Expository Sermon on Matthew 6:1 – 18
Bellevue SDA Church 2/10/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch

(To hear the audio for this sermon, click the triangular “play” button on the line below.)

Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 6.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have attended a couple of the guys’ and girls Puget Sound Adventist Academy basketball teams. Normally, basketball doesn’t loom large on my personal horizon. Years ago, my 14-year-old brother tried to teach me basketball, but after missing several practice free throws by a mile, I decided it wasn’t for me. (Or at least I was too bored or lazy to make it for me!)

However, as both our PSAA teams began their playoffs, I attended a couple of games to help cheer on our teams, and I was very impressed. In the games I attended, both our girls and our guys did very well.
What was also very interesting to me was what the teams did just before the game began. All the players would form a line, and each one would approach the basket at an angle and practice layups, jumping up and trying to make a basket. According to Google, this is the most common shot in basketball, and later, during the games I watched, I saw a lot of players race down the court and attempt that shot.
Another pre-game drill I saw the teams practice was that every player would come up to a certain line and then skid to a stop in a defensive position, and then go do it again. And sure enough, throughout each game I saw that move happen.

And I noticed that when someone on the other team had the ball and was trying to pass it to another teammate, it was best if our own players kept their hands high so there was less chance of the ball going over the top.

So what does this basketball talk have to do with the part of the Sermon on the Mount we’re going to be looking at today?

Well, I would imagine that a beginner basketball player might get a bit impatient with the coach’s insisting that they do the layups, and get into the defensive stance, and keep their hands high when guarding against the ball being thrown. But I would imagine that, during the very first game they played, they would begin to realize how important these drills were.

I think it’s the same way with the Sermon on the Mount. Sometimes I think that the way we often treat this sermon is to assume that each little segment is a lesson-module Jesus is teaching us, a little philosophical concept we’d learn enough about in school to pass a test on, but might not use in real life.

But the truth is exactly the opposite. What Jesus is teaching us is not merely interesting information. In one of the basketball games I watched, it was clear that our PSAA girls had simply practiced making baskets more than the other team had. In the heat of an important game, our girls drew upon those skills, and those skills gave them an overwhelming victory that night.

In fact, even the beloved Lord’s Prayer wasn’t spoken in a vacuum. We often hear this prayer sung as a vocal solo, and whoever is singing it never sings any of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount along with it. And if we go to a Christian bookstore we might see it as a framed poster, starting with “Our Father” and ending with “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen.”

Well, as I studied through Matthew six, verses one through 18 several times this week, it struck me that one of Jesus’ main goals here is to make sure that we stay between the heathens and the hypocrites. Jesus doesn’t want us to remain heathens, and He doesn’t want us to become hypocrites. He wants us to stay between them.

What do I mean by that?

First let’s define our terms. According to the dictionary, hypocrisy is “the practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess.” In other words, it’s pretending to be someone you aren’t, in order to impress other people.

So then, what is a heathen? (By the way, hypocrites show up several times in Jesus’ sermon, and heathens only once.) The dictionary says that a heathen is “an adherent of a religion that does not worship the God of Judea and Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.”

A few verses down, we will actually see the word “heathen,” in verse 7. If you’re using the NIV, that version uses the word “pagans.” The English Standard Version uses the word “Gentiles.” The Greek word behind “heathen” is ethnikos, which is where we get the word “ethnic.” In Jesus’ time, if you weren’t Jewish, you were ethnikos, which literally means “from the nations.”

Next week when we have potluck, and I see something I don’t recognize, I’ll think of it as ethnic food. But if you’re the person who brought that food, and it’s ordinary food in the country you come from, it’s not ethnic food do you. Food I’m familiar with is probably ethnic food to you.

Anyway, let’s start working our way through this chapter. But before we do that, I’d like to propose an idea about heathens and hypocrites. We definitely cannot lump them into the same category.

Let me tell you what I mean. All through the Bible, we meet people who could be called heathens, but who were hunting for God and were delighted when they met Him. There is the prostitute Rahab, and the Moabite Ruth, and the Queen of Sheba. In the New Testament, there are several Roman centurions who eventually get to know Jesus. There is a woman from Syronphoenicia whose daughter was released from a demon by Jesus. And throughout the book of Acts, many heathens in many lands were overjoyed to be introduced to Jesus.

In fact, in the midst of an intense discussion Jesus had with some chief priests and rulers of the Jewish nation, He flatly told them that people they thought of as heathen were actually in a better spiritual posture than they were. In Matthew 21:13 He tells them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” And He goes on to tell them that it was because these “heathen” people were humble enough to accept God into their lives, and hypocrites were not.

