Tag Archives: Sermon

The Sermon, part 24: Asking and Receiving

Read Matthew 7:7-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7 NRSV)

askseekknockEvery Christmas season, kids beging to put their lists together to send to the jolly old elf in the North Pole. All year long, kids look forward to this particular holiday where their everything they want, or so they hope, will be lying under an evergreen tree wrapped in paper and a bow. With that said, all year long parents are reminding their children that they had better be nice or other wise Santa will be bringing them a lump of coal. Or worse still, they had better not be naught or Krampus (Google it) will come to visit them.

Still, kids know that they will end up with presents and not coal or some soul snatching, child-eating demon under their tree. They know that they are going to at least get some, if not all, of what they had put on their list. In fact, the list is just half of the equation. Not only do kids make their list out, but they persist in telling their parents that they really want this, or they really are hoping Santa gets them that. Their persistence is enough to get them what they want.

What is sad is that this kind of Christmas list mentality doesn’t end at Christmas time, no is it just prevelant with children. In fact, many grown Christians hold this mentality as well and it is how they approach their prayer life. God is seen as some sort of Santa Claus in the sky and faith is seen as some sort of vehicle that helps you believe God will fulfill your wish list. I guess this is the result of living in a consumer driven world, where the consumer (the church goer) is always right and expects to get what they paid for (through offering, or through faith and/or devtion, etc.).

Thus, many Christians approach today’s passage with that understanding in mind. Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you.” That get’s interpreted into a prosperity driven message of persisting (aka bugging) God for what you want until you get it. If God doesn’t answer your prayer it’s because you didn’t pray hard enough, or you didn’t pray in the right manner, or you didn’t persist enough in your prayers.

This is a bad, bad, bad theology and it also happens to be completely missing the point of Jesus’ teaching here. First, it needs to be said that Jesus has already modeled what our prayer should look like in Matthew 6 (refer back to parts 15 & 16 of this series to refresh your memory). Today’s text comes in light of the Lord’s Prayer, and it is clear that the kind of prayer Jesus things we ough to be praying looks nothing like a Christmas wish list for Santa.

Rather, we should be praying for God’s will to be done, for God’s Kingdom to come, and for God to give us what we need spiritually and physically to carry on the work God’s calling us to do (this is different than praying for God to give us what we want). We should be praying for forgiveness (for ourself and others), and asking God to guide us every step of the way. Today’s text is setting up what are three Jewish expressions for prayer: Ask, seek, knock. These aren’t three unrelated expressions, either, but are three interrelated expressions that help us to establish a dynamic and vital prayer life.

Asking God implies less of a “begging” for God to gift us with things, as much as implies a complete dependence on God for everything, just as a child totally depends on his/her parents. We ask God, because we know God is the one who provides. Asking must be understood in light of our dependence on God, for it to truly be what Christ is teaching us. Yet, prayer does not just involve us asking and God supplying. God is not the only active participant, but we are as well.

Jesus’ three tiered approach to understanding prayer is that we will ask by seeking and knocking. In other words, we don’t just ask, sit back and wait. Rather, we ask for God’s will to be done all the while seeking it out and knocking on all of the doors until we find the one God has opened for us. Prayer is not just done with our words, but with our very actions. We should be living embodiments of our prayers, totally dependent on God, but totally an active participant in God’s plan for us and for this world. This is what it means to pray, according to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We ask God, not only with our words, but through our actions by seeking and knocking. When we are aligned with and dependent upon God’s will, and when we actively seek and knock in order to follow God’s will, we surely will receive what we are actively searching for.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” – Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for the gift of prayer. May your will be done, and may I ever seek and knock on doors until your will be revealed unto me. Amen.

The Sermon, part 6: Relocated

Read Matthew 5:21-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” (Matthew 28:18 NRSV)

jesusauthorityFollowing Jesus’ claim that he is the fulfillment of the Torah and the Prophets, he taught his disciples that in order for them to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, they had better exceed the Pharisees in their understanding and application of the law. I spent the better part of the last devotion discussing the historical context of both Jesus’ and Matthew’s time periods, respectively, in order to caution you that it would not be wise to take Jesus’ words out of those two contexts when trying to understand what he means. If you did not read it, I suggest you go back and read the last devotion as it is important.

Jesus’ claim that there is a higher standard than that which the Pharisees are putting forth, is one that Jesus intends to support by a series of examples of exactly how that higher standard comes to fruition in the Law. For Jesus, and even more so for Matthew and his community, the Pharisaic understanding of rigid adherence to “the letter of the law”, missed the very heart of it. Yet, again, I caution the reader not to pass judgment against a group of people we hardly know apart from these words written against them.

Rather than focusing on the Pharisees and whether or not they had the right understanding of the Law, we will focus on Jesus’ understanding of the Torah itself by looking at the examples he puts forth. These examples are actually antitheses of the law as it is written in the Torah. This may sound strange, for how can Jesus go against what is written in the Torah? Well, in short, he doesn’t go against it as much as he goes beyond what is written.

Over the next twenty-seven or so verses, Jesus will do something that will astound the people listening to him, so much so that when he is finished with the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, the Bible has this to say, “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29 NRSV). By the end of his sermon, Jesus no doubt gets the attention of the crowd, and also the attention of the religious leaders.

Over the next several devotions we will look at each of these six antitheses individually to gain a better understanding of what Jesus is pointing to in the Law of Moses; however, for the purpose of this specific devotion, I will introduce the format in which Jesus pronounces these antitheses to the the Torah. For each of the six, Jesus starts of saying, “You have heard that it was said…”, followed by the Law as it is found in writing in the Torah and as was read in the synagogue. Jesus then proceeds by saying, “but I say to you…”, in which he then proceeds to give his own pronouncement of Law.

It is important to note that nowhere in the entirety of the Bible is the antithetical form found. Thus, you can imagine the shock that Jesus’ words must have caused the religious leaders! In the history of Judaism, no rabbi had ever proclaimed his/her own pronouncement of the Law in contrast with the Law of Moses in the Torah. Yet, in Matthew, Jesus does just that. Some would find much hope, comfort and challenge in Jesus’ words; however, others would see this as an attack upon the Word of God as handed down to the people from Moses.

No doubt, the antithetical form was meant to shock people and it should shock us as well. What Jesus does in today’s text is relocate God’s authority from the written text to himself. That authority comes through God’s presence in his life, his teachings, his ministry, his death and his resurrection. If we believe this to be true, if we accept Jesus relocation of authority to be the “Gospel Truth”, what then does this mean for us? How should we be living our lives in accordance with the Law as given by Jesus Christ? Read today’s text closely and carefully. If Christ is THE AUTHORITY, then let us reflect on the kind of heart-changes that Christ is working into our lives.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Until the will and the affections are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone to accept, His lordship.” – Elisabeth Elliot

PRAYER
Lord, I accept your authority and I choose to follow your lead. You are my Lord and my Savior. Amen.