fruit of the Spirit that we as modern Christians are very good at. Our culture doesn’t value it except maybe in the grossest sense, and we’ve acclimatised ourselves to our culture. Fasting, whether it’s from food, from marital relations, from TV – you get the idea – teaches us self-control. You see, self-control is meaningless unless it includes the control of our bodies, and that kind of control is impossible without self-discipline. St. Paul describes it in terms of an athlete. To compete in the games the athlete has to be fit – that’s why he trains. Not only does he have to control his diet, get enough sleep and exercise, but, Paul says, every athlete exercises self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25). As Christians we’re in a spiritual race and so we need to do the spiritual equivalent of the physical training an athlete engages in. In that same passage St. Paul even goes so far as to talk about pummelling or buffeting his body – beating it into submission until it’s black and blue – and subduing it – leading it around as if it were a slave. Now his point wasn’t to be masochistic. It wasn’t a false asceticism like wearing a hair shirt or sleeping in the cold with no blankets. And it wasn’t a Pharisaical attempt to win the admiration and approval of men. St. Paul rejects all those sorts of things. God made our bodies. We have no reason to punish them, but we do have the duty of disciplining them – bringing our bodies and our wills to the point of obedience. Fasting is one way of building self-control. And this aspect of fasting also makes the point that we’re not just talking about eating and drinking. There are other things we do that we can take a fast from. So, back to Jesus’ teaching on fasting. He assumes that we will fast. His point, just as it was with giving and with praying, is that when we fast we should be different from the hypocrites who do it only to draw attention to themselves. When they fasted they made a point of really looking like they were fasting. They deliberately looked miserable. They didn’t go through their normal daily routines, like taking a bath and putting on clean clothes. Just to make themselves look really miserable, they’d rub ashes in their hair and on their faces. They thought that going around miserable, dirty, stinking, and covered in ashes was what made them holy – and so they made show of their “holiness” for everyone to see. The sad fact is that lots of people admired them for it – but that was all the reward they got. Remember what we read about giving last week? If you give to win the approval of men, you’ll get it – but you’ll receive no reward from God. The same principle applies here. In contrast, Jesus says, “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.” Take a bath, comb your hair, wash your face, iron your clothes. He’s not saying you have to go around pretending you’re not fasting, being slap-happy with everybody. But he is saying, don’t make a show of your fasting. Fast, but otherwise go about your day like you would any other day. The point isn’t to be seen by men, but to be seen by our Father in heaven, who will reward us. The point of fasting isn’t to advertise ourselves; it’s to discipline ourselves. It’s not to get a reputation with others for holiness; it’s to be humble before God. If we manage to discipline ourselves and be humble before God, that’s reward enough. In each of these three cases where Jesus talks about the externals of our religion (almsgiving, prayer, and fasting) he’s contrasting the legalistic and Pharisaical way of doing things with the biblical way of doing them. The Pharisees did all these things ostentatiously and to be rewarded by men. But Jesus tells us, Christian piety is secret and is motivated by humility and is rewarded by God. I think it might be easier to understand the difference between these two attitudes if we look at where each one comes from and what it leads to. You see, religion that is showy and hypocritical is ultimately destructive. Giving, praying, and fasting are all authentic activities in their own right. To give is to serve others. To pray is to seek God. To fast is to discipline ourselves. But if we’re hypocritical when we do these things it destroys their integrity by turning them, whether giving, praying, or fasting, into opportunities for self-display – for blowing our own horns to the world. So where does this hypocritical attitude come from? Jesus says over and over again in these verses that the hypocrite does his good works “before men in order to be seen and praised by men.” But hypocrites aren’t really obsessed with men – they’re really obsessed with themselves. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “Ultimately our only reason for pleasing men around us is that we may please ourselves.” So the solution should be obvious. What we need to do is to become so conscious of God, that we cease to be conscious of ourselves. This is where Jesus puts our focus. Look at it this way: total secrecy isn’t possible for any of us. Whatever we do, say, or even think, even if there’s no one else around to watch, is still seen and known by God. And it’s not that God is up there as some kind of celestial killjoy or policeman just waiting to catch us. He’s a loving heavenly Father, who desires to bless us and looks for every chance he can to do so. So the question to each of us is, which matters to you more? Are you interested in men seeing your good works or God seeing them? The hypocrite goes through the motions of religion so that he can be seen by men. It’s interesting that the Greek word that St. Matthew uses here is the same word from which we get our word “theatre.” The hypocrite puts on a show – a performance. Their religion is a public spectacle. But, you see, the real Christian knows that he is being watched too, but in his case he knows his audience is God. And here’s the thing: we can bluff a human audience. We can fake out men and women and make them think we’re holier than we really are. Even when we don’t try, people will often see you or me engaged in some outward act of piety and comment on how much more spiritual we are than they – while all the time we’re cringing with the knowledge that we’re not as holy as they think we are! We can fool people into thinking that our giving, our praying, and our fasting are real, when in fact we’re acting – putting on a show. But God sees our hearts. That’s why if we do things to be seen by men, we degrade that thing, but if we do it to be seen by God we make it something noble, and through that noble thing God will work in our lives. Let me close with an illustration. I think most of you are familiar with David Wilkerson. He wrote The Cross and the Switchblade. He writes about how he was pastoring a growing and healthy church. On the outside everything about his ministry looked really good, but on the inside, he says, he was restless; something was missing. Then one night while he was watching the “late show” it occurred to him that it might do him some good if instead of watching TV, he spent that time in prayer – he might fast from television and see what would happen. Well, he immediately thought of a bunch of excuses. He was tired at night and needed to relax. It was good for him to be able to connect with what people were seeing and talking about. But he wasn’t entirely convinced by his excuses. So he prayed, “Jesus, I need some help