Tuesday, March 11, 2014
D.V., we will begin a new Wednesday evening study tomorrow night, the 12th, on R. C. Sproul, Jr.'s book, "Believing God." Join us at 7 PM.
Monday, March 10, 2014
Sunday, March 09, 2014
“The Holiness of God as Salvation”
March 9, 2014 Second Reformed Church
For Lent, by the Grace of God, we will look at five psalms in the hopes of knowing our Holy God better. This morning, we are looking at Psalm 30, which has just been read.
Psalm 30 is a psalm of David. I trust we remember that David had been a shepherd who was chosen and anointed by God and Samuel to serve as King of Israel after God deposed Saul.
Some of the Psalms tell us something about why or when it was written – either in the header that the author wrote or in the psalm itself. This psalm includes the header: “A song at the dedication of the Temple.” This should strike us as strange, because David did not build the Temple – it was built and completed by his son, Solomon.
To attempt to get the setting, we look over the whole psalm and we note that David talks about being about being saved from his enemies and being chastised for his pride – for his confidence in his prosperity. The scholars who look at this give a suggestion as to what this event may have been, though it is not absolutely clear.
In 2 Samuel 12 and following we read about the following history: in the latter part of David’s reign, he had conquered an enormous amount of territory, and Israel was at peace. David was secure, and all seemed well. But then, David’s son, Ammon, raped his sister, Tamar, and the Scripture tells us that David was angry with Ammon. David’s son Absalom didn’t think David’s anger was enough, so he murdered his brother, Ammon, and ran away. David tells Absalom to come home to Jerusalem, but he would not be allowed to live in the palace.
Eventually, Absalom sent for Joab to get him an audience with his father, but Joab didn’t come, so Absalom set Joab’s crops on fire. After which, he got to speak with his father. But Absalom wanted to be an enforcer of justice – with his father’s approval – but David refuses, so Absalom builds an army and goes to war with his father. In the end, Absalom is killed, and peace returns to Jerusalem.
This may be the background for the psalm, but we still need to ask ourselves about the header – David didn’t build the Temple, so how could this be “a song at the dedication of the Temple”? We may find the answer in I Chronicles 22 where the author explains to us that David secured much of the building material for the Temple and then commissioned his son, Solomon, to build it. It may have been that this psalm was sung at the collection of the materials and/or at the commissioning of Solomon to build the Temple.
In any event, we see four things in the text of the psalm that we can be sure of this morning:
First, God is to be praised for our salvation.
Second, God is to be thanked to His Holy Name for our forgiveness.
Third, God’s purposes and favor are to be sought first.
And fourth, God is to be praised joyfully.
First, God is to be praised for our salvation.
“I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.”
David begins by saying he will extol the Lord – YHWH. We still use the expression that we “extol someone’s virtues” – what are we talking about? When we “extol” something, we lift it up, we show it as praiseworthy, we name reasons why our attention should be drawn to it, we say, “look at this!” David says, “I am going to praisefully, joyfully, draw attention to You, God, and show Your Worthiness based on Who You are and what You have done.”
And then he extols God for four things:
“You have drawn me up.” The imagery of the word “draw” is that of hauling a heavy bucket of water up out of a well. God – by Himself – by His Own Power – rescued David – He pulled him up – He saved him.
(At this point, Joshua is free to write down, “monergistic regeneration” in his notes – because David is saying that his salvation from the event he is recalling had nothing to do with himself, but only with God. God chose to pull him up – to save him – with no help from David. Buckets of water don’t help pull themselves up – and that is the imagery here – God pulled David up.)
When we are talking about salvation, the one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that our absolute salvation – our being made right with God – is only by God Alone. We’ll see that David confesses his sin, and God forgives him. So, we also are drawn up by God in salvation – sometimes in various events and trials on earth, and always in being made right with God.
Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44, ESV). Unless God hauls you up out of your well of sin, you will never get out.
“[You] have not let my foes rejoice over me.” When would your foes rejoice over you? When you have been defeated. God did not allow David’s foes to defeat him. God over threw David’s foes, so he would not be defeated, and they would not rejoice over him.
Who are our enemies?
Paul tells us: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12, ESV).
Our fight is not with the Republicans or the Democrats, or the rich or the poor, or Iran or Afghanistan, or even the RCA – our fight is against the devil and all his ways. And though we are called now to fight in the Name of Jesus, Jesus has already won the war – He is victorious over hell and death and the devil – He will not let our foes rejoice over us in the final analysis.
