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“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?
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30
Jesus is still talking here about the command not to commit adultery. But He hyperbolizes the practical application of it.
In Biblical culture, anything on the right side of the body was considered honored [Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1]. While the left hand was typically considered dishonored because of its hygienic function. So if the eye–which is the lamp that lets light into our whole body [Matthew 6:22]–and the honorable eye at that, gazes lustfully at others, we’re guilty of the sin of adultery.
Remember that God is transcendent. As humans, we tend to see good and bad, right and wrong in spectrums. We qualify things as kind-of-good and not-so-bad. But God does no such thing. Either it’s of God or it’s sin. Lustful eyes are symptomatic of a sinful heart.
So again, if the most honorable light source in our life fixates on sinful passions, we would be better off living this finite life half-blind, so that we don’t miss out on eternal life.
Now obviously, the struggle with lust can’t be associated with only one eye. We use both to look. So both are the offenders. Just like a person isn’t likely to commit sins of theft or adultery with one arm tied behind their back. But even if one did, the whole person would still be guilty of theft. By using a hyperbole–an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally–Jesus emphasizes His point. It is the sin that needs to be cut out of our lives by whatever means necessary.
God made a covenant of circumcision with the patriarch Abraham and His chosen people, Israel [Genesis 17:1-25]. After the Exodus and throughout the New Testament, God let the people know that true circumcision needed to be of the heart [Deuteronomy 10:16 & 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:25-29].
You see, circumcision is physically removing some unnecessary flesh that could create health problems. But we need to cut the love-of-this-world-flesh off of our whole heart–intellect, will and emotion–because it only leads to spiritual health problems. Jesus’ command to gouge out an offending eye or to cut of an offending hand has the same meaning.
Does God really want people to go around maiming themselves? Not at all! But He does want us to understand the seriousness of sin, to repent of it and to flee from it [Isaiah 59:2; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 6:18]. In the end, it’s better for us to miss out on the emptiness of this finite life than to spend the rest of eternity regretting our lack of self-control.
We all struggle with a particular sin or another [Romans 3:23]. But we can ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to flee from it or to miraculously heal us and cut it out of our life. What sin are you in? Will you willingly give it to God? Or eternally regret it?
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18
In His day, people were trying to figure Jesus out. False prophets were not uncommon in Israel in the past [Jeremiah 14:14 & 23:16; Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 13:9 & 22:28; Hosea 11:6; Matthew 7:15; Acts 5:26-29 & 13:6]. So was this guy from Galilee really a miracle-working prophet of God? Was He possibly even the promised Messiah?
And if Jesus was a prophet or the Messiah, what was God’s directive? Was He instituting a new order through this audacious preacher-prophet-teacher-healer?
Jesus knew their hearts and minds [Matthew 12:25; Luke 5:22, 6:8-10 & 11:17]. He answered their questions before they could ask them out loud. No, God is not changing His plan of redemption. Yes, the Law and the Prophets still matter in the eternal scheme of human history. Yes, I am the fulfillment of everything that you have studied and heard. No, this world will not last forever. No, God isn’t rewriting the game rules. Yes, everything God said would happen will happen.
The Law of Moses was more than just the ten commandments, though they get the most attention. There were people in Israel whose whole life’s work was to study and interpret the law–experts akin to modern day lawyers. But the Law was meant to show people their sinfulness [Romans 7:7-8 & 8:3]–not to redeem them from it. The Prophets also came to make people aware of their sin, yet they too were powerless to save anyone.
Jesus came to complete the work began in the Law and the Prophets. He came to redeem people from their sin. As long as the Creation endures–and it is going to pass away one day [Revelation 21:1]–the Law and the Prophets will still show people their sin and Jesus will still, by God’s grace through our faith, reconcile the repentant to Himself.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus refers to the alphabet in these verses. When He says the least letter, it is the Hebrew yodh or the Greek iota, both literally the smallest letters in their respective alphabets. And the least stroke refers to the horn a little letter flourish, like the bottom curve of a lowercase j. God didn’t change his mind or His plan on even the smallest detail.
As the author of life [Acts 3:15], God never needs to brainstorm, draft or revise. He never needs to eat His words or print a retraction or buy a bottle of whiteout. He doesn’t backspace or delete.
The Word of the Lord stands forever [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25]. Are you standing on that Word?
