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“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18
While Matthew chapter 5 looks at the deeper heart issues of the Old Testament commandments, chapter 6 very pointedly addresses hypocrisy. Jesus adds a third rebuff to his growing list of hypocritical traits–fasting for public show.
Again, the religiously elite of His earthly day did everything they could to make sure people recognized their so-called holiness, which really amounted to nothing more than boastful acts of self-righteousness.
Beginning in the Old Testament, people fasted for the Day of Atonement, the only required fast of the year. However, throughout the year, they would voluntarily fast for times of national crisis, during grieving periods or to humbly express devotion to God.
In the New Testament, the Pharisees fasted twice a week out of prescribed habit and expected practice [Luke 18:12]. In later centuries, contrary to Jesus’ warnings here, Christians turned fasting into an ascetic challenge, an act of severe self-discipline.
Fasting is giving up or going without food, water or other pleasures for a predetermined period of time. Time which is devoted to praying–true prayer. A fast can last for just a few hours or it can last as long as forty days. You can give up one item or everything–though for matters of health, it is unwise to try to give up all food and drink for forty days. Yet the asceticists challenged themselves to outdo one another in this fashion, potentially turning something spiritually beneficial into something physically harmful, and all in the name of pride.
The hypocrisy comes when our heart isn’t right. When we do something with impure motives. The only reason to fast is to draw closer to God. It is a good thing. But as sinful human beings we have a way of taking good things and twisting them into bad things.
The so-called religiously devout of Jesus’ day were fasting–good thing. But they were making a public show of their fasting out of pride–bad thing. At that point, any prayers they may have uttered were empty. Because they weren’t fasting to draw closer to God. They were fasting so that others would think of them as more spiritual.
Pride always comes before our downfall [Proverbs 16:18]. Someone pats us on the back, tells us, good job. It feels good. And if they think so, then surely God thinks so too. And maybe He does at first. But as our pride begins to seek more human recognition, to need the back-pat and the encouraging words or maybe more, it pushes God out of the equation. Then all of sudden, what began as a spiritually healthy, life-giving practice becomes a spiritually-dead, life-rotting bad habit.
Do you fast? Devoting time to seek God uninterrupted on important matters or to give your grief to Him is powerful. If you already fast, is it habitual or purposeful? Is it prideful or penitent?
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This then is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,'”Matthew 6:7-9
Quite often, Jesus references the Old Testament in His New Testament discourse. This should, in our minds, solidify His statement that He came to fulfill the Law and not to abolish even the smallest portion of it [Matthew 5:17-18].
The mention of pagans here, hearkens back to the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal [1 Kings 18:26-29] and an exhortation of King Solomon about speaking thoughtfully and purposefully with God [Ecclesiastes 5:2]. Both contrast the verbose tendencies of idol worshipers.
Their gods are no god at all but rather precious metal, stone, wood and the like–statues and images made by human hands [Psalm 115:4 & 135:15; Isaiah 2:8; Jeremiah 16:20-21]. They cannot hear or respond. Because of this, idol worshipers tend to talk and talk and talk their nonliving god into the ground, like beating a dead horse they can never penetrate the idol’s ears, let alone its heart, with their many words.
As Christians, we serve the one true living God [Jeremiah 10:10]. We don’t need to drone on with repetitive incantations or nagging requests. God hears us just fine [1 Samuel 1:17-20; 1 John 5:14]. And He knows what we need before we even ask Him [Matthew 6:8]. So we shouldn’t treat Him like a deaf stone statue. It’s irreverent. And it shows that we don’t have a right understanding of Him. That we need to grow in our relationship with Him.
When we pray, we know that God hears us and that, in His wisdom, He will do what is right in response to our request. Which–contrary to human opinion–is not always to give us what we ask for.
So then, how should we pray?
Recognize God for who He is. Our heavenly Father, whose very name is hallowed–meaning holy. We don’t use God’s name emptily or profanely. We don’t treat it like a magic genie’s lamp to get whatever we want. Instead, we call on the Lord as our friend who sticks closer than a brother and as our loving Father [Proverbs 18:24; 1 John 3:1].