So to sum it up, some heathen people will try to connect with God. They’ll try to move toward Him, but in ineffective ways, because they don’t know Him. But the hypocrites Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount started from God and moved away from Him. They grew up with every opportunity to get to know God. But instead, they turn their backs on Him and begin worshiping themselves.

So you and I need to stay between the heathens and the hypocrites. Because that’s where God is. Many heathen are moving toward Him, and just need the truth about who He is. But the hypocrites are moving away from Him. So we need to stay in the middle, where God is.

Let’s see how this happens here as we go through the first part of chapter 6. Let’s try to develop within ourselves Jesus’ same terror of hypocrisy—and let’s let Him show us the wonderful greatheartedness of our Heavenly Father.

Matthew 6:1 – 2 [NKJV]: “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

So, what could have happened within the mind and heart of someone who would actually make sure that a trumpet was blown just as he walked up to the temple treasury box to give an offering? Or if he did some other benevolent deed?

I grew up on the Great Plains, in South Dakota. I can remember snowy winters that were so severe that even an experienced driver could be driving along, and lose control of the car, and plunge off into the ditch. The ditches were not deep, so you weren’t in any real danger. It’s just that if nobody came along to help, you could sit there and spin your wheels and not be able to get back on the road.

And the unwritten rule was that the next person who came along stopped and helped that person get out of the ditch. The rescuer (unless he owned a tow truck and that was his business) did not charge the person money for the rescue.

Dad always carried a chain in his trunk, or in the back of his pickup, a chain with one of those large hooks on either end. And he would back his pickup up to the nose of the car in the ditch, and get out that chain, and connect it. And he would put that pickup in low, and move slowly forward, and the chain would tighten, and the person in the other car would race his engine, and his back wheels would spin. And the car came slowly out of the ditch, and all of sudden those spinning wheels would get traction.

And after that, dad would unhook his chain, pack it away again, and wave his hand and be off. The driver of the other car would shout his thanks. And that was that. No money changed hands, and none was expected to. Because the mentality of those Great Plains people, descended from the pioneers and immigrants, was that when it came to the crises of life, we were all part of a family.

When my brother-in-law Ken became too sick to do his harvesting a couple of autumns ago, his friends and neighbors chugged their combines into his fields and brought his harvest in. They charged no money, because when it came to life’s important issues, everybody was family.

Notice Jesus’ advice in the next verse. Here’s how to do good the way Jesus wants you to do it.

Verses 3 – 4: But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

Do you see that word “openly”? If you’re using the New King James Version, which is the version of the Bible you’ll find in the little box below the pew in front of you, you’ll notice that there is a little footnote beside that word. If you go down to the bottom of the page, it will say something like “NU text omits openly.” What that means is that in the Greek New Testament which has been put together in more recent times—the Nestle and United Bible Societies text — which takes into account all the ancient Greek copies which have been discovered since the King James Version came out in the early 1600s – in that more comprehensive Greek New Testament, the word “openly” doesn’t show up.

And I like it left out. If I am the kind of person who believes what Jesus says – that good deeds done in secret, without any hope of publicity – is the best kind of good-deed-doing, then I prefer to allow God to be the one to decide how He wants to reward me. It doesn’t have to be openly. Sometimes it is, but I don’t need to count on it. I don’t care.

I know I’ve told you this before, but there may be some newer folks here this morning who haven’t heard it. I do not know who gives what in this congregation. In all the time I’ve been here, I have never laid eyes on the church books, the church giving accounts. Only our treasurers know. However, once in a while I catch rumors about this or that family who have been quietly generous to someone in need, selflessly giving the way Jesus said to give, giving the way one farmer will pull another farmer out of a snowdrift, or harvest that other farmer’s wheat. And when Jesus looks down and sees this kind of giving, He smiles gratefully.

So what’s our takeaway so far? Here comes Sermon Point One, if you’re taking notes. How do I respond to this part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount?

Jesus wants me to do good like I’m helping family.

Hypocrites hunger for a reward, hunger for publicity. But some “heathens” such as the Good Samaritan (Jews definitely considered Samaritans heathens), some heathens – if they do have that Good Samaritan spirit – see a need, and rush to help, without thought of publicity or payment.

Now Jesus switches topics. He has talked about doing good in secret, and now He turns His attention to praying. And now He is not only going to talk about the hypocrites, but also about the heathen. Let’s see if we can spot the difference between them.

Verses 5 – 6: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Whoops, there’s that little New King James word “openly” again. And sure enough, if you’re using that version, you will see another little footnote, and the footnote will say the same thing as the first one did. Because in the best and most ancient manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, that word does not appear.

