MESSAGE DELIVERED: JUNE 18, 2017
As Jesus begins this next section of His ‘Sermon on the Mount’, He now addresses the matter of PRAYER, of one’s COMMUNION with God the Father. And He does so with a qualifier that we do NOT undertake this part of our spiritual walk, “as the hypocrites do”.
And again it is obvious that he means the Pharisees. There were at least THREE determined times each day during which they were called to pray. You might remember that Daniel, in Babylon, had risen to great authority, and many of the Babylonians were envious of him, to the point they had the king issue a binding decree that prayers were to be made ONLY to the king, under penalty of death.
And then, when Daniel still kept his regular times of prayer, his enemies were quick to rush to the king and report him, and of course the king was then constrained to punish him, by having him thrown into the lion’s den, where he survived the long night, and the next day was released and his accusers were thrown to the same lions they had HOPED would put an end to Daniel.
So while it was not customary for long prayers to be made on street corners, many of the Pharisees would arrange their days so that WHEN that time to pray came, they would be ON a street corner, and not near a Synagogue. So he would feel that he had NO CHOICE but to MAKE his long and many-worded prayer, THERE, in public…and then the COMMON people would see and hear and be IMPRESSED by the man’s eloquence.
Or others WOULD be in the Synagogue, and would THERE make a great pretense of prayer. But in both cases, the intended AUDIENCE for that prayer, was the PEOPLE who came under the sound of his voice, and NOT the GOD Who was SUPPOSED to be the audience.
Jesus referred to BOTH of them, as HYPOCRITES, and people ‘wearing a mask’…as people PRETENDING to be something they were NOT! And He urged His disciples NOT to follow them.
Instead He urged His disciples to do their prayers “in private”. The actual word He used there in verse 6, where He said “go into your room”, was “a storeroom”. That would likely be a small, WINDOWLESS room, where you weren’t likely to be seen or heard…by anyone BUT God, who was your intended audience, and He would REWARD you for doing this…the most OBVIOUS reward would be that your prayers would be GRANTED.
In verse 7 He admonished them against “wordiness”, against long, rambling MONOLOGUES, instead of heart-felt COMMUNION. His caution against using “vain
repetitions” wasn’t so much a prohibition against REPEATING yourself, as HE would do THAT, later, when He was praying in Gethsemane, and trying to make Himself READY to face the HORROR that the next day would bring. In Mark 14:39, we read that, having prayed, and then asked the disciples to watch over Him, He went back and PRAYED the SAME words again.
He was telling us that our prayers were to be SINCERE CONVERSATIONS with God the Father, and NOT simply endlessly repeating the SAME words over and over…or of reciting FORMULAS or LITURGIES instead of simply asking for what you needed.
So in verse 9 He said “In this manner, pray”. And what follows is what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer”…or sometimes called “The Model Prayer”. This is not meant to be LITURGY, and it’s not meant to be recited mechanically as a SUBSTITUTE for HEART-FELT prayer.
But it IS noteworthy for the degree of comprehension, included in the SIX petitions it contains, three of which were directed to God, and three that were aimed at HUMAN needs.
He begins by acknowledging the WORTHINESS of God, as the rightful ruler of Heaven, and also acknowledging Him as “FATHER”…Father of Jesus, and Father of all who will believe.
Then He says “Hallowed be Thy Name”…confessing the SACREDNESS of God’s Name, which is the same as His NATURE! God alone, in all of creation, is worthy of all HONOR and RESPECT, and ADORATION, by both MEN and ANGELS.
“Hallowed be Thy Name” is not a REQUEST that God’s Name BE ‘hallowed’, but an acknowledgement that God’s Name IS hallowed, in all of creation,
“Thy Kingdom come” is the first petition, and it is a request that the expected and intended Kingdom of God that WILL one day be brought on the earth, should COME! As in “Let it be”! And please notice that this first petition ENDS with a PERIOD!
Because all too often when reciting this, people will run “Thy Kingdom come”…right INTO the NEXT petition, which is “Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven”. The petition is NOT “WHEN your kingdom comes, THEN let Your will be done on earth…”
This is a SEPERATE request, and it is asking that EVERY CREATURE ON the earth, be subjected to the rule of God, just as every creature in HEAVEN, already IS! It is asking that the very FULLNESS of God’s Kingdom, be established HERE, on the EARTH, as it IS now, in Heaven.
Then verse 11, “Give us this day our daily bread” is a request that ALL of your human, daily NEEDS be supplied. Maybe an obvious reference would be the Hebrews during the wilderness wanderings, when each new morning, the MANNA would fall, and all one had to do was PICK it UP and be filled. And that food WAS for THAT DAY ONLY! IF someone were to gather MORE than they needed for that day, whatever was left OVER, would be SPOILED, and USELESS, ON the next day.
