June 28, 2009
INTRODUCTION – For the last year or more we have been walking our way through this amazing book called the gospel of Matthew. When the infinitely wise Holy Spirit wrote this book through the pen and personality of Matthew – – – the tax collector turned disciple of Jesus – – He wove themes throughout these 28 chapters – – themes that give us needed insight into who He is, how He operates and what He expects of us. That expectation by the way is always based or predicated on what He has put in us through the miracle of regeneration or salvation or justification or conversion – – whatever you want to call it.
One of those themes that ties the various thoughts and teachings of this book together is that of righteousness. This theme first appears when we are told in chapter one that Joseph – Mary’s husband and Jesus’s non biological dad – was a righteous man. (1:19). That is – he was a man that in general – as a lifestyle – walked in rightness with God, and with all the people he dealt with – including his wife to be – Mary.
Later in chapter 3 – Jesus comes to John the Baptist or John the Baptizer and asks him to baptize him. John objects, saying basically that he has a far greater need to be baptized by Jesus than Jesus by him. And Jesus replies, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus Christ did not need to be baptized to proclaim that his sins had been forgiven – because he had never sinned. He had nothing to be cleansed from. But because Jesus Christ was not only fully God, but also fully man – – he needed to be baptized to proclaim that He as a man lived to please God, and that He gladly belonged to the people of God – – and to the kingdom of God – that supercedes the kingdom of man.
After Jesus was baptized, he was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness – where he fasted for 40 days – preparing His heart and mind and spiritual muscles for the ministry that lay before Him – – and the vicious warfare that was just around the corner. After that -He began His ministry, and before long – large crowds of needy people were following Him as they observed the way He was able to heal the sick, free people from demonic bondage, sin, selfishness and hopelessness.
While Jesus was happy of course for the responsiveness of the crowds, He knew only disciples change the world; and only disciples would be able to carry on His work after He ascended to be at the right hand of the Father in heaven; so He gathered His disciples up on a mountain and began to teach them the ways and the principles of the kingdom of God. We call this three chapter body of teaching “the sermon on the Mount”. And one of the major objectives of this teaching was to help budding disciples apprehend what true righteousness looks like; and to develop their thirst for or sense of importance of this foundational characteristic.
Right off the bat in this teaching, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” That ability to think a right thought, have a right attitude, speak a right word, give a right response, and do a right deed in any and every circumstance with any and every person is an ability or capacity that God wants to give each of us in increasing measure for at least two reasons. 1. Because nothing like living life like that – can satisfy ; There is no greater satisfaction than being able to lie down at night and reflect on your day; and know on the most part – you walked in righteousness in every situation; and we have a God given need to experience that kind of satisfaction. 2. The primary objective of a disciple of Jesus Christ is to let the living risen Christ live His life through us by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. He is no longer bodily here. But He fully intends to carry on His healing, saving , soul satisfying ministry on the earth through His representative body, which is His church – His sons and daughters. The more we see and understand this; the more we will hunger and thirst for this above all else, and thus the more we will experience this.
Now because Jesus Christ is always totally in reality; and would never manipulate or sugarcoat things to accomplish His objective, …… He is very upfront with His disciples about two realities in the fight to walk in righteousness. The first one shows up in vs. 10 of chapter 5 where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You need to know that as you hunger and thirst for and pursue after a lifestyle of righteousness, you will find yourself having to stand against those who walk in unrighteousness – especially those who aggressively push their particular brand of unrighteousness on the culture. These people from time to time will unleash their rage and hostility on you – because you are a reminder to them of their sin and estrangement from God. And Jesus wants you to know – this will happen; but there is great blessing that comes to those who endure persecution for righteousness sake.
The second reality is there are those in every generation and every culture who teach and walk in a false righteousness. In Jesus’s day it was the Pharisees and Scribes – the Jewish religious leaders. Some of these leaders were very zealous and even radical in their zeal; but their righteousness was not based upon the grace and mercy of God, and the provision of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for their sins; … Their brand of righteousness was based on their own merit; their own good works. It was a righteousness that was man and rule centered. And its objective was to win the praise of man; not the praise of God. So Jesus warned in chapter 5 vs. 20 that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the most zealous and radical of these Pharisees and scribes – we will not even enter the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. From that point on – in His teaching about righteousness – He often used the negative example of the Pharisees and scribes to help His disciples understand what true righteousness looks like.