The Bible actually gives an example of somebody praying loudly and proudly and hypocritically. Put a little marker of some kind here in Matthew six, and turn to Luke chapter 18. Again, since Jesus is the one telling the story, it’s printed in red print in several Bible versions. Watch what happens:

Luke 18:9 – 12: Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’

Hmmm. It looks like this Pharisee must not have been in the audience who listened to the Sermon on the Mount – either that or he blissfully ignored what Jesus said.

Notice that it tells us who Jesus is saying this parable to — to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and not only that, but despised others.

And this Pharisee stands by himself – because after all, he is special – and the first thing he does is to thank God that he is better than everyone else, including a tax collector he has noticed ‘way in the back of the sanctuary. And the second thing the Pharisee does is to brag about the good things he has done. No modesty, no secrecy here. He wants everyone in the room to know that he has not only been good, but he has done good, and that he is a better be-er and a better do-er than anybody else.

But over there in the corner of the sanctuary crouches the tax collector. Listen to—and watch–how he prays.

Verse 13: And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’

Beating on your chest was a sign of grief. This tax-collector knew exactly how sinful he was, and how desperately he needed God’s forgiveness.

And I would imagine that those who are listening to this parable kept their eyes fastened on Jesus to see what His comment would be. And I can imagine that loud arguments immediately erupted after He told them His conclusion.

Verse 14: I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

I wonder how many pharisaic hearts were jolted when Jesus said this, and how many humble tax-collector hearts rejoiced. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

And the thing about humble people is that, if they’re truly humble to the core, even when they are exalted, they stay humble. Every once in a while you hear about a very wealthy person who still drives an old car, or works in a home office, or gives a lot of money away.

Now let’s go back to Matthew 6 and meet some heathens.

Matthew 6:7 – 8: And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

Do you see what’s happening here? Unlike the hypocrites, the heathens Jesus is talking about here seem to want to desperately get in touch with whatever deity is up there. They don’t seem to be proud and self-exalted, they just want to get in touch with their god. They want to make contact.

And their heathen gods – since they are false gods and not the true God – these heathen gods have been created in the image of human beings. Human beings get bored – so maybe the gods get bored. Human beings have flashes of irritation and short tempers – so maybe the gods do too. Human beings eventually respond to pestering – so maybe the gods do too.

So it seems that these heathens – just like the pagan priests of Baal on Mount Carmel in First Kings 18—these heathens imagine that if you want to get your god’s attention, you have to keep pestering him. Those priests of Baal danced and screamed and cried for hours, and even cut themselves, and got no response. But then Elijah stood up and prayed a prayer which probably took less than 30 seconds to say, and God answered.

And Jesus is about to introduce us to a prayer which takes only a few seconds longer to repeat than Elijah’s prayer. And again, I think it’s so important for us to remember that Jesus teaches this prayer to show both hypocrites and heathen people the wonderful news that if we know whom we are praying to, and if we know that He cares, prayer stops being self -exaltation or a series of babbled phrases, and instead becomes a conversation with a loving Father.

In fact, let’s call that Sermon Point Two. What’s the second way Jesus wants me to respond to His Sermon on the Mount?

First, Jesus wants you to do good like your helping family. And second, Jesus wants you to pray knowing that your Heavenly Father loves you.

When we pray, we don’t always have to stay with the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus didn’t say, “Always pray these words.” Instead, listen to what He says.

Verses 9 – 13: In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Pray like your Heavenly Father loves you.

My dad grew up on a little South Dakota homestead farm about 10 miles west of the town where I grew up. When dad was a kid, he worked desperately hard. When he grew older, his palms would bear down on the plow handles as a team of horses walked ahead of him.

As a result, my dad’s hands were huge and powerful. His arms were huge and powerful. When he was in his 20s and started working in town, a fellow employee harassed him, and tackled him. Dad did not want to fight, so he just put the other guy on the ground and held him there, and the other guy couldn’t do anything about it.

So I grew up assuming that whatever crisis came along, whatever danger threatened me, my dad would be able to handle it.

If I had ever told dad that, he would’ve looked at me in horror. He would’ve told me that no, he wasn’t able to handle every crisis, not by any means. Instead, he would have told me to seek the Lord, and ask Him for His will, and turn everything over to Him.

And of course Dad was right. God is our true Father, the one who has resources no human dad could ever have.

And that’s why I have chosen the closing song which I have. It is actually a prayer to our Heavenly Father, which I’m sure He will deeply appreciate, and which He will answer: “Father, lead me day by day.”