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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART EIGHTEEN

PRESENTED ON 11-01-08

 

       Last time we came together we discussed Jesus’ teaching that we are to love our enemies.  We saw that to love our enemies was to look after their welfare just as the Father looks after our welfare by providing for our needs regardless of our attitude or behavior toward Him.  As Jesus pointed out, the Father makes His sun to shine and His rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  We are to take this same approach in dealing with our fellow man whether friend or foe.  It is in this manner that we are recognized as the sons of God and can become perfect as our Father God is perfect.

       With the last sermon we concluded our discussion of chapter five of the Sermon on the Mount.  We will now begin chapter six.

       Matthew 6:1:  "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.

       As was true in the last sermon in this series, before we can continue our discussion, there is a textural problem of sorts that we need to look at. The NIV the ASV and others more modern versions read “righteousness before men.”  Other translations such as the KJV read “alms before men” and some translations such as the RSV read “piety before men.”  The Greek word being translated here is ele-eemosunee.  This word actually  means a kind deed, alms or charitable giving.  In this respect, the KJV translation appears more accurate and is truer to the Greek.  So why did the NIV and other translators translate this Greek word as “righteousness”? 

       The Greek translation of the OT called the Septuagint often uses the Greek ele-eemosunee to translate the Hebrew word for righteousness into the Greek language.  Since this word does mean alms in the Greek language, it appears as alms in English translations of the Greek.  Scholars feel the use of ele-eemosunee in Matthew 6:1 is a gloss.  A gloss is substituting one word for another word. 

       It is believed Matthew, in writing to a Hebrew audience, originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and this Hebrew was later translated into Greek.  Because of the habit of using the Greek ele-eemosunee to translate the Hebrew word for righteousness as alms; it was inserted in this passage in place of the Greek word normally used for righteousness. The Greek word normally used for righteousness is dikaiosunee and is the word translated as righteousness in Matthew 5:20. 

       Matthew 5:20: For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.  

       Scholars feel Jesus is, in Matthew 6:1, continuing his contrast between the righteousness of the religious leaders and what righteousness ought to be like. Therefore, it is felt the Greek dikaiosunee is a better translation from the Hebrew into the Greek and it is felt the Greek word in this passage should have been dikaiosunee which definitely means righteousness. 

       Well, whether this is the case or not, it is quite evident that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is contrasting the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees to what true righteousness is and made it plain that we can not expect to participate in the Kingdom if we behave as these religious leaders were behaving.  Jesus now continues this theme as he furthers shows the contrast between the religious leader’s behavior and what ought to be. 

       Matthew 6:2-4: 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.

       We know from other scriptures that it was the religious leaders that Jesus often referred to as hypocrites.  Since the theme has been the contrast in behavior between the righteousness of the religious leaders and true righteousness, it’s a safe bet Jesus once again has the religious leaders in mind here.    

       Some commentators believe there was an actual blowing of trumpets in the temple at the time of collecting of alms to relieve the needs of the people.  No Jewish sources confirm this, however.  It is most likely Jesus was using a figure of speech.  We still use it today when we say someone is tooting his own horn. Jesus is simply saying that when you give to the needy, and this would apply to any type of charitable giving, don’t do so to be seen of men.  Don’t do so to receive accolades from the recipient of your gift or from those that may become aware of what you have done.  Don’t do so to bolster your own ego.  Don’t even do so to make yourself feel good.

       When Jesus teaches not to let your right hand know what your left hand is doing He is essentially saying don’t think about how great it is or how great you are because you give a gift to the needy or helped someone in distress or contributed to a worthy cause.  Doing such things is not some special act of righteousness.  It simply is righteousness and should be our normal mode of behavior as participants in the Kingdom of God. 

       We should not be looking for a pat on the back or some other stroking of our ego.  We should not be looking for a reward or some return of the favor. We should be simply expressing the love of God in our behavior which is all about expressing concern for the welfare of our neighbor which also includes our enemy as we saw in the last sermon.  When Jesus speaks of not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing it is as though you are giving in secret.  You are not in any way being ostentatious in your giving.   You are not being pretentious, pompous, flamboyant or grandiose. Jesus is not suggesting here that all our giving must be surreptitious and covert where nobody knows where the giving came from.  That would be virtually impossible to achieve as we often directly give to the needs of others and contributions are processed by others who obviously need to know where the contributions came from in order to properly process the contribution.

       Giving in secret is tied to not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing. The message is clear.  Be motivated in your giving by one thing and one thing only.  Do so as an expression of the love of God who makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  Do so out of a genuine desire to help those in need.  In this manner your will glorify God and others will glorify God as well. 

       Matthew 5:16:  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

       There is nothing wrong with letting men see your good works.  There is nothing wrong with someone rewarding you for doing a good work.  God intends to reward us for doing good works.  The problem is when such works are done to glorify the self rather than glorify God.  The problem is when such works are done to bring attention to the self as opposed to bringing attention to the expression of God’s love being manifested.   