in deciding this thing, so here’s what I’m asking you. I’m going to put an ad for that [television] set in the paper. If you’re behind this idea, let a buyer appear right away. Let him appear within an hour…within half an hour…after the paper gets on the street.” His wife was not very impressed with the idea when he told her about it the next morning, but he went ahead and put the ad in the paper anyway. It was a funny scene the next day after the paper hit the streets. Wilkerson sat on the couch with the TV set on one side, his wife and kids on the other, and the clock and telephone in front of him. After twenty-five minutes, just as he was saying, “Well, Gwen, it looks like you’re right. I guess I won’t have to…” the telephone rang. “Do you have a TV set for sale?” a man asked. “That’s right. An RCA in good condition. Nineteen inch screen, two years old.” “How much do you want for it?” “One hundred dollars, Wilkerson said quickly. “I’ll take it,” came the reply. Have it ready in fifteen minutes. I’ll bring the money.” Well, that was the beginning. Out of the times of prayer that followed, David Wilkerson was directed by God to the plight of the teenage gang members in New York City. Out of his efforts to help them came a work that God continues to bless, not only in New York, but all over. Now I don’t know how exactly this will apply to you in your life. As the story makes clear, fasting doesn’t always have to mean not eating. We all need to work on self-control in different ways and with different things. But whatever your daily habits or routines are, there are certainly things that you could set aside, even if only for a little while, so that you can spend more time with God. You don’t have to tell anyone about it. But that’s okay, because you have the promise of the Lord Jesus that our Father, who sees in secret, will reward you openly. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we know that for many of us these words about fasting are something we’ve never give much thought to and never really put into practice, but we pray that your Spirit would be at work in our hearts and minds to show us ways in which fasting will bring us closer to you and to your blessings and promises. Give us the grace and humility to submit to your lordship. We ask this in the name of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 6:1-4 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Investing in God's Kingdom St. Matthew 6:1-4 by William Klock Despite the fact that the average Canadian household gives less than $300 to charitable causes each year, charity is a common thing in our society. And if you talk to people about it – especially non-Christians – the general attitude about it is that “charity” is just what good people do; that charity is widespread because men and women are basically benevolent. That’s why we give to good causes – or as is more often the case today, that’s why we’re happy to hand over half of our earning to the government so that they can engage in charity, whether that’s running schools, operating a food pantry, or providing medical services to the poor. We do it because people are basically good. That’s the answer most people give. But that’s the wrong answer. True charity came into the world through Christianity and through the Church. Whether you’re looking at the Red Cross or the United way, public hospitals or food stamps, those things are the by-product of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not to say that some pre-Christian pagans didn’t throw the occasional coin to a beggar on the street, but ancient writers tell us that that kind of charity was uncommon, and that when it did happen it was done by men who wanted others to see them as magnanimous. Before Jesus Christ there were no orphanages or hospitals. Before Jesus Christ there was a world of hard work and poverty. Unwanted children were left exposed to die (and so were the elderly as I described a couple of weeks ago). Slavery was widespread. People starved where just a short distance away others lived very affluently. But when Christ came he created a sacrificial and loving people. It didn’t take long for them to start caring for the poor and the sick. St. Joseph’s Hospital wasn’t built by pagans. It was built as a ministry to reach out to those in need in our community. It was Christians who brought in labour laws to keep people from being exploited and laws that abolished slavery. It is the Church that takes the Gospel to other lands and as witness of the love of Christ builds hospitals and schools. This Christian love for others was something that even the ancient pagans acknowledged. The Greek philosopher Aristides defended the Christians when he wrote to the Emperor Hadrian: “They do not commit adultery nor fornication, they do not bear false witness, they do not deny a deposit, nor covet what is not theirs: they honour father and mother; they do good to those who are their neighbours….They love one another: and from the widows they do not turn away their countenance: and they rescue the orphan from him who does him violence: and he who has gives to him who had not, without grudging….When one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them sees him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him. If there is among them a man that is poor or needy, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.” That was the amazing witness of the Body of Christ to the world. This was supposed to have been the witness of Israel to the world too. Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s command to care for those in need, and yet his people were more often condemned for trampling on the poor, the widow, and the orphan. When charity did happen in Israel, it was more often than not done to attract the attention of other men. And so Jesus came into the world and changed all of that. In the power of the Holy Spirit charity flowed from a divine love that welled up in God’s people. Here as we start Chapter Six we see this new spirit of charity for the first time: Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4) Verse 3 really stands out and makes Jesus’ point clear: “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” For the Christian there is to be no show, no ostentation, when we give – and not just before men, but even before our own selves. That’s the kind of charity that’s inspired by the presence of the Lord Jesus in our hearts! And it’s in that spirit that the early Christians gave and won a reputation for charity. It’s in that spirit that Christians have, ever since, been caring for those who are in need. But here’s the thing: this kind of love for others can never exist in a heart that hasn’t been given over and surrendered to God. I see two main points in what Jesus says here, and that’s the first one: true charity comes from a life that has first been surrendered to God. Jesus says that we are to give, not before men, but before God, looking for only his approval. A good example of this is the church at Philippi. We talked a little bit about them in our study last Sunday evening. They were known for being outstanding examples of Christian giving. They gave first to St. Paul, because he was their father in the faith. They loved him, and when he left and was gone for a while, they eventually sent messengers to look for him and to find out how he was. When they found out that he was at