Then David says that he cried out for help and “You have healed me” or “You have restored me.”
Have you ever noticed that if you don’t ask for help, it is very unlikely that you will get help? Jesus said, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14, ESV). If we ask – if we ask for anything that is the Will of Jesus, He will do it.
Jesus does not want us to sin, and we are to repent of our sin when we do sin, but we are also to cry out for help in the moment of temptation: “Lord, Jesus, help me to turn away from this temptation and be faithful and obedient to you!” Do we ask for help?
David asked for help, and God was pleased to restore him from his sin and, perhaps, any sickness that accompanied God’s discipline of him for his sin.
And, David says, “You have brought up my soul from Sheol”; “You restore me to life from among those who go down to the pit.”
Here he is talked about spiritual salvation – salvation of his whole self – becoming right with God. Certain scholars would say, “No, He is talking about a soul, like we say someone is a ‘good soul,’ meaning a person, he’s not talking about that part of the human being which is essential to his being a human – that part that goes to be with Jesus after death and prior to the resurrection.” But the word that is used for “soul” in Hebrew refers to the self, one’s being, that part of you that must exist for you to be you.
David had sinned in such a way that – were it not for the intervening salvation of God – he would have been lost. David recognized that his sin was a terrible affront to God, and that because of it, he was not worthy of being received by God into His Kingdom.
That’s when we know we’re on the right track – is it not? When we realize that our problem is that we have sinned against the Holy God and there is nothing we can do to make ourselves right with Him. Then we cry out for help, and God saves us – God draws us up and restores us and makes it so our enemies – and His – will not rejoice over us.
That’s why David is praising God and telling us the things God did for Him – that God would be known and praised and seen for Who He is. God is to be praised for our salvation.
Second, God is to be thanked to His Holy Name for our forgiveness.
“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.”
David then calls on the whole congregation of saints – all those who believe – to join with him in lifting up thanks to God’s Holy Name – to God in all of His Holiness – to God in all of His Attributes and for all of His Works – by singing.
God loves to hear His Creation sing – and especially, He loves to hear humans sing in thanksgiving to Him for Who He is and what He has done. We ought not to worry if are voices are perfect or classically trained – which is not an excuse to sing poorly, but an assurance that God has auto-tune. God loves to be thanked and praised and glorified and He loves us to do so with the instruments of the voices He has given us.
And the reason David gives us to spur us all on to singing thankful praises to God is that God does not give us what we deserve. God does not give us what we deserve for our sin against Him. Yes, our sin angers Him. Yes, we may endure chastisement – discipline – for our sin – but it is not eternal. God’s anger is short-lived against His repentant and believing sons and daughters. Our suffering is short-lived under God’s Sovereign Hand.
Isaiah records God’s words, “’For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:7-8, ESV).
And Paul reminds us, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, ESV).
God is not ignoring the fact that suffering and discipline hurt; He is telling us that what we have to endure in this sinful world, and for the Gospel – and specifically here, in the discipline of God for our sin – is nothing compared with the glory we are being received into.
If the scholars are right about this psalm being written in response to David and Absalom, David suffered the temporary loss of his kingdom, the death of many of his men, the rape of his daughter, and the death of two of his sons. David wept profusely and pleaded with God about Absalom, but God had him killed. And David was able to thank God for God’s Anger being momentary, and for his weeping to be as a night.
David was not uncaring. David was not a stoic – he wept and pleaded with God. But when all was said and done, David recognized God in His Holiness – and what could have happened for all the sin that occurred in those events, if God has taken justice out on him – and David thanked and praised his Holy God for God’s parental government – for the chastisement – the discipline that he received – because it was short-lived in the scheme of things.
Now, if we don’t know God as Holy, and we hold God’s discipline against us as unjust, the discipline may become greater, and it will surely seem as more than a night, and we will not find joy in the morning.
But, if we recognize God as Holy, and understand something of what it means that He is Holy, and what a terrible thing it is to sin against the Holy God, when we come out on the other side of discipline, when we have repented and God’s Hand has been lifted from us, then we will be able to thank God to His Holy Name for our forgiveness.
Third, God’s purposes and favor are to be sought first.
“As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’ By your favor, O Lord,
you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy: ‘What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
O Lord, be my helper!’”