       Matthew 6:5-8: 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.  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.

       Here Jesus continues to pound home the message that our behavior is not to be ostentatious. It is not to bring attention to the self.  Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to pray in public.  He is saying it is wrong to pray in public to be seen by men.   Then as a contrast to the ostentatious, self centered prayers of the religious leaders of His day he shows it is better to bring your petitions before God in private.   In private you won’t be seen by men.  It will be just God and you.  In private there will be no opportunity to seek recognition from man. 

       Jesus goes on to address the issue of babblings.  The KJV translates it as vain repetitions.  Other translations render it as meaningless repetitions, and empty phrases.  Jesus wants prayer to be meaningful.  He doesn’t want mindless rote prayers that have little thought or substance.  Prayer is communication with God.  God is not interested in meaningless empty repetitious phrases.  Jesus points out that our Father knows our needs. The indication is that it is not necessary to repeatedly bombard God with the same requests over and over again until our requests become rote and empty of passion

       Jesus wants us to be passionate and persistent in meaningful prayer.  Jesus gave a parable in Luke 18 about the woman who repeatedly came before a judge asking him to avenge her of her enemy and was finally avenged. Jesus gave this example to show we are to always pray and not give up

       God wants us to communicate with Him in total respect for who He is and in recognition of His Fatherly relationship with us.  Jesus then provides an example of how we can accomplish this by providing a sample prayer.   

       Matthew 6:9:  This, then, is how you should pray: "`Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name:

       Jesus says this is how we should pray.  There is no reason to believe He is restricting what we say to the few phrases contained in this example prayer.  The scriptures show Jesus prayed for hours.  Surely He didn’t repeat over and over again these few sentences found in the Sermon on the Mount. We have the prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17 where He deals with a number of issues with His Father. We have scriptural examples of prayers offered by several of the Apostles which show a variety of communication directed to God. 

       It is important to remember the context here.  Jesus has just given instruction as to how not to pray as opposed to how to pray. He has said that prayer is not to be made to draw attention to the self.  He has taught it is better to pray in private and not to pray in vain repetitions.  If one were to repeat the so called "Lord’s Prayer" over and over again it would amount to a vain repetition. Jesus is showing our prayer should be directed to our Father in heaven.  By directing prayer to God as Father, Jesus is showing the kind of relationship we have with our creator.  We all understand what fatherhood implies.  It implies a caring person who is interested in our welfare and is there to take care of us and nurture us.  A father is one who loves his offspring and does everything possible to care for them.  This may at times involve discipline and even punishment but it is always for the good of the offspring and done in love.  This is how God relates to us and this is how we are to see God.

       We are to address Our Father in heaven.  Heaven is a term that describes the space above the earth.  That is the basic meaning of the Greek word for heaven used some 284 times in the NT.  We frankly don’t know a whole lot about heaven other than it is the vastness of space wherein lies planets and stars and somewhere the abode of God.   Space appears to be infinite.  God is Spirit.  In one sense He resides throughout the vastness of the space we call heaven.  On the other hand he appears to have specific location involving a throne and millions of angels and other Beings.  The scriptures reveal little about the abode of God other than to say it is in heaven.  Revelation gives a picture of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven with a lot of gold and precious stones.  Some see this as a literal representation of the throne of God while others see this as a spiritual representation of the Kingdom of God being established in the hearts of men.

       The only thing we can conclude for sure is that God does dwell in heaven because this is what the scriptures tell us and when we address God we address Him as our Father who resides in heaven.

       Jesus goes on to say we are to approach God with the utmost respect.  "Hallowed be your name".  Hallowed is from a Greek word that is often translated sanctified in the NT.  To be sanctified is to be holy and to be holy is to be set apart, to be separate.  God is separate from all else and is above all else.  By hallowing His name we recognize His status as the creator and sustainer of all things.  The OT shows the name of God to be YHWH.  This name appears some 6,828 times in the OT. 

       Exodus 3:15:  God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, `The LORD, (YHWH) the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

       The precise meaning of YHWH is much debated.  It appears to be taken from the Hebrew root word hayah which has the meaning of “be” or “become.” YHWH came to signify self existent one or eternal one.  By hallowing the name of God we are simply giving recognition to His status as the self existent one, the power and authority above all power and authority. His name represents who He is and we hallow God by giving attention to who He is. 

       Matthew 6:10: your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

       The coming of the kingdom and the Father’s will being done on earth amount to the same thing.  The Kingdom is all about living in sync with the Father’s will.  The Kingdom is all about living the law of love.  It is all about living the Beatitudes.  It is all about our righteousness exceeding the righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. It is all about the utopian society I briefly discussed in the last sermon in this series. 

       The Jews back in Jesus day recited the Qaddish at the close of a synagogue service. This prayer has definite parallel to what Jesus is expressing at the start of His example prayer.

       "Exalted and hallowed be his great name in the world which he created according to his will". May he let his kingdom rule in your lifetime and in your days and in the whole lifetime of Israel, speedily and soon."

