Sermon on the Mount (3)
Matthew 6:1-34

 In our last lessons about the “Sermon on the Mount,” we saw that the broad context is that this sermon is one of several others in Matthew's Gospel.  Then we saw how Jesus’ audience had a very different concept of kingdom than what Jesus had; they were thinking military and physical strength, but Jesus was thinking spiritual and moral strength.  So Jesus introduces His sermon by talking about His disciples’ character (what we often call the Beatitudes), then the disciples’ persecution, and then the disciples’ influence—they must not let the world set the pace for them, but they must set the pace for the world.  Then we examined the transition from the introduction to the body of sermon where Jesus gives a clarification, an explanation, and an exhortation.  The clarification: His message is not designed to put down the Old Testament.  The explanation: His disciples must continue to have such a great respect for the Old Testament that they both obey and teach it.  The exhortation: His disciples’ righteousness must surpass that of the present Jewish religious leaders!  This statement would have had the audience wondering, “Well, Jesus, what kind of righteousness are you talking about?  How can our righteousness exceed theirs?” 

So the rest of the sermon strives to explain the kind of righteousness that Jesus wants His disciples to manifest.  Then we saw how Jesus first explains that His righteousness properly interprets the Law.  In six examples in chapter 5, He contrasts the religious leaders' misinterpretations with His correct interpretation.  These contrasts all showed four principles to keep in mind.  “First, the spirit of the law, the intent, is more important than the letter of the law.  Secondly, obedience to the law is more than just proper actions since it also includes our thoughts, motives, and desires.  Thirdly, the law was not given to hinder us but to help us; the law was not meant to be oppressive; rather, it was meant to promote our freedom!  Lastly, the ultimate purpose of the law is so that you and I can come to know, to serve, and to love God” (Dieleman).  The letter approach turns devotion into a system, obedience into a checklist, and relationship into regulations.  So, Jesus' first point in explaining how His disciples' righteousness differs from that of the religious leaders is that His righteousness properly interprets the Law.

 

Now chapter 6 introduces us to Jesus' next major difference.  But before we look at the text, let's listen to a story about Patti.  She sat on the floor of her apartment in New Jersey in tears.  The lab report said that she was pregnant, but she was unmarried and alone.  She considered herself a Christian, but admitted to living a double life.  She had came to know Jesus while involved in the drug scene.  She wanted to be committed to Christ, but she didn't want to give up her old friends nor her old habits.  She was drifting between two worlds—in one smoking dope every day and sleeping with boyfriend every night while in the other going to church and working with the church's young people.  Now the pregnancy exposed her double life.  She was disappointed that she could no longer live a nice Christian life like all the other church people.  So she decided to wipe the slate clean by having an abortion.  Nobody in the church would ever know.  The clinic scheduled a date, but Patti was really terrified inside.  She wrestled with herself.  Then one night she was looking out a window in her bedroom, and she began thinking clearly for the first time in many weeks.  She realized something important—she had always been so dependent upon others, but this decision regarding her child was one that she would have to make alone.  And she had another realization—either Christianity was real or it was not, and if Christ was true, then He would not want her to abort her child.  She quietly confessed, 'God is real, even if I've never lived like He is.'  Then she explained: 'That decision was the point of no return.  I put my faith in the God of the Bible, not the God I had made up in my head.  I was still everything I never wanted to be—pregnant, alone, deserted by family, and rejected by the one I had loved—yet for the first time in my life, I really was peaceful because I knew for the first time that I was being obedient.'  She went to an obstetrician and explained why she wanted to keep the baby; he did not charge her for the prenatal care and the delivery.  She confessed her double life to the church, and with the support of other Christians was able to move away from her old friends and her old habits into a better place to live.  She talked with a believing counselor and decided to give the baby up for adoption.  Her daughter Sarah was given to a childless godly couple” (Colson).  We'll hear the conclusion of Patti's story at the conclusion of our lesson. 

 

Now let's go back to Jesus' sermon and see His next major difference: My righteousness puts God in the number one position.  Jesus then illustrates this idea with three points: the disciple's aim is pleasing God (6:1-18), the disciple's treasure is serving God (19-24), and the disciple's priority is promoting God (25-34).  When Patti put God in the number one position, she was at peace, and her life took a dramatic turn.  My righteousness puts God in the number one position!

