Saturday, February 24, 2007

Moving on Up

I'm back in the blogosphere, and I'm now posting, using WordPress, at So change your feeds, fools...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Joe Thorn on "In The World, Not Of It"

Joe Thorn, a fellow Southern alum, has some great words about how, we as Christians can be "in the world, not of it." Most of us are not "in the world" one bit. Read here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Farting, Belching, and Grunting and Men's Ministry

Dr. Mohler speaks here about a new movement in men's ministry that isn't exactly progress.


Here's Why I Decided to Plant a Church

I wanted to be in a great college town like Columbia, and I didn't want to leave anybody "vandal"ized.


Monday, October 09, 2006

“Choosing the Way of the Gospel of Grace”: 10.08.06

My wife Amy tells a story about a time her father took a wrong path. Apparently they were driving in St. Louis and were trying to get over the Mississippi River. They were in a bad part of town and he was in a bit of a hurry, and he quickly turned and began driving on a bridge. As soon as they drove onto it, however, they all realized they were driving on a rickety railroad bridge. It was narrow and clearly not built for cars, so they all got really nervous. Her brother opened his car door and prepared to jump. Her mom was freaking out. Amy was laughing. Her dad, of course, acted like nothing was wrong and made his way across the bridge.

Now taking that path could have led to destruction. Her dad chose that road and they could have all paid the price for it. Not too far from the car, Amy and her family could see the right bridge, where cars were safely crossing the river. In today’s passage, Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus gives us a choice of two paths. We can choose one path that leads to life. We can choose another one that leads to death. The choice is ours.

As I noted last week, the body of the Sermon on the Mount runs from Matthew 5:17 to Matthew 7:12. This morning, we begin looking at Christ’s conclusion. In this conclusion, Christ gives four warnings. In these four passages of warning are found two alternatives. Verses 13-14 present us with two ways. Verses 15-20 present us with two trees. Verses 21-23 give us two claims. Verses 24-27 show us two builders (Carson, 188).

Jesus gives us in the body of his Sermon on the Mount a description of the true, kingdom righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisee and pagan, and here, in the conclusion, he commands us to choose that righteousness. He gives us two choices, and only two. We live in a world of choices. I was amazed a couple of weeks ago, when I had lunch with Ira over at Plaza 900 on campus. This was a dormitory cafeteria, and you had about 900 choices of things to eat. It’s a far cry from Schurz cafeteria back in my day. We also live in a world of gray. People don’t like to hear talk of right and wrong. Absolutes of any kind are not in fashion, for sure. But Jesus gives us something very cut and dried. He gives us once choice and it’s very black and white. Choose Him or die. Choose His kingdom or else. Let’s read this morning’s passage and begin with prayer.

Matthew 7:13 "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

As we look at the two paths Jesus offers this morning, let me prepare you for our path together. Jesus speaks here of two gates, two paths, two groups, and two destinations. First, we will look at the meaning of Jesus’s statements. Second, we will apply those teachings in four realms: culture, church, gospel, and you.

First, let us consider Jesus’s words. He gives us two ways from which we must choose. This, we know, is not uncommon in the Bible. Turn with me to Psalm 1.

Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

We know that the Psalms, like all the books of the Old Testament, are all about Jesus. He, as it says in Matthew 5:17-20, fulfilled the law. It all pointed to Him. Jesus stands in front of a bunch of Jews who would have known the beginning of their beloved music book, and He seems to say, “That choice David mentioned. That pointed forward to me, the Son of David, the true King. What will you do with my teaching? Which way will you choose?” He gives us two choices, but He mentions four aspects of those two choices. Let us look at those in turn.

He says, first, enter through the narrow, not wide gate. We see two gates. One gate, He says, is “narrow.” The other is “wide.” For those of you that have flown on a plane recently, getting on the plane is a chore. You must go through all these checkpoints and ID verifications. And, once you’re on, you can only take certain things with you. Jesus, in speaking of two gates, I think says something about how you get in to the kingdom and what you can bring along.

One may only enter this way through Christ. You may be familiar with John 14:6 that reads, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The early church carried on this teaching of their Lord. In Acts 4:12, Peter says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Elsewhere in John, in 10:9, Jesus said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” There is only one gate, and it’s Jesus. That, my friends, is pretty narrow.

One must also leave much behind when entering this door. The Beatitudes present a number of things that must be pursued and refused. It begins, of course, with “blessed are the poor in spirit.” This, as we mentioned before, is just “blessed are you poor” in Luke 6.
There is certainly a sense in which our possessions can keep us from our Lord. But this in Matthew primarily speaks of our perceived spiritual resources. We can’t enter the kingdom of heaven due to any good deeds we’ve done. And, conversely, we can’t enter through the gate with a bunch of bad deeds, either. No, we don’t have to be perfect before walking through, but we do have to repent of our sins. We have to change directions and turn away from sin and to the Lord. We can’t take any baggage through this gate.

As Jesus says, in Matthew 19:24, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” This speaks of material riches, yes, but nobody can enter based on perceived spiritual riches, either. I’ll never forget debating this guy who said that Jesus spoke of some long-lost gate in the temple wall of Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle.” Therefore, he argued, you can take riches in! But Jesus says the exact opposite. The gate is narrow. We must enter through Christ alone. We must come empty handed. Choose your gate.

He says, second, take the hard, not easy, path. Jesus says, “The way is easy that leads to destruction.” He teaches, “The way is hard that leads to life.” This, of course, reminds us that the way of Christ is not comfortable. The word translated “easy” is often seen in other versions as “broad.” It has the idea of being spacious and roomy. It’s like sitting in first-class on that plane. You can spread your legs out and relax. It’s easy street.

That, however, is no accurate picture of the Christian life. Following Christ’s way brings much persecution and opposition, even from friends and family. Our Lord was persecuted. So were the apostles. And, as we saw in Matthew 5:10-12, this shows God’s favor upon our lives. It shows that we are “blessed.” It puts us in the company of the prophets. It shows we will be in the “kingdom of heaven.”

We must remember this, because the way will be hard. And it will be, as the text says, often quite “easy” for unbelievers. This is something that we will undoubtedly wrestle with as Christians. In Psalm 73, the psalmist Asaph speaks of his struggles with this. He says, in verse 1, “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” But hear verse 2: “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.” He then spends some time speaking of how the wicked prosper, while the righteous struggle. He then concludes with his change of heart.

Psalm 73:13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14 For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. 15 If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed the generation of your children. 16 But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, 17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!

Yes, the way of Christ is “hard.” And it will often be “easy” for the wicked.

This contrast, however, doesn’t just apply to persecution we experience or life struggles we face, but the Christian life itself. It’s not easy to “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” It’s not easy to be “merciful.” It’s hard being a “peacemaker.” It’s difficult to not hate and to not lust and to be faithful to your spouse and to keep your word and to turn the other cheek and to love your enemies. It’s difficult. In fact, it’s impossible apart from God’s grace. Once we receive His grace, when we’re right with God, the struggle really begins, as we allow God to work His grace in us, bit by bit. It’s difficult.

But, I’m sounding morbid. The Christian life also has great joy. In Mark 10, Jesus says:

Mark 10:29 Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Yes, there will be much difficulty on the way of Christ, but there will be much joy. As we live in the presence of God, and among the people of God, we will experience much delight. But it is but a foretaste. Now it will be sweet, yet imperfect. One day it will be perfectly amazing. The path of Jesus is hard, not easy. We must choose our path.

Christ says, third, that we must join the small, not large, group. He says that “those that find it”—His way—“are few.” And “those who enter by it”—the easy way—“are many.” This reminds us, of course, that God’s way is not found by looking at public opinion. I get this e-newsletter from Christianity Today “At The Movies.” They gave a bad review to Facing the Giants, a sports movie on the big screens that was produced by Christians. Basically, they liked the message, but said it wasn’t great filmmaking. Well, people freaked out that persecution was coming from Christians to Christians. Somebody wrote and pointed out how well it did at the box-office. Editor Mark Moring responded with this:

But box office numbers don't prove anything about a film's quality either—look no further than Jackass 2, which actually debuted at No. 1 the previous week, for evidence of that.

See, majority support doesn’t often mean much. No, our course that we follow is marked by signposts of revelation, not public opinion.

This also reminds us that God’s way is not found by looking to the approval of others. In Matthew 6, Jesus condemns the Pharisees for giving, fasting, and praying in ways to impress men instead of God. If we look to please the majority, and we follow them, we’re doing it at our own peril. We are to join the small group, not the large one.

This, I don’t think necessarily means that only a few of us will be with Christ in glory. Revelation 7:9 speaks of a “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” We need to keep these two passages in tension. Likely we could conclude that, as Stott puts it, we will always be a “despised, minority movement.” But, the saints from all the ages combined will comprise an amazing group of worshippers of Christ on the last day. If we want to be there, on that day, we must choose the minority, not the majority.

The reason Jesus gives is that those who follow the crowd end up in judgment. This reminds me of a video game I played as a youngster called Lemmings. Lemmings are small rodents that live near the arctic. A myth was popularized by an old Walt Disney movie that these little mammals follow each other mindlessly, plunging off of cliffs, following the lemmings in front of them. The video game played off of this and was all about digging holes to make sure the animals fell to safety instead of their death. Sadly, like lemmings, most human beings mindlessly follow the majority, plunging into their own destruction.

Jesus, then, says, fourth, choose life, not death, as a destination. He talks about the easy way “that leads to destruction,” as well as the hard way “that leads to life.” An American film classic is, of course, Dumb and Dumber. In that movie, a witty scene is when one of the dumb guys loses it while driving to Aspen, Colorado, and takes the long route and ends up in Wyoming or Montana or something. That was problematic for them. They ran out of gas and almost killed each other. But neither one truly died.

Jesus says here that choosing the wrong path has eternal consequences. One heads a person over the cliff, like a lemming, into hell. One heads a person right into life. The one who chooses Jesus experiences life, in its inceptive form, here on earth, but experiences it perfectly forever. Heaven and hell, life and death, hinge on this important decision. Those who enter the “narrow gate” wind up in life. Those who take the “hard” way spend an eternity with Jesus. Those who make up the “few” that choose the right path rule with Him on a new heavens and new earth. We must choose life, and not death, as a destination.