It’s like walking into a king’s palace or any U.S. president’s Oval Office and saying, Yo bub, give me whatever I want because I’m asking you by name and you’re my government servant and you have to do whatever I want. We wouldn’t dream of trying to get things like this from earthly authorities. So why is it that when we pray we treat God with no more respect than a fictitious genie in a lamp?
If you struggle with prayer and the faith to believe that God will answer, maybe try putting your requests on ice for a time, and start seeking God to show you who He really is. Get to know Him as God. Begin to reverence Him in your heart and life. Then, when your relationship is right, bring your requests to Him as your Holy Heavenly Father.
How do you talk to God when you pray?
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32
Even though it seems like the topic has switched to marriage and divorce, Jesus is still addressing the command not to commit adultery. In addressing each of the commandments, He gives multiple levels of information, because He knows the human heart and our tendency to ask, But what if…? scenarios.
The sin of adultery starts with lustful eyes. It continues with the hands and the rest of the physical body following suit. And the struggle with this unchecked sin continues through the rest of adult life.
There were those who wanted to walk the spiritual line. They wanted God’s blessing, or at least not not to be punished by Him, so they tried to cover their adultering ways within legal limits.
Marriage and divorce.
If they were married to the woman they lusted after, then their actions weren’t breaking the law. And, if they were free to divorce the woman whenever they felt like it and marry someone else–and repeat the process over and over again–then they would never be considered adulterers in human terms because they were keeping the law.
But Jesus lets them know that no such loophole existed. God still saw this practice as full-fledged adultery. In fact, the divorce certificate was never God’s idea to begin with. Moses allowed the people to divorce because their hearts were too hard to accept God’s design of one man and one woman for life [Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:8].
So why the harsh warnings about the divorced woman being labelled an adulteress and becoming off-limits? Aren’t both the man and the woman who divorce in the wrong?
But the woman didn’t have any say in this cultural climate. The men made all the decisions–except, of course, if the wife herself was the one who chose to be unfaithful to the marriage. So Jesus is bringing marriage back to the foundation that it was always meant to be built on–love.
Number one: no one should marry unless they can commit to live with their chosen spouse for the rest of their lives.
Number two: no one should divorce, because they should so love God and each other as human beings that they don’t want any harm to come to the other person [Malachi 2:16; Matthew 1:19].
As it was, men were running around marrying for sport, and women were being treated like legal prostitutes. And Jesus told them to stop. God saw their hearts. He knew their sinful ways. And now He was trying to tighten their understanding of the intent of the law so that people would stop sinning against one another through the holy covenant of marriage.
Our world today doesn’t even bat an eye at marriage of all kinds and divorce for any reason. But God’s Word never changes [Numbers 23:10; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 13:8; 1 Peter 1:25; James 1:17]. It’s still just as wrong today as it was from the beginning.
As Christians, we need to steel our marital resolve with the commitment to love for life. A commitment that starts with guarding our eyes, minds and dating practices right now.
Are you committed to love one spouse for life? Are you praying for this future-someone even now? Are you guarding yourself out of your love and respect for the man or woman that God has for you?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
Ten commandment number two in the Sermon on the Mount: Do not commit adultery [Exodus 20:14]. Again Jesus cautions against the seed sin–lust.
Adultery is what we would call an affair in our culture. When someone who is married is intimately involved with someone other than their own spouse. And the Bible forbids it.
But Jesus recognizes that the practice of adultery starts long before the physical action. Adultery roots in our hearts when we look at someone with strong desire or attraction. And our American culture likes to exploit this human weakness in advertisement and other media for their own financial gain.
Meaning, commercials sell attraction and promote the development of lustful eyes. So does TV, movies, social media, magazines and the like. From a young age, we are bombarded with seductive images of people that we are not married to, that we are supposed to desire to either be like or to be with.
Everywhere we look, our society is offering us the seed sin of adultery.