Here David confesses the root sin for which he was disciplined by God: he forgot that he was God’s chosen only by the Grace of God and he rested his hopes on his prosperity – on his wealth and power. David sinned by looking at his kingdom and his wealth and saying to himself, “I will never be moved. I’m set. The wealth of the nations is mine. We’re at peace. Yeah me!”
We do that, don’t we? When things are going well, we forget God and pat ourselves on the back.
In II Chronicles 32, we read about how King Hezekiah was sick and dying, and he sought God and God saved him and extended his life and made Hezekiah and his kingdom very wealthy. Then God sent representatives from Babylon – that terrifying nation to the north – and Hezekiah welcomed them in and showed them all the treasures and wealth of the kingdom. Hezekiah was very proud of himself for how well he had done as king. But God responded in telling Hezekiah, for his pridefulness and foolishness in showing the envoys of Babylon Israel’s wealth, God was going to send Babylon to conquer Israel.
Jesus distinguished between the one who lays up treasures in heaven and the fool who lays up treasures for himself: “And he told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21, ESV).
Now, we have said before, it is not wrong to be rich. The problem was that the rich farmer, and Hezekiah, and David, prided themselves in their wealth. They sinned in caring more about their stuff than God.
What David recognized later, in repentance, was that his strength was only by God’s favor. All that David had was only because it pleased God to give it to him that God’s Name would be known – that He would be known as the Holy God Who rules over Israel and saves His people from their sins and their enemies.
God’s response to David’s sin was for God to turn His Face away – God turned away from David and let David sink into despair. Have you ever been in a place – after sin – where you have realized that God is not there anymore? You’re all alone in your sin and the results of it. David’s kingdom was lost, his men were dying, his daughter had been raped, and two of his sons had been killed. And it was as though David was at the bottom of a deep well – alone – in the dark – or buried alive, with no hope of getting out. God allowed David to sink into despair so he would come to his senses and repent.
And David prayed to God realizing that God’s purposes and favor are to be sought first. David prayed to God, in effect: “Lord, will You be most glorified if I die, or if I live and show Your faithfulness through me? If my dying serves Your purposes best, so be it. But, if Your purposes will be better served by my living, then be merciful to me, help me.”
Understand, David was not praying, “Lord, do You know what You will be losing if You let me die?” He was praying, “Lord, I understand what I deserve, and if that extols You and Your holiness better than my living, I will receive death form Your Hand. But, if You are willing, be merciful to me, help me.”
We don’t have an ace to pull out to get God to fold His Hand. We don’t have anything we can use to blackmail God into saving us. All we can do is throw ourselves before Him in repentance and ask that God will do what achieves His purposes. All we can do is ask that God show mercy and help, if He is pleased to do so. God doesn’t owe us anything. We often act and speak as though He does, but God owes us nothing. Everything we have is His and from His hand, so all we can do, when we have gone down into that pit and God has turned away is to confess our sin, ask for forgiveness, and plead for God’s Mercy in accordance with His Holy plan.
Fourth, God is to be praised joyfully.
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”
God’s response to David was that He would save Him. God Sovereignly chose to save him, to restore him, to forgive him, to continue to use him to show the Holiness and the Faithfulness and the Mercy of our God.
David responded in being lifted out of his mourning – out of his despair, and physically responding by dancing. And some may ask, “Well, couldn’t it just be that his heart danced – that he danced in his soul?” While it is true that David would have been dancing in his soul, as we look at the life of David recorded for us in the Scripture, it was his practice to get up and physically dance in response to receiving joy in God.
And lest anyone worry that I am saying we must physically get up and dance in worship, I am not. But, in response to what God has said and done and in response to Who He is, we ought to respond with our whole selves – body, mind, heart, and soul. That will mean different things for different people, but it is our whole selves that responds and rejoices and praises God joyfully for what He has done and Who He is.
David had worn sackcloth – symbolic clothing used when one was repenting and mourning – and God took off that loose-fitting clothing of mourning, and dressed him in fitted robes of gladness. (Understand the mixed metaphor – there is real clothing called, “sackcloth;” gladness is a state of being and a state of response to God, it is not a type of cloth.)
David rightly turns around from his sinful pride and assurance in his wealth and in the stability of his kingdom and says that his glory – his magnificence – his achievement – his reason for rejoicing and having hope was now singing God’s praises and not being silent. The object of his salvation was giving praise to God – in celebrating the praise of God – in celebrating the Glory of God.