I have shown you four aspects of this passage: two gates, two ways, two groups, and two destinations. I’ve touched on the application, but let me take it further. We have talked much here at Grace Church about culture, church, and gospel, largely thanks to our study of The Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll. What I want to do now is take a look at how these four teachings of Jesus impact our understanding of those three things—culture, church, and gospel—as well as how they affect how we view ourselves. Many of these points will be obvious to you, but hopefully they’re good reminders as we seek to bring God’s grace to “The District” here in Columbia.

First, let’s take culture. Consider the two gates. Recently an article in USA Today called Oprah “The Divine Miss Winfrey” and said she has emerged as the “spiritual leader for the new millennium.” Reed College Professor Kathryn Lofton said, “She’s a really hip and materialistic Mother Theresa. Oprah has emerged as a symbolic figurehead of spirituality.”

This, of course, is sadly true. What type of spirituality, you might ask? It’s pluralism. It’s the idea that there are plural, or many ways to God. Oprah both reflects and has shaped the culture. The idea of one narrow gate is intolerable today. Oprah is quoted on one broadcast as saying, “There couldn’t possibly be just one way.” A lady in the audience then said, “What about Jesus?” Oprah responded, “What about Jesus? Does God care about your heart or does God care about if you call his son Jesus?” Of course, the audience erupted in cheers (Driscoll Blog, 2006).

But, as I said, Jesus did say that He was the way. The apostles said, “There is salvation in no one else.” Jesus said the gate is narrow. It’s Him. Bob the Tomato was recently censored and no longer says, “God made you special and loves you,” when NBC bought the rights to Veggie Tales. The executives of NBC didn’t want to favor any religion. But, the Muslim that says Jesus was not god, and we that say Jesus is God can’t both be right. We must point out the goofiness of pluralism. As we minister here in the District, we must present clearly what Jesus has said. He, and He alone, is the gate.

Consider the two ways. We live in a world that revolves around comfort. We are encouraged to take the path of least resistance. Our goal is to play at our work and work at our play, and retire in an RV playing golf and laying on the beach. John Piper likes to speak specifically of a couple of elderly people, living in Florida, who are interviewed in a magazine and speak about their desire to collect sea shells in their retirement. This is the mentality of our culture. Sea shells! Sadly, the path of least resistance is also the path without lasting joy! In Psalm 16:11, David says, “In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Full joy. Forever joy. That’s what we’re promised. Sea shells don’t really fulfill. They don’t last an eternity. Jesus said to choose the hard way. We must faithfully proclaim that as we minister here in “The District.” But, we must also share with them of the joy that goes alongside the difficulty, that blesses us now and will be showered upon us for eternity.

Consider the two groups. We live in a country that is beginning to think that, just because the polls say something, it must be right. Politicians watch those polls and do whatever it takes to make those people happy and get themselves reelected.

As we live here in Columbia, we must expect the majority of people to oppose our gospel. We must come to grips with the doctrine of sin, understanding that the world is held in the grip of the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). The majority is deceived. Truth does not depend on us. Nazi Germany was pretty much in agreement, but they were wrong. If 75% of Americans think there are many roads to God, it doesn’t nullify what God has told us through divine revelation. We must encourage those around us to spurn the majority and listen to Jesus.

This in turn should lead us to expect opposition. If we are in the minority, we will be ridiculed. As our society shifts from Christendom, where the church rules, to a post-Christian society, where the church doesn’t, we will lose power and respect and privilege. We will be treated like the minority. We should expect this. But we must fight for the advancement of the gospel and not cling to influence of days gone by. We must live as a minority group, sharing an unpopular message with love to the citizens of our city. And we must let people know the dangers of believing that “might equals right.”

Remember the two destinations. I read this article this weekend on that spoke of the high costs of life-prolonging drugs, particularly in cancer patients. One man is quoted as saying, “It’s better to pay the money than sleep with the worms” (, 10/2/06). That, my friends, is the fruit of modernism, that science rules. If evolution is true, this life is all there is, and we just rot in the ground.

A shift to postmodernism has brought a new wave of spirituality. But, like modernism, that predominant way to view the world leaves no room for divine judgment. People look forward to visions of angels and grandparents and us all holding hands. The idea that God would send anyone to hell is ridiculed. But we must proclaim in “The District” that Jesus talked more about judgment than anyone else. We must teach that Jesus will come back on a white horse and destroy His enemies.
And we must point out that a heaven with grandma and grandpa holding hands with Joseph Stalin and Jeffrey Dahmer isn’t much of a heaven. And a Jesus that won’t punish child molesters or ethnic cleansers isn’t worth being worshipped. We must proclaim the folly and sadness of not believing in divine judgment.

Second, let’s take the church. Think again of the two gates. I mentioned pluralism before—the idea that there are many ways to God. What is gaining popularity in the church today is what is called inclusivism. This is basically an effort by liberal Christians to say that the man on the island that has never heard of Christ may be saved by Jesus and not realize it. In other words, one does not have to place conscious faith in Christ to be saved by Christ. This is an attempt at a halfway point between what they call Christian exclusivism and non-Christian pluralism, but it ends up making both sides mad. We’re mad because they deny Jesus’s words here that He is the gate. They’re mad because the inclusivists are still rude enough to say that everybody is saved through just Jesus.

They make their arguments in several ways, but let me give you two. First, they often say that the man on the island is saved by general revelation. This is God’s revelation that goes to all persons in all times in all places. This is generally referring to God revealing Himself through His creation. In other words, they say that the man on the island can see the trees and sun and then be saved without naming Christ. The problem with this is Romans chapter one.

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

This passage teaches that one can’t be saved by looking at the creation. He can only be judged by looking at it. General revelation can only condemn, not save. It’s the fact that the man on the island is condemned by general revelation that compels us to take the gospel to Him, which is special revelation.

A second argument they use is that the Spirit works in that man on the island, bringing him to God, apart from the name of Christ. How dare we put the Holy Spirit in a box, they say! But Jesus, in John 16:14, speaking of the Spirit, says, “He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The Spirit is called in the Bible “the Spirit of Christ.” He never works apart from Jesus (Rom. 8:9; 1 Pet. 1:11). He was sent by Christ and lives to glorify Him.

This sort of mentality makes missions unnecessary and dangerous. Unnecessary is easy to see—if they don’t need to embrace Jesus, we don’t need to go.
Dangerous isn’t quite as easy to see—if they can come to know God without Jesus, by going to tell them, we risk their rejection of Him, which would truly make them worse off than had we never come. So, church, let us never pander to the majority, cave to pluralism, and deny and dishonor our Lord by saying that there are other ways to Him.

Consider the two ways. We not only have inclusivism in the church, but we have prosperity theology or health/wealth teachings. This is Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn and all the other nut-jobs on TBN. This is telling people that the way is not hard, it’s easy. If you put your trust in Jesus, they say, you’ll be fat and sassy. You’ll have cash and health. And, if you’re not healthy and wealthy, then that must mean you don’t have much faith. We must not tell the world, church, that Christianity is easy. It’s not only a lie. It’s stupid. Could Jesus or Paul or Peter or any of the other martyrs fathom such a message?

Consider the two groups. We could easily point to liberal churches that teach universalism, the idea that all people will be saved. This is common, and it is a heresy easy enough to see in today’s passage. But, I read an article about a year ago in World magazine where Gene Edward Veith spoke of Indiana parents who were suing a church because their kid was manipulated into chewing up a “mixture of dog food, sardines, potted meat, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, and salsa, topped off with holiday eggnog.” He was then encouraged to spit it into a glass and convince others to drink it. Several students got sick and this led to the lawsuit. Veith points out rightly, having seen some of these things in youth camps, that this does three things: 1) It encourages them to lose their inhibitions. 2) It teaches them to cave to peer pressure. 3) It instructs them that Christianity is stupid. The point of the article is that this teaches youths to follow the majority.

We see the church follow the majority when she follows business practices of the world and ends up looking like a big Wal-Mart Supercenter. We see the church take polls, see what people like, and implement it so that the majority will come. We see the church reinforce this when it says, “That church is really big and tons of people like it,” so, therefore, it must be doing things right. Pragmatism rules. Popularity determines success. Might equals right. We must declare, church, what Jesus said, that His road will be the way of the few.

Consider the two destinations. Inclusivism isn’t the church’s only problem. Annihilationism is. This is the idea that, when we’re judged, we don’t suffer forever in hell, but rather we’re destroyed or annihilated. John Stott, whose commentary I’ve used much for this study, and who is a terrific and much-loved scholar, has adopted this idea. The problem with this is that Matthew 25:46 says this: “And these will go into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” It’s punishment for an eternity.
If this punishment is only for a time, the parallelism of the passage demands that heaven is only for a time, too. And, if people say, why infinite punishment for a finite crime, here’s your answer: Sin is against an infinite God—an infinitely glorious being. And that demands forever.

That idea of annihilationism is some big theological word that you can’t relate to and you never would argue for, but here’s something you can relate to: have you ever had a friend’s relative die, and you knew he wasn’t a Christian or you weren’t sure if he was and you said, anyway, “Well, you’ll see him again someday.” Limp-wristed preachers do this every day. Church, we must tell the truth Christ says here. One may choose the way of life or the way of death.

Third, let’s take the gospel. Think again of the two gates. Do we present a message that exalts the life, death, and resurrection of Christ—the true gospel, or do we have this vague, general message to people: believe in God, or, better, trust in Jesus. An assumed gospel is not a transforming one. We can tell people to have faith or be born again or forsake sin or love God without ever talking truly about Jesus. We can totally forget to talk about the gate.

Consider the two ways. We can present a message to people that sounds something like this: come to Jesus and have a wonderful life. We can have sermon series in our churches and share the gospel as individuals in a way that presents the Christian life as a bunch of shiny, happy people holding hands, when it’s a lie. We can totally forget that Jesus said His way was hard.

Consider the two groups. Similarly, we can present a message to people that they can join the “in crowd,” what everybody is doing. They can be one of the “cool kids” and hook up with us. We can appeal to exciting church activities or the allure of a wealth of friends. We can have a message that is less about Jesus, and more about what’s cool.