At the beginning of chapter 6 – Jesus gave another stern warning: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” True righteousness only has one objective or passion – – and that is to please our Father and receive His blessing and commendation. What man thinks about us increasingly becomes a non issue.
Once we begin to grow in true righteousness, two things will happen to us. As we see in the first 8 verses of chapter 6. First we will desire to give of our money and material possessions to help meet the needs of the poor in our communities. And we will do it, not to receive the praise of men like the Pharisees and scribes; but solely to help meet their needs and to please our Father in heaven, who in turn will reward us accordingly.
The second thing that will happen to us is we will want to increasingly be alone with our Father – communicating with Him through this great gift of prayer. Nothing fuels the life of the kingdom of God on the earth more than the secret prayers of God’s sons and daughters. Nothing causes the living God of the universe to spring into action in our lives and families and spheres of influence more than the secret prayers of His sons and daughters. Pharisaism or empty religion is primarily interested in public prayers – – prayers where people can notice how spiritual I am.
But true righteousness lives for those alone moments – – those times where it is just God and I. And because that hidden secret prayer life of the disciple is so potentially transforming and explosive, Jesus Christ went into some level of detail on what form that kind of prayer should take. This body of teaching is often called the Lord’s prayer, but I think more accurately it should be called the model or disciple’s prayer. For it was and is a framework that all of our praying should be based on – if it is going to be effective in unleashing the mighty power of God in and through our lives.
We began to look at this prayer some months ago, noting first of all that true prayer motivated by true righteousness always starts with a relational focus – – “Our Father” is where sons and daughters must always begin. Yes our God is the Creator, the Judge, and many other things; but in prayer we must begin relating to Him and seeing Him and addressing Him as our loving, caring heavenly Father. He is not a genie; He is not a means to an end; but He does want us to look to Him for all our needs.
We then noted that while God wants us to be intimate with Him, He never wants us to forget that He is in heaven. He is not constrained by the limits of time or of a physical body. He is not in danger of an overthrow. He is not in competition with other gods. He rules over all. He is holy and in a class all His own. And our intimacy with Him must never degenerate into a fleshly familiarity with Him.
Now that we know how to address Him; we can then begin to request of Him. But please notice the first three requests are all God centered; not man centered.
“Hallowed be Your Name.” The greatest need on the planet is that God in all His glory and majesty be known and revered and bowed down to. This should be our chief concern, and it is the greatest need of the earth people – as Dennis Peacocke fondly refers to them. God’s name in Hebrew culture and thought refers to all of His attributes and characteristics. And every human ill is a result of not seeing Him and knowing Him as He is.
“Your kingdom come.” God’s kingdom – God’s rule and reign and presence – – that is characterized by righteousness, peace, joy and transforming power is meant to be experienced in every sector of life. How many of our Republican and Democrat leaders have to be found bankrupt in their moral hidden lives ; how many of their laws and decisions have to be discovered to have ulterior and selfish motives before we finally figure out that there is a greater ruler; a greater system; a greater government – – that will never fail us – – and that is good and just and righteous all the time – – and that the King of this kingdom wants to show up and intervene in this life – – and not just in the life to come?? The only thing that limits that is our prayers – or lack of…
“Your will be done.” God has a will and a way for my every day life; for the decisions that have to be made in my family’s life together; for my schooling and career; for my future spouse; for my relationships; for the activities and ministries I give myself to. We can know that and experience that in this life. If we ask for it in faith and with a willing heart.
True prayer motivated by true righteousness begins with a focus on God and the things on His heart – His name known and exalted, His kingdom come, His will be done – on the earth – in the now – in our lives and relationships – – in our businesses, in our cities and nations…
But it doesn’t stop there.
In our few moments remaining today, I want to begin a discussion of the last three requests, which are more centered on us and our needs. Here is the first one:
“Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus said in the verse just preceding this model prayer (vs. 8) that we are not to be like the Gentiles – – or in our day – – perhaps the muslims or adherents of other religions or cults who do not know God, and who thus pray to some vague ambiguous god or force – – and thus believe the more they bow down and burn incense, and chant, or touch their head to a prayer rug, the better chances they have of achieving prosperity and good fortune.