 

Let's look now at each of these points a little more closely.  The disciple's aim is pleasing God.  Jesus explains how the religious leaders really sought to please men in their alms giving, in their prayers, and in their fasting.  By contrast, Jesus shows how His disciples must do these things in a manner that is pleasing to God.  Let's now read verses 1-18: “Take heed that you do not do our charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them.  Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.  Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.  Assuredly, I say to  you, they have their reward.  But when you do a charitable deed, do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.  And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the street, and they may be seen by men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you pray, go to your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.  And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do.  For they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Therefore do not be like them.  For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.  In this manner, therefore, pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.'  For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance.  For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret, will reward you openly.”  Don't do your religious acts to be seen of men, but give alms in secret to be seen by God (1-4), pray in private to be heard by God (5-6), and fast inconspicuously to be recognized by God (16-18).  “When the Pharisees gave, it wasn't to help people, but to show their egos.  When they prayed, it wasn't to know the Father in heaven, but to be identified as pious people who prayed.  And when they fasted, it wasn't to discipline their bodies to draw closer in true righteousness, but to make others think: 'That is a true holy warrior for God!' ... The battle we're waging is against pride.  Remember the first characteristic with which this sermon began?  'Blessed are the poor in spirit.'  We must realize our spiritual poverty.  Because if we begin with pride, the attention will always be on us, and what we're doing, and how great we are.  Are we involved in a ministry in the church just so others will say: 'Oh my, she is a really great worker!'  Do we cook food for funerals, visit shut-ins, or prepare the communion so others will think of us as truly dedicated Christians?  Do we lead a prayer or present a message primarily so that we can hear others tell us, 'That was a fantastic prayer or message!'  If we are, Jesus says, 'You already have your reward.  It's tragic that your aim is to please your own ego, and not our Heavenly Father'” (Cope)!  When we worship, is everyone who serves on the stage up here to be the performers while all in the audience are to be the critics judging our abilities?  No, those up here are to be worship prompters who just lead others.  Who are the others?  The church; there's the performers.  Then who's the audience?  Oh course, God is.  And are all of us as performers doing what we're doing to be seen by others or to congratulate ourselves?  No, our aim is to praise, to thank, to show reverence to, to submit to, to extol our awesome God, our majestic Master, and our holy Counselor!  That's what Jesus was driving at! 

 

And when we pray, notice how our prayers should demonstrate: a closeness to God (not canned and repetitious prayers verses 7-8), a faith in God (His will be done on earth verses 9-10), a dependence upon God (Give us our daily bread verses 11-13), and a living for God (to ask forgiveness we must have forgiven ourselves verses 16-18).  We pray to God our Father (the word used is really more like “Daddy”) Who is also our Ruler, Provider, Purifier, Deliverer, and Power!  The disciple's aim is pleasing God.  My righteousness puts God in the number one position!

In the next section, verses 19-24, Jesus' explains that the disciple's treasure is serving God.  Let's read it now: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The lamp of the body is the eye.  If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  No one can serve two masters; for either he will be loyal to the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Another preacher has observed: “Materialism is THE struggle of God's church today” (Cope).  We live in a culture where there are yellow rectangles in cars saying: “Future Millionaire on Board”, money and career are the top reasons young people go to college (it's not a philosophy to live by or broad learning for enrichment), two shifts occurred in the 80s in America—the first was a shift from being good to feeling good and the second was a shift from conserving our morals to conserving our possessions. 

 

Jesus gives us a huge warning.  First of all, He says that earthly treasure is transitory (verses 19-21).  Oh, we think we have it all figured out: there's mothballs and insecticides to terminate moths, there's rustproof paint prevent the rust, and there's FDIC, alarms, fences, safes, and big dogs to keep out the thieves.  Yes, we're going to get all we can, and can all we get!!  But Jesus' words still apply.  Something can still get our money.  Is that why we're so concerned about our economy?  Are we scared to death that there may be another Depression?  What will happen if our money becomes worthless?  And our money won't be ours forever.  Have we forgotten Jesus' question to the rich fool in Luke 12:20: “This night your soul will be required of you, then whose will these things be which you have provided?”  Earthly treasure is transitory. 

 

Next, Jesus says that earthly treasure can obscure reality (verses 22-23).  If our eyes are obscured, then our whole bodies will live in darkness.  Similarly, if money is our God, reality will become obscured.  We want to climb the corporate ladder and have that six figure salary.  Who cares if we have only one child (my Italian friends think that more than one child is too costly and might ruin their careers), who cares if we fail to serve others in the process, who care how many times we must change companies, who cares if others must be crushed, who cares if it ruins our marriage and our faith!  Listen, laying up treasures in heaven must involve people and not things because people will last forever while things will not.  Someone has rightly observed, “When we invest in people, our dividends will be out of this world” (Faulkner)!  Earthly treasure can obscure reality. 

 

Lastly, Jesus observes, and notice it's Jesus Who says this, earthly treasure can stop our service to God—We cannot serve wealth and God.  The Pharisees had this great idea—”We'll serve God on Saturday, but the rest of the days of the week, we'll serve money.”  Jesus tell His disciples: “No, no, this will never do.  If that's your philosophy, you're only serving one god—money!”  Jesus does not say: “Look, one can TRY to serve two masters”; that's what the Pharisees were doing!  And is it what many of us are doing as well?  “Sorry,” Jesus says, “this approach just won't work.”  We need to ask ourselves some very important questions: “Whose do we want to be?  Who will be our Master—Christ or Materialism?  What is our real ambition?  What is the light filling our eyes?  If we had a yellow rectangle in our car, what would it say we wanted to be—A Millionaire, A Big Spender, The One with the Most Toys or A Servant, A Generous Christian, The One with the Most Friends in Heaven?  Earlier we saw that Patti found peace when she quit trying to serve two masters.  Let's remember that we are slaves of God and that our major investments must be those in our heavenly bank account!  Earthly treasure can stop our serving God.  The disciple's aim is pleasing God, the disciple's treasure is serving God.  My righteousness puts God in the number one position.

