Today Jesus continues his exhortation of what we should do. That if we are Kingdom Citizens — His Disciples, then we will be active in doing righteous things. Jesus for our sake highlights three specific things that people could easily relate to, then and now. TTings that were already a part of the Jewish religious customs — First He spoke to examples of things to avoid — highlighted by the Law of Moses, but then took it deeper to the heart of the matter — the seed of sin within. But now we’re not avoiding — we are to be doing — And again, Jesus wants to get down to the heart of the action — not just the outward display — He wants His disciples to know that we should do these things, but the heart and motivation of that action should be rightly directed. Not for our glory but God’s glory.
This week Jesus takes us to two more common practices of religious righteousness:
Righteous Acts: Praying & Fasting
Last week it was Giving. So Jesus is going to do a deeper look into what manner we are to take part of these righteous actions. And so that basic question we’re trying to answer is still:
How do I practice righteousness?
Through Prayer & Fasting? Yes, by all means we will see that. Again, I must have a caveat that we could spend easily three weeks on just the Lord’s Prayer, but for our study, we’re looking at how it fits into the major narrative of the Sermon. Remember we’re coming from this whole Sermon on the Mount to understand what Kingdom — God’s Kingdom — Kingdom of Heaven — Citizens look like.
The Beatitudes led us off with a general wide angle view. Now Jesus is moving into particular areas of real life — application if you will. He’s a really good preacher.
Let’s pray and then dig into this passage.
I hope you hear the repetitive nature of what Jesus is saying about each of these different actions. Listen for the similarities of the passage above as I read.
When — understood: we will do it. Don’t be like the hypocrites — So they are seen by others — That is their reward. Father sees in secret — He is the one to give a reward.
Through verse 5 and 6 it’s almost identical to the passage about giving. There is no trumpet resounding — but standing on the street corners — I mean in the same hyperbolic fashion that Jesus is using… Can’t you just see the “hypocrites” praying on that corner — They are all dressed and made up perfectly — chose their spot for maximum visibility, even maybe doing some voice exercises before going out to the corner — gurgling some salt water. Then here comes the performance — as the hypocrite leads off — He gives the old slight side eye to see how many are able to watch his very Holy prayer.
Jesus is obvious when He says — no — that is not true prayer. Your heart is wrong — you’re seeking the wrong recognition. Prayer is all about our Father in Heaven recognizing the voice of His children and turning an ear to hear, not other humans recognizing the show-off on the corner. Prayer is the chance for us as mere sinful humans to commune with God. To have time to communicate to Him what’s on our heart —
- What is causing us anxiety —
- What is giving us joy —
- What is making us sorrowful—
- What is reminding us to be thankful—
We can relate this to the God of the universe — the creator — the sustainer of all.
That is what prayer is about — So Jesus tells His Kingdom Citizens: Look — you can go into a room and shut the door — literally in secret— Yet, the God, Our Father, who sees all and hears all will meet you in that place. Isn’t that encouraging? So true heart motivation is intimacy with the Father.
But he continues — verse 7. High and lofty talk — more like babble. My study led me to a Greek lexicon that described this word this way:
“prattle, to speak much, utter meaningless sounds, speak incoherently”
So just making noise, as if the more noise — the greater the sound— the more people would stare — so as it appears to be Holy — like the more the noise the more it would gain God’s attention. But Jesus says — that’s similar to the pagans — (slap in the face). Think back to the show down between the pagan worshipers and the prophet Elijah: The pagan priests were attempting to get their gods to burn up the offering — many words, many hours, many ridiculous acts — yet nothing. Elijah even mocks them — paraphrasing— maybe you could be louder, he might be busy relieving himself….
Then Elijah quietly prays:
“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”
1 Kings 18:36–37.
Ultimately we know that God is sovereign — He is Omnipotent — He knows all and is in control of all! Therefore — He knows even before we ask — He knows what we are to say before we even know that we are going to say.
So why pray? Easy — Jesus tells us to. Even as humans can we not anticipate what a child might need? Many times as a 2nd grade teacher, I could anticipate what the student wanted to ask — but there is growth in the forming of the words. Our father wants us to grow in our communion with Him. It’s clear that when we pray, there is manner in which we should pray —
A Kingdom Citizen intimately prays, trusting that God sovereignly knows our needs and desires.
Again we seek intimacy with God — that’s what His desire is for His children. Yet, we trust that even though we ask — He already knows what we need and desire. We next move to the Lord’s Prayer — the “Our Father” in some traditions. We’re going to read this together right now, the words will be on the screen:
Jesus gives us not a command of this is the only thing to ever pray — but the pattern in which we approach God. First we recognize God for God — He is Our Father — this prayer in two words gives us valuable information. We can see that corporate prayer is still a good thing. We don’t always go in a closet — we pray as a community of believers — and we recognize those that are disciples and can pray this genuinely — God is OUR FATHER! We are His children.
Hallowed — honored — glorified is His name — proper respect. Your Kingdom come — His will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven. Is God not in control — is that why we’re asking for Him to come? God’s Kingdom is: God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s eternal rule. We are asking God to restore wholly His Kingdom.
In the beginning Heaven and Earth were overlapped — God was there in the Garden — with His people — All was under His rule… Then Genesis 3 — the fall — of which God knew would happen. We are asking for that to be again restored — which it will — when Jesus returns again! Amen — Come Lord Jesus — Bring your Kingdom! Let this place here be restored — to be as You designed — Just like Heaven! No sin — no corruption— no weeping — no heartache — no natural disasters. This is an element of how some categorize it as Adoration. We are acknowledging God for who He is — and worshiping Him for that!
The next portion of the Prayer brings it to our human interaction of life. We are asking for provision. Just like the daily bread — manna — that the people of Israel would receive and gather daily in the wilderness. We are making a request knowing that we should be thankful for how He has provided for us the things we have ever needed.
Some people call this supplication — the asking or requesting. Though it’s still a request — we ask God to forgive us our debts — no, not money debts — the things that we do that are displeasing to God. The things that are sinful — and likewise we need strength to forgive those who sin against us. We are confessing our wrongs — confessing the sins that we know, but also the ones that we have not even understood as sin. The last portion goes along with this same confession—request — We ask for help to keep us away from temptation. You might be wondering — does God lead us to be tempted? No, He is not the tempter, but we request that our sinful state is not tested — We need His deliverance from our natural state. Our natural evil inclinations. This is surely the model of how we as Kingdom Citizens are to pray — not these words alone but this manner —
A Kingdom Citizen prays humbly and expectantly for God to provide according to His will.
We humbly approach God — recognizing His position. We make requests that impact our life in relationship to His will. We can always be sure that His will shall be done — that is to be expected. Some call this model the ACTS prayer model— It’s one that I use frequently when either writing out prayer or praying internally.
Adoration — Confession — Thanksgiving — Supplication
Verses 14 and 15 are Jesus’s reminders that not just in our prayer or in our talk should we forgive others — but in actual practice. How could we not forgive others — when we have just asked God and named the things we need forgiven for.
Again — we must practice what we preach so to speak. Once again where is the heart motivation in relationship to others and their sins against us? We now move to the last section that Jesus provides a practical example of practicing righteousness.
Jesus returns once again to that repetitive formula of the outward action and the inward motivation. We are hit with the beginning — WHEN — to be honest I do not have a regular cycle of fasting. But upon the occasion that I have — it has been a tangible reminder of my need for God’s strength, not my own.
So why would a Kingdom Citizen fast? In conjunction with a special prayer request — Maybe in a time of confession and grieving over your own sin. Maybe in an act of piety or righteousness to remind you of where your strength indeed does come from. All of these are absolutely good reasons to fast.
John Stott relayed an interesting anecdote from 16th century England:
“In sixteenth-century England abstinence from meat was enjoined on certain days, and the eating of fish instead, not by the church but by the state, in order to help maintain ‘fishertowns bordering upon the seas’ and thereby to reduce ‘victuals to a more moderate price, to the better sustenance of the poor’.”
When we fast there is also an element of solidarity with those who are materially poor. I may have told this story before — but we were visiting a family in Haiti with a sponsor
— the Philogene family story —
That is a humble expectant prayer — One that realizes God is the sustainer — the giver of strength — not us. Fasting is an expectation of Jesus — that much is clear — But we don’t do it to look more pious — to be holier than thou— We do it that we might honor God and glorify Him by the act — not to earn points with God — but for obedience sake.
Stott again summarizes this well:
“So whether for penitence or for prayer, for self-discipline or for solidary love, there are good biblical reasons for fasting. Whatever our reasons, Jesus took it for granted that fasting would have a place in our Christian life. His concern was that, as with our giving and praying so with our fasting, we should not, like the hypocrites, draw attention to ourselves.”
So the last point:
A Kingdom Citizen fasts knowing that this righteous act reminds them of God’s sustaining power.
God is the sustainer of life —
Throughout all of these righteous acts we see the contrast between the legalistic vanity of these acts done to be praised by man. Compared to the humble, unassuming actions that are done to glorify God and in return be acceptable to Him as worship and the reward of knowing we are acting in a pleasing way to HIm. The Kingdom Citizen is the latter —
So what do we do with these things specifically in our lives?
Take away – 1
We must routinely pray to gain a greater communion with our Father.
Take away – 2
We must create times of fasting to remember who is our strength.
Take away – 3
We must be intentional in doing righteous acts, but with pure motivation.
All of you that profess Christ as your savior I have two challenges:
One — if you’re not sure how to pray other than quickly before a meal or just a time of requests to God — then do this — each day this week — start your day by reciting the Lord’s prayer —
Two— Find a time to fast this week, the situation in Haiti continues to be dire and sorrowful — this would be a great time to fast and pray for Haiti.
If you’re someone that hasn’t professed Christ as your savior — do so today.
Look, it is not just sit back and relax — there is action. Following Christ is not passive — the actions of Christians have been some of the greatest times in all of history. Trust that Jesus is your savior — He is speaking to you! You are in the crowd, but move to being a disciple. His life, death, and resurrection was on your behalf to bring peace between you and God. And then turn from those old ways — and begin to live as Jesus is directing us!
1 James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
2 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 138.
3 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 138–139.