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“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6
Prayer is an intimate relationship building time with God. It is talking to Him daily just as we would with our closest friends and family.
But many Jews in Jesus’ earthly day had turned this very important practice into a self-righteousness show-off contest. It was for reputation building alone and missed the whole point of spending time with God. Maybe it gave them political advantage, or extra points with their boss, or maybe even the bride of their choice, but it was a spiritually bankrupt pursuit.
Just like with giving to the needy for social gain, so taking the time to pray for others to notice is a waste of time. This is not a sincere petition of faith brought before a loving God, it might as well be a fashion show or a popularity poll passed among peers.
Most people today wouldn’t dream of praying out loud on a street corner for everyone to see, not in our political climate. It can be hard enough bowing our head to mutter a silent prayer in the school cafeteria or the workplace break room before lunch. And this is what many unbelievers consider hypocrisy today. Saying if we really believe, then we should be bold enough to publicly live out our prayer life and our prayers should be effective.
But what about at church?
At church, people expect to see the fruit of Godliness in our lives. They expect to see us praying fervently and praising and worshiping with eyes closed or hands lifted. Corporate prayer, praise and worship can be a spiritual, mental and emotional struggle because the temptation to do outwardly what everyone else expects from us can make our church time with God just as meaningless as the pious Jews of Jesus’ time on earth.
Normally, we should spend one-on-one time with God. This isn’t an easy habit to develop, but it is vital to Christian life. And when we are at church, the ability to close out everyone around us and just be with God will flow from the personal time we’ve spent with Him when we’re alone. Sincere prayer comes from the heart in love with God and the wisdom gleaned from His Word and His Holy Spirit in our lives.
Do you spend time alone with God daily? Do you feel pressured to participate at church to maintain others’ perception of you? Or do you have a well-developed relationship with your heavenly Father? Wherever you are along this path, keep pressing on and daily pressing in to know Him more.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37
Jesus doesn’t quote directly from the ten commandments this time, instead He cites another command of the law, which actually had to do with making oaths to God Himself [Deuteronomy 23:21]. Apparently, people didn’t consider that it might be just as sinful to make an oath to another person and then break it.
Remember, Jesus is referring to seed sins. And He’s deepening understanding of the extent of the sinful nature in general.
Often, people who feel the need to back up their promise with some type of oath–cross my heart, hope to die, or I swear on my mother’s grave, or I swear *raises hand* you can even ask my…–are the same people who lie and break their promises. The content of their character isn’t enough to assure others to trust them. And frankly, often these added baggage words aren’t either.
But people also make loftier assurances, citing God as their witness or swearing to God. As if the Most High will back their finite, sinful promise when even their own character will not.
Enter Sermon on the Mount commandment number three: do not take the Lord’s name in vain [Exodus 20:7].
In Jesus’ day, people were somewhat mindful of saying God’s name directly, so they indirectly implied His involvement in their oaths swearing by things related to Him, like heaven where He resides, the earth He created or Jerusalem where His Temple was.
Essentially, they invoked God’s name emptily. They weren’t praying to Him, praising Him, bringing glory to His name or sharing the good news about Him. Often they were trying to wheedle their way into–or out of–a situation which they did not actually want God to have anything to do with. Like slapping up a Bat Signal without wanting Batman to actually show up. Or forging the president’s name on a document and hoping no one will try to authenticate the claim.
Other people swore by their own heads–as if they themselves had God’s power to make the impossible happen. Again showing how so many of us still live under Satan’s lie that we can be our own god [Genesis 3:5].
The bottom line is that when we live a Godly life, the integrity of our character should speak for itself. If we tell someone Yes, that should be enough for everyone to know they can depend on us. Similarly, if tell someone No, that should also be enough to know that we mean business.
When this is the case, it shows God’s image in us. He is eternally immutable and infinitely faithful. His promises are always Yes and Amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]. Just as His Do nots are always Do nots, because His Word never changes [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25].
Does your character align with God’s? Do others trust your simple assurances? Or do you have a habit of adding some type of I swear to your promises?
“Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
Jesus is still talking here about the command not to murder. Remember that the seeds of self-superiority, bitterness and anger can grow into full-blown murder if not repented of and removed from the heart.
But also, when we don’t forgive others the sins or wrongs they have committed against us, God doesn’t forgive our sins [Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:16].
More important than fulfilling religious rituals–like giving offerings, taking communion or even regular church attendance–is that we love God and love our fellow human beings.
So when it doesn’t seem like our prayers are being answered, when we feel far from God, when our worship seems to bounce back at us from brass heavens, when the Holy Spirit convicts us and we remember that we’ve done something to upset someone else, then we need to go make things right with that person before trying to get ourselves right with God again.
Here we see that it is not just the responsibility of the offended to freely give forgiveness, but it is up to us to know when we’ve done something to offend someone. To be self-aware of our words and deeds and how they effect others’. God’s grace isn’t a license to walk around willfully or even inadvertently offending others.
We are responsible for making sure that we live at peace with everyone as far as it depends on us [Romans 12:18]. And we are also responsible not to put stumbling blocks–like thought seeds that can lead to murder–in other people’s lives [Romans 14:13].
When we do our part, no matter how others respond, then God’s blessings will flow freely, unhindered, in our lives. Because God’s kingdom is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit [Romans 14:16].