 

Now Jesus presents the third way we are put God in the number one position: the disciple’s priority is promoting God.  And that was the passage that was read for our scripture reading: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore, do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Did you note how Jesus gives us three commands in this section? 

 

First of all, He commands us not to be overly concerned about what we’ll eat and what we’ll wear.  Now, Jesus is not saying: “Quit you job and live on God’s welfare!”  Some Christians got that idea once, and what did Paul tell them: “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat … We command and exhort that they work in quietness and eat their own bread” (2 Thess. 3:10-12).  And Paul also said those that won’t provide the necessities of life for their own families have denied the faith and are worse than unbelievers (1 Tim. 5:8).  So, what is Jesus saying?  One commentator put it this way: “Jesus’ concern . . .  is with priorities, and the essential message of this passage is ‘First things first’, which means in fact ‘God first’.  Given that prior emphasis [on ‘God first’], concern for material needs will not be able to usurp the first place which it too often occupies in a disciple’s interest.  The objects of our anxiety—food, drink, clothing—are to be seen as less important . . . [since] God can be trusted [to provide them as long as we do our part]” (France).  Someone has said that God provides food for the birds, but He doesn't put it in their nests.  Remember that old commercial that asked: “How do you spell relief?”  Jesus replied: “T-R-U-S-T.”  And by the way, despite what all the other hundreds of commercials tell us, we don’t have: to eat Omaha steaks, to wear Tessori Uomo suits, to sport Rolex watches, to drive a Masserati, and on and on the list could go all those expensive symbols of prestige that we think we just have to have.

 

Then Jesus commands us to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness.  Our priority is on God’s kingdom and the righteousness that He desires to be seen in this world.  “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”  Seeking God’s kingdom supremely and preeminently means I’m not promoting my own kingdom, and it means living by His norms and not those of my culture—honesty, purity, generosity, virtues, compassion, forgiveness, self-control, persecution for what’s right!  Some people think of God as the perfect dessert to a good life, but God won’t stand for such an attitude.  God does not want to be the perfect complement to your life; He wants to BE your life!  Everything else in your life is seen as it relates to Him.  Do you live life terminally or relationally?  When I taught at York College, there were some students who lived terminally.  They would study tests to pass the class, they would earn the degree to find the good paying job, they would get married to have a family.  Everything was an end to itself and did not relate to anything else.  Then, there were those students who lived relationally.  They would study because God had blessed them will skills in a certain area, and they wanted to develop them to glorify Him.  They got the degree because they saw God pushing them a certain direction, and they wanted to use their knowledge to serve others, to make the world a better place, and to care for their families and help others out.  They got married because they wanted God at the center of their family and wanted to share His love with the next generation.  “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17). 

 

Thirdly, Jesus commands us not to be worried about tomorrow.  Jesus is not saying again that we don’t need to plan ahead.  He spoke about counting costs and having extra oil, didn’t He?  Tune in here because you are about to hear a profound truth.  It’s a universal truth that can just about be guaranteed.  Are you ready?  Your tomorrow will have problems!  “That’s it, Bro. Paul!  Why I already knew that.”  That’s good, to be forewarned is to be forearmed isn’t it?  Yes, there are going to be problems, and tragedies, and disasters, and wickedness, and wars, and trials, and on and on we could go.  But Jesus tells us: “Don’t multiply them by worrying about them before they occur.”  Now why could Jesus make such a statement?  If you’ll look back in this chapter, you’ll find the expression “your Father, our Father, or your heavenly Father” about a dozen times.  Yes, our tomorrows will have problems, but if our priority is God, He will be there to help us through them, even though He often seems to work in secret Himself.  Like the old hymn says, “Thro’ days of toil when heart does fail, God will take care of you.  When dangers fierce you path assail, God will take care of you.  God will care of you.  Through every day, o’er all the way.  God will take care of you.”  The disciple’s priority is promoting God.  My righteousness puts God in the number one position. 

 

Let’s finish Patti’s story.  Today she tells her story to help others see that they can escape ruin too by learning to be obedient and giving God the number one position in their lives.  She now has something more that she never had imagined.  She is married to godly husband, and together they are trying to raise their own  daughter to serve the Lord!  And she continues to have peace with God (Colson)!  Have you put God in the number one position in your life?  Have you failed to keep Him there?  Are you living a double life?  Whose do you want to be?  Is you aim to please Him?  Is you treasure to serve Him?  Is your priority to promote Him?  Do you have peace with Him today?  Jesus wants you to give God that number one position!