Thessalonica and was in financial need, they took up a collection and had it sent to him. They did the same thing a second time too. The Apostle wrote to them saying, “Even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs” (Philippians 4:16 NASB). Even when he was in prison in Rome at the end of his life they continued to send him their gifts. But the Philippians weren’t generous with St. Paul alone. Things were bad in Jerusalem and the Christians there were in desperate need. We’re told that things got so bad there that the members of the church had to pool their resources to survive. When the first Church council met at Jerusalem, the council asked Paul to go to the Gentile churches for help. And that’s exactly what Paul did. In the book of Galatians he tells the people there about the council, but he also made his appeal for help: “They only asked us to remember the poor — the very thing I also was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). We know he made a similar appeal to the Philippians. They’d never met any of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, but their response was overwhelming – the Christians at Philippi actually fought over who would have the privilege of giving. You see, they had learned to give to St. Paul when he was in need and now they were ready to give even more liberally to the church at Jerusalem. We know all of this because the Apostle Paul held up the Philippians as an example of real Christian charity a few years later when he wrote to the church at Corinth: We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia [that’s the Philippian Church], for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5) What Paul tells us is really amazing, because here we have a description of a bunch of people, who only a few years before knew nothing more than the values of the Greco-Roman world. They had known absolutely nothing of charity, and yet here we see them now competing beyond their actual resources to give to their brothers and sisters in a distant part of the empire where there was great need. These weren’t wealthy people. St. Paul says that they were poor too. What made the difference? Look at 2 Corinthians 8:5. Paul tells us in that last phrase: they didn’t do “as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” The key was that they had first given themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. That leads us to the second principle in Jesus’ words about giving: In our stewardship, the Christian is to look for spiritual rewards. When we give we have two options. Either we give to please men and to make a show to others or we give how God leads us for the pleasure of pleasing our Lord. And Jesus tells us that if we do the first – if we give to be seen before men – then we have our reward. It might be short and fleeting, but we will have the praise of men. But he also says that if we give to please God, we will receive a spiritual reward. Jesus said, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” If we look again at St. Paul’s epistles we can see how what Jesus teaches here works out in our Christian life. In Galatians Paul talks about reaping what we sow. Turn in your Bibles to Galatians 6:6-10: One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches [this is why churches have an obligation to support their ministers]. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption [that is, if he blows his time, talent, and treasure on fleshly pursuits, all those things will be gone, but not only that: the body doesn’t last and the unbeliever has no eternal reward to show for it – only eternal damnation!], but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life [that is, if he gives of his time, talent, and treasure for spiritual causes, for God’s causes, the Spirit of God will see that he receives a great reward in heaven]. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity [that is, as God chooses to bless us with resources], let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. St. Paul teaches a great principle here. We can choose to invest in this life or we can choose to invest in the next. To some extent we have to invest in this life just to survive – we do need food and shelter. But remember that what we invest for this life has no lasting fruit for eternity. But, giving of our time, talents, and treasure in obedience to the Lord, to the spread of the Gospel, and to meet the needs of those who are poor and suffering (especially when they are our brothers and sisters in Christ), will have results not only in this life, but also in eternity. St. Paul says something else in these verses that we shouldn’t forget. He tells us not to be weary in well-doing. We here aren’t a very large congregation and we don’t get a lot of requests for help. Churches like St. George’s United downtown get numerous requests for help every day. Being part of the local ministerial association I hear about the needs that are so often brought to the churches in the Valley, and sometimes it just feels like there’s no end to the need. Sometimes meeting the needs and requests that are made can feel like a burden. I think that we’re all prone to feeling this way as we respond to the needs of the local church, of the ministries in the community, and to the appeals we see for help on TV. St. Paul understood this and it’s exactly what he’s addressing. And yet he’s telling us: Don’t complain. There’s always going to be one more cause for an offering, but let us give as we are able. Let us not become weary. Let us take confidence in the promise that we will one day reap what we sow – so don’t lose heart. As I said, there were two principles that Jesus explicitly makes about giving in the Sermon on the Mount. I want to suggest that there’s a third principle that isn’t explicit. We need to understand it because Jesus teaches it elsewhere and because it flows from his character. That’s the principle of sacrificial giving. We see this illustrated in Scripture by St. Paul. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:9, 11: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich….So now finish doing it as well [he’s still talking here about the offering that was taken up for the saints in Jerusalem], so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. Maybe you’ve never given sacrificially, but have you felt the Lord asking you to do so – maybe even asking you to give from what you don’t already have? Let me conclude with how Dr. Oswald J. Smith learned to give sacrificially. He was the pastor of the famous People’s Church from 1915 until 1959. Just after starting his ministry there, he was sitting on he platform of the church during their annual missionary convention. He was unaware of their normal procedure, and he was somewhat surprised to see the ushers going up and down the aisles handing out envelopes. Surprised turned to amazement and amazement to horror, however, when one of the ushers had the “audacity,” as he said, to walk up the aisle and hand him an envelope. He read on it, “In dependence upon God I will endeavour to give toward the missionary work of the church $____ during the coming year.” He had never seen anything like that before. He had a wife and a child to take care of and at the time was only earning twenty-five dollars a week. He had never given more than five dollars to missions at any one time in the past, and that was only once. He