In the first section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us that our righteousness must be greater than that of the Pharisees (they only obeyed the letter but not the heart of the Law) and greater also than that of the pagans. Now, in this week’s reading, Jesus draws the same two contracts regarding our religion. He teaches we shouldn’t be hypocritical like the Pharisees, nor mechanical or materialistic like the pagans. Remember, so long as you’re breathing it’s a good time to start The Life and Teachings of Jesus 2020 Reading Plan.
The Life and Teachings of Jesus – Week 10 – March 9-13:
Monday – Matt. 6:5-15: Just as in the case with almsgiving, there is a tendency for people to use their prayers as a means of impressing others with their piety. Prayer is to be communion with God, not a means of increasing one’s reputation in the manner of the “hypocrites” (vv. 5-6). Rather, Jesus calls on praying disciples to, “Go into your inner room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (v. 6). He further instructs believers to not pray in the manner of “Gentiles” heaping word upon word as a means to entice a reluctant God. Jesus turns this image of God as a grudging giver on its head, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (v. 8). Jesus’ example prayer (vv. 9-13) guides us to see God as the source of glory and supplier of our spiritual and physical needs. Lastly, our Lord supplies one bit of commentary on His prayer, in short He says, only the forgiving will be forgiven. In a way then, prayer is a transformative exercise that aligns the disciple’s heart to God.
In what ways do your prayers need to: align with Jesus’ instructions on how to pray (vv. 5-8), more closely resemble His model prayer (vv. 9-13), and a proper heart (vv. 14-15)?
Tuesday – Matt. 6:16-18: In his third, and last, example of the proper practice of piety, Jesus turns to the act of fasting. In biblical terms, fasting is never about health or weight loss, but rather it was about “afflicting” oneself before God to entreat His favor. As with almsgiving and prayer, it is assumed that disciples will fast; the issue is not whether to do it but how. In a culture where few now give serious attention to fasting as a religious discipline this assumption can cause surprise. Fasting is often mentioned in the Old Testament as a response to a distressing situation, whether by an individual or a group (2 Samuel 12:16-23; Daniel 9:3; Ezra 8:21-23; Jonah 3:5-9 to just name a few). Several fast days were prescribed for the people the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:27-23) and later, during the exile, the fast established in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem (Zechariah 7:3-5; 8:19). It’s not until New Testament times that we read about the weekly fast of the Pharisees (Luke 9:14). However, their faux fast were not to draw the favor of God, but the favor of men (v. 16). The sort of fasting Jesus envisions here is presumably of choice, not routine. Whether individually, or in a group, for the disciple, during a fast everything is to be outwardly normal. Fasting like almsgiving and prayer, is to be between the believer and God.
Jesus’ instructions assume His followers will fast (for spiritual reasons, not health reasons), describe a time when you fasted. Why were you fasting? How did this spiritual discipline help you? If you’ve never fasted why not?
Wednesday – Matt. 6:19-24: Jesus’ words on money and treasure strike at the core of human selfishness, challenging both the well-to-do who have possessions to guard and the poor who wish they could acquire them. He challenges us with three truths: If disciples really trust God, they will live as if treasure in heaven is what matters most (vv. 16-21). Second, the person whose perspectives are distorted by materialism is blind to God’s truth (vv. 22-23). Lastly, one must love God or money; there is no middle ground (v. 24). Perhaps the greatest threat to Christians in America is not Islam, spiritualism, or atheism, but rather the all-pervasive materialism of our affluent society. Our Lord demands from His followers a wholehearted devotion to Him. Therefore, whatsoever tethers one’s heart to the earth should be released.
Why is it impossible to serve two masters? How does this principle connect with the Lord’s teaching on laying up “treasures on earth” verses laying up “treasure in heaven”?
Thursday – Matt. 6:25-34: In our last reading, Jesus has exhorted His disciples not to value earthly treasure of heavenly possessions (vv. 16-24). Now He goes one step further, He also exhorts us not to value possessions enough to worry about them (vv. 25-34). Christians must not agonize over seeking material gain, but should trust God’s power to provide our needs. If God cares for the birds, lilies, or grass, how much more for people created in His image and for His blessed children? Anxiety will not add even a single hour to one’s life (or cubit to one’s stature as some translations read). Indeed, worry does just the opposite; it shortens life. Yet when Jesus forbids His disciples from worrying about tomorrow this does not suggest that He expects us to ignore whatever concerns arise. Rather, He expects us to express dependence on God in each of these concerns, praying for our needs (ref. Matthew 6:11). The pagans, Jesus says, seek after the necessities of life in a worried pace. In contrast, the believer seeks God’s agenda instead, fully trusting He will provide.
From your perspective, how will the crucial choices we make between serving God or money (Matthew 6:24) affect our ability to live free from worry?
Friday – Matt. 7:1-6 (cf. Luke 6:37-42): Moving from materialism, Jesus addresses interpersonal relationships. “Judge not, that you be not judged” (v. 1). Judging others assumes a divine prerogative. The final judgment belongs to God alone, and those who seek to judge others usurp God’s position. Nevertheless, Jesus is not opposed to offering correction, but only offering correction in a judgmental attitude, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (v. 3). Consider the absurdity of walking around with a thick beam protruding from one’s eye, totally ignorant of one’s grotesque state. In spiritual terms, one must first pluck out any impediments to their own sight before they can see well enough to help others remove the source of their blindness. However, even when one is right, one should not impose the truth on others against their will (v. 6).
How does vv. 3-5 help define the kind of “judging” Jesus is talking about in vv. 1-2?