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
Our good deeds can never save us–works without faith leads to death. But our good deeds might save others.
God is good. And we were made in His image to do good [Ephesians 2:10].
And God is light [1 John 1:5]. He sent His fully God Son, Jesus, as a fully human life to be a light of God’s love to a lost and dying world [John 1:4]. But the sin-darkened world did not understand the light of Christ [John 1:5].
Yet we are made in God’s image to be light. To do good–according to God’s standard of goodness–so that others may see and come to recognize the truth of God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The good we do, we do not do of our own spiritual ability. It is the Holy Spirit who works in us [Philippians 2:13]. Without such deeds, our faith–absolute certainty in what we hope for but cannot see–is dead [James 2:17]. It is not a living tree that can produce the fruit of the spirit and bring glory to God in heaven [Matthew 3:19, 7:19 & 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14; John 15:1-4].
When we first come to know Jesus as our savior, His Word is like a fire shut up in our bones [Jeremiah 20:9]. It burns within us, a light yearning to spill into everyone around us, so that they too may know the truth and be set free from sin.
But if we are embarrassed or ashamed of the light within us, if we keep the truth of God to ourselves, it’s like sticking a lamp under a bowl. No one will see the light, and eventually, the lamp burns up all the oxygen under the bowl and snuffs itself out.
So living as a Christian who never does what God’s Word commands is like living dead in the shadows. We walk around like spiritual zombies, suppressing the life of the spirit within us so that we can blend in with the truly spiritual dead all around us.
Do you live as light? Does God’s goodness shine through all you say and do? Or are you holding back the truth in an effort to fit in with the lost and dying?
“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.'” Matthew 2:16-18
So blinded is Herod by his pride and worldly lusts, that he lets the news of Jesus’ birth boil into rage within. With honey sweet words, he lies to the Magi, trying to mislead them, trying to dupe them into abetting his murderous scheme. And when his deception fails him, his rage boils more spuriously.
Ironic or just confirming the truth that Jesus would later speak, that anger brings the same judgment as murder [Matthew 5:21-22]. Anger is a seed sin [James 1:15], but a sin nonetheless. We are commanded not to sin in our anger because it gives the devil a foothold [Ephesians 4:26-27].
And for anyone who denies God and promotes self-as-god, anger erodes the whole heart–intellect, will and emotion. But when we hide God’s word in our heart, growing in our love for and understanding of Him, it guards our intellect, will and emotion.
Not that Christians never get angry or commit other sins. We absolutely do!
But God is a loving Father who comes along aside to mentor us and correct us when we do wrong [Hebrews 12:4-13]. His Word is a light shining on our path each day so that we don’t stumble and fall flat on our faces on our pilgrimage to truth [Romans 9:33]. His Spirit is a holy counselor who hears our hearts and knows our minds. In all things, He reminds us of who we are in Christ, that we are made in God’s image and how we can become more like Him every day [John 14:26].
When we, like Herod, reject God for the love of self, then we have to fulfill the role of god in our own lives. We have to become the most powerful in order to protect self. We have to be shrewd in order to try to outwit true wisdom. We have to be vengeful because we don’t trust God and we won’t leave vengeance in the hands of anyone but the one person we trust–our shriveled up self [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:17-19].
In the end, God being omniscient and all wise, looked through all of human history before it happened and knew that Herod would come to the throne. Knew that he would be a paranoid, power hungry, usurping leader of God’s chosen people. Knew that Rome would be rising in power so that Herod would kowtow to promote himself.
In His wisdom, God knew that Herod would seek to kill the Messiah, His Son Jesus Christ, and that this was the exact right moment in human history to send him into the world [Jeremiah 31:15].
Do you, like Herod, struggle with anger over the things of God? Or do you, like the Magi and the shepherds, rejoice with the truth?
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.'” Matthew 2:1-2
Did you know that there were two Bethlehems in Israel? One northwest of Nazareth and this one, south of Jerusalem, where Jesus was born in Judea.
About 540 years after the first exiles returned to Judah in southern Israel and just 40 years since the founding of the Roman Empire, King Herod sits on the throne that rightly belongs to Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph’s, family line. King Herod knows that he doesn’t belong there. His authority is precariously based on human political alliances, including the Jewish religious leaders of his day.