started to pray, “Lord God, I can’t do anything. You know I have nothing. I haven’t a cent in the bank. I haven’t anything in my pocket. Everything is sky-high in price.” It was true. This was in the middle of World War I – but for that matter, his situation doesn’t sound very different from our own today. But, he said, the Lord seemed to say, “I know all that. I know you are getting only twenty-five dollars a week. I know you have nothing in your pocket and nothing in the bank.” “Well, then,” he said, “that settles it.” “Oh, no, it doesn’t,” the Lord answered. “I am not asking you for what you have. I am asking you for a faith offering. How much can you trust me for?” “Oh, Lord,” said Dr. Smith, “that’s different. How much can I trust you for?” “Fifty dollars.” “Fifty dollars!” he exclaimed. “Why, that’s two week’s salary. How can I ever get fifty dollars?” If we converted that to today’s dollar it would be about $2000. But again the Lord spoke, and with a trembling hand Oswald Smith signed his name and put the amount of fifty dollars on the envelope. Smith wrote later that he didn’t know how he paid it. He had to pray each month for four dollars, but each month God sent it. And at the end of the year, not only had he paid the whole amount, he had himself received such a blessing that he raised the amount to one hundred dollars during the next year’s missionary conference. He went on to give much more later and to lead his church into an ever-expanding and ever more effective programme of home and world missions. Friends, that is real sacrificial giving and it was born solely out of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you’re concerned about your giving (and if you are a Christian you should be), then start by yielding yourself to the Lord, look for spiritual causes, and ask the Lord to lead you in his own pattern of giving. Please pray with me: Father in heaven, you promise to care for each one of us, to provide our daily bread and to care for us just as you care for the birds and the flower of the field, and yet we show our lack of faith in you when it comes to our giving. Rather than put our faith in your promise to provide, we tighten our fists in fear that we might lose what little we already have. Father, strengthen our weak faith and give us a desire to serve and care for others the way your Son served us. Let us not only be generous with what you have given to us, but let us be generous, as Oswald Smith was, with what we trust in faith that you will provide, and all the time giving not to win the approval of men, but to please you, our Father. We ask this through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:48 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount God's Perfect Standard St. Matthew 5:48 by William Klock Today we come to the end of the fifth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. And as we come to 5:48, I want to remind you of a verse we looked at about six weeks ago. In Matthew 5:20 Jesus said: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. He told us that unless our righteousness is greater than that of the most righteous men of that day, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. So we might ask, “Okay, Jesus, how much more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees do we have to be? If they hold up to seventy-five percent of the standard, what kind of righteousness do we have to have? Is seventy-six percent good enough? Eighty percent? How good do we have to be to make it into your kingdom?” I think the people listening to Jesus preach were thinking about just these kinds of questions. The standard of the Pharisees was a hard one, but the Pharisees, after all, seemed to manage it. Someone was no doubt thinking, if the Pharisees can do it, I can do it too – and I can do just a little bit more. Like the two men out camping who were awakened in the night by a bear in the camp. One man started putting on his shoes and his buddy looked at him like he was crazy and said, “What are you doing? Shoes or no shoes, you can’t outrun a bear.” And as he laced up his shoes, the first man said, “No, I can’t outrun the bear, but I don’t have to – I just have to outrun you!” And so we might think, I don’t quite know what the standard is, but all I have to do is outdo the Pharisees by just a little bit! Jesus gives the answer to those questions in 5:48 and in doing so he crushes any idea we might have of trying to please God on our own – of trying to earn our way into the Kingdom. He sums up everything he’s been saying: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. This is, I think, the most important and the most significant verse in the whole Sermon on the Mount. It sums up everything Jesus has told us so far and everything else he’ll tell us follows from it. If you can understand this one verse, you will understand the essence of everything else Jesus teaches. And more importantly, if you understand this verse, you understand the core of the Gospel itself. Jesus says that the requirement for entrance into the Kingdom is perfection. But what is perfection? St. Matthew uses a Greek word here that is used throughout the New Testament and it literally means “complete.” It’s the word that’s used of a legion when it’s fully outfitted and ready for battle or for a ship that’s fully rigged, manned, and ready to set sail. And when that word is used in relation to morality, it means “blameless” – without fault. It’s interesting, because both meanings of the Greek word reflect the meanings of the two Hebrew words used in the Old Testament when it talks about perfection. The first of those is the word shalem. You’re probably familiar with it, because it’s related to the word shalom, which has to do with complete well-being and blessedness. Shalem itself specifically means “whole” or “complete.” The other Hebrew word was used in relation to sacrifices and means “entirely without defect” or “without blemish.” Think of the sacrificial animals used in the Temple. They were to be without defect or blemish. And so the Bible’s shows us God’s standard: complete and total moral uprightness. The man or woman who wants to get into God’s Kingdom has to be free of any and every moral spot, stain, or blemish. Even the smallest spot of stain – even if it’s morally microscopic – bars from entry into God’s kingdom. He or she must be blameless, just as the Lord Jesus Christ was blameless. And yet in Romans 3:23 St. Paul tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is no man or woman who has ever lived up to God’s standard of perfection. All of us fall short. All of us are sinners. In fact, when St. Paul writes about “falling short” he uses a term borrowed from archery – it describes the arrows that don’t make it to the target – the ones that don’t have enough power behind them and end up stuck in the grass somewhere between the archer and the target. And Paul tells us that none of us can ever hit the target – let alone the bullseye. All of us fall short. None of us can ever enter the Kingdom based on our own work or effort. The thing we need to understand here is that God’s standard is set by his own perfection. We can’t meet it on our own. We can’t even hit the target. Nothing we will ever do is perfect. So we need to realise that only God himself is perfect and that if we’re ever gong to be “perfect as he is perfect” (as Jesus calls us to be), it will only happen when he works for us and in us. King David understood this. In Psalm 18 he writes, “As for God, his way is perfect” (18:30 NIV) and then a couple of verses later he writes, “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (18:32 NIV). Who is God? He’s the one who is perfect. What does he do? He works in us to perfect sinful men and women. David’s point is that it is God who is responsible for his own perfection, but he’s also responsible for ours! He makes us perfect in three ways – and here’s the heart of the Gospel, the heart of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. The first thing God does is give us a perfect record – he wipes the slate clean. Then he begins working at perfecting us from the inside out. And finally he brings us to complete perfection at the moment of our death. How does he wipe the slate clean? How does he give us a perfect record? To understand this we have to remember that sin is an offence against God’s justice. It can’t just be winked at, overlooked, or even just forgiven. God embodies perfect justice and for him to simply overlook our sin would be for him to act contrary to his own being and character. Our sin has to be dealt with – it has to be punished. Justice must be done. That’s why God the Father sent God the Son to die on the cross in our place. He who was perfect and deserving of no punishment, bore our sins in his death, paying the penalty we owed, and cancelling all of God’s claims for justice against sinners forever. This is the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross was the place where God punished sin once and for all and cancelled the debt for all those who come to believe in Jesus and put their trust in him, not in themselves, for their salvation. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “by one sacrifice [Christ] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14 NIV). But notice that the Hebrews passage says that through Jesus’ sacrifice, God has made perfect “those who are being made holy. He’s not only purged our record clean, but he is at work within us to make us holy – to work in us to bring us closer to actual perfection in how we live our lives. You see, through Christ we may be made perfect forever in terms of our slate being wiped clean, but we are still far from perfect in our actual thoughts, words, and actions. This is what St. Paul writes about in Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Paul understood that his record was wiped clean before God on the basis of his faith and trust in Christ, but he also understood that the practical work of his being perfected wasn’t a done deal. As followers of Christ St. Paul’s experience ought to be true of us too. No Christian ever stops growing in righteousness. Think about this in your own walk with God. When you first became a Christian you were probably excited and thankful. A lot of people talk about becoming a Christian and suddenly being convicted of some of the sins in their lives and putting an end to them, but the fact is that once things settle down, we all realised that we have a long way to go to perfection. Before we believed the Gospel we had all sorts of wrong ideas about God, about ourselves, and about what God requires of us. We had lots of sinful habits. Even after we put our trust in Jesus, lots of those wrong ideas and sinful behaviours remain. But God doesn’t leave us there. As we study his Word and as we fellowship with and learn from other Christians the wrong ideas and behaviours gradually change. The closer we get to God, the more we hunger and thirst for righteousness. That’s the second aspect of Gods work of perfecting us. Now there are people out there that will tell you that if you work at his hard enough, eventually you can reach perfection in this life. That was the heresy of the “Holiness” or “Higher Life” movement of a hundred years ago, but that heresy still has a hold on many Christians today. But it always has and we know that because St. John warns against it in his first epistle where he writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). If anybody ever tells you that he’s reached the point that he doesn’t sin anymore – that he’s perfect – you can tell him that he’s at least still guilty of one sin: lying! You see, the Christian who is growing in holiness, growing in Godliness and Christlikeness, rather than finding himself perfect, will actually find himself seeing just how sinful he really is. The Holy Spirit will open his eyes to sins he never realised he had so that he can work to overcome them with God’s help. Trust in Christ doesn’t end the day we’re baptised. The Christian being made perfect learns to lean on and trust in Jesus Christ on a daily and even an hourly basis as he struggles with sin and looks for forgiveness and cleansing. If we’re not trusting in Christ on a daily basis, we need to ask ourselves whom we’re lifting up. Are you lifting up God, or are you lifting up yourself? Are you thinking highly of God, or are you thinking highly of yourself? In our culture it’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking too highly about ourselves. It’s like a seesaw. If God is up, then we’re always going to be down, but if we’re up, then God is down – and that’s what you don’t want. We need to have a big view of God and a small view of ourselves. That’s how it has to be if we’re going to learn to trust in God. The person who thinks highly of himself trusts in himself – he thinks he can do it on his own – that he can save himself – or at least that he can merit God’s favour, even if only a little bit. And yet Scripture, as we saw last week, paints a sad picture of us. That’s why my goal every time I preach, in the words of Charles Simeon, one of the great Anglican preaches of the 19th Century, my goal is to “humble the sinner, exalt the Saviour, and promote holiness.” Anything less fails at being biblical and anything less will end up with a congregation full of people who trust in themselves. If we understand how big God is and how small we are in terms of righteousness and holiness, God will be everything to us and we’ll grow every day in our understanding of his love for us. The lower we get, the higher he gets and the more we will learn to lean on him for the help, strength, and encouragement that we need so desperately. Perfection is possible, but only after our deaths – that’s when God perfects his saints. This is why death is no longer a feared enemy for Christians. This is why St. Paul could talk about death as “gain,” and how he could say that life in eternity was “better by far” than this life we have now. He understood that death brings us into the presence of Jesus Christ, and he understood that it results in the Christian finally becoming perfectly Christ-like. In death we become holy as Jesus is holy. This is salvation. It’s past, it’s present, and it’s future. It touches us in every aspect of our living. I think, though, that one of our biggest struggles is in the area of assurance – especially in those times when we see our sin and as much as we fight and struggle with it, it doesn’t go away. St. Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul is saying that if you’ve put your faith in Jesus Christ, God has already begun the work of perfecting you; and because God doesn’t change, his purposes will not change. God never starts something that he doesn’t finish! We can find great assurance in these words. Are you afraid of falling away from God? These words assure us that we cannot be lost! Were you the one responsible for your coming to faith in Christ? No! It was God. He called you. He wiped your slate clean. If there was ever a time in your life when you were seeking God, it was only because his Holy Spirit was there moving you to seek him – just as the great hymn says: I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me; It was not I that found, O Saviour true; No, I was found of thee. It’s no surprise that that hymn was authored anonymously. Whoever wrote it knew that he couldn’t take credit for his faith and didn’t even take credit for writing the hymn! Without God enabling him, no man, no woman will ever turn to God. It’s God who finds us, God who calls us, God who perfects us – and he never starts anything that he doesn’t finish. These words in Philippians give us hope when we feel like we’re getting nowhere spiritually. They remind us that we will one day be like Jesus. Paul wrote, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” And in Romans 8:29-29 Paul tells us what that good work is. There he tells us about God’s great purpose for calling men and women to himself. His purpose is for us “to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” God is so delighted with Jesus Christ that he has set the whole course of creation and history in motion just so that he could call out a race of sinful men and women, put his life and Spirit within them, and transform them to be like his Son. We may feel far from Christ sometimes, but we can have assurance that God will complete what he started because our transformation depends not on us, but on him! Even if there comes a time when you or I choose to give up on conforming to the image of Christ, God won’t give up on us. We all sometimes find sin our lives that we choose not to give up. We like it. We’re used to it. Sometimes that sin has come to define who we are, and when the Spirit convicts us we choose not to give it up. But even then God doesn’t give up. He pokes and prods and whittles away at us. Sometimes he may even smack us around spiritually and take us to rock bottom. He will do whatever it takes to get you and me out of our sin and to set us back on the path he’s laid out for us. As long as we insist in doing things our own way, it will get tougher, because God is going to be true to his nature – to who he is – and his nature is to be against sin. He loves you and me. At the same time, he also has to set us straight. The pop-psychologists today call it “tough love.” God spoke to Israel through the prophet Hosea. His people had been disobedient. He likened them to a woman who repeatedly left her husband to prostitute herself. God was forced to judge them for their sin, and yet through it all he loved them. At first he said that he would come to them like a moth – gently coming to set them straight and to draw them back to himself. He says in Hosea 5:12, “But I am like a moth to Ephraim, and like dry rot to the house of Judah.” But he also says that if his people ignore the gentle proddings and refuse to repent, “I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue” (Hosea 5:14). We need to understand this principle. God is determined to lead you and me into righteousness – to conform us to the image of his Son. So when we sin, he will deal with us gently if he can. But we can also be sure that he will also be as rough as he needs to be when we don’t respond to the gentle nudging. He will even break your life into little pieces if he has to in order to get your attention. Think of the image of the potter and the clay. He will mould and make us into vessels fit for his use. But if we get stuck in our ways – if we ignore his hands and push against them – and in time we begin to harden into something other than what he desires us to be, the potter won’t stop short of smashing the clay so that he can reassembled the pieces and set it back together according to his pattern. One way or another his purposes will be accomplished for us, but too often we learn the hard way. Dear friends, learn this lesson. Don’t force God to come to you as the roaring lion. Don’t let your clay harden so much that the potter has to break you to pieces so that he can put you back together in the image he wants. Learn to recognise the fluttering moth and the gentle hands of the potter – the little inconveniences, the little failures, the times of restlessness, the times when you just can’t seem to get things going according to your plans – learn to recognise those things as God’s gentle warnings that you’re off track. If you and I can learn that, we’ll be able to go on from strength to strength, and we’ll be able to rejoice that he who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we give you thanks and praise for the cross of Jesus Christ – for the fact that while we were yet sinners, you sent your Son to die in our place. Thank you for wiping our slates clean, thank you for filling each of us with your Spirit to work in us and to make us more like your Son. And thank you Father for the promise that one day we will be just like him. But in the meantime we confess our continued rebellion against you and against your standard of perfection. Soften our hearts and humble us. Turn our eyes to your Son and to the work he is doing within us that might become more like him and with each step become more useful to you and to your Kingdom. We ask this through the name of our blessed Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bible Text: Matthew 5:43-47 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Sermon on the Mount Having the Cross in Your Heart St. Matthew 5:43-47 by William Klock This morning as we continue our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we come to the last of his six real-world examples of what it means for the Christian to really fulfil the Law. And I stress especially that these are real-world examples as we come this week to what I think is the most challenging of them all. It’s the one statement that for many really sums up what Jesus was all about in his ministry, yet at the same time is probably for us the most challenging and condemning statement in all of Holy Scripture. Open your Bibles and look with me at Matthew 5:43-47. Jesus says: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Jesus begins again with the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees – with their twisted version of God’s Law: “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” Nowhere does the Law say any such thing. Leviticus 19:18 commands that God’s people are to love their neighbours. Remember that the point of the Law was to show that no man could live up to God’s holy standard – that every one of us is sinner, condemned to suffer the wrath of a holy and just God, and therefore in need of the righteousness of another – in need of a Redeemer. But the Pharisees bent and twisted the Law into their own set of rules that they could keep and feel good about. So they parsed this command out and came to the conclusion that if we are to love our neighbours, then it must also be true that we are to hate our enemies. Then they went on to determine precisely who their neighbours were and who their enemies were – they wanted to know whom they were obliged to love and whom they could hate. And in doing this they turned a blind eye