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Sunday, May 13, 2018

[Matt's Messages] “In Secret”

“In Secret”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
May 13, 2018 :: Matthew 6:1-18 

We are still in the Gospel of Matthew, and we’re still in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  But today we are turning the corner from chapter 5 which had in it the Beatitudes and the “But I Tell You’s” into chapter 6.

Our King is telling us how He wants us to live in His kingdom.

He started us by telling us what kind of people He wants us to be. And if we live the good life that He lays out (no matter how upside-down it sounds to our ears), we will both flourish and bring glory to our Father in Heaven.

And then He told us that He wants us to live out a greater righteousness than the scribes and the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. A greater righteousness.

A righteousness that surpassed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees.

And in chapter 5, He gave us 6 examples of what that would look like. Six examples of how the scribes and the Pharisees had misunderstood and misapplied the teaching of the Torah and what we should do instead.

Do you remember this?

Our Lord Jesus has come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it and to give it the true Messianic meaning and application now that He has come.

And our Lord has shown us that this is greater righteousness comes from the inside out. It’s not just upside-down from what seems normal to us, it’s also inside-out.

From the heart.

Chapter 5 ended by Jesus saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

And that we saw that that word “perfect” means “whole” or “complete.” It’s emphasizing not just perfection as in flawlessness but perfection as in wholeness. The same thing on the inside as on the outside.

Not just the outside but the inside. The whole person.

“Be [whole], therefore, as your heavenly Father is [whole].”

He’s the same on the inside as the outside.

So, it’s not good enough for our Lord Jesus that we not murder. He doesn’t want us to be sinfully angry.

It’s not good enough for our Lord that we keep from committing adultery. He wants us to not even lust.

It’s not good enough for our Lord that we keep our promises when we use His name. He wants us to be trustworthy and faithful from the inside out.

It’s not enough to just want justice for ourselves. He wants us to be generous even with those who don’t deserve it.

He even wants us to love our enemies!

It’s not enough to just love those who love us. We need to love those who hate us.

That’s what our King requires.

And now, He’s going to say even more about this greater righteousness.

Specifically, He’s going to tell us how to practice our righteousness or to do our acts of righteousness.

And by now we should know that He’s going to be driving towards our hearts.

It’s not enough to just do our acts of righteousness on the outside. King Jesus will require us to do our acts of righteousness from the inside to the outside.

Because He wants us to be whole.

This morning, we’re going to study verses 1 through 18. That’s a bigger chunk than we have been taking for the last several messages, but I think it helps to see that this section all hangs together.

In verse 1, Jesus introduces the problem and then in verses 2 through 18, He gives us three examples.

And they all follow the same 4-part structure to make the same major point. Remember how the Beatitudes all had a structure and all of the But I Tell You’s had a structure? Well, these three examples all follow the same 4-part structure, as well.

First, Jesus tell us what not to do which is to parade our acts of righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. That’s really important. It’s not that we can’t do acts of righteousness or acts of piety in front of others, but we aren’t allowed to do them for the purpose of human applause. It’s the heart of the thing.

Then second, Jesus tells us that if someone does go and do that, then they will have already received their reward. That’s it. No more.

Then third, Jesus will tell us how to do it instead. And basically, He uses these two words over and over again, “In Secret.”

Not so much that it isn’t public but that it is done for God and for God alone.

And then the fourth element that occurs in all three examples is a promise of the reward of God. And He says it in the same way each time. “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

And of course, there are some surprises and some twists and turns in there, too. Because Jesus always wants to keep our attention and to keep us focused on His coming Kingdom which is like nothing that we’ve ever seen or heard.

All three of these examples are the classic acts of piety that a good Jew would perform. All of the scribes and the Pharisees did these three things all of the time.

Jesus is not telling His disciples to stop doing any of these things. But He is saying that we should not do them like the Pharisees do. We must have a greater righteousness, one that comes from the inside-out.

And of course, everything He says here could be applied to any other acts of righteousness that we are called to do. Not just not these three. But definitely these three. Let’s look at the first one. V.1

“Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Do you see the pattern?

First, what not to do.

I almost titled this sermon, “How Not To Be A Christian.”

He assumes that His followers are going to giving to the needy. Everybody did in that culture. It’s a good thing to do. Not just to give to the church, but to specifically help people with needs.

The question isn’t whether or not to do it, but how to do it.

Jesus says don’t blow the trumpet when you do.

I don’t know if anybody actually blew a trumpet before they gave. I think that Jesus is just being funny. Because He knows that’s how some people do it.

They roll up and they “toot their own horn” as they give their gift.

“Hey, check me out! I’m giving my gift!”

TAADAA!

