Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) gave Christianity a tough time in his humorous stage shows and writings. It wasn’t true Christianity he mocked but its hypocritical, stodgy practices.
Clemens not only wrote about Tom Sawyer. He was Tom Sawyer. And he didn’t tell the half, such as his prank on friends…and enemies…of dropping watermelons on their heads from upper windows, nearly killing them. Huck Finn was no imaginary friend but a true friend of another name.
So to the muddy-footed boy those black-clothed preachers who equated melon dropping and dirty feet to being the devil were silly. And lace-bound aunts who thought shoelessness in church was damnation yet gossiped in the pews were irrelevant. That was the “Christianity” Clemens loathed.
But we know Clemens was a Christian at heart, or at least aspired to be, because one of his greatest stories, The Prince and the Pauper, explains the Gospel so well.
Young Tom Canty, a very poor beggar boy mistreated by his evil father, goes to King Henry’s castle to beg food and is discovered by young Prince Edward, his same age, who insists Tom play with him by exchanging clothes and discovers they look like twins.
Tom and Edward role play but when Edward goes outside for a moment he is mistaken for the beggar boy he appears to be and beaten away from the castle grounds despite his protests that he is their prince.
Tom, dressed as prince, is treated as if he is the missing Prince Edward and mistakenly made king when King Henry dies. All comes right in the end thanks to the discovery of the royal seal, which was hidden where both boys corroborated, proving their story of having played together, innocently exchanging places.
What better fiction to reveal the greatest Truth of all time? The King of Kings, GOD the Son, exchanges places with the least worthy sinner of all, me… for example. He, JESUS, gives me His purity so I can be with Him in His kingdom. All by making Himself the poor but pure pauper, sinless, yet abused and beaten until He returns to His rightful place through sacrifice and putting himself at risk to correct the wrong humanity has done. In the end, King and servant live together in joy in the kingdom, as we’re told that the worst sinner will be with Christ because Christ’s sacrifice as pauper gave the right to see Him as He is. That kingdom that began when the King lived among His citizens, the pauper Kings who know and love JESUS and serve Him among His people.
The way JESUS tells His followers to pray is to make them pauper Kings, serving Him by loving others and letting them know how to get back to Him on His throne. To make His kingdom come on earth by their representing Him and it among the masses. For the Father’s will to be done by His children pointing others to Him to bring them Home to the throne with them by pointing them to Him.
Sam Clemens knew that. He wrote about it. And I hope he is enjoying his King in the Kingdom today. And we Believers are pauper kings for JESUS, telling others about the new Life He has given us by taking our place and sealing us with His royal seal, no matter how muddy our feet were.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Matthew 6:10 ESV
I have probably spent over a thousand dollars for books over the last few years pursuing three advanced degrees. And yet just two words anyone can read for free in any library or online or in a dusty Bible somewhere in their home contain more theology and more wisdom and awe than all those books. Those two words are impossible to buy with money or to earn with muscle or mind. They are two simple words spoken by JESUS when teaching those who want to follow Him how to pray: “Our Father.”
When JESUS permits, even commands, those who follow Him to address GOD as “Father”, he reminds them of an ancestry they had available but put aside. GOD as Father was not mentioned in Scripture until GOD Himself tells David that it is Solomon, David’s son, who will build the temple David had hoped to build. And GOD says He will be like a Father to Solomon. David explains in his psalms that GOD is father to him and to all those who love and follow Him. But by the time JESUS is teaching His followers how to pray the Jewish people call themselves children of Abraham and David but not of GOD.
JESUS is calling them back to the Father, GOD. But as He explained to Nicodemus, there is only one way back: to be born again, through Him. As they were born from the womb of their mothers they must be born again through His Body given for them. His Holy Spirit must conceive the new birth in them so Christ Himself could live in their hearts. Then they could call out to GOD as their Father, as they were always meant to do.
The way the phrase “our Father” is worded in the sample prayer JESUS gives is better translated “Father of mine.” It is totally personal yet with the understanding it applies to others who are also followers of JESUS and children of GOD.
At the same time, JESUS reminds them that their Father is in Heaven. Followers of JESUS are children of the Heavenly Father. Their Home is His kingdom not those they try to build in their lifetimes. He is LORD above all, and as such He is to be obeyed and loved and followed before all. He is to be “hallowed”, adored and respected. Anything to do with Him, with His nature or character summarized by His Name, is to be respected and recognized as worthy of praise.
JESUS calls us now as He called followers then to pray by first recognizing GOD as our Father in Christ. Respectfully, acknowledging His greatness, and free to say anything our hearts are troubled over.
JESUS shows us how to find the Father through Him. We can climb into the lap of the King on His throne and whisper what’s bothering us in His ear. We can respectfully and lovingly pour out our heart to the One Who gave His Son to make us His children along with Him.
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Matthew 6:9 ESV
Take a lamb into your home. Feed him and raise him. Bond with him. Then slit the throat of the innocent lamb to pay for your sins. Spread the blood of the lamb in the middle of the top of your front door post and about shoulder height on the side door posts so they are connected by an invisible cross….Then wait safe inside eating the lamb while the cross keeps Death away.
“7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.” Luke 22:7
“17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.
18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 17-20
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30
“And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.”