And these images lodge themselves in our minds. They replay themselves in our idle moments. And eventually, we might find that we replay the thoughts on purpose, deepening our imaginary love for or fantasizing about a relationship with these people that we have never even met. And the Bible forbids it.
So how can we combat this social perversion that literally surrounds us?
- We become aware of what the Bible says about lust, pornography and the immorality that it leads to.
- We avoid inappropriate images and written descriptions whenever possible. Turn the channel, filter web searches, x out of search pages that bring up unbiblical results, don’t buy the magazine or book, stop reading, research movie ratings and reasons before choosing to go watch them, listen to Christian music instead of worldly music, etc.
- We take captive every thought in our mind and bring it under obedience to Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 10:5], rather than lingering and reveling in empty, lustful imaginations.
And why does it matter when we are not married if we look at an attractive person with desire?
The Bible tells us that the heart of a wayward person is a deep pit rooted in the grave and leading to death [Proverbs 5:1-23 & 23:27]. The habits of the eyes and mind that we develop in our youth are the habits that will be deeply rooted in our hearts and driving our adult pursuits.
It’s not easy to turn off lustful eyes. If you start the habit as a young person, it will continue with you into adulthood, and it won’t limit itself to your spouse. It’s not easy to turn off a fantasizing mind. If you start indulging in pleasurable imaginations now, they will continue to seduce you in adulthood.
Lust that leads to adultery is the only sin that we commit in our own body [1 Corinthians 6:18]. But it is also a sin against our spouse–whether present or future–against the person we lust after and against God.
Is there a person or people that you fantasize romantically about? Whether as seemingly innocent as hand-holding or a first kiss, don’t give the devil a foothold in your heart and mind. Are you attracted to internet and magazine images? Flee the temptations. Get an accountability partner and ask God to replace this lust with a growing love and respect for Him and for your future spouse.
Image: By Japanexperterna.se from Japan – Person looking at smartphone in the dark, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47395025
“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:19-20
There are so many questions concerning sin and the ten commandments and salvation through faith in Christ alone. Like–is breaking one of the ten commandments a sin today? Does the Old Testament really matter if we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus? If we are saved by God’s grace, and our sins are forgiven, is it ok if we still sin unknowingly? What about knowingly? Can’t we just ask forgiveness for our new sins? And many others.
When we accept Christ as Lord of our lives, it’s true that grace is ours. We are no longer under the Law which brought condemnation. So when we sin–whether knowingly or unknowingly–we have forgiveness in Christ. But that’s not license to keep on sinning [Romans 6:1]. Our old selves have been made new [2 Corinthians 5:17], so that we can hold the new wine of Jesus’ power in our lives [Matthew 9:17].
Jesus tells us that forgiven lawbreakers will be in heaven. But those who continue to disobey God’s commands and teach others to do it too, those people will be known as the least in heaven. While those who keep and teach God’s commands will be considered great in heaven.
While God is completely transcendent–above and outside of any such continuum–heavenly rewards will vary depending on the lives that we live [1 Kings 8:32; Matthew 5:12 & 6:19-24; Luke 6:23].
So yes, breaking a ten commandment–and any of God’s other commands–is still a sin today. Because disobeying God is sin. Yes, the Old Testament absolutely still matters because Jesus came to fulfill all that was written in the Old Testament, not to expunge it. Through the Old Testament we understand the heart of the greatest commandments and recognize our sinful state. Yes, if we are under grace our sins are forgiven whether continually committed knowingly or unknowingly. But no, we should not be ok with willfully continuing to sin.
We should daily be taking up our cross and wearing Christ like a robe, so that as we are being renewed in the renovation of our minds, we can be salt and light to this world.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law knew and kept the law to the letter, but they missed the point. Their hearts didn’t grow closer to God but more full of themselves. They didn’t love their fellow human being but instead despised them as unholy and unworthy.
If God’s Word doesn’t change us anymore than it did the religious leaders of His day, Jesus warns us that we will not enter heaven [Matthew 5:20].
What reward will you receive for the life you live? Are you pressing on in faith to attain the prize? Or are you habitually going through religious motions without letting the truth penetrate your heart and make you new?