Jesus calls them “hypocrites” which was a word that originally was used for actors who put on outward show. They play-acted a character and projected certain feelings and attitudes that they didn’t necessarily have themselves.

“I am so generous!”

“Believe me! Just look at me. I am so generous.”

Jesus says, “Don’t do that.”

He says (part two) if you do, then (v.2) “they have received their reward in full.”

What’s that?

It’s the attention. It’s the praise of men, if they get any.

It’s the appearance of godliness.

That’s all of the reward that they get.

Then Jesus says what to do instead. That’s the third part. V.3 again.

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”

Now, our hands don’t “know” anything. Jesus is using a figure of speech, isn’t He?

We say, “Don’t pat yourself on the back.”

Don’t get impressed by yourself and your generosity.

Don’t replay your gift over and over again in your mind.

Just do your giving and get on with it.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t keep a record of charitable giving for tax purposes or that you aren’t supposed to track giving in your budget so that you don’t know what you’ve done.

“I don’t know? My left hand spreadsheet doesn’t know what my right hand checkbook is doing!”

I don’t think so. I think He’s just using colorful language to say that you shouldn’t get impressed with your own generosity.

You not only keep it to yourself but you don’t dwell on it yourself.

I know people who know every cent that they’ve ever given, and they are pretty proud of it.

The fourth and last part is that promise. If you give in faith in secret, then you will be rewarded. Verse 4 again.

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

That’s an amazing statement.

First that we would see God as Father. We’re used to that, but really that’s new with Jesus. To see God as both divinely authoritative and relationally intimate is amazing.

That’s what we mean by “Father” right? Both authority and intimacy perfectly bound up together in a Person who has given you life.

We all have earthly Fathers who exhibit authority and intimacy and life-giving. Some of them have done it well and others poorly.

But we all know what a Father is supposed to be. And Jesus says that God is that. God is our Father perfectly.

Jesus calls God our Father ten times in these 18 verses!

And He says that our Father “sees what is done in secret.”

He knows what’s actually happened. He knows what the bank account actually said. He knows how big the gift actually was.

And He knows what was going on in our hearts.

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

And don’t miss that bit about reward.

We are supposed to live for the reward.

Sometimes we think that we shouldn’t care about rewards.

But our Father loves to give rewards, and we will enjoy those rewards, so we ought to be motivated by them!

I don’t know all of what those rewards are, but I know they’re good.

They won’t get in the way of our enjoyment of Jesus.

That’s where we have to be careful of rewards if we want them instead of Jesus.

But these are rewards that come from Jesus and help us to enjoy Jesus.

We want these rewards.

And who do they come to? They come to those who give in secret. Where only God knows what’s truly going on.

These rewards come to those practice their righteousness for God alone.

The second one is about prayer. And it follows the same fourfold pattern. V.5

“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. [That’s what not to do.] I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. [They’ve been seen by men. That’s what they wanted. That’s what they got.] 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.”

Now, this is not saying that Christians should never pray in public. Jesus prayed in  public. His disciples all prayed in public. We’ve been praying in public today.

But He is looking at our hearts, isn’t He?

Don’t pray to be seen by men.

I’ll tell you, as a pastor that can be a real temptation to me. I want to impress you. I can pray, to my shame, for your applause. “Oh that was a good one, Pastor Matt!”

What is your heart in prayer?

That’s why Jesus says that we have to get alone and pray there. Where nobody knows what you’re praying or how you’re praying or how long you’re praying...except your heavenly Father!

Because that will show if you are real.

If there is no one to impress.

Do pray alone with God?

Or do you only pray here or in prayer meeting or at the dinner table or in front of your spouse or your girlfriend or boyfriend or only in front of your pastor?

Do you pray in secret?

Because what you are with God when you are alone is what you are with God.

It’s okay to pray in public. It’s okay to pray with people.

We’re supposed to pray with others!

But that needs to come from what is inside and not be a show.

I struggle with that.

But Jesus says that we need to keep it real.

Now, here in verse 7, Jesus expands on this point and goes in a little different direction. He gives another way not to pray and then tells us another way to pray. V.7

“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.”

So on top of not praying ostentatiously for the attention of others, we’re also not supposed to pray mindlessly to try to get God’s attention either. Prayer is not magic. It doesn’t work more if you pray more. Prayer is not magical like figure out the right words to use as an incantation and then repeat them over and over again until you’ve talked God into something.

God will not be used.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we can’t pray long or hard or never repeat ourselves. Jesus prayed long. Jesus prayed hard. And Jesus repeated Himself.

But prayer is not magic and God is not a genie in a bottle. We don’t make God do things we want by rubbing His lamp and saying, “Abracadabra” over and over again.

Or any other prayer over and over again. No matter how good the prayer.