Have you offended someone? Can you think of anyone who holds something against you? Have you done everything you can to bring peace and forgiveness to the matter? Have you yourself forgiven the offended person?
“As Jesus was walking along beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-22
Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee by calling disciples to Himself. This was not customary. In fact, usually it was the disciple who chose the teacher or rabbi. Prospective students would begin by sitting at the back of the room, listening to their would-be rabbi. If they liked the teaching and wanted to study under the rabbi then they worked their way to sitting in the front and following the rabbi wherever he taught.
But that was an earthly tradition. God isn’t content to wait around while we stray further and further from His truth, hoping that we might show up in the back of His class our of curiosity. He passionately pursues all people.
Jesus found His first four disciples working as fishermen in the Sea of Galilee. So they were probably of mixed Gentile and Jewish origin. They probably had a recognizable accent to the “purer” Jews of the south. And they probably would have been despised–or looked down on–by the religiously devout just as much as Jesus was.
They were perfect for the job in every way!
Simon Peter is hard at work with his brother Andrew when Jesus promised to make them fishers of men. James and John responded too.
I have to wonder if they had any idea what Jesus meant by this turn of phrase. Were they well versed in the prophecies of the Messiah? Or were they from Galilean families who practiced watered-down worship?
Regardless of what their understanding, what we do know about these men is the most important thing that could be said of anyone. They followed Jesus. Without hesitation. Without concern about their livelihood or their parents. They literally laid it all down and committed their lives to Him.
So often we let the love of the world consume us–the desires of our physical bodies, the desires of our eyes and the pride for what we have and do–bind us up [1 John 2:16]. When Jesus knocks on our hearts and calls our name, we hesitate. But what about my college plans? My job path? My friends? My house? My family? My healthcare? My retirement?
We have so much that we, like the rich young ruler, sadly turn away from following Jesus’ lead [Mark 10:21-22].
Is your life free to follow Christ? Or are you weighted down by the world?
“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulon and Naphtali–to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'” Matthew 4:12-17
When Satan didn’t succeed in tempting Jesus, it appears he turned his attentions to attacking Jesus’ cousin, John. Maybe now he could force God’s Son to out Himself as the Messiah. Surely the Savior of the world would storm the prison and miraculously overthrow the government, decimating its army to free one of His beloved human beings.
But it’s still not God’s appointed time.
It was, however, God’s time to send His Son as a light to all nations.
So instead, Jesus moved to Capernaum from which most of His earthly ministry was soon to be based. This is the promised blessing for these two tribal territories whose trade routes connected Israel to the Mediterranean.
Capernaum was a sizable town in the Galilee region. Because of the Assyrian captivity, the people there were of mixed-culture descent–returning Jews and the pagan peoples that moved into the area during the captivity. Influence from all of the Gentile religions greatly diminished Jewish worship in Galilee.
They had become spiritually dark.
But Isaiah had foretold that God would send His Son as a light into this spiritual darkness [Isaiah 9:1-2]. The reason? Because it was always God’s intention to redeem the whole world, not just Israel [Genesis 12:2-3, 18:18 & 22:18; Acts 3:25].
Satan intended to silence John’s message, but God’s purposes prevailed. Jesus took up the torch of John’s message, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near [Matthew 3:2], and stepped into the way prepared by John’s ministry.
A torch that he passed to His disciples. A torch that has passed down through the generations and come to us. God’s light is still for everyone on the planet. His redemption for everyone who has, does and will ever live. The way has been prepared for you and I to take up the message.
Will you embark on the journey of the eternal torch? Making disciples of all nations? Teaching them to obey God’s Word? And baptizing them in the name of the Triune Godhead [Matthew 28:16-20]?
“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.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’ Matthew 4:8-10
Satan scrambles desperately here. He couldn’t tempt Jesus with physical weakness. And he couldn’t tempt Him with religious superiority. So now he tries tempting God’s Son with worldly splendor and sovereignty.
Skip the cross, Jesus. We can settle this nasty business the easy way. I’m the prince of this world, after all [John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2]. You want your people back? I’ll give you every kingdom on the planet. All of their opulence? Yours. Just bow down and say the words, buddy.
But, being fully God, all sovereignty already belonged to Jesus. Not to mention that the kingdoms of this world are temporary. All their wealth and honor and might will crumble in a heap of ashes when this world passes away. All their splendor is meaningless in the big picture of eternity.
The only thing Jesus wanted was the love of our hearts [Deuteronomy 5:29]. Love can’t be traded like a farm animal or a handcrafted furniture piece or a stock or even a gold bullion. Love can’t be demanded. It can’t be dictated or coerced into being. Love must spring from the genuine condition of the heart that eternally wills for good.
Satan might as well have offered a crumpled up piece of paper from a rotted trash heap. Authority over earthly land and law could in no way secure Jesus’ prized treasure, the apple of His eye, the redemption of humanity. How Jesus longed–in accord with Father and Spirit–to be reconciled to His creation. How He loved us and loves us still, yearning for our wayward hearts to find truth and rest in Him.
To find truth and to root and grow in it, so that our love will never grow cold [Matthew 24:12].
Do you recognize God Almighty alone as Sovereign? Have you accepted Jesus’ reconciliation for your sins? Are you resting in your Savior’s love?