We are not to be like them because our God – the one true living God is a knowable, caring, intervening God. He is our Father and looks at us as is His children. He knows our needs before we even think to ask Him about them. So the purpose of our asking is not to inform Him of something He does not know; nor to motivate Him to do something He does not already want to do; rather it is to express our trust in Him; our dependence upon Him; and practically to curb our tendency to worry and fret, or think the weight of our provision is on our shoulders or on our parents’ shoulders, or on our husbands’ job’s shoulders, or on our employers’ shoulders, etc.
Every day – when the sons and daughters of Father God pray – they need to know that in His eyes – we have legitimate daily needs – what Jesus refers to as “daily bread.” One question we need to answer is: What are those legitimate needs?
But before we seek to answer that one – I think it would be helpful for all of us if we did a little review of what the Old Testament teaches about God as our provider. You can pray this prayer ever day; or multiple times a day; but if you are not convinced that God is actually the one that determines what and how much comes your way – – if you are not convinced that God can and will provide for you – regardless of how much you need and regardless of how bleak your prospects look – – praying this prayer will not accomplish a whole lot.
Do you know God as your Provider; and as the source of all that you have and are? Throughout the Bible He is revealed as that. And throughout the history of the people of God; we have struggled to know Him and trust Him as that.
God through Moses sternly warned the people of God to not forget who He is and what He had done for them and all He had provided for them. One of the great sins of our nation is we look at our homes, our cars, our careers and our 401 K’s and we think we have them solely because we worked hard for them. Deut. 8:11-18 (read it) spells out the reality of how or why we have what we have.
King David gathered all of Israel together to officially pass the baton to his son Solomon and to dedicate all that he had prepared for Solomon to build the temple. We find the account of this in I Chronicles 29. (Turn to it) If you only read the first 9 verses, David seems to be telling the people that He, David was the one who provided by his own ability all of the gold and silver and building materials needed for this mammoth project. “”Now with all my ability I have provided for the house of my God the gold for the things of gold,….vs. 2 But then he begins to pray in vs. 10, and we see the other side of the coin (vs. 10-14)
The primary reason Job wrestled so much with God before God restored all that He had taken away from him is because Job knew that God is the one who gives and the one who takes away. One of our favorite worship songs comes from this declaration in Job 1:21, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
King Solomon was one of the wisest and wealthiest men who has ever lived on the earth; but he knew and proclaimed that God is the one who gives riches and wealth, “Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.” Ecc. 5:19 The ability to produce wealth and the ability to enjoy it and not be consumed by it all comes from God – King Solomon declared.
That’s some of the theology of the Old Testament; but have you ever noticed the variety of ways God has provided for His people down through the ages?
God provided a lamb caught in a thicket for Abraham when he needed a proper sacrifice to worship God with.
God provided gold and silver – the currency of that day – for the Hebrews as they were leaving Egypt from the pagan Egyptians. He actually told them to ask their neighbors for their jewelry before they left, and many of them just started giving them their rings and necklaces, and ear rings, etc.
God provided water from a rock at least twice for the wandering Hebrews.
God provided food – manna – bread out of heaven – every day for 40 years – and literally brought quail into their camp so that hunting was not necessary, and they could focus on caring for their families and getting to the next leg of their sojournings.
Elijah – in a time of severe famine and drought – saw God day after day – deliver bread and meat to him via Ravens. After that God told him to go to a town called Zarephath and – – that a dirt poor widow there would be God’s instrument to provide for him.
God provided a coin in the mouth of a fish for Peter to go pay his taxes.
And the list goes on and on. This is why it is crucial that you and I are finding time every day to meditate in the scriptures – – for they are full of principles and examples to help us know and trust God as our provider.
Rom. 15:4 ”For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”
We may talk about this more the next time I preach, .. but another reason why it is so crucial that we all are in the scriptures every day – – is because of all of the help found therein for those of us who seem to be lacking in provision. Throughout the scriptures there are both principles or teachings about and examples of godly men and women who went through a season of significant lack – – and how they handled it; and how God responded to their cry.
Now when I say lack, I am not referring to people who wonder why God has not provided hundreds of thousands of dollars for them for their future retirement. Jesus commands us to ask for daily bread on a daily basis. We are to look to Him for today’s needs; and trust Him for tomorrow’s. His commitment to us is to meet today’s need.
And His desire for us is that we can all walk in absolute peace and confidence that our Father God will come through for us in His perfect timing and in His often novel and creative way.
My Stories – – testimonies in the congregation? Prayer