God already knows what we need before we ask. We aren’t filling Him in even as we ask. He wants us to ask! But He doesn’t want us to babble.

The Greek word for babble is “battalegeo.” And it’s like babble. It means like it sounds. Say to your neighbor, “babble, babble, babble.”

That’s not what our prayers should sound like.

God wants not our many words but our many hearts! V.9

“This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

Does that sound familiar? I hope so.

We call that the Lord’s prayer. And it’s at the center of the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s a Kingdom Prayer.

It’s a Model Prayer. It’s not that we are supposed to pray these particular words over and over again. That’s exactly the opposite of what Jesus just said.

We are supposed to use it as a model for our prayers. “This, then, is how you should pray...”

And look at those first two words, “Our Father.”

God as Father, what a concept!

You know that’s only possible if you have trusted Jesus as your Savior. The only people who can pray this prayer and truly mean it are those whom God is their Father through faith in His Son.

And notice that it’s not just “My Father,” it’s “Our Father.” This is a model prayer for the Church, for all Christians together. See, we are supposed to pray with one another!

And the first half of the prayer is about God’s glory.

His name, His kingdom, His will.

How often we forget to pray for those things. But Jesus puts them first.

Holy and honored and reverenced be your name.
Your kingdom come. It’s not here yet in its fullness, but we want it.
Your will be done, fast and full like it’s done in heaven.

And the second half of the prayer is about our good. God’s glory and our good.

Give us what we need to today. Like manna in the wilderness.
Give us what we really need down deep, which is forgiveness.
Give us what we need to stay out of sin and snatched away from Satan.

Moms, let me give you a piece of counsel that probably most of you already do.

Pray this prayer for your children.

I’ve been doing that recently with my boys when I pray for them at night.

Most nights, Heather prays for Robin right before bed.

I pray for my boys right before bed.

I’ve begun praying this for them.

Our Father in heaven, may your name be holy in my boys’ lives. May your kingdom come in their lives. May they do your will like it’s done in heaven.

Please give them their daily bread. Please forgive their sin debts as they forgive those who sin against them. Please led them through and away from their temptations and deliver them from the evil one.

Moms, make that your prayer for your kids. And don’t stop until you die.

Jesus explains a little bit more about that forgiveness thing. Again, He’s keeping it real. V.14

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

That’s not a way of earning your forgiveness. That’s not how it works. That’s not what Jesus teaches elsewhere.

But it is the same thing Jesus teaches elsewhere. We’re going to come up to this kind of teachings again in chapter 18.

The point is that forgiven people are forgivers.

And if you are a forgiver then you aren’t a forgiven.

The two always go together.

So don’t go asking for forgiveness if you aren’t willing to forgive others.

That’s just putting on a show.

And Jesus wants us to be whole from the inside out.

So He gives one more. And it’s on the same lines. V.16

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting [Don’t be like that.]. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full [They got the attention.]. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face [look like normal so they can’t tell], 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.”

Let me ask some diagnostic questions to apply this to our lives today.

1. AM I TRYING TO IMPRESS PEOPLE WITH MY RIGHTEOUSNESS?

If so, how? In what ways?

I think a lot of people want to live out their Christianity on social media.

But they just doing it for the “likes” and “shares.” Right?

Just doing it for the re-tweets and the “favorite” button.

Ask yourself am I doing this to get the applause of people?

Then that’s all you’re going to get.

There’s this thing on social media called “The HumbleBrag” have you heard of it?

It’s when you say something like, “I am so humbled to have gotten this award.”

And if you are, that’s fine to say. But ask yourself why you are saying it. Why are you telling people?

Are you just Faceboasting or are you truly giving the glory to God?

Am I trying to impress people with my righteousness?

#2. AM I LIVING OUT MY RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE GOD ALONE?

Am I doing this in secret?

It’s okay to do it before others, too.

But is it real?

The only way you know it’s real is if you don’t get credit for it somewhere else.

And number three.

#3.WHAT CHANGES DO I NEED TO MAKE IN MY ACTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS?

What changes do I need to make in my giving, my praying, my fasting and whatever else I do to live out my Christianity?

And if you can’t think of any changes you need to make, you’re doing it wrong.

How about with prayer in particular. Are using the model that Jesus gave us?

Are you praying for God’s glory and for your good?

Are you forgiving those who have sinned against you?

What changes do you need to make?

Because Jesus wants us to be perfect, to be whole, to be the same on the inside as on outside.

And that requires change. That requires repentance.

To be perfect means to be changed from the inside-out and to be made new.

To live out a greater righteousness than the scribes and the Pharisees.

A real righteousness that is the same, not just in public, but in secret.

And when it is...your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.


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