       Now the Jews were looking for establishment of a literal Kingdom in the mold of the Davidic Kingdom.  However, if you read the numerous references to the Kingdom throughout the teachings of Jesus and later in the teaching of the Apostles, it becomes readily apparent that the Kingdom, while having it seat of governing authority in heaven where God is, has to do with how we live our lives on a day to day basis.  It has everything to do with behaving within the context of the law of love.  Apostle Paul said the Kingdom was love, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  The kingdom is all about how we behave and we should daily be asking God for the Kingdom living be manifested in how we live that day.

      Matthew 6:11:  Give us today our daily bread.  

        Here again is recognition of our dependence upon our heavenly Father for all out needs.  At the time and place Jesus made this statement, the peasantry often lived on a day to day basis as to the food on their table.  People in certain parts of the world and even in our country do the same to this very day.  Jesus is simply saying that we are to recognize the source of our sustenance and acknowledge that source daily.  Obviously, Jesus is not saying we are to sit on our hands and expect manna to fall from heaven.  God has provided the ways and means for us to produce our daily bread and He expects us to implement those ways and means.  At the same time we need to acknowledge where our daily bread ultimately comes from.

       Matthew 6:12: Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.   

        This statement is tied to another statement that Jesus makes at the conclusion of this prayer.

        Matthew 6:14-15: 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.

       This statement implies that God will not forgive us our sins unless we forgive others their sins.  This brings up the question of whether God’s forgiveness is unconditional or is it conditional on our forgiveness of others.  This is a controversial issue.  There are different perspectives on this issue right here in this congregation.  The question we must all ask is what is the scriptural perspective on this issue?  Well, that perspective requires an entire sermon on its own.  So I will defer discussion of this aspect of this sample prayer until next week when we will deal with the issue of forgiveness in depth.

       Matthew 6:13: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

       The Greek word for temptation can also mean testing or trial.  Apostle James writes in James 1:13 that God doesn’t tempt man.   Same Greek word is used for tempt as is used in Matthew 6:13.  Why would Jesus ask us to ask God not to lead us into temptation or testing if it is true that God doesn’t tempt, try or test us?  Furthermore, James writes in James 1:1-2 that we are to rejoice in trials because trials build perseverance.  Same Greek word is used here as in Matthew 6:13.  Why are we being told to rejoice in trials because they are for our good while at the same time ask God not to try us?  Let’s again look at what Jesus said:

       Matthew 6:13: And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

       Some scholars, in an effort to resolve this matter, have suggested Jesus is only telling us to pray that God delivers us from the temptation of the evil one who is believed to be a reference to Satan.  Jesus is telling us to pray that God would lead us away from the temptations of the evil one.  It is the evil one who is doing the tempting and it is the evil one that Jesus is telling His first century audience to ask deliverance from. The meaning in this passage could be rendered in this manner.

       And lead us not into the temptation of the evil one but deliver us from the evil one.

       This may be a logical resolution of this issue, especially in view of how active Satan and the demons appear to have been in the first century as Satan saw his kingdom being replaced with the kingdom of God.

       For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever (KJV).

       This doxology is found in the KJV which was translated from later Greek manuscripts such as the Textus Receptus.   This doxology is not found in the oldest Greeks manuscripts such as the Vaticanus or Sinaiticus and other older texts. These are the texts that have been used to translate the more modern versions such as the NIV, RSV and the ASV and others.  Because this passage is not found in the oldest surviving manuscripts and is found in great variation in the later manuscripts, most scholars have conclude that this passage was not in the original writing of Matthew’s Gospel.  It is also pointed out that In Luke’s account of this prayer this passage is missing. 

       On the other side of the argument, this passage is found in the Syriac Peshitta which is an Aramaic translation of the NT dating from the second to third century.  The oldest witness to this passage is one that out dates all Greek manuscripts of the NT and is called the Didache. Also known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, this ancient document dates to the early second century or possibly the late first century. In it we find a variation of the passage in question in association with a rendering of the prayer Jesus used as an example.

       "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the power and the glory forever."

       Now it is possible the writers of the Didache added this doxology as its presence in this document doesn’t explain why it is missing in the oldest Greek manuscripts of the NT.  But this doxology was apparently in use in association with this prayer from early on and therefore just may have been part of what Matthew wrote.  Whether it was or was not what Matthew wrote, it is certainly a fit ending to any prayer as it recognizes the sovereignty and dominion of God and pays respect to His glory.   

       What we must remember is that Jesus is providing is an example of how we are to address our heavenly Father.  This example directs the entire focus of our prayer on God and away for ourselves  This is a contrast to the religious leaders of His day who saw themselves as the focus of prayer.

       Luke 18:10-14: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about  himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

       We are to come before God as the tax collector, with an attitude of humility.  While our prayers can certainly include personal requests, our over all focus should always be centered on the sovereignty of God, His will, His Kingdom, His forgiveness, His meeting of our needs, His protection from evil and His power and glory.   This is the message of the Lord’s Prayer.

SERMON NINETEEN