“No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”
Where I work we train civilian pastors turned Army officers (which makes them chaplains) how to pastor soldiers wherever they are in the Army. Chapel, desert, jungle, it doesn’t matter. They already are qualified pastors. We don’t teach them how to pray. They had to be certified by their denomination how to pray in their denominational style before they could become chaplains in the Army. We just teach them the way to pray in their denominational style in Army ways (in chapels, deserts, etc.). We train techniques not texts.
JESUS is teaching those who want to follow Him the techniques of how to pray to GOD as their Father. He is telling them not to repeat things by rote, over and over, to put themselves in a meditative state like others do. He says “pray in this way.” Obviously He does not mean with these exact words, because He is telling them not to pray by repeating the same words. That’s the point. This is conversation with the One Who loves us most, not a magical incantation. This is JESUS speaking, not Harry Potter.
We’ve mentioned in previous talks (and shame on you if you haven’t read them!) that we have the New Testament in Greek because it is a very precise language and that is true here. Although JESUS spoke in Aramaic and Hebrew the people He spoke to had the context of the time and place, His gestures and inflections, to know exactly what He meant. We have the New Testament in Greek to show that context in writing.
So we know that whatever JESUS said in Aramaic or Hebrew translated “in this way” or “like this” or “so” in English specifically does not mean “in these exact words.” That is what He just said NOT to do.
The Greek word for the phrase “in this way” or “like this” is “houtos.”If we wrote the phrase “My son is growing like a weed” the word for “like” we would use would be “houtos.” Is your son made of vegetable matter? No. Does he have his roots planted in dirt, live in the woods and have nothing but rainwater to drink? Hopefully not. But they have the fact that they grow very quickly in common.
We know this, again, by context. As in most things in life, context is everything. The settings and ways JESUS uses this same word in other messages similar to this one shows He means “in this style.” It is the same word used by JESUS when He tells us to let our light shine like a lamp on a lamp stand. Does He mean to sit on a lampstand, pour olive oil on your head and set your hair on fire on top of a hill? If so, we are all in serious trouble. No, He means “in this way” as in “with this intent”, with this mindset.
The prayer JESUS uses as the example, the “our Father”, or “LORD’s prayer”, teaches us prayer is conversation with our Father. There is a technique to speaking to Him (prayer). Just as there is a way you speak to your boss that is different than speaking to your buddies and a technique for talking to your wife that is different than talking to your children, and a technique that is (hopefully) different speaking to your children than to the dog.
That technique to speak to GOD is with familiarity paid for by JESUS. You stand in the Blood of GOD the Son. With reverence. GOD is in Heaven and Holy. And with openness, pouring out everything in our hearts.
GOD doesn’t need more parrots. He doesn’t need repetitions of prayers. Sing it if you want as a reminder. But when it comes to talking, say what you want to say openly, in your own way, lovingly, respectfully, and in awe and adoration at the same time when you pray.
“Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Matthew 6:9 ESV
My father never let things like having six kids (that we know of) and one wife (that we know of) to house and feed cramp his style. So after spending all of the money at the racetrack that my mother earned working at RCA all day, he thought it was funny to welcome her home by playing a song called “Yakkity-Yack, Blah Blah, Blah, Blah.” It was a pre-emptive strike, a song about a nagging wife intended to keep her from nagging him about being a bum. It never prevented a battle.
JESUS warns us that there is a difference between persistent prayer and saying blah blah blah to GOD. He wants us to “nag” the Father, in a sense, to keep telling Him our longings for as long as we long for them. As JESUS is teaching what it is like when we belong to Him, He invites us to repeat our needs, to tell the Father what we want. But not by repetition of the same old phrases that lose meaning.
Both the Buddhists and Roman Catholics miss this point. With their prayer beads repeating the same words, chanting the same chants over and over, the words become blah, blah, blah. They are like little babies whose own crying or cooing comforts them into stupors rather than responses from a loving Father. Buddhists have a sort of rattle they spin around with each spin counting as a prayer they don’t even bother speaking. They literally are going through the motions that mean nothing to a relationship with GOD Who calls Himself the Word.
JESUS says to stop that. He may have been remembering when Elijah, the prophet of GOD, challenged the worshippers of the demon false god Baal to see whose god was real. He made the challenge impossible to meet by any human means. The Baal worshippers repeated the same thing over and over and over and even cut themselves to try to get their false god to answer. Elijah even teased them to keep it up because Baal may be busy doing his business in the bathroom and might answer them when he was done. But their bloody blah, blah, blahs went unanswered.
Then Elijah made the challenge even more impossible, called out to GOD to answer him for the sake of GOD’s Holy Name and the sake of calling His people back to Him. And GOD answered (and destroyed the worshippers of the false god in the process.)
JESUS gave His life for us to bring us back into relationship with GOD as our Father. He rose from the dead to prove we have the right to speak directly to GOD Almighty as Daddy. But He warns, don’t blah, blah, blah meaninglessly. Speak as His child, in conversation, not yackity yacking at YAHWEH.
My father and mother never learned to get beyond blaming blah, blah, blah. But Christ calls us to communicate through Christ all that is in our hearts, meaningfully, to our Heavenly Father because He should be meaningful to us as we are to Him.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Matthew 6:7-8 ESV
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Why should a strange man in a mall have more fun than you? Every year children literally line up in malls across the United States to snuggle into the laps of strange men with fake beards they are told will give them the secret desires of their hearts. Parents will say no to a horse or rocket ship…or a horