Sermon on March 21, 2021
KaB Frankenberg, Andreas Latossek
Standards that challenge – The Sermon on the Mount
Not a pios show
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
In some cities, for example in Saint Petersburg, the main street on which the statesmen drove was a real eye-catcher.
Everything shone and shone. But one alley further, everything was dirty again. I don’t know if it’s still like that today, but a few years ago I saw pictures of a friend who worked there for a few months. Sometimes it looks like that at home too.
- When visitors come and you want to clean up quickly:
- Open the closet, put everything in, close the closet again.
A large part of social media is based on posting beautiful pictures of yourself or your surroundings and getting likes. Because who likes to post a quarreling, stressed family or the boring everyday life. It can sometimes look similar in our life of faith as well. In the Bible text that the sermon this morning is about, Jesus says:
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. ” Mt. 6.1
Jesus made it clear to his disciples that people are happy who live as God says, that they make a difference in this world and are salt and light.
He spoke of a better righteousness than that of the Pharisees, who tried to make themselves good before God by their actions, and at the same time to circumvent the commandments or to exhaust them as much as possible. We noticed that they were actually very far away from God inside. For them it was not about the relationship with God but about a catalog of rules to earn heaven and to look good in front of people.
So, first of all, Jesus made it clear what God actually thought of the commandments.
And we quickly noticed that the claim that Jesus places on us humans is as great as God himself, namely perfection, that we cannot fulfill it through our actions and our efforts. Jesus fulfills it himself and takes on our guilt on the cross as a substitute where we do not meet this claim.
- Where we become guilty to God and to people.
- And he gives us a new heart which, with the help and power of the Holy Spirit, is able to orientate itself to God and his God’s standards, like guard rails that protect us and enable a fulfilled life. Remember, the commandments are good, but they are not the way to heaven. Jesus made it free for us. A fulfilled life is not only successful when we live as he says, but above all when we live in a relationship with him. Because that’s what he created us for, and that’s what Jesus died for on the cross.
On that subject, Jesus comes now. This runs through the entire 6th chapter, namely, to live the relationship with God and to collect treasures in heaven instead of revolving around earthly things or the recognition of the people The verse today is the introduction to three topics where Jesus repeats the thought, similar to the commandments “you have heard, but I say to you” now “reward from men or reward from God”. The three themes are giving, prayer, and fasting.
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.. Matthew 6.2
And now to pray.
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. Matthew 6:16
These three themes were at the center of the Pharisees’ piety and we will take a closer look at each one after Easter, again as God actually imagined it. However, as with the commandments, these topics are not exhaustive; they can also concern other areas of our life and faith.
1. What is Jesus criticizing?
Two dangers become clear in what Jesus addressed:
- On the one hand, to live one’s faith only superficially, only with a pious appearance without anything behind it.
- Or doing something with something behind it, but for the wrong motive, considering the external effect.
- Superficiality and pious appearances and false motives.
But first a preliminary remark:
Jesus said we should be salt and light and let our light shine before people, chapter 5 verse 16. Isn’t that a contradiction? No. Just as Jesus imagines faith and a fulfilled life, it is first about our inner being. God wants to renew us from within. The Bible says to take out our figuratively hard heart and replace it with a new heart that trusts and listens to God. To acknowledge that there is guilt in my life, that I need God to forgive and renew me and to live my life in relationship with him. And then I am changed from the inside out. I don’t need to pretend anymore.
- What is inside automatically seems to be outside so that people will see it.
- It’s not about nobody being allowed to see it.
- But the verse says that people will see our good deeds and praise our Heavenly Father.
- That is the result of a lifestyle.
Not the focus, how do I get recognition. So it’s about wrong motives and real relationship. It’s about not just living piously on the surface and maintaining an appearance on the outside and putting on a show to impress other people, but about letting God permeate our whole life and putting him at the center.
Jesus describes people who only live this outwardly as hypocrites, as “sham” saints, as people who wear a mask, who act and pretend.
If you read how hard Jesus sometimes dealt with the pious of his time, felt so not at all loving, then you can ask yourself why Jesus does that. Maybe a comparison:
If you see your kid playing on a freeway, you don’t go and say: Oh dear child, don’t you want to come with me, it’s so dangerous here. No, then you take your child and you become pretty clear. Because you want to protect it. Because you love it.
Jesus confronts the pious of his time so clearly in order to awaken them and to confront them with the attitude of their hearts.
- He does this because he loves her and because he wants to free her from the prison of her piety that keeps her from meeting Jesus.
- Because he knows how dangerous hypocrisy is.
2. How do hypocrisy and wrong motives express themselves?
Our society today is no longer one in which you will be recognized if you pray out loud in public in front of the town hall.
People tend to think what kind of weirdo is that. But what forms are there today? I spontaneously think of the big fundraising gala that are organized by celebrities who stand in the thunderstorm of flashlights and at the end of an event 300,000 euros come together. You could have canceled the event and donate the money you save with it. But that has nothing to do with belief.
So what else:
I caught myself doing some of them:
- Demonstrative prayer in the restaurant but hardly any other prayer life?
- In a prayer community, wonder what words to use so that others will resonate with you and see how spiritual you are?
- You promise to pray for the other and yet you immediately forgot what seemed so important.
- Or the Our Father: It is almost tragic that Jesus speaks of parroting and empty words while praying and then gives the Our Father as a guide to praying, and with this prayer we do exactly what Jesus criticized before, simply it just repeat dull and empty over and over again.
We know exactly which Christian phrases to use so that someone else does not notice what it really looks like behind them, or which grandiose words to impress someone else.
In hours guided by the spirit, preparing for hours at home beforehand and then giving what the spirit has just told me would be something like that, but we don’t have this form so often today.
In the Old Testament, Amos criticizes the fact that the Israelites make one sacrifice after the other, but do not care about what God wants.
- Particularly true to the Bible in the group and in house groups – but what standard do you use in everyday life?
- In church and everywhere else you are loving and helpful – at home you are rarely seen or you prefer to let others do the work.
- Appearing in the community as devout disciples of Jesus – but what do our neighbors and colleagues say about us?
- Tell how devoted we follow Jesus and how close we are to him, but completely exclude him from individual areas of our life
- Not listening to God and doing what He says because you have wondered what others might think of you.
- I stopped working because I didn’t get any recognition from people.
- To secure a position or influence for recognition, but not to bring one’s gifts to God.
To be friendly towards someone else and to think inside what kind of puke the other one is.
Also a topic that Jesus emphasizes again and again and speaks of unfeigned love for one another.
- Jesus says that when we come to the altar, comparable to the Lord’s Supper, where Paul also emphasizes this, and we know we have a problem with someone or someone with us, then we should go and sort it out, if that is possible. How often do we do that?
Someone once wrote about the church:
I looked into the congregation, the church, and what I saw no longer left me calm:
- The church should show the world how God is: just and loving and forgiving!
- Do you even know this side of the church ?!
- There are people there who can’t look their brother in the eye.
- Others are just in the community to consume.
- Most of us are not touched by the lost world out there.
- It’s a church with no fire …
Some of this is reminiscent of the epistles in Revelation where God says
- to Sardis: You are considered a living church, but in reality you are dead. More appearance than reality.
- Or to Laodicea: You imagine: ›I am rich and have everything I need!‹ You are fooling yourself! You don’t even notice how miserable you are in reality: poor, blind and naked.
- And to Ephesus: Your love is no longer as it was in the beginning. Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. 2 Timothy 3: 5
Back then, piety was a way of advancement in society.
This is seldom the case with us today, except perhaps for certain church offices in some places. So there is less danger of feigning a belief that was never there from the start. With us it is often more the case that we start well, that we love God with all our hearts, and at some point something creeps in. Belief becomes superficial for some reason, but we don’t want to admit that and just move on.
Or instead of looking for approval from God on your own, it is also nice to get approval from people.
Of course, our motifs are not always entirely pure.
I don’t think any of us can entirely absolve ourselves of that. And of course our faith is sometimes deeper and sometimes less. And yes, if I spoke of unfeigned love earlier, then we don’t have to pursue every little feeling in us, but can also make a conscious decision to love because God has commanded us to.
The crucial question is what is there permanently in your heart.
- Is your belief only superficial?
- Is your motive only to seek recognition from people?
- Is your love for others only feigned?
The Puritan John Owen put it this way:
- What you are when you are alone with God, that is YOU. And not a bit more!
- What is left of your life of faith if no one sees you?
- When you can just be yourself without compulsion?
- What about your very practical sanctification life, reading the Bible, praying, giving alms, fasting, serving?
- And if you remember earlier, the first time you fell in love with God, the unconditional “yes”; how does it look today?
- Are your motives still the same?
- Does your heart still hang on the Lord first?
- And you just accept that your good works, because they shine, are also seen by people, but it is not important to you?
- Or has a secret glimpse of the recognition of other people crept in?
Jesus doesn’t want religion, he wants faith.
- He doesn’t want a pious show, but a full life.
- He doesn’t want hypocrisy, but sincere hearts and love.
- He doesn’t want empty piety, but real relationship.
3. What can we do about hypocrisy and wrong motives?
a. Get honest
- Get honest with yourself and before God.
- Do your inside and your outside match?
- Do you live in an intense friendship with God or is that just a marginal part of your life?
- Are you doing things just for the sake of people’s approval?
- David prays: Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Ps. 139,23 24
- It takes courage to be honest, but that’s the only way to make a difference. b
b. There is a new beginning with Jesus
- Jesus knows us humans and Jesus loves us.
- That is why he came to this earth.
- That is why he died on the cross.
- There is forgiveness for our guilt.
- Jesus does not confront the Pharisees and us just like that, but because he wants to enable us to start over.
- He wants to change our hearts and revitalize them completely.
- We see this in Peter who denied Jesus.
- We see this in the parable of the prodigal son that the father stands at the door with open arms and waits for the son to come back.
- We see this in the writings in Revelation.
- Jesus says: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
- Food was one of the strongest signs of community in those days. A fellowship that Jesus seeks with you. You just have to open the door.
And that’s the third step:
To repent is to repent. Realizing something was wrong in my life. To regret that. Asking God for forgiveness. Immediately before the verse I just read it says:
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Revelation 3:19
The fourth step is:
d. Take steps of change
After we have turned back, with God’s help we have to put what has gone wrong in our life of faith back on track. The suggestions that Jesus makes meet us fully.
- If you find yourself having a wrong motive problem, then Donate incognito – and forget yourself as quickly as possible how generous you have been.
- Pray in private, closed to the public.
- Fast so that nobody notices. Again, Jesus is not against a public fundraiser, against prayer fellowship, against participating in a Lent. But if the focus is wrong, change it through your actions. And when your relationship with God has become lukewarm:
Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. Rev. 3.3 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works Rev. 2.5
It is not just about doing what Jesus says, what is on his heart, and also allowing your heart to be touched. But first about your relationship with God. What did it look like in the beginning, when you were, so to speak, “in love”, as Revelation puts it? How much time did you spend with God? And then also how to let your heart be touched by what is on God’s heart and do what is important to him. Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, 2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby 1. Pt. 2.1-2
God’s Word is the key to authenticity, growth in faith, and change.
And one last point:
e. Seek reward from God
We already had this thought last Sunday, when Jesus said by the way, if you only love those who also love him, you cannot expect any reward from God. Something similar here, too, where Jesus says that people who do spiritual things for the approval of others can no longer expect any reward from God. The idea of wages appears in various places in the Bible. It’s about God rewarding us when we trust him. And that can look very different:
- That He will answer our prayers, respond to our fasts, and bless us and others we pray for.
- That the relationship with him deepens.
- You have done well that he will reward us with eternal life in fellowship with him and that one day he will say.
What a motivation to want to please God.
Later, Jesus said that we should collect treasures in heaven, so there is also such a thing as a reward in heaven.
I don’t know what exactly that will look like, this reward. And I am convinced that Jesus will judge differently than we humanly so often after our deeds. Even in the parable with the talents it becomes clear that Jesus has in mind that different people have different capacities, abilities, environments, requirements, etc. And I believe that the focus will be much more on our relationship with him than on our actions.
Gathering treasures in heaven does not mean that we now only do something for the sake of God’s reward.
Then we become like the Pharisees again, who didn’t care about their relationship with God. It is about making us aware that we are not focusing our attention on the recognition of people but on God. His reward is worth more than anything else – here on earth and later in heaven. That should motivate us to keep straightening our motives and to live real relationships instead of hypocritical piety.
If Jesus spoke to you this morning that your faith has such superficial features and that in some areas you only live with a pious appearance without anything behind it,
- when God and what is on his mind are no longer so important to you,
- if you notice that wrong motives have crept in and you are always concerned about the external effect instead of collecting treasures in heaven,
then I invite you to come to Jesus during the next songs. He’s standing at your door and knocking, this morning too. He’s waiting for you to go back and open up to him. And he loves to have fellowship with you again and to change your heart and your actions.
Lead me to your cross, lead me to your heart, this is exactly what we need.