And he makes a vow that he will praise the Lord forever – from that time forward, his life would be about showing other people Who God is and what He has done – in lifting up His Holy Name as worthy – and he would discharge this service on earth until his earthly death.
Do we praise God joyfully – however we are gifted to express that? Consider how you react at sports events, at concerts, at lectures by your favorite speaker – do you react at least that joyfully and thankfully and praisefully to God for Who He is and what He has done – in history – in salvation – in your own life?
Having seen all of this, we still have at least one more question: why was this psalm to be sung at the dedication of the Temple – whether that was at the assembling of the materials, or after David’s death when the Temple was actually built and completed? Why ought we to read and sing this psalm now?
The simple answer is that David’s experience – generally speaking – is the same as ours – we are sinners who turn away from God and sink into despair, facing loss and death and discipline at the Hands of God. And we believe in and worship the same One Holy God, Who Alone saves His people by Himself for Himself, Who now is our Help, Who has shown us mercy, Who has replaced our mourning with dancing, Who has called us to delight in Him by thanking Him and praising Him and giving glory to Him for the rest of our lives.
And so we come into this building as the living temple of God and we join together in singing and thanking and praising God for Who He is and what He has done, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12b, ESV). Amen.
Let us pray:
Holy God, our Savior, we thank You that with fatherly love and mercy, you have raised us up with salvation through Your Son Jesus. We thank You for disciplining us when we sin, that we would turn from it and turn to You. Thank You for making our mourning short and Your promises great. Increase in us the awareness of the greatness of our salvation, and cause us to open our mouths to praise You and thank You with everything that we are, so Your Glory would be known through us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Friday, March 07, 2014
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Sermon – Mickie Schmidt, March 6, 2014
During the last week of His Life on earth, Jesus repeatedly told the disciples that He was going away – that He was leaving and they could not go with Him. They were confused. They were sad. They didn’t know how they could go on without Him being right there with them – teaching and ministering to the crowd. And Jesus knew, so He reached out to comfort them.
We come this afternoon with heavy hearts, sad, perhaps confused: Mickie has left this earth; she has died, and we can’t go with her.
Mickie loved her friends and her God. She loved to be in the midst of people and to be in the “know.”
I didn’t know it until I began preparing for today, but Mickie had loved dancing – and she was even part of a dance group at one point.
Mickie worked for the American Can Company in Newark for 34 years as a secretary, and I’m sure that, as secretary, she, as the stereotype goes, knew more about everything going on than anyone else in the company did.
Since meeting Mickie over fifteen years ago, I heard about her love for visiting friends in Kentucky and attending the Kentucky Derby – and her love for sports – and the Mets in particular.
I knew Mickie from her work at Frank’s, where I occasionally had lunch with her and her friend, Ruth. Mickie was enthusiastic about taking care of all her customers. And some of us would even get a kiss and be left wearing lipstick.
I best knew Mickie from Second Reformed Church where she was an active member and sang in the choir, served at coffee hour, managed a table at our flea markets, and stayed up on the news of everyone. Many was the time that I would call her to tell her about someone or something going on in the church, and she would say, “I know.”
Mickie was a self-confessed news hound – many here have experienced her at trivia and in her skill at recounting all that was happening around the world. When I would come to visit her, she would offer me soda and candy, and she would ask, “Do you want to watch some news?” and on would go the set.
Eventually, Mickie slowed down, and she came to a point where she just wanted to go home. She just wanted to be at peace. And God took her home.
Jesus said to believe in Him and God. Believe in Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior, and believe in God the Father; take Them at Their Word. What Word is that? It is that this life is not the end – there are many rooms in God’s house, and everyone who leaves this earth, believing in God and Jesus, will have a room in that house. Jesus went to prepare that place for everyone who will believe, and now He is waiting as we go from this life to the next.
Jesus said He wasn’t lying – He can’t lie. And when each of our days are done, He comes and takes us home. If we believe, He will come, and He will take us to Himself, so He will also be with us.
That sustains us – that hope sustains and comforts us – that there is another life to come, and everyone who believes will join Jesus in His Father’s House for all of eternity. And Jesus told the disciples, and He tells us, we know the way to where He went.
Still, like Thomas we ask, “How can we know the way? Where are you going?”
Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.”
Jesus is the Path; He is the Way to go – the One to believe in. It is He Who the prophet Isaiah said would make the paths straight (Isaiah 35:8). It is He Who, by His Own Blood, makes us able to come before the very presence of God and live (Hebrews 9:12).
Jesus is the Truth; He puts the facts before us, all that we need to know and understand – the True Truth. In Jesus we find all the Truth that there is, and there is no truth apart from Him.
And He is the Life – He is the Giver of Life and the Restorer of Life. He makes our lives worth living and renews our life and gives us life in the world to come.
He is the Mediator that makes peace between God and us.
If we believe that, then we can have hope, knowing that this is not the end, but Life waits for us still. And those who have left before us, wait in that Life for us to come.
Mickie is home now. She is healed, well, whole, waiting for us.
The Day of Resurrection is coming, and there are many rooms in our Father’s House.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, grant us Your Peace, surround us in Your Comfort, and enlighten us with Your Truth. Let us mourn Mickie and then remember her with joy. And make us a people of hope who wait for Your Call. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
“Where Your Treasure Is”
[Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21]
March 5, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
What was Jesus talking about?
Jesus was saying that whatever you love the most, whatever gives you the most joy, whatever you most long for, whatever you desire the most, whatever the primary reason is for what you do and who you are, that is going to be your motivation – that is going to be the purpose – the reason – behind what you do and who you are.
We are looking at four selections from the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus addresses this issue and in which we see:
The reason we ought to do what is right is to be obedient to God.
The reason we ought to pray is to be in communion with God.
The reason we ought to fast is to be in communion with God.
And the primary reason God that blesses us is to glorify God.
First, the reason we ought to do what is right is to be obedient to God.
“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.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Notice, immediately, it is good and right to do what is right – and to help the needy. Jesus is not saying that we ought not to do what is right, nor that we ought not to help the needy. We are to “practice our righteousness” – we are to do what is right, and we are to help the needy. We ought not to read this as an excuse not to do what is right, nor to neglect the needy. Jesus says, “when” you do these things – they ought to be done – Christians will obey God and do these things.
The problem is the reason – the motivation – behind the things we do: if we are doing what is right merely or primarily to be seen by others – to have people notice us and pat us on the backs – that our name would be known for the good works that we have done – then we have done good for the wrong reasons and we will not be rewarded by God for what we have done. God is not pleased when we do what is right merely or primarily for the applause and the recognition of others.
Jesus tells us that when we do what is right and when we help the needy, we ought not to come with our entourage, wanting to be seen – wanting people to applaud us. We are not to do what is right and help others so we will be rewarded and acknowledged by people.
For example, the Chamber of Commerce gives out a civic award every year to someone who has shown care and generosity to the town. If someone did good and charitable acts simply to get the award, that would be sin.
There was a church I was part of that I found out awarded the positions of deacon and elder based on the amount of money that you gave to the church – that was sinful – and if anyone gave money, knowing this, to get the position, that was sinful as well.
If we called the media to come to see our generosity in serving our Community Lunch so we would be praised for the good we are doing, that would be sinful.
Jesus gave the example from His day of people who would come with an offering for the needy, and they would employ people to draw attention to them by blowing trumpets so that people would notice that they were giving and how much they were giving. They were primarily looking to be noticed and applauded by others.
And some will say, “Well, I make a big deal about my charitable work to inspire others.”
But that’s not really true, is it? If you want to inspire someone to do what is right and to be charitable, you would explain why we ought to do what is right and why it is a good and right thing to give to others, you wouldn’t boast about what you have given.
Rather than putting the spotlight on ourselves, Jesus says we are to do what is right and give to the needy “in secret” – that is, without any fanfare. It’s not wrong for people to see you serving at the Community Lunch, for example, but it is wrong to blow your own horn about it – to use Jesus’ example.
And it’s not wrong to be thanked by others for doing good and helping the needy, but it is wrong to seek out being thanked. We ought to do what is right and help the needy because it is right and others need help and we have the means to help them – we ought to do what is right, whether or not it is known or if we ever receive thanks, because God has called us to be obedient to Him in giving and helping those in need.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV). We are to do what’s right, because God commands us to obedience, and if we really do love God and our Savior, we will obey.
If we do what’s right – obeying God and helping the needy, we will receive a reward from God. All our works will be judged. If we did things merely to be noticed and rewarded on earth, then that’s all we will receive. But if we do what is right in obedience to God, no matter if anyone ever knows or responds to it on earth, then we will be rewarded by God.
Second, the reason we ought to pray is to be in communion with God.
“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. 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.”
Notice, first again, that Jesus says, “when” we pray. We are expected to pray. God invites us as His children into His throne room that we might lay before Him our prayers for Him to answer.
Jesus gives an example from His day of people who were “praying” – so to speak – so that others would see them and hear them and remark about how wonderfully they prayed: if we are praying simply to have others tells us how wonderfully we have prayed, we have sinned – we have not prayed at all.
Jesus goes on in another section of the Sermon on the Mount to talk about people who pray long, fancy prayers so that others will hear them and in an attempt to impress God. God is not impressed by our trying to be fancy and wordy in our prayers. God is certainly not impressed when we direct our prayers at the praise of others instead of God.
Why should we pray? Not to get God to change His Mind. James tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV). God does not change because God does not need to be corrected or informed. God is Holy, Holy, Holy, and He knows everything. God does not need us to give Him information He does not have, nor to suggest a better way than what He has predestined from all of eternity.
We pray because God has commanded us to pray, because prayer is in part worship, and in prayer, we commune with God as we come into conformity with His Will.
We pray, not because God is ignorant, but, as a loving Father, He wants us to come to Him with our thanksgivings and concerns, as we request that His Will be done and that our will would become the same as His. Prayer changes us as we interact with God our Father. We grow as His children as we commune in community with Him by talking with Him.
Now, Jesus says to pray in “secret.” Does that mean it is wrong to pray in public or with others? No, what Jesus is saying is that we ought to be praying to God, seeking to commune with Him through prayer, not praying for the sake of impressing others.
Again, if we are only seeking to impress others with our ability to pray – we may do so, but that is the only reward we will receive from it. If we pray to commune with God, we will receive the reward of growth in God and in hearing His answer to our prayers.
Third, the reason we ought to fast is to be in communion with God.
“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. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 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.”
Similarly, Jesus again says, “when” you fast. Fasting is an appropriate spiritual discipline in which we seek to commune with God – to have better control of our bodies and our fleshly desires that we would, instead, be focused on the things of God.
But, fasting can also become sin, when our desire in fasting is to have others see us and applaud our efforts at fasting, or see us and pity us for denying ourselves to show such devotion. There were people – and there may be people yet – who would go on a fast and make themselves up to look as wretched as possible so others would ask what was going on and the person could respond that he was on a fast.
Drawing attention to yourself in such a way when you are fasting is doing the exact opposite of what you are looking to achieve: rather than taking time to deny the flesh and learn to control the flesh while learning to seek and rely on the things of heaven, you are giving into the flesh and parading your flesh that it would be all the more encouraged in sinful ways.
There are many different types and ways of fasting, and we don’t have time this evening to go into that, but if you do choose to fast as a spiritual disciple, and you are doing it to commune with God, to seek after Him and His Righteousness, then you ought to look as though what you are doing is a joy. (And do not fast without seeking medical counsel – if you are taking medication or have a health issue, you may need to restrict the type of fast you participate in.)
Again, if you fast merely so others will look at you and feel sorry for you, or so they will look at you and think you are so spiritual, that is all you will receive from it. But if you fast to better center your mind on the things of God and commune with Him, then God will reward the discipline.
And some may wonder about the times we read in the Bible when whole communities or families go on fasts – is this not going against what Jesus said about fasting in “secret”? No, we can fast in secret with others – we can join together with others in fasting, just as we can in prayer, but we do so together for the joyful purpose of communing with God. What Jesus was saying is that we should not draw attention to ourselves when we fast.
In these three teachings, Jesus shows us that the treasure of doing what’s right and helping the needy, praying, and fasting can either be to draw attention to ourselves – to be praised and thanked – or it can be to obey and commune with God. Depending on which you are going for, it shows a different inclination of the heart – one of sin and self-idolatry, or one of worship and desire to be with and like our God.
If our treasure is to be the center of attention – to be noticed and applauded – that is all we will receive as a reward for our sin and idolatry. If our treasure is to commune with God – to obey Him – to grow in faith and obedience, God will reward our actions.
Fourth, the primary reason God that blesses us is to glorify God.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Have you read or seen any of the movie productions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Ebenezer Scrooge is an example of someone who laid up treasures on earth. (For your Christmas cocktail parties, you may want to talk about the contradiction of the character’s name – the hypocrisy of the name of the character – “Ebenezer” means “stone of help” and refers to reliance on God, whereas “Scrooge” means “one who hoards money or things.” He was “Scrooge” at the beginning of the story and “Ebenezer” at the end.)