Then verse 12 says “forgive us our DEBTS, as we forgive our debtors”. There is a companion to this, in the 11th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, although it took place at a different TIME. It occurred when Jesus’ disciples came to Him saying “John taught HIS disciples how to pray, will YOU teach US”? And that led to the second giving of this prayer.
But in Luke’s version, instead of DEBTS, which is a word that means a “FALL”, as in “falling AWAY from righteousness”…in Luke the word used is literally “sins”! But the word that often gets inserted there, “trespasses”, does NOT occur, in either version. It HAS been adopted by Catholic liturgy, but does NOT occur in EITHER version OF this “Lord’s Prayer”. ‘Trespasses’ is used in verses 14 and 15, AFTER the prayer has been concluded, and the word used there means “A SIDE-SLIP”…a “DEVIATION”.
Verse 13, “Lead us not into temptation” is more rightly “testing”. God does NOT “TEMPT” us to do evil. James 1:13 says “God Himself does not TEMPT anyone”. But sometimes He DOES ALLOW tempting to come into our lives, or ‘testing’, as a way to PROVE our faith. You can reference JOB here, who was TESTED beyond ANY man, but NOT by GOD! God only ALLOWED Satan to ‘TEST’ Job, to PROVE TO Satan, that Job would NOT deny God.
“But deliver us from evil.” We who are NOT as spiritually strong as Job was, should NOT DESIRE such ‘testing’, but instead we should ask to be DELIVERED FROM such testings.
The STRESS, in BOTH cases, was on the acknowledged VULNERABILITY of the disciples, and our therefore DEPENDENCE on GOD to AVOID such testings. I know there are people…maybe some sitting here listening to me now, and saying “That’s not ME”! “I’m not worried about any TESTING! I KNOW how STRONG in the Lord I am! I’m a MATCH for the devil, ANYtime”.
All I can say is, don’t stand too close to ME, when you say that, so I don’t get hit with any CHUNKS, when you self-destruct. Personally, I’m gonna take that “Shield of Faith”, and HIDE behind it, anytime the DEVIL comes looking for victims.
And verse 13 then ENDS The Lord’s Prayer with a DOXOLOGY…”For Thine is the KINGDOM, and the POWER, and the GLORY”! That doxology is ABSENT, in Luke’s version of this prayer! But remember, that came about at a different TIME. This doxology may echo from 1st Chronicles 29:11, which says “Thine, O Lord, is the GREATNESS, the POWER, and the GLORY, and the VICTORY and the Majesty, for all that is in Heaven and earth…”.
Then verses 14 and 15 use the word, ‘trespasses’, by saying “If you forgive men who have ‘trespassed’ against you…men who have committed against you either an UNINTENDED ERROR, or a DELIBERATE OFFENSE…and tells you IF you want GOD to forgive YOU, when YOU slip and fall into sin, then YOU had best be ready to do the SAME for those who sin against YOU! And please don’t miss the IMPARATIVE nature OF that command. God isn’t pulling any punches. If YOU want to BE forgiven, then you HAVE to forgive OTHERS, who have offended YOU!
The Tyndale New Testament Commentary reads this way, and it’s worth listening to…”The point is not so much that forgiving is a prior condition of BEING forgiven, but that forgiveness cannot be a ‘one-way’ process. Like all of God’s gifts, it brings responsibility. It MUST be passed on. To ask for forgiveness on any other basis is hypocrisy.”
Okay, in verses 16 through 18, the third example of religious observance: fasting. And it is presented in exactly the same way as the remarks on prayer…”when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites…”.
At the time Jesus made these remarks, fasting was a prominent part of Jewish life. So just for the record, GOD had only commanded ONE DAY of fasting each year, while He had appointed SIX days of FEASTING! But that wasn’t good enough for the self-righteous and self-important Pharisees. They had determined that they must fast TWICE, every WEEK.
And they also determined that WHEN they fasted, EVERYone should KNOW that they WERE fasting. The word, ‘disfigure’ in verse 16, is translated as “disappear”. It referred to the practice of basically making oneself just become HIDDEN behind the covering of the face and hair with DIRT and ASHES.
By doing that, and wearing OLD and DIRTY clothes, the USUAL POMPOUS figure of the Pharisee would DISAPPEAR into this new, SUFFERING persona. But at MOST, that fast would only last from sunUP to sunDOWN…so the SUUFERING this person was apparently enduring, was strictly theatrical!
So, should WE fast? There was the time when the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked, in Matthew 9:14…”We and the Pharisees fast OFTEN, but YOUR disciples DON’T! Will You tell us WHY that is”? And in the next verse Jesus told them “Can the friends of the bridegroom MOURN, as long as the bridegroom is with them”? But that days are coming when He will be taken away, and then they will fast.