“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” Matthew 4:11
How many of us give in at the first temptation that appeals to our appetites? Or at least the second which appeals to our sense of righteousness and holiness? But certainly, many of us fall to the temptation to increase our current advantage, our current position and status, even if just by a little bit. It’s the American Dream. A comfort that we’ve earned.
Our temptations are always darkest before the dawn. Right before the sunlight breaks, we do.
But Jesus kept His eyes on the prize of our hearts for eternity. And everything in this world paled to the nothingness that it truly is in light of His one goal. Redemption.
Having stood the test, Satan left Jesus. Most of us would be thankful just to have made it that far and to finally find some peace. Incredibly though, the angels–the heavenly host–came to attend Jesus. Did they attend Him on earth as they did in heaven? Worshiping Him as the Son of God He is. Perhaps they came to lift Him up in His physical weakness, though not because of a foot-flop contrived by the father of lies. Maybe they even delivered daily bread or manna from heaven.
We don’t know exactly, just that the angels of heaven tended to Jesus in His time of need.
God may or may not send angels to attend us in our times of need and triumph. But He has promised us His Holy Spirit. He never leaves us or forsakes us no matter how appetizing the worldly offer, no matter how murky the temptation shadow that drowns our thoughts.
And if we keep our eyes fixed on the Eternal, through the Holy Spirit we can overcome the darkness before sunrise, the steepest, craggiest mountain and the wolf-infested valley. If we are faithful to the end, we will receive the victor’s rewards in heaven [Revelation 2:10 & 3:4-5].
Are you struggling through something right now? Hold fast to your faith. Fix your eyes on God Almighty. He can bring you through if you trust Him. Does all of life seem darker than it’s ever been before? Hold on just a little while longer. The dawn is near.
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12
Why do we get water baptized?
A few verses earlier we learn that people confessed their sin and were baptized in the river [Matthew 3:6]. John tells us here that repentance was his express purpose for baptizing others in water.
Repentance is thinking again. Understanding our words and deeds through the lens of heaven’s eyes and realizing that we have sinned against God–whether by sinning against others or directly affronting Him. But when we repent–rethink our sinful ways–God begins the mental renovation process within us that ultimately transforms our outward life [Romans 12:2].
Nearly 2,000 years later, we still baptize people by water immersion. And it should still follow the repentant heart.
But it’s not enough.
John was only the harbinger of the Messiah, his cousin, Jesus. Only slaves, household servants, untied or carried their master’s sandals. By saying that he is less than a slave in Christ’s household, John is not belittling himself or bemoaning his station. Rather he is acknowledging that God is transcendent and that none of us or our ministries can in anyway compare to the Almighty.
John was confessing Jesus’ divinity.
John’s baptism made people physically wet. It literally washed the dirt from their skin. It stimulated their senses and connected spirituality to the physical. But it didn’t save anyone. It was a temporary, a fleeting momentary decision and public display incapable of truly changing a person. Just a first step in preparing the heart to receive the Word of Truth and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ baptism would surpass imagination and understanding [Isaiah 55:8-9; Ephesians 3:20]. The Holy Spirit. God’s own Spirit would not wash over us, but pour through us. Cleansing not our mortal skin but our immortal spirit-man within.
And fire. Which purifies gold, burning away impurities so that they can never return [1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18]. Fire baptism is an irreversible chemical change. The life that comes out of this process can never be the same as it was.
One way or another, everyone is going to face the fire.
For those of us who acknowledge God and take up the cross of Christ in this life, our fire will be temporary and it will transform us into the holy nation that will inherit the kingdom of heaven. But for those who deny God and His Son Jesus Christ with their physical life, their fire will last for eternity [Revelation 20:14-15]. Nothing will stay it. Nothing will quench it. And it will produce nothing of worth in their hereafter.
Water baptism does have value as a physical act of our faith. In fact, Jesus commissioned us to be baptized and baptize others in His name [Matthew 28:19-20]. Have you repented your sin nature, confessing to God? Are you being transformed by the fiery baptism of the Holy Spirit at work in your whole heart?