Consider the two destinations. We can tell people a gospel that isn’t good news, because there is no bad news. We can ignore hell, because it turns people off, but then, when we ask people if they’re saved, they ask, “Saved from what?” Our sin merits eternal punishment. If sin doesn’t mean death, then who needs Jesus?

Fourth, let’s take you and me. Think again of the two gates. Unbeliever, are you embracing the idea that Jesus is the only gate? Christian, are you living a Christian life that is cognizant of the fact, all the time, that you only stand before God thanks to the person and work of Jesus Christ? Are you truly relying on the gate?

Take the two ways. Unbeliever are you taking the easy way out now, only to experience what will be truly hard later? Believer, are you fighting for your own comfort and ease and security or are you embracing the idea that your journey with Christ will be exceedingly hard but overwhelmingly joyful? Theologian Carl Trueman recently said this:

What always challenges me about prosperity doctrine is that many of us who repudiate it in theory still practice it in reality. Every time we suffer a minor setback and are tempted to curse God in our hearts, that's practical prosperity doctrine. Every time we measure our success by the size of our churches, or the near-eschatological importance of our conferences by the number of attendees and the calibre of the speakers, or our self-worth by the Reformed megastar names we can drop in conversation, we make ourselves vulnerable to accusations that we too are committed to a form of the prosperity doctrine, more subtle and all the more deadly precisely because of that subtlety. We are what we are in Christ, nothing more, nothing less. And in his final hours, Christ was friendless, an embarrassment to his disciples, with the fair weather followers and even his closest friends having long since abandoned him; and then, to cap it all, he was crucified. We shouldn't be complacent about the prosperity doctrine; it's not just a problem for 'them'; it's a problem for us too (Blog, Justin Taylor).

Remember the two groups. Unbeliever, are you playing to the applause of people or will you listen to Jesus? Believer, are you content being a part of Christ’s few, or do you crave the attention of the majority? Or have you Christianized your desire to be with the crowd, pursuing whatever exciting church stuff can be found?

Remember the two destinations. Unbeliever, do you reckon with the fact that there is a judgment that awaits? Believer, do you truly believe that your actions deserve eternal punishment and that Christ suffered on the cross in your place, that you might avoid that? And, when you look at your unbelieving friends and neighbors around you, do you truly believe in hell, or are you a practical universalist?

Brothers and sisters, society is opposed to Christ’s teachings in Matthew 7:13-14. The church has imbibed some of the world’s opposition. Our watered-down, inoffensive gospel has been affected. And, sadly, we have embraced such ideas more than we want to admit. As Joshua said in chapter 24, verse 15, “Choose this day whom you will serve”—Jesus or other, false gods. Will we believe Jesus when He says that there are only two choices: two gates, two ways, two groups, and two destinations? We must proclaim the truth of this passage to our own and to the world. However, I began with the context of the passage, so I’ll end there. We must, as Ephesians 4:15 says, preach the “truth in love.” This warning of Jesus is couched in a context of love for enemies, of mercy to others, of pursuing peace. We can talk about Jesus as the only way and the reality of judgment without being jerks. Jesus did. And we are His. And the Sermon of the Mount is a sermon against the Pharisees. In preaching against pluralism, let’s not offer them legalism either. Jesus, my friends, would not approve.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Free Blog Design

Bluebird Blogs is having a drawing to give away a free blog design. Check it out here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

College Football Goin' Seeker-Friendly

A rule change is trying to make college football games shorter. The clock is starting on the ref's signal, and not the snap of the ball, at changes of possession. The clock starts now when the kicker kicks the ball, and not when the returner catches it. This is all in an effort to make games shorter.

This sounds similar to what many say today in modern evangelicalism-- shorten the service, cut the sermon, axe long Scripture readings-- otherwise seekers will leave. This reminds me of some words from John MacArthur that I quoted in a sermon I gave recently.

"If you are going to be a Bible expositor, forget the twenty- and thirty- minute sermons. You are looking at forty or fifty minutes. In any less than that, you can’t exposit the Scripture. The purpose of a sermon is not to get it over, but rather to explain the word of God. My goal is not accomplished because I am brief. My goal is accomplished when I am clear and I have exposited the word of God."

MacArthur sounds a lot like Texas Tech coach Mike Leach:

"I think they’re really on to something here. I think what they ought to do is limit both teams to 20 plays. Then they’d really get over quickly. Then everybody can go out and tailgate."

What about the people that just love football... or Jesus?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Are We Inhibiting Movements to Christ?

The latest issue of Mission Frontiers has a super article about contextualizing the gospel. Here is one quote:

"...we often introduce the gospel into another culture with signficant amounts of cultural and religious traditions associated with it. This 'baggage' makes it harder for a new people to embrace the gospel because they see it as a foreign cultural and religious system, rather than a relationship with the person of Jesus that they can pursue within their own cultural and religious traditions." (Bob Goldmann)

"Humbly Hungering for the God of Grace"

“Humbly Hungering for the God of Grace”
Kevin P. Larson, Grace Church of Columbia, Sept. 3, 2006

Did you know Katie Couric has lost some weight? Well, actually she hasn’t. But recently a CBS employee airbrushed about 20 pounds off of her in a publicity photo in their own Watch magazine. According to Reuters, a network photograph was “digitally altered to give the incoming CBS news anchor a trimmer waistline, darker clothing, and even a thinner face.”

Now Couric didn’t appreciate the alteration. She is quoted as saying she liked the original photo, because, she said, “There is more of me to love.” But the Pharisees would have encouraged such a thing. We have seen here in Matthew 6 of the Sermon on the Mount how the Pharisees took good religious acts like giving, praying, and, here, fasting, and made them into a spectacle to get praise. The Pharisees, we find in today’s passage, Matthew 6:16-18, were doctoring their appearance to make them look godly. If they would have had digital photography and a copy of Adobe Photoshop, they would have lost weight, as well.

Today’s passage begins with “and when you fast.” That “and” connects this morning’s text to last week’s that dealt with prayer, and the previous week’s that dealt with giving. The Pharisees, we found, were praying ostentatiously in the synagogues and on the street corners, so that people would see them and laud them. The Pharisees were also, we saw, sounding trumpets when they gave, letting everyone know of their generosity. Today we see that they were doing whatever they could to let people know they were fasting.

Read with me again Matthew 6:1. It states, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 6:16-18, like the previous two sections, follows the format of that verse. Jesus says, beware of practicing fasting before men—describing how the Pharisees did just that. He then explains that, by fasting that way, you’ll receive only man’s applause that is fleeting and unsatisfying. He then instructs His disciples how to fast, promising that their practice will be seen and rewarded by the Father in heaven.

Let us read this morning’s text and begin with prayer.

Matthew 6:16 "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Quite similar to our outline for the previous two weeks, I want you to see this morning, first, the fasting of the Pharisee, and second, the fasting of the Christian.

First, the fasting of the Pharisee. Again, Jesus says, in verse 16, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.” We know from Luke 18:12 that devout Pharisees fasted twice a week, likely on Monday and Thursdays. In addition, particularly devout people fasted even more. The widow and prophetess Anna, who greeted the newborn Christ, we know from Luke 2:37 “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” This is in addition to the special national fast on the Jewish religious calendar, the Day of Atonement, that was commanded by Moses, as well as other special times that the nation would humble themselves with prayer and fasting before God.

What happened is the Pharisees utilized these times of fasting as opportunities to display to everyone how godly they were. They looked “gloomy.” They labored to “disfigure their faces.” We’re not completely sure what they were doing, but they were trying to look pathetic. They were possibly not exercising good personal hygiene. They were maybe spreading ashes on their faces to make them look pale. They likely wore old, beat-up clothes. They perhaps messed up their hair, going outside with bed-head. And they put on sad, contorted faces, so that everyone would know that they were godly people.

Jesus says, in verse 16, that they did all this “that their fasting” would “be seen by others.” We’ll talk more about the purpose of fasting later, but they took this exercise of self-discipline and put all the emphasis on the “self” part. As they gave with trumpets, and prayed for the crowds, they fasted in costume and with grandeur, so that people would applaud them.

As I mentioned, they likely fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. The Pharisees claimed this was because those were the days that Moses took his two trips to receive the law at Sinai. In reality, however, those were apparently the big market days in Jerusalem. The city would have been full of farmers and merchants and buyers. It conveniently made the streets a stage for them.

Jesus says, once again, “They have received their reward.” People saw. People applauded. And that’s all the reward they got. When I was a teenager, I remember there being a buzz about the singing duo Milli Vanilli. I might even have owned the album. Two African-American men, Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, won a Grammy in 1990 for “best new artist.”

As some of you will know, in that same year, in a concert in Connecticut, they were singing their hit “Girl You Know It’s True.” The recording got stuck, and it began repeating the line “Girl You Know It’s” over and over. This led to public scrutiny which resulted in the men admitting that they didn’t sing on the record. Shortly thereafter, their Grammy award was revoked. They received public praise, but it was short lived. They were exposed as frauds.

Jesus said that the Pharisees wouldn’t receive a reward beyond that applause. And we know biblically that one day, Pharisees of all stripes and eras will be exposed for what they really are. It could take place at the end, when Jesus, as he does in Matthew 7:23, “I never knew you; depart from me.” Or it could happen sooner, as in the case of Milli Vanilli. The reward of hypocrites is temporal and ultimately unsatisfying.

Let us look at the fasting of the Christian. In verse 17, Christ states, “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.” In other words, get up in the morning and groom yourself. In that day, anointing one’s head with oil was the normal thing to do. It was often scented. It likely styled the hair. Jews, like us, washed their faces; they got cleaned up for the day. Jesus is saying, look normal. Take care of yourself. Get up and clean up, as you always do. In other words, don’t do any of these tactics like the Pharisees to make yourself look disheveled. Hide the fact that you’re fasting from men, so that it is seen by the one that counts, and not by human beings.

Once again, Jesus said, in Matthew 6:3, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” He said this when speaking of giving. This also applies to praying, last week’s passage, and today’s on fasting. We should not only avoid fasting in such a way that pleases others. We should avoid fasting in such a way that causes us to inwardly applaud ourselves.

Of course, we can hide that we are fasting from others, perhaps even ourselves, but we can’t from God. Our “Father who is in secret” sees all. He is omnipresent; He is everywhere at the same time. He is omniscient; He knows everything. Psalm 139 puts it like this. Listen to verses 1-12.