on the rest of the Law. To them the “enemy” was anyone who was not a Jew, or any Jew who collaborated with Gentiles. They hated the entire outside world. And yet God, earlier in that same chapter, had given the command that the Jews were to leave the gleaning of their fields and vineyards “for the poor and the sojourner” – the alien non-Jew living in Israel. In verse 34 God says, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” And in Exodus 12:49 God said, “There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” Even the Gentile living in Israel was to be shown love. The Law also said that if you came across your enemy’s ox or ass wandering astray, you were to catch him and return him to your enemy. If you saw that your enemy’s ox or ass had fallen down while trying to carry a big load, you were to stop and help. Deuteronomy gives almost exactly the same commands in relation to the ox or ass of a brother, so it’s very telling that here the same command is given specifically in regard to an enemy. Of course the book of Proverbs also tells us, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Proverbs 25:21). That was God’s standard. It’s a hard standard, and so in typical fashion, the Pharisees lightened the load of the Law. They twisted it until it fit with what the natural sinful man does naturally: he loves his friends and hates his enemies. But you see, that’s just it. Sinful humanity is only capable of the low standard that the Pharisees set. It’s vitally important that we get this: the standard of love that Jesus sets out for us here is a standard that only God can meet. Notice in verse 45 Jesus gives us the “why.” He tells us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us, but why? “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus wants our character and our conduct to be like God’s. The love of God is completely without discrimination. He shows his love to the just and the unjust, and for that reason so should we. Because it results in action, our love is to express itself in action. Our calling as sons of the Father is to love those who are, by every human standard, our enemies. The fact that what Jesus describes here is a divine standard and not a human one is really underscored by the word that St. Matthew chose to use. The Greeks had four different words for love. St. Matthew doesn’t use the words that refer to sexual love, familial love, or even brotherly love. He specifically uses the word that describes divine love. You’ve probably heard it before: agape. It’s the same word that Jesus used when he asked St. Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Agape is a love that loves without any variation or compromise. It loves even when the object of that love is totally unlovable by human standards. It’s love that loves even when no love is given in return or when hate is given back to the lover. It is godlike love. Agape is a love that loves even when there’s no hope of love in return. It’s God’s love. And yet Christ calls us to live it in our own lives. The question then is: Where do we find it and how do we learn what it is? And I’ll tell you, the only place we can truly find it is in Jesus Christ and in his ministry for us at the Cross. Here’s an interesting, but very, very important fact that I’ve discovered – one I hope you’ll take with you and always remember: almost every time the New Testament tells us about the love of God, it also tells us about the Cross of Christ. Whenever the New Testament writers tell us about real and divine love, they link it to the Cross. They understood that the Cross is the place where we see the outpouring of agape, of God’s love. Here are a few examples. You all are probably familiar with these verses, you may even have memorised them, but maybe this will help you think of them and remember them in a new way. John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 1 John 4:10: This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (NIV) Romans 5:8: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Notice how in each case, whether it’s Jesus, St. John, or St. Paul speaking, the cross is made the measure of God’s love. But it’s not just Christ’s death on the Cross that makes God’s love such an amazing thing. It’s that Christ died for sinners. The Creator of the Universe loving created each of us, and each one of us has rebelled against him – each one of us is guilty of cosmic treason against our Creator every time we sin. By any human standard, God has no business loving us. We are his enemies. And yet he has chosen to love us – and to die so that we can be reconciled to him. Think of the story of the Sleeping Beauty. The brave Prince Charming charges to the castle, fighting his way through the magic brambles and thorns and past the giant dragon so that he can rescue the Sleeping Beauty with a kiss. It’s an enchanting story of love. Or is it? What if you changed the story and replaced the Sleeping Beauty with the Sleeping Ugly? What if instead of a young and beautiful girl, the woman asleep in the castle was a hideous, wart-covered, old hag. Every guy wants to be Prince Charming charging in to rescue the Beauty and win her love and affection, but would you charge in to rescue the Sleeping ugly and win her love? We might all be willing to risk our lives for someone lovely, but imagine the most contemptible person you know. Would you risk your life for that man or woman? That’s the question that shows us our own lack of agape – our lack of divine love. It’s the question that ought to make us realise what Christ did for you and me. St. Paul tells us in Romans 5: 7-8, “It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. But God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!” (TEV). We were the Sleeping Uglies. We were the contemptible ones. We were the ones hideous to God because of our sin against him, and yet he loved us and died for our sins. He took our place. These same verses that tell us that Jesus Christ died for us while we were still sinners, also tell us that he died for us while we were helpless and without any strength – while we were deadin our sins. There was no possible way that any of us could ever have helped ourselves out of our condition. We weren’t merely sick, we weren’t mostly dead, but still partly alive – we were dead. We were in the spiritual morgue. It’s important that we grasp this, because you see, there are a lot of people out there that think that they can do something on their own initiative to find spiritual life. But that’s not what Holy Scripture teaches us. The Bible tells us that without God’s saving work through Jesus Christ, the natural and fallen man can’t even understand the teachings of Jesus – they’re foolishness. Jesus asked people like the scribes and Pharisees why his teachings weren’t clear to them, and he explained why: “It is because you cannot bear to listen to my message” (John 8:43). We all have ears, but it’s only those in whom the Holy Spirit is doing his work of regeneration that understanding is possible. Is it any wonder that so many reject or misunderstand and misapply these teachings of Jesus? Jesus also warns us that the natural man or woman cannot receive the Holy Spirit. He told his disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him” (John 14:16-17). No one can be saved by receiving the Spirit as an act of his own will. But our problem is even worse than that. Scripture