And they did. As long as Jesus was with them, they never had to fast. But after he was taken back into Heaven, then they did, as the others. And that always brings up the question “Am I supposed to fast”?
By using Jesus’ own words, “should we MOURN, while the bridegroom is with us”? Well, where IS Jesus right now? If you tell me, and rightly, that “Jesus is with me always!”, then you have answered your own question. The Christian is NOT required to fast!
But, that said, sometimes a Christian will WANT to fast…maybe for some particular REQUEST to be granted…or maybe to draw closer to God by eliminating food to concentrate on HIM. There can be many reasons WHY a believer will WANT to fast, even though we are NOT required to. So please make sure that you do it CORRECTLY.
First of all, and most importantly, NEVER engage in a protracted fast without first checking with your physician. Having done that, there are many ways to go about conducting your fast.
Many main-line denominations have set aside the 40 days before Easter as a period of SELF-DENIAL, or fasting. There are many ways of doing that. First, most who OBSERVE that period, usually do so by refraining from just some certain, or maybe favorite, food. You can fast for 40 days by refusing to eat, say ICE CREAM. By depriving yourself of that favorite food, you are showing your devotion to the Lord. Or you can fast as the Jews do, from sunup to sundown, abstaining from ALL foods, in order to draw closer to The Lord.
But I will caution you to NEVER abstain from FLUIDS, for ANY period of time. It would be dangerous, and possibly hazardous to your health, to withhold WATER. But beyond that, make sure that you are HONEST, with The Lord AND with yourself. I mean, DON’T tell me “I’m fasting by refraining from eating SAUERKRAUT”, because I’ll ask “Do you normally eat a LOT of sauerkraut?”…where you’ll have to confess “No. I hate the stuff. Can’t stand even the smell of it”. See, that’s not really a fast, if you’re just avoiding something that you would normally avoid anyway! That would be Pharisaical.
There are some New Testament examples of fasting that we should look at. First and most obvious, Jesus himself, after being baptized by John, we’re told the Spirit led Him into the wilderness where He would fast for 40 days. But remember, this is The Son of God. He can do that which WE can’t. And it would be FATAL for YOU to even TRY to abstain from food and drink for that long. But Jesus did it, for a reason.
We refer to this as His time of TESTING or TEMPTING. And like Job, it was a case where God ALLOWED Satan to try to get His Son to turn aside from His God-given task of Sacrificing Himself for us.
So Satan tempted Him with the “lust of the flesh”, the “lust of the eyes” and the “pride of life”. When Jesus’ human body was so weakened that only His Godhood was active, He then showed us the proof of what Paul found, in 2nd Corinthians 12:10…where he said “when I am WEAK, then I am STRONG”.
There was also the case in Acts 23:12 and following, where several of the Jews who so hated Paul, that they went to the High Priest and BOUND themselves by an OATH that “we will eat nothing until we have KILLED Paul.”
But Paul is warned of the plot, and arranged to have a large Roman Guard accompany him, so the assassins were thwarted. Now, as proud Pharisees, they have bound themselves by this oath before the High Priest, and were unable to COMPLETE it. NOW what do they do? They couldn’t just say “Oh well!”…and go on about their business. How long would they have to endure the SHAME of having failed to fulfill that vow?
The idea is the same for you. IF you determine that you ARE going to conduct a fast, for a specific purpose…and that PURPOSE should ALWAYS be to draw nearer to God…but if you determine that YOU ARE going to DO this, make very certain that you CAN complete it, before you even START.
And be sure that you never engage in a fast because you expect a certain BLESSING to follow, or because you want others to see how SPIRITUAL you are! That was the Pharisees plan.
The only legitimate reason for it, would be because you want to get closer to God…you want to deepen your prayer life, by abstaining from certain foods in order to concentrate more closely ON your prayer life.
So, as a Christian, you are NOT REQUIRED to fast. But IF you DO, make sure that you DO it SAFELY, and for the RIGHT REASONS, which is ALWAYS to strengthen your prayer life, to draw closer to God.
And IF you DO, the only people who KNOW that you’re fasting, should be YOURSELF! As Jesus said “Wash your face, comb your hair, put a SMILE on your face, and go about your day”.
Jesus’ admonition on PRAYER will also fit here. He said “When you PRAY, go into your SECRET place, and the Father, who sees you in secret, will reward you OPENLY”.
The very SAME thing applies HERE, to the issue of fasting. “IF you do, then make sure that you DO it, in SECRET, not OPENLY so others can SEE you…and your Father, Who sees in secret, will reward you openly.”
Having been Saved by the Blood of Calvary, our greatest desire ought to be, to please God, and to Glorify His Name. And the Spirit of God now within you will lead you in HOW you should conduct yourself, in matter of FOOD and DRINK…manner of DRESS and CONDUCT.
HE is the believer’s greatest asset, so use Him!