Psalm 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. 7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
Our God sees all, and if He sees us fasting from genuine motives, as with praying and giving, Jesus says, in verse 18, our “Father who sees in secret will reward [us].”. Again, seeking a reward, if it’s the right kind—the reward of God Himself—is not a bad thing. It doesn’t put us at the center, as the Pharisees were trying to do. It glorifies God. If we go to God, believing like Hebrews 11:6 says, that “He rewards those who seek Him,” we glorify Him greatly. We say that God meets all our needs, that His presence is satisfying. This lifts Him up.

If I tell Amy, “Being with you is rewarding. It is delightful. It satisfies me completely,” that glorifies her. She isn’t going to look at me and say, “You are a selfish pig. All you care about is what you want!” No, by me saying that I want her, it honors her. It’s the same way with God. John Piper compares it to running up to a beautiful, mountain spring and putting your head in and taking a big drink of water. If we do this, if we say, “That is the most refreshing, wonderful water I’ve ever tasted,” we honor the spring. We are satisfied. The spring is glorified. This is how it is with God.

Therefore, pursue finding reward in God. Again, we’re not doing these religious acts like giving and praying and fasting to earn rewards from God in some works-righteousness sort of way. We have tasted the goodness of God, and we’re doing these deeds to more and more eat and drink and be satisfied in Him.

Apparently, in the theatre of Rome in Jesus’ day, a key part of the performance was the chorus. The chorus would sing and the actors would “answer to the chorus.” This is what the Pharisees were doing. Again, the term “hypocrite” refers to a stage actor. They were answering to the chorus. They were seeking their approval. The Christian is concerned about the audience of one, our Lord. We are concerned with what He sees. We are concerned about His reward. We want the reward that lasts, not the temporary one.

This week I passed by “Speaker’s Circle” a few times and saw Brother Jed and his cohorts doing their “preaching.” I thought about walking by and screaming, “Fee Fi Fo Fee, I see a Pharisee” and marching on, but I restrained myself. It sickened me to see Jed and some other guy, standing out there, basking in all the attention, glorifying themselves. Others, like our own Brenda, were sitting in the circle, trying to share the true gospel, out of the sight of the masses, but in the sight of God.

No, Brother Jed and friends weren’t attracting positive attention, as perhaps the Pharisees of Jesus’s day were. But they are still Pharisees. Jed and friends applaud themselves in their hearts, of course. This is their main concern, I’m convinced. But if they get some praise from others, great. However, if they don’t, great, too. They can play the “martyr” card.
Either way, blessing or cursing, the attention they receive feeds their egos within. And that’s the chief concern of Pharisees—to make themselves the center of the universe. It’s idolatry. It’s self-worship.

Christians worship God. That is our chief concern. And we do it through Christ alone. Christ is the only one who gave, prayed, and fasted perfectly with perfect motives. Those that repent and believe in Him have His perfect life given to them, so that they may stand blameless before the Father. He also died a cruel death for those that have failed to give and pray and fast as they should. Those that repent and believe have His perfect death given to them, as well. He lived for us. We can stand before God the Father perfect. He died for us. We can stand before God the Father forgiven.

But those that repent and believe do so because they’ve been reborn. And this rebirth takes our hearts of stone, as Ezekiel 36 puts it, and replaces them with hearts of flesh. We are given new hearts that now love God and can serve Him sincerely. God then sanctifies us, making us more and more like Him, purifying our hearts more and more. We are changed to meet these demands in Matthew 6 through Christ alone. We can now give, pray, and fast rightly.

So this calling of Matthew 6:1-18 should make us incredibly dependent upon the gospel. We need Christ’s life and death to stand before God. We need the Spirit to change us into people that can serve sincerely.

Christian fasting, therefore, like Christian giving and praying, is done in God’s power for His glory. It’s not done in our strength for our praise. It’s done for the audience of one.

This, of course, begs a question that I hope to answer in our remaining time this morning. What is Christian fasting? Jesus says again, in verses 16-18, “when you fast.” He assumes we will fast. But what is it? I will attempt to answer this question from six angles that reflect the six big questions journalists try to answer in each news story. I learned these in my writing days, and I think they help us as we try to look at the contours of most any issue. We will look at who, what, when, where, why, and how.

First, who fasts? We’ve answered this in a way already this morning—Christians fast. But some would disagree with this. Notice how much more we hear about the first two topics we’ve seen in Matthew 6. Everybody knows we should give and pray. But who talks about fasting? I’ll never forget the time that I was speaking about this passage in another church. The pastor I worked with actually told me that I should skip it, because nobody knows much about it or does it!
Some would argue that it’s a Jewish practice that was abolished thanks to Christ. Others would say that it is a Catholic thing that good Protestants should avoid. But here’s the problem with that: Jesus fasted, as we know, in Matthew 4, He assumed we would do it here in Matthew 6, and He taught that believers would one day do it in Matthew 9. Turn with me to Matthew 9:14-15. It reads,

Matthew 9:14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 15 And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”

Jesus’s answer here teaches that, when He is taken away, or when He ascended to heaven, His disciples would fast. That time is now, brothers and sisters. Fasting is intended to be a normal part of the Christian life until we rejoice again in the presence of the bridegroom. In addition, the early church, as told in Acts, fasted. Fasting is a Christian, New Covenant practice. All believers should fast.

Second, what is fasting? First, here’s what it’s not. It’s not simply a powerful political weapon. Ghandi is one known for fasting for political purposes. His country’s laws read that a creditor could only collect from a debtor through shame. The creditor would sit in front of the debtor’s house without food for as long as it took for the debtor to be shamed into paying. Said Eric Rogers,

This very Indian technique worked for Gandhi. His fasting undoubtedly touched more hearts than anything else he did. Not just in India, but practically everywhere, men were haunted by the image of a frail little man cheerfully enduring privation for the sake of a principle. The Bible speaks of something much greater than a hunger strike.

Fasting is also more than just a sound medical practice. If one searched on the World Wide Web, one would find numerous sites dedicated to the health benefits of fasting.
I remember when I lived in Chicago briefly a man who was the superintendent over the Jewish synagogue I lived in. The other seminarians and I worked for him in taking care of the grounds and the facilities. This man, a Russian immigrant, annually fasted for 30 days for health reasons. He claimed it was very beneficial and many experts would agree. One would die quickly without water but can live days without food. It’s considered a healthy thing to do. But any good health that results is but a secondary benefit of the fasting Jesus speaks of.
It’s also not just another religious practice. All cultures and nations and religions everywhere fast and have historically done so. Muslims do so during Ramadan. The high caste of the Hindus, the Brahmans, fast quite seriously.
But it even goes broader than that. Listen to John Piper in his helpful book, Hunger for God,

The Andaman Islanders... abstain from certain fruits, edible roots, etc. at certain seasons, because the god Puluga... requires them, and would send a deluge if the taboo were broken.... Among the Koita of New Guinea a woman during pregnancy must not eat bandicoot, echidna, certain fish, and iguana; and the husband must observe the same food taboos.... Among the Yoruba, [at the death of a husband] widows and daughters are shut up and must refuse all food for at least 24 hours.... In British Columbia, the Stlatlumh (Lilooet) spent four days after the funeral feast in fasting, lamentations, and ceremonial ablutions.... Before slaying the eagle, a sacred bird, the professional eagle-killer among the Cherokees had to undergo a long vigil of prayer and fasting.... [Other] American Indian youth [often undergo prolonged austerities] in order that by means of a vision [they] may see the guardian spirit which will be [theirs] for the remainder of [their] life.... Among the tribes of New South Wales, boys at the bora ceremonies are kept for two days without food, and receive only a little water (Piper, 27).
So fasting is more than just going without food for spiritual reasons. Almost all religious movements do that. We’re talking particularly about Christian fasting here. I think it primarily is an expression of a longing for the bridegroom that He himself speaks of in Matthew 9:15. We’ll get more to the why later. Christian fasting has to do with abstaining from food as an expression of faith in and repentance toward Christ. If it’s not about Jesus, it’s not Christian fasting.

Let’s briefly consider the when of fasting. I’ll remind you again what Matthew 9:15 teaches. Jesus says, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” This was Jesus’s explanation for why His disciples didn’t fast, unlike those of John. It also implies that, when we join with Christ again one day in a new heavens and new earth, we’ll no longer fast. Fasting will give way to feasting. We will be with the bridegroom again. Now, in the interval between Christ’s first coming and His second, we fast.

But we obviously don’t fast every day. When, more specifically, do we fast? The only commanded fast in Scripture is the one associated with the Day of Atonement in the Law of Moses. Leviticus 16:29-30 says,

Leviticus 16:29 "And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.
We know, however, that Jesus changed all of that. As Matthew 5:17-20 states, he fulfilled the law. Hebrews 10:10 teaches that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Christ’s death was the Day of Atonement, the day the previous Jewish event foreshadowed. That day of fasting is no more. Now certain fasting days are not required. Believers are free in Christ, however, to fast.
We see circumstances in Scripture where the people of God fasted. Primarily, these times are grouped into two categories—penitence and prayer. First, regarding penitence, we see when Jonah preached to Nineveh, as found in Jonah chapter 3, the Ninevites repented and fasted. Listen to verses 4-10.

Jonah 3:4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish." 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
In Daniel 9, Daniel went to God on behalf of His sinful people. Daniel said, in verse 3, “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.”

Here is one last biblical example. The King Ahaz was so wicked that 1 Kings 21:25 says, “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD like Ahab.” But, when the king heard the impending judgment of God, he repented. Verses 27 and 29 state,
1 Kings 21:27 And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. 28 And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29 "Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the disaster upon his house."

Fasting is connected much in Scripture with repentance. Many other examples could be given. As with Ahab, God listens to those who fast with penitence.

Fasting is also associated with prayer. In the book of Ezra, the prophet calls for a time of fasting and prayer prior to the nation’s return from Babylon to Israel. He and God’s people fast to ask God for protection. Listen to Ezra 8:21-23.