tells us that natural and unredeemed men and women can’t even submit themselves to God’s Law. In fact, St. Paul tells us that even though our wills are free, because of our fallen and sinful nature, we are unable to choose the good and are compelled to be rebels against God. In Romans 8:7 he writes, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” Finally, lest we still somehow think that we can be even a little bit self-righteous. The Apostle Paul also tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” The unredeemed and unregenerate cannot understand the truths of God. St. Peter writes that apart from Christ, every one of us has “eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin” (2 Peter 2:14). The Bible doesn’t paint a pretty picture of us. If you feel personally unedified by that image, if it makes you feel bad, if it makes you feel icky, and if it makes you feel terrible, good! That’s the point. God’s love has be measured by the fact that while we were sinners and were unable to hear his word, receive his Holy Spirit, submit to his Law, understand his teachings, or even to stop sinning, Christ died for us. That is the love of God! If we are ever to truly understand the depth of love that God has for us and has shown to us, we have to set aside every last vestige of self-righteousness and every false picture we have of ourselves as somehow meriting God’s favour – even if it’s only a little bit. This is God’s love for us and it’s this love that we’re called as God’s children to show to others – not just our friends, but to our enemies too. If you think on any level and to any degree that you can somehow merit God’s love, you will never fully understand and appreciate the full depth of God’s love for you – and if you can’t understand it and appreciate it, you’ll never be able to fully share it with others. Is it possible? Can we do it? No, we can’t – at least not in and of ourselves. This kind of love is only possible if the Lord Jesus is working in you. If you’re not a Christian – if you’re still trusting in yourself, even just a little bit – to get to heaven – you have to start by putting your faith and trust in Jesus to do it all for you and then by asking him to create that love in you. If you are a Christian, but are far from God, you have to draw near and ask him to work out his love in you. Maybe you are a Christian and you are trying to walk closely with God, but this still seems impossible to you. I know that we all struggle with this sometimes. Let me make this distinction: loving is not necessarily liking. Now listen, because I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying here. Liking someone means having emotional feelings towards them, but we can’t always control our emotions. It’s not always possible to have those feelings toward some people. Love, on the other hand, and contrary to popular belief, is not about feelings – it’s a matter of the will. And so because love is about the will and not about our feelings, that makes it always possible to show love. You see, if Christ is in you, you can do that – even if you don’t feel like it. It wouldn’t make much sense for Jesus to say, “Love your enemies” if he was talking about something that was based only on our feelings. We could never do it. But if love is a matter of the will, and if our wills are surrendered to Christ, we can do it. We can love our enemies. We can bless those who curse us. We can do good to those who hate us. We can pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. So o not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less…. The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or ‘likings’ and the Christian has only ‘charity.’ The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them; the Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on—including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.” If you just can’t seem to love your enemies, start here. Don’t worry if the feelings aren’t there; act like they were and see how God will lead you into a fuller experience of his great love. As the Church we have to “get” this. We have to have a full understanding of God’s love. As long was we still trust in ourselves for our salvation, even if only a little bit and thinking that we’re not as vile and ugly as we really are to God, we can never know the true depth of God’s love. And how can we share the depth of God’s love with others if we don’t understand it ourselves. That’s why, I think, we often try to evangelise people as a “project.” We’re still trying to earn brownie points with God. We pretend to show love to someone unlovable, but when they still fail to receive the Gospel we drop them and move onto someone else. That’s not showing God’s love – that’s just us trying to merit God’s love on our own. Someone once said that there are actually five Gospels. There’s the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Gospel according to St. Mark, the Gospel according to St. Luke, the Gospel according to St. John, and the Gospel according to “St. You.” How do men and women come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? They come to know him as they see him in Holy Scripture and in your holy living – in you as you show and live divine love. You are the closest that many people will ever come to Jesus Christ and to the Gospel! If they don’t see Christ’s love in you, they will never see it. In one of his books Henry Ironside paints a wonderful picture of living divine love. He writes of visiting a missionary hospital in Arizona where an elderly Navajo woman was being nursed back to health by a Christian doctor and some Navajo nurses. Her own people had cast her out because she was old and dying. She was found and taken to the hospital after several days of being exposed to the elements. After more than two months in the hospital, she started wondering about the care she was getting and asked one of the nurses, “I can’t understand it. Why did the doctor do all that for me? He is a white man, and I am an Indian. I never heard of anything like this before.” The Navajo nurse, who was a Christian, said, “You know, it is the love of Christ that made him do that. She said, “Who is this Christ? Tell me more about him.” The nurse called a missionary to explain the gospel. The staff started to pray. After a few weeks they asked the old woman, “Can you trust this Saviour, turn from the idols you have worshiped, and trust him as the Son of the Living God?” She thought about her answer, and as she was doing that the doctor walked into the room. Her face lit up and she said, “If Jesus is anything like the doctor, I can trust him forever.” She came to the Lord Jesus Christ and accepted him as her Saviour. What reached her? It was love. But it wasn’t man’s love. It was God’s love that she saw in a man. God’s divine love! That’s what Jesus is telling us that you and I are meant to show to an ungodly and rebellious world, and we are to do it as the sons and daughters of our Father so that others may come to faith in his redeeming Son. Please pray with me: Loving Father, we give you thanks and praise for loving us when we were so unlovely. By the power of your Spirit, work in us so that we can understand the depth of your love and help us show that love to others in word and deed that others might see your Son at work in us and be drawn to your saving grace. We ask this through his Name. Amen.