So his panic over the Magi’s news that the real King of Judah has been born is a very real, world-rocking, desperate panic.
But how about those Magi? They came from east of Jerusalem which itself is on the western edge of what is considered the Middle East. So the Magi could have come from several of the other Middle Eastern countries–Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran–or the Far East–India, China, Mongolia, et al.
They were astrologers, men who studied the stars for understanding and for prophetic signs. And God set a very unique star in the sky to commemorate the birth of His Son, Jesus the Messiah [Numbers 24:17; Jeremiah 23:5]. The Magi saw His star while they were yet in their eastern home countries, and they followed it, like a heavenly GPS, right to Jerusalem where Jesus had been born. Sailors have long navigated by starlight, but they relied on star charts of known celestial bodies. Whereas the Magi saw a new astrological phenomena and had to know its significance.
Except they did know its significance. They knew to ask Herod–the usurping King of the Jews–where the new baby, true King of the Jews was. And they knew that they, even being Gentiles, needed and wanted to worship the true King of the Jews.
How can that be? Except for the eternity that is in each of our hearts [Ecclesiastes 3:11] and the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives drawing us back to our Creator God [John 6:44]. These were not men who grew up in Israel studying the messianic prophecies to recognize His coming. No, those in Israel didn’t recognize their Messiah. These were possibly sorcerers and fortune tellers from pagan societies who still possessed a seed of Godly understanding.
Every culture on the planet has that seed. The Spirit of God has preserved some witness of Himself in every culture in the history of the world–Creation myths, flood legends, dragon tales and belief in an afterlife to name a few. The Creation itself testifies to the truth of God [Acts 14:17; Romans 1:20]. Those who hunger and thirst for the truth will seek God while He may be found and find rest for their souls [Isaiah 55:6-7; Matthew 5:6 & 11:29].
Are you absolutely convince of the truth of God? Seek to understand Him while you have breath. Study His Creation to know Him personally. Find rest for your weary, wayward soul. Then join the proclamation of His truth.
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21
God is omniscient. He knew Joseph’s heart–his thoughts and motivations [1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:10; Hebrews 4:12]. He knew that Joseph and Mary were righteous and God-fearing. He knew that Mary would face public disgrace and possible life-ending consequences depending on Joseph’s reaction. But He also knew that Joseph was the man He could trust to see that Mary was well cared for as she bore the Christ child.
Joseph was a Godly father and husband. That was why he wrestled with the righteousness piece of this whole finding-Mary-pregnant-during-their-engagement thing. He knew that he hadn’t slept with her.
But God intervenes in Joseph’s understanding to set the record straight. God brings the light of truth through an angelic dream. Dream oracles were a firm part of ancient beliefs and not just in Israel. However, God spoke in dreams to the patriarch Jacob [Genesis 28:11-19], his son Joseph [Genesis 37:5-11], King Solomon [1 Kings 3:5-15; and many of the prophets [Numbers 12:6; Daniel 7].
It’s interesting that the angel addresses Joseph by his genealogy. Had anyone ever called him Joseph son of David before? Because of the meticulously kept family records, he surely knew his own descent from the great patriarch Abraham and King David, but did he readily identify with these two men of promise? God wants to make sure that Joseph now understands what his significance in this story is.
By calling Joseph his genealogical title God is showing that the baby to be born in his family will fulfill the promise made to King David. God further expands on this explanation, assuring Joseph that Mary has not been with another man. She is still a virgin, miraculously carrying God’s own child–which will be born a son.
Now there was no way to know in those days whether a child would be male or female until it was born. So God reveals the gender in order to confirm that what He is saying is true. When the baby is born and really is a boy, Joseph will understand that the dream really was from God and that the child really is the son of God.
Until then, he has to accept the situation on faith alone. But when the truth is fulfilled–the baby is born and Joseph consummates his marriage with Mary and finds she really still is a virgin–then he has a part to play as well. When Joseph’s faith comes to fruition, he will give his God-man stepson the name Jesus to publicly acknowledge his belief in the truth God spoke to him beforehand.
All of us are born with the seed of faith to believe in God and the truth of His Word. When we study and cultivate our relationship with Him, His Word is fulfilled in our lives through salvation, the fruit of the Spirit lived out in us, and blessings. Is your faith coming to fruition? Or is it drying up in the seed of your passing child and teen years?