Ezra 8:21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, "The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him." 23 So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Other examples are found in the book of Acts when fasting accompanied the beginning of ministry. In Acts 13, the leaders of the early church sent out apostles with fasting and prayer. Verses 2-3 state,

Acts 13:2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

In Acts 14:23, fasting is associated with the ordaining of elders. Luke says there “when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” About this passage, John MacArthur had this to say:

Only the Lord knows how much the leadership of the church today could be strengthened if congregations were that determined to find and follow the Lord’s will. The early church did not choose or send out leaders carelessly or by popular vote. Above all they sought and followed God’s will. Fasting has no more power to assure godly leadership than it has to assure forgiveness, protection, or any other good thing from God. But it is likely to be a part of sincere dedication that is determined to know the Lord’s will and have His power before decisions are made, plans are laid, or actions are taken. People who are consumed with concern before God do not take a lunch break.

So those are two main circumstances for fasting in Scripture—repentance and prayer. Obviously there is much overlap between the two. Other examples could also be given. That answers part of the “when” question—those are occasions for fasting. As far as frequency, there is freedom as believers to decide this. However, Jesus says again, “when you fast.” He assumes we will do so.

Let’s turn to where. Fasting can take place in private or in public. Last week, we discussed the fact that, just because Jesus is warning His disciples about praying to get praise from humans, there are public prayers all over Scripture. He wasn’t condemning all public prayers. The same applies to fasting. We see group fasts in Scripture. There is a difference between fasting “before others” and fasting to “be seen by others.” Matthew 5:16 tells us to let our light shine. But the shining is for the glory of the Father. Public fasts, as long as they glorify God and not the group, are biblical and good. But we are sinners. Beware.

Next, let’s consider why. Let me answer this simply. We fast to express a humble dependence upon God. The term often used for fasting in the Bible is to “humble your souls.” In Leviticus 16:29, which we just read, it says, “You shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work.” That phrase “afflict yourselves” is a common phrase for fasting and literally means “humble your souls.” We also see it in the passage read earlier, in Isaiah 58:3. Isaiah, quoting the Jewish people, says, “Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” That phrase, here translated “humbled ourselves” is the same as in Leviticus 16. Here, that expression for fasting is placed parallel with a more technical term for fasting. See, biblically, fasting and humility are linked. This act of religious devotion is an expression of our great neediness as humans and, more particularly, our great neediness for the Lord.

Think about it for a second. Our body needs nothing more than food. We can lay around naked for awhile. We can live on the streets for awhile. But we can’t go too long without food. It is necessary. Our greatest need, however, as humans is for God.

Fasting, as John Piper puts it, can function as the “handmaid of faith.” Jesus said, in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Jesus warned, in verse 27, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” In verse 51, He says, “If anyone eats of this bread, He will live forever.” In verse 54, He teaches, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Faith could be defined as hungering for Christ. Fasting, as we are reminded of our great hunger for food, can cultivate in us a deeper hunger for our Lord and Savior.

And this great hunger for God once again glorifies Him. The Pharisees, if they were asked, “Why do you fast?” would have answered in spiritual-sounding words. But their motivation was clearly to glorify self. Our motivation must be to bring glory to God. As we fast, we cultivate in our hearts a hunger for God, or faith, that brings Him honor. So, when asked, “Why do you fast?” we should answer, “To express and cultivate our hunger for God for the glory of God.” In other words, as we’ve seen here in Matthew 6:16-18, we fast to express that God is our reward and to receive our reward from the Father. Christ Himself is our reward, but let me give you some other secondary rewards here that further answer the question, “Why do we fast?”

1. It reminds us that Christianity is a matter of desire. Christianity is not just a matter of the intellect. Even the demons have that. It’s not just a matter of the will, of making choices. We make our choices for a reason. Our choices are made based on the strongest desire at the time. Fasting reminds us, as we long for food, that our desire for things other than God amounts to sin and our desire for God amounts to faith. Our task is not to kill our desires. It is to focus them on the right object that can truly satisfy, namely God.

2. It reminds us that God must be our strongest desire. Christianity is a hunger for God. Fasting reminds us of that. We must long for Him and need Him like we long for and have need of food. Each hunger pang should remind us of that. In fact, we must love the giver of bread, the Bread of Life, far more than the bread on our kitchen table. We must not be idolaters, falling in love with the object rather than the reality it represents. Fasting helps us to fight that.

3. It reminds us that we’re sustained by His every word. Matthew 4:4 states that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." As we are dependent on food for physical life, so are we dependent on His food for spiritual life. Without it, we perish. With it, we grow and mature. Fasting reminds us of this. In reality, fasting is feasting. We feast on the word while we fast from the food. Fasting reminds us that the word is the true feast, as well as the source of sustenance.

4. It reveals to us our sin. In His book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster states that “more than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” He goes on to say,
This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed in to the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Ps. 69:10). Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear— if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.
5. It reminds us to live in moderation. We are to be disciplined at all times and fast at some times. Fasting reminds us of this, that no physical things should control us.

6. It brings us back into focus. One of the proven physical benefits of fasting is a renewed clarity of mind. But it goes deeper than that. Fasting will renew our focus and realign our priorities. It will get our hearts back into prayer.

7. It helps us to identify with and care for the hungry. In the passage we read earlier, Isaiah 58, God is angered that His people are fasting, acting spiritually great, while not helping the poor. God says,

Isaiah 58:6 "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Fasting helps us feel their pain. We also can use the money for the food we pass up to ease their pain.

8. It allows us to see God move. God has willed to work through fasting and prayer. We will see Him, as He wills, respond and work in our lives and in the lives of others.

What about the how question? What should our approach to fasting be? We see at least three types of fasts in Scripture. First, in Matthew 4, it says Jesus, after “fasting forty days and forty nights,” was “hungry.” Then Satan challenged Him to turn stones into bread. He tempted Him with food, not water. This is the normal way of fasting in the Bible—abstaining from food, sometimes for an extended period of time, while drinking water.

Sometimes we also see absolute fasts. In Acts 9:9, it says Paul was blind for three days, following his conversion, and “neither ate nor drank.” In Esther 4, when the Jewish people were threatened, and the new queen was preparing to plead before the king on behalf of her people, she commanded the Jews, in verse 16, to “not eat or drink for three days, night or day.”

Scripture also mentions partial fasts. For example, in Daniel 10:2-3, it reads, “In those days, I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.” It’s possible the Pharisees got the idea of not anointing themselves with oil from this passage. Regardless, Daniel just did without meat and wine. This is a partial fast.

The Bible also speaks of fasts from other things— like marital relations. 1 Corinthians 7:5 states, “Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” This devotion to prayer is likely, as the King James translates it, fasting. Fasting from sex was for the purpose of fasting from food. I take that to mean that depriving oneself from food is a higher thing than depriving oneself from sexual relations or other things. Man can live without sex, but he can’t live without food. Nothing like eating and drinking illustrates our need for God; nothing like fasting reminds us of our superior need for Him.

So fasting really necessitates forsaking food. Some would want to fast from TV or the elevator or whatever. Those might teach us to rely more on God, but never in the same way that food can. We can’t live without food.

We also can’t forget, regarding the how question, that we fast with much struggle and difficulty. I remember people honestly whining about getting headaches or getting grouchy. That’s the point, folks. Our bodies need food. They get sick without it. They bring out the bad stuff on the inside. Going without food reminds us how much we need God. It is an exercise of self-discipline. Expect to feel terrible when you go without food. Our sin numbs us from seeing that we’re really terrible without God. Fasting helps us to break through that sin.

To summarize, who: Christian believers are expected to fast. What: Fasting is abstaining from food to express a longing for the great bridegroom. When: This interval before the consummation, when penitence and prayer should be expressed, is the time for it. Where: Public or private realms are appropriate, provided the believer does it for God’s glory. Why: Ultimately God’s glory is the reason we fast, as we express our humble need for Him. We seek the Father as our great reward. How: Primarily fasting is abstaining from food, not water. It is a struggle as our bodies remind us of exactly how much our souls need God.

Brothers and sisters, my desire is that Grace Church would be a place where people fast—where we express our great need for God individually and as a church. This Wednesday would be a perfect place to begin as we start our second “Grace Group” and move into a new phase. Would you fast with me?

The Pharisees fasted. But they did it to be seen and rewarded by men. Jesus tells us to fast, but to do it to be seen and rewarded by God. We need Him, the great Reward. Nothing reminds us more of this than fasting. He is the “bread of life.” He is the “living water.” Everything about fasting screams that we should see ourselves as small and God as big. But our sin is great. We need God to change our hearts so that we see our great need for Him and the great hunger we should have for Him. We need grace to save and transform sinners like us.

In this past week’s Columbia Tribune, there was this sickening story about a Columbia woman named Sarah Herman who faked having terminal stomach cancer to pilfer her friends out of money. She claimed that she didn’t have money to go to the Mayo Clinic and get the treatment she needed. Her friends started the S.O.S campaign, which stood for “Save Our Sarah.” They had a benefit concert at the Blue Note that raised $1800.

But, one day some friends tried to send flowers to the Mayo Clinic, and they hadn’t heard of her. Her friends grew suspicious when they saw no symptoms. Her friends confronted her about it, and she claimed she had been cured. Friends didn’t buy the story and neither did the police. She finally confessed to duping them and faking cancer. Now she faces criminal charges and as much as seven years in jail.

Brothers and sisters, these were the tactics of the Pharisees—acting on the outside something that wasn’t on the inside, for their personal gain. Maybe the masses were fooled. But God wasn’t fooled. He sees the heart. He rewards the sincere. He judges the hypocrites. Let us pray that God will make us people, whether in giving, praying, or fasting, or any other Christian deeds, who honor Him, and not self.

"Praying Sincerely and Intelligently to the Father of Grace"

“Praying Sincerely and Intelligently to the Father of Grace”
Kevin P. Larson, Grace Church of Columbia, Aug. 27, 2006

Last night, we watched and discussed Bruce Almighty, a quite hilarious comedy in which Jim Carrey gets the opportunity to be God for a few days. The movie is replete with problems but makes great points. It was great fodder for discussion. The director Tom Shadyac, who professes faith in Christ, was interviewed by a Christian magazine, The Voice Behind, about the movie. Who made the decision to have Bruce and his girlfriend Grace live together, they pushed? Others wondered why bad language had to be used. Wouldn’t this have been a fine movie without that, they reasoned?