We get the picture of this character who has horded his wealth and stored it away. He lives in severe conditions and pays his employee poorly, yet has mountains of cash that he takes out and plays with – delights in. His treasure was his money. He didn’t use it. He just delighted in having it and knowing he had it. He heart was set on having more, even if he didn’t need it.
That’s what Jesus is saying not to do – we are not to lay up our blessing on earth – whether cash or abilities or whatever God has given us – we are not to hoard them away and delight in them in the dark, never using them for the good of God or anyone else.
Why not? Besides the fact that God has blessed us that we would glorify Him with our blessings, if we hoard things away for our private delight – and that’s all – we subject them to rust and moths and thieves. It we bury our money in our homes or in the bank, it can be stolen – never mind the FDIC, if the banks and the government go under, you will not get your money back. If you have closets full of clothing and shoes, they will break down and be eaten by critters. If you can play music and don’t share it, the ability will fade away. If you can sing and you don’t share it, the ability will fade away. If you blessed with the ability to do whatever – and you don’t use it – you don’t share it with others – eventually, it will fade away and be lost. No one will benefit by it. God will not be glorified by it and in it. It will just be gone.
If our treasure is what we have and we keep it only for ourselves, that is all we will have. We will have sinned against God’s plan for the use of the treasures He has given us, and we will have committed idolatry by living as though these gifts were given to us only for ourselves.
Now, understand, Jesus is not saying it is wrong to be rich. He is not saying it is wrong to be wise in financial planning. He is not saying that we are to be doormats to everyone and every request that is made of us. He is saying that we have been gifted for something more than our hoarding our gifts away in the dark for our own amusement.
Paul, teaching on the blessings and gifts that God has given us through His Spirit, wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7, ESV).
God has gifted each of us in many ways and He has done so, first that we would worship and glorify Him with all we have been given by sharing those blessings with and in the Church. And in doing so, primarily for the proclamation of the Gospel, and also for the meeting of others’ needs.
If we pile up and save away our treasures and gifts and blessing merely for ourselves and our glory, they will be lost one day – one way or another. And if you are thinking, “Well, at least I will enjoy everything that is mine while I have it,” you are sinning – you are worshipping yourself, you are being arrogant and prideful and selfish and spitting in God’s Face as thanks for all He has given you.
Please understand: there is nothing wrong with being rich or with wise financial planning. The problem is with hoarding away what God has given us and not sharing it and using it to the glory of God. Someone who only gets Social Security can hoard money. Someone who is unemployed can hoard money. The amount of money and blessings that you have are not the issue – the issue is – are you using them for the good of others and to the glory of God? Are you giving generously to the work of the Gospel? Are you using your blessings and gifts and abilities for the good and the enjoyment of others?
And understand, Jesus is not merely talking about doing what’s right, but doing it with the right motivations. You can give to the Church and help people in need and do everything that looks right, and do it to be thought well of. If you want your treasure to be in heaven, you must do what is right and do it because you want to love and obey and glorify God.
Remember what Paul said, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b, ESV).
And, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV).
So, in order to have treasure in heaven, you must not only do what is right, but your heart must be in the right place – you must believe the Gospel – you must receive Jesus and love Him and repent of your sins.
Paul explained it this way: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:1-17, ESV).
Let us consider what we treasure: do we treasure self-idolatry? Hoarding up our blessings for ourselves or having others praise us? Or do we love God and want to obey and glorify Him?
If we love God – if we have received the Gospel and love Jesus – if we are seeking to obey Him – let us be people who seek to lay up treasures in heaven. Let us share our blessings with the Church and others in need because we want God and His Gospel to be known. Let us pray and fast and engaged in other spiritual disciplines that we would commune with God and become more like Jesus that His Gospel would be known.
Let us thank God for all the blessings, abilities, and gifts He has given us and ask ourselves first, “how can I use this to thank God and let others know of His Gospel?”
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for all of our gifts and blessings, but especially for Your Son – for sending Him to save His people and for calling us out of the world to be Yours. Revive us and makes us be a people who always seek to thank and glorify You with all that You have gifted us. Free our hearts and hands that we would rejoice in seeing treasures built up in heaven. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.