Shadyac responded,

You know, I have been going to church since I was a babe. And I go to church today. And I think one of the challenges of our church, and churchgoers in general, is to accept humanity as it is. We have people in churches acting out, because they don’t accept the whole human being. They deny that we are sexual human beings. Or, that we can be angry. I, as a filmmaker, am not going to deny that. I am going to embrace that. I think it’s important to embrace the whole of humanity, and to say we are imperfect. By the standards of most Christians today you could not read your Bible. I mean, the Bible is chalk full of some pretty racy stuff, folks. There’s a lot, a lot, a lot of sexual impropriety. There is violence—all kinds of things. It’s not about a moment. It’s about the entire journey. If the Bible had not ended where it ended, it would be a pretty downer of a book. It ends with redemption. So, if you take one sentence out of the Bible, like with violence or sex, and you just focus on that sentence, you would not want to go near the Bible. But, if you look at the Bible as a whole, it’s redemptive and beautiful and it’s God’s love story to mankind (Ransom Fellowship, 2006).

Brothers and sisters, I doubt that, if we wrote the Bible, we would include some of the racy characters there. Would we make Rahab the prostitute a hero? I’ll never forget debating with one woman about whether or not she was really a prostitute. Would we make David, with all of his rough edges, one of the chief characters of the Bible, a type of Christ—this man who watched Ancient Near Eastern pornography from his rooftop, had the power to actually get the woman and sleep with her, and then knocked off her husband to cover up what he had done? Is this how we would write the Bible?

Why would we not want Bruce to be a fornicator and a foulmouth? Why would we focus all our attention on that? It’s because we naturally want to be Pharisees. We want to focus on the sins of others, demonstrate how we are godly people, and go to bed feeling good about ourselves.

Bruce “Almighty” and Grace look like the real world. They sleep with each other before marriage. They throw around the “F-bomb.” So we criticize. And why we do this, I’ll argue, because we want to direct our attention to the fact that others sin, we don’t, and we’re ok, and they’re not. Those are sins, for sure, and they are serious. But so also are the larger problems, the greater sins we share with Bruce.

If we watched Bruce Almighty with sensitive eyes, we would see that Bruce looks just like us. He’s incredibly self-centered. He’s mad at God because things don’t go his way, and once he gets to be God, he makes the world revolve around him. See, by focusing on the cohabitating and cursing, we write ourselves out of the movie instead of making ourselves the main character. This is the way of the Pharisee. We see this in Matthew 5:17-48. There Jesus hit the Pharisees hard, showing those self-righteous jerks that they were twisting God’s law, enabling themselves to “keep it,” while condemning others. And He tells them they weren’t keeping God’s law at all.

Last week, New Yorker Ryan Leli, a huge Mets fan, decided he wanted to get closer to the players. The 18-year-old man forged an NBC press pass and wormed his way into the locker room before the start of a Mets-San Diego Padres baseball game. Apparently he tried to use the pass again for a Mets-Rockies game, and team officials got suspicious and called authorities. He was charged with “criminal possession of a forged instrument, falsifying business records, larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, criminal impersonation, and criminal trespass” (CBS News, 8/19/2006).

Luke began a new section last Sunday, Matthew 6:1-18. In this section, Jesus says that, not only are the Pharisees breaking all God’s commands, doing bad things, but they’re doing “good things” in bad ways, as well. On the outside, they were godly, loving people—sports reporters—but on the inside, they were wicked and hateful. They were imposters. Last week we looked at the giving of the Pharisees. This week we’ll look at their praying. Let us read Matthew 6:5-15.

ESV Matthew 6:5 "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I have made the point throughout our study of the Sermon on the Mount, leaning heavily on Tim Keller’s teaching, that Jesus is calling us to differentiate ourselves as Christians, from both Pharisees and pagans—from religious hypocrites and irreligious idolaters.
As we live and love here in beautiful Columbia, Missouri, we have to show unbelievers how we differ from the hypocrites they hate so much, while showing them how we differ also from them. We have to show how we differ from the stereotypes of Christians they might have, while also showing them that we’re not just like them—that we’re not just another way of “finding God” in a pluralistic culture. In other words, we need to show people the gospel.

Let’s turn to our text. We’ll look this morning at the praying of the Pharisee, the praying of the pagan, and, finally, the praying of the Christian.

First, let’s examine the prayer of Pharisees. Read with me again verses 5 and 6 of chapter 6.

ESV Matthew 6:5 "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Luke pointed out last week the format of each of these sections on giving, praying, and fasting. Jesus warns His hearers not to perform the particular act like Pharisees, with a view to obtaining praise from others. He warns that doing so will only result in one reward—that attention and praise. He then explains the conduct of a Christian, promising the reward of the Father, instead of the passing applause of men.

What is Jesus not saying here? He’s not saying that the posture is the issue. He says, “For they love to stand and pray…” Jesus assumed people would sometimes stand to pray in places like Matthew 11:25 and Luke 18:11-13.

He also is not saying that the place is the issue. Jewish men would often stand, in front of the ark, in the meeting of the “synagogue,” as the passage says, and offer a prayer, much like people might pray in our gathering today. In addition, during the corporate fasts of Israel, often trumpets would sound, and this would indicate that one of the men should offer a prayer—perhaps right there on the “street corners.”

No, Jesus isn’t condemning all public prayers. If He was, the early church didn’t follow him well, as they prayed in public. He isn’t dealing with posture or place. He’s dealing with purpose. He is condemning prayer that is meant to be “seen by others.” He’s condemning showy, ostentatious prayer. Jesus says, if you’re trying to get man’s praise, then that’s all the reward you get. You’ll get the approval of human beings, in this lifetime, but it usually lasts far less than that. It usually lasts a minute or two, and then you need to go back to impressing them.

Jesus says, if your tendency is to be showy, deal with it radically. He said earlier that, if you struggle with lust, maim yourself. Here He says, “Go inside to an interior room, shut the door behind you, and pray to the God that is there as much as on the street corner.”

Are our prayers a means for us to be glorified by others or for us to bring glory to God? Do they help us find joy in God, or do they encourage joy in self? In other words, do they encourage worship, or do they facilitate idolatry? If they do the latter, we must act swiftly.

Christ teaches here that meeting God in that secret place, which again affirms the omnipresence of God—that He is everywhere at the same time—will result in great reward by Him. Not only will we receive an eternal reward of living on a new heavens and a new earth with Him, but we’ll experience the goodness of His presence right now—a temporal reward. Don’t show off with your prayers, Jesus says. Go for the reward that lasts.

This reminded me, of course, of one of my favorite comedies, Meet the Parents. Greg, if you remember, sits down at the dinner table with his girlfriend’s difficult folks, and is asked to offer the table blessing. You may remember these lines:

OK, Oh…Dear God. Thank You. You are such a good God to us; a kind and gentle, accommodating God. And we thank you, oh sweet, sweet Lord of Hosts for the smorgasbord you have so aptly lain at our table this day… and each day… by day… day by day. Oh, Dear Lord, three things we pray: To love Thee more dearly; To see Thee more clearly, to follow Thee more nearly day by day… by day. Amen.

His mother-in-law-to-be praised him for his great prayer, no matter if it was ripped from a song in Godspell and from the prayer of St Richard of Chichester before that. It got applause. This is the praying of the Pharisee. Pray so that people will see you and praise you.

How does this apply to us? When you’re asked to pray up front in our Gathering, or do something else like read Scripture or make an announcement or teach a lesson, do you do it so that you will shine or so God will?

Or let me take it the opposite direction. Are you thinking, “Man, am I glad that I have such a super prayer life!” or “I am so spiritual.” I am thankful that I don’t have that problem. In our last passage, Jesus said that, when you give, even in secret, you should “not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” In the same way, you should pray in such a way that you don’t become proud of yourself, either.

Or let me take it even further. Hypocrite, as Luke pointed out last week, is a term used in that era for a stage player. Actors in those days, however, didn’t act with their facial expressions; they wore masks. Perhaps when you are in a church setting, maybe here on Sunday, or at our Wednesday night Grace Groups, you put on a mask and look as spiritual as you can. Maybe you don’t let anyone see who you really are. Maybe you’re too proud. But the reward of looking good is temporary and shallow. And you rob not only God of glory, but also yourself of the joy of being authentic with others and being authentically loved by others.

Let us look at the praying of the pagan. Hear again verses 7 and 8.

Matthew 6:7 "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

What is Jesus again not saying? He’s not saying that prayers can’t sometimes be repetitive or long. Jesus, after all, prayed all night at times (Luke 6:12). In the garden of Gethsemane, the night He was betrayed, Matthew 26:44 says, “He went and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.” In addition, in Jesus’s famous words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” we know from the Greek verb tense that Jesus was likely repeating that over and over again. Jesus isn’t making an absolute prohibition of praying repetitively or long. In fact, in Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable of a widow that kept going and going and going to a judge, asking for mercy, in order to teach us “that we ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

What is Jesus saying? The Greek word translated “heap up empty phrases” is a puzzling term. It’s only used here, and most scholars have trouble knowing what it means. It’s battalogeo, which is more than likely an onomatopoeic word. What’s that, you might ask? We use words in English that get their name from how they sound. A good example of this is the word “buzz.” Another might be “moo.” It’s likely that Jesus is saying, “Don’t go ‘battala-battala-battala’ when you pray.” Jesus is addressing Jews here, saying, “You’re sounding like the Gentiles who babble.”

That’s how pagans pray. This reminds me of 1 Kings 18, when the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a duel. Those prophets cried and cut themselves and chanted, “O Baal, answer us” all day long. Elijah, however, responded with a simple, intelligible prayer. He said,

1 Kings 18:36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back."
God answered. In Acts 19:34, we see the people of Ephesus, in opposition to Paul and his friends, shouting to their favorite goddess. The verse says, “For about two hours they all cried out with one voice, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”

Jesus says again, in verse 8, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” In other words, you don’t serve this weird, far-off God who lives who-knows-where who responds to chanting and babbling and quantity of words more than quality of them. You have a heavenly Father that needs zero words. He already knows. This again affirms God’s omniscience. He knows all things. But He particularly knows and deeply cares about the needs of His children.

You might ask then, “Why pray?” If God already knows, what’s the point? We don’t pray, just so you know, to inform God of anything. He knows it all. We don’t pray to persuade God. His will alone will be done. We rather pray to bring ourselves in line with God’s purposes. We pray to glorify God and increase our joy in God. We pray, as our prayers are part of the means God uses to do His purposes. Why tell God what we need? Because we need to hear what we need. We need to see what we think we need brought in line with what we really need. And God works in response to us telling Him what we need. So let us pray.

So how does this section apply to us? We can look at the culture around us and see obvious expressions of pagan praying. Transcendental meditation and its repeated, mindless repetition of a mantra in order to go deeper in divine consciousness is an obvious example. Everybody can picture somebody sitting with legs folded chanting, “Ummmmm.”

But looking within what might be called Christendom, the Catholic practice of the rosary certainly applies. If you’re unfamiliar with that, it involves using beads to repeat memorized prayers. This chanting, often given as penance by priests, sounds pretty pagan, as one goes through this ritual to appease God for his or her sins.

Looking inward, to evangelicalism, of which we’re a part, The Prayer of Jabez, a book by Bruce Wilkinson, has been an international bestseller. This book yanks 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 out of context and recommends it be prayed in almost mantra-like fashion for blessing. The prayer goes like this:

ESV 1 Chronicles 4:9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, "Because I bore him in pain." 10 Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!" And God granted what he asked.
Wilkinson states in the book:

I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you'll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit.

Now, don’t be too hard on yourself if this book is on your shelf; I once recommended it to people. I’m ashamed of that now. Praying this prayer repeatedly, like Wilkinson recommends, amounts to praying like a pagan.

We can also pray like a pagan when we chant the same prayer before we eat our supper, before we lie down to sleep, and in our devotional times. Sadly, we can even do this when praying our prayer in this passage’s immediate context—the Lord’s Prayer. We can say it so often and so repetitively that it has no meaning for us.

Some of you might be thinking right now, “Hey, we recite readings here as a congregation. What’s up with that? Aren’t we doing what Jesus says not to do?” Not necessarily. Of course, we can say things here in our Gatherings that don’t come from the heart, much less the head. We can just read things without it affecting us. Therefore, our whole meeting isn’t filled with such things.

But we can do things that are spontaneous or extemporaneous that violate Jesus’s words here, as well. I can get up here and say a prayer without prior preparation that is laden with Christianese and repetitive phrases that doesn’t connect with my head and heart, much less yours. We can babble endlessly with words displayed on the screen or not.

So what we might call “liturgical” elements are not necessarily bad. If we did nothing but them, and we did the same things each week, we might have a problem. But used in moderation, they can help us express ourselves in worship in deeper, more timeless ways that extemporaneous prayers simply can’t.

Why should we not pray in repetitive, thoughtless ways? It’s because we have a heavenly Father. He loves us and cares for us. He is good and kind. If we think about it, both types of prayers condemned here are rooted in distorted conceptions of God. The Pharisee has a false god that exists for personal exaltation. The pagan has a false god that responds to verbal manipulation. John Stott puts it this way:

It will be seen that the fundamental difference between various kinds of prayer is in the fundamentally different images of God which lie behind them. The tragic mistake of Pharisees and pagans, of hypocrites and heathen, is to be found in their false image of God. Indeed, neither is really thinking of God at all, for the hypocrite thinks only of himself while the heathen thinks of other things.
What sort of God is it who might be interested in such selfish and mindless prayers? Is God a commodity that we can use to boost our own status, or a computer that we can feed words into him mechanically? (Stott, 152).

Because we worship our Father in heaven, our prayers must be marked by sincerity and intelligence. He wants our hearts and our minds. And we must show this type of praying to a lost world. We must show the Columbian who, when he thinks of prayer sees the Pharisee praying for personal glory, that we pray to honor God. We must show him who, when he hears about prayer, sees pagan chanting and babbling, that we pray to a personal God who hears us and cares about our every need.

Let us now turn to the praying of the Christian. Here, in Matthew 6:9-15, we see the Lord’s Prayer, or what would better be called the “Disciples’ Prayer.” John 17 deserves the “Lord’s Prayer” title. This prayer is for His people, not Him. Let’s hear it again.

ESV Matthew 6:9 Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Now because of the way we have the sermons planned for this series, I’m going to have to be briefer in looking at this section than I’d like. But, as we go through these verses, I want us to think about how these prayers, if answered, might change us individually, our church corporately, and our city evangelistically. I also want us to see how each prayer accords with the gospel of grace that we treasure here.

Notice first, however, that Jesus says, “Pray then like this.” He gives us a model prayer, an outline for praying, a strategy for praying through life. In the parallel passage, however, in Luke 11:2, Jesus says, “When you pray, say…” and then gives us the Lord’s Prayer. Why is this important? Some emphasize this is a model, in reaction to mindless chanting of this prayer, but miss the fact that Jesus says also in Luke to say these words exactly. My point? We should use this as an approach to prayer. But we can also use it as a prayer we repeat, individually or corporately.

Let’s next look at the way the prayer begins. It reads, “Our Father in heaven.” Notice two things about this. First, it says “Our Father.” We live in a culture that is very individualistic, and this has gotten its foot in the door of the church.

Recently I was talking to a man who doesn’t go to church much. He’s very athletic, running and biking in competitions. I asked him about his church. He said he goes “when he can.” But he said, “I have Larry over there that I meet with every week. He’s my ‘personal trainer.’”

Biblically, God always works with a people, not a person—Israel then, the New Israel, the Church, right now. So we should pray together, not just as we gather here on Sundays, but also when we pray in private. We should pray as a person who is part of a people. We should not pray as an individual, in isolation.

Second, it says, “Our Father in heaven.” Now for us, calling God our Father sadly isn’t that big of a deal. But for the Jew, it was a huge deal. The Jew preferred to call God “Sovereign Lord” and lofty titles like that, all of which are good. But Jesus comes along here and teaches people to pray to a Father.

Don’t miss however, that the word “heaven” is there. The word isn’t referring so much as to His abode, but rather to His authority and sovereignty. Think of this—the Father, who is in heaven, the Sovereign Lord, is also our Father. No matter what your earthly Father was or is like, the one who made all and the one who rules over all is your Dad. This is amazing.

While Jews emphasized the majesty of God, however, the modern evangelical church tends to exalt our intimacy with God. Most of us have been raised in churches that paint God as some cosmic grandfather with a smile. For it to mean anything, this God who is our Father must also be the Ruler of the universe. Here at Grace Church we must emphasize both aspects and revel in both.

Let us turn to the six petitions in turn. First, in verse 9, Jesus prays, “Hallowed be Your name.” Biblically, a name represents who someone is. That’s why in the Old Testament, the Hebrew names for people have those cool meanings for them. This prayer isn’t just that God’s name be hallowed. It’s for God Himself, for who He is, what His name represents to be “hallowed.” Now “hallowed” may sound like Greek to you, but it is just the verbal form of holy. This prayer is that God would be holy.

Of course, we know that God is already holy. By praying this, we won’t make him more holy than He already is. This is a prayer that as individuals, as a church, and as a city, we would see God’s holiness and delight in it. Holiness refers to the fact that God is set apart in terms of majesty and purity from us. He is high and lifted up. He is good and right. This is a prayer that people would see Him and cry, “Holy!”

Seeing God as holy affects us, not God. It causes us to fall down, like Isaiah in chapter 6 of his prophecy and say, “Woe is me! For I am lost (Isaiah 6:1). We look at God and cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” as Isaiah did. We see ourselves individually as broken, pleading for His holiness.

As God’s people, the church, we are called to “be holy as [He] is holy” (1 Peter 1:16). But this doesn’t come from making up legalistic rules that we keep that make us feel holy. It comes by us admitting that we’re a hodge-podge of broken sinners and by pleading with Him to make us like Him.

What our city doesn’t need to see is a bunch of self-righteous “holy” Pharisees, but rather people that have seen God’s holiness, have exulted in it, and have come to Him to be changed. But they must see how we’re different from them, also. We must ask and see God make us set-apart, as different from the culture.

We can pray for revival, but it starts with us. It begins with God showing us His holiness, working in us that holiness, and then changing the culture through us. Is this our prayer? The gospel is that we who stand before a holy God can be seen and made holy thanks to the holy life of Christ. May that begin in us and spread throughout our city!

Second, Matthew 6:10 states, “Your kingdom come.” We’ve discussed numerous times here at Grace Church the kingdom of God, but I’ll review. Biblically, the kingdom of God is spoken of in two senses. God rules over all things. He is the sovereign over the earth, ruling in providence. All things go exactly as He pleases. He is king.

However, the kingdom of God is spoken of in another sense in the Scriptures. Jesus came to bring a saving rule. When Jesus came saying, “The kingdom of God is here,” and the apostles preached “the kingdom of God,” they were speaking of Christ’s rule that began at His coming and would be consummated at the last day. So, we are a part of this saving reign of God. We have embraced Christ by repentance and faith. Not all submit to Him as king. But we do. Thanks be to God!

This is a prayer that this saving reign would spread. It is a prayer that it would be consummated. Because it will be consummated at Christ’s return, it is a prayer for that, as well. We pray as individuals that we would deepen our submission to the king, that our church would be a glorious expression of His kingdom, and that more and more of those around us would be drawn to us through Him and enter His saving reign.

As we interact here in Columbia, we can’t let the stereotype that we’re trying to set up a right-wing Christian kingdom continue. We can’t let “The District” see Pharisees. But we can’t also let them think we’re pagans like them. We can’t act and live like people that don’t have a king—that live however they want. The gospel is that we who have rejected the Lord’s kingship can be brought near to Him, can be made a part of His kingdom, through the victory of the Davidic King Jesus Christ. We must show them this gospel.

Third, Matthew 6:10 also states, “Your will be done.” As we discussed Wednesday night, sometimes the Bible speaks of God’s will that is always done. Ephesians 1:11 speaks of the God “who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” God’s will reigns. Nothing happens apart from His choosing.

But other times in the Bible, God’s will is spoken of as something that is not always done. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, it reads, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Down the page, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, it says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Obviously, tons of people are sexually immoral all the time, and millions of people don’t thank God for anything. So God’s will is always done, and it’s not always done in another sense.

This prayer is not regarding God’s sovereign will, the first option, but rather God’s moral will. We pray and plead that God’s will would increasingly be done across the face of the earth. This must start with us. Will we do His will? And will we be people who dig deeply in the pages of Scripture to find it? Will we as a church seek and find and follow His will? If we do, God can use us to answer this prayer more broadly. He can use us to help our community desire, know, and do God’s will. They must see, however, that we’re different from them; we are not the center of our universe. But we’re not Pharisees either. They exist to have everything revolve around them and praise them, also. The gospel is the truth that we who were rebels and desired only our will, thanks to Christ Jesus that always did His Father’s will, can be changed into people that submit to Him alone.

And notice the language of the petition. It says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” As Christ rules, as His will is done, in the heavens currently, and ultimately in the new heavens and the new earth—we pray for that scenario right now. We want a taste of heaven, a taste of the consummation right now. Is this our prayer?

Let’s turn to the fourth petition. Notice that here, and only here, is a change. The first three petitions deal with God and His glory, kingdom, and will. The second three petitions then turn to us. Aren’t we so backwards in this as a people? When we gather for prayer, our prayers sound more like the reports Amy would give her fellow nurses before she changed shifts at the hospital. We talk about our grandmother’s pacemaker and our credit card debt and the like. Jesus tells us to start with God and His name. Then and only then we can see our needs in proper light, in relation to Him. Only then can we see what are truly needs. Only then can we truly see the One who will meet those needs. If we get the cart before the horse, we don’t have a God that can really care for us.

Fourth, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We recite quite often the Lord’s Prayer with our son Hadley. The last several times he has looked at me with this puzzled look on his face and said, “Bread? Why bread?” I think he pictures God giving us nothing but a house-full of bread. I think Hadley hopes he can have a bit more variety in His diet. Jesus is, of course, using a term to refer to all of our needs—not just our food needs, but all our physical needs. He is teaching us to pray to God for those things.

We live in a very affluent culture. But the culture Jesus addressed knew their need for “daily bread.” They were primarily workers that were paid at the end of each day. They made enough to eat the next day. They lived “hand to mouth,” as the old expression goes. We can’t feel the force of what Jesus is saying, because we’re filthy rich compared to those days and to most of the world today.

I got a bit of a feel of this when I was in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The missionaries we worked with explained to us that different donors had come in and tried to help the Haitians set up their own businesses, but it was so counter-cultural that it never worked. They couldn’t conceive of taking profits from one day and buying materials with which to earn profits for the next day. So, if they had set up a sewing business, for example, there would invariably be no money to buy cloth the second day to use to sew more clothes and make money. You see, they were so used to living “day to day” that they couldn’t make the leap.

We can’t conceive of the opposite. We are so rich and fat that we scarcely feel need, and we therefore scarcely think of God meeting those needs. The word used here for “daily” has baffled scholars for years. It’s translated “daily,” but it could also refer to tomorrow’s needs. But somehow, in our culture, we must pray this prayer from the heart, understanding that everything we have today and will have tomorrow will come from God.

God, of course, uses means. God normally doesn’t throw manna and quail from heaven. He normally uses us as we work hard at our jobs and manage carefully those resources we earn. So this is no excuse not to work. God gives our “daily bread” through our work.

And this is bread, not caviar. Our prayer lists often amount to the prayer list of a TBN televangelist. We want Rolls-Royces and million dollar houses. We are called to pray for necessities, not luxuries. As Christians, we should even be resistant of luxuries, if we have means to buy them, so as not to grow numb to God’s provision and to grow deaf to the cries of the poor.

Individually, are we people that trust God to meet our needs and credit Him for doing so? Do we do this as a church? If we want our city to look to the heavens, and see a heavenly Father, and trust Him, not self, we must model this. We can’t look like fat, self-sufficient Pharisees. But we can’t blend in as greedy, “the end justifies the means” pagans, either. The gospel teaches the glorious truth that we have a Father who cares for us and showed us ultimately this truth by giving us His Son. As Romans 8:32 states, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also graciously give us all things?”

Fifth, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Sins here are conceived of debts, not at all uncommon in the culture to which Jesus taught. Because we have sinned, we owe God something. We owe restitution. We owe payment.

Jesus tells us to regularly pray for forgiveness. We regularly lift our eyes to the Lord and ask Him to forgive us. I remember while living in Indiana a man who was trying to claim that he was now perfect and without sin. Why, then, would Jesus tell us to pray this prayer? He teaches us that, until the end of the age, we will always be sinners in need of forgiveness.

We are to pray for forgiveness, it says, “As we also have forgiven our debtors.” Does this teach that we are forgiven because we forgive others? Is this teaching a works-salvation? Verses 14-15 make it worse. They read:

ESV Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The idea isn’t that we earn forgiveness by forgiving. It argues that, if we’re not the type of people that forgive others, it demonstrates most clearly that we have never been forgiven. Salvation comes from repenting of our sin and trusting in God’s forgiveness. If we look at those that have wronged us and don’t forgive, something’s wrong.
It is indisputable evidence that we have never truly understood the depth of our sin and how much we have been forgiven. Jesus told a parable to explain this idea in Matthew 18:23-35. There a servant owes an enormous debt. He can’t pay it, so he pleads for the king for mercy. The king forgives the debt. But that same man then went out, grabbed someone who owed him pennies, and choked him until he paid up. The king then got wind of it, and he threw him into prison. Jesus interprets the parable by saying, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” If we have been forgiven, and we daily live in light of our need for forgiveness, we cannot help but forgive others.

Are you, Christian, cognizant of your sin and your daily need for forgiveness? Are we “poor in Spirit,” as a church, pleading with God as a people for His mercy? If we want people in “The District” to cry out for forgiveness, they must see people that are living in constant desperation for that forgiveness themselves. They can’t see Pharisees that stick their chests out and are proud. And they can’t see us as pagans like them, that have no understanding of sin, that do whatever they want. The gospel, of course, is that we can be forgiven thanks to the payment made by Christ on the cross that freed us from our debt.

Sixth, Jesus teaches us to pray, in verse 13, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What can this possibly mean? The Greek word used there can be translated as “temptation” or as “trial.” We know, of course, that God won’t tempt us. James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” We also know, from the same book, that going through trials is good for us. James 1:2-3 states, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” So God won’t tempt us. God will test us. What can this mean?

D.A. Carson, I think gives the best explanation. He says this expression is litotes, which is a “figure of speech which expresses something by negating the contrary.” You say, “What?” Let me give you some examples. I remember being with some guys in college that would use the expression, “She’s not ugly.” That, of course, would be their way of saying that the girl was attractive. Or you might say, after leaving today, “That Luke—he’s not a bad singer.” Of course, that would be your way of saying that Luke is a good singer. John 6:37 uses a similar expression when it says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” That expression—“whoever comes to me I will never cast out”—is a litotes. Jesus’s point is that whoever comes He will embrace! And that is a great encouragement.

Here Jesus is teaching us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” which means, on the contrary, lead us into righteousness. Don’t send us that way. Send us the other way. So we shouldn’t get hung up on the word for “temptation.” This is our way of telling God to lead us away from temptation into godliness.

Jesus also teaches us to ask God to “deliver us from evil.” Again, “evil” could refer in this context to either the “evil one,” who is Satan, or evil in general. We will be tempted in this world, by the evil one. We will be tested in this world, amidst evil. Only God Himself can bring us deliverance from both. This is our prayer. We are dependent upon Him.

Believer, are you dependent upon God to take you down the right path and preserve your spiritual life? Church, are we actively choosing, by His grace, to forsake temptation and to resist evil? If we want those around us, here in beautiful downtown Columbia, to pursue righteousness and to forsake evil, it must start with us. But it must come from Him.

The gospel is that God doesn’t just save us by His grace, and then we proceed to fight Satan on our own. Rather, He delivers us from Satan by His grace. Paul prays in 2 Timothy 4:18, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.” God promises to do the same for us. Again, we can’t show Columbia a group of people that fight the Christian fight in their own flesh for their own glory. But we can’t show them people that don’t fight either. We must show them the gospel—that Christ saves us completely by grace.

That completes our six petitions. Notice, as John Stott points out, that they meet our every need. We see our material needs met—“our daily bread.” We ask for our spiritual needs to be met—“forgive us our debts.” We plead for our moral needs to be met—“lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” And they’re met by a glorious God in the gospel. Again, that comes first here. He is the one whose name must be “hallowed.” He, the glorious One whose “kingdom” will come and whose “will” shall be done—He is the one who meets our every need. You see the Trinity in the second half of this prayer. The Father of creation and providence provides our bread. The Son died that we might be forgiven. The Spirit preserves us from the attacks of evil. God loves us. He is good to us. We should rejoice.

To summarize, God wants our prayers to be sincere, over against the Pharisee. He wants our prayers to be intelligent, over against the pagan. We pray to a God that must be “hallowed,” not us, who builds His “kingdom,” not ours, who does His “will,” not yours or mine. He won’t stand for hypocrites. We also pray to a God that we can call “Father.” He knows all our needs, but commands us to ask Him in an intelligible way, for His glory and our good. He is not a computer or a slot machine. He won’t stand for babbling pagans.

Jesus begins by saying “when you pray.” He assumes we will. And He commands it in beginning the “Lord’s Prayer.” He says, “Pray then like this.” How is your prayer life? Are you dependent upon prayer? And, when you do, do you pray like a Christian? Jesus wants us to do just that. Surpass the Pharisee. Don’t be like the pagan. Pray like one who has a Father.

Several years ago, Britney Spears was on stage wowing the audience when either the song ended or the show ended and she went backstage. She was apparently angry with some of her stage hands and blew up at them, going on a lengthy, profanity-laced tirade. What she found out later was that her mic was still on backstage. And all her fans got to hear the real Britney in action.

However, I would argue, as a cultured, music lover, that not much was happening on the stage anyhow. To me, it’s nothing more than a bunch of drivel to a thumping backbeat.

Brothers and sisters, what’s going on behind the curtain with you? Does it match what happens onstage? Are you just seeking applause? And are you saying anything on stage anyhow? Or is it just babbling? Is it meaningless? Our Father in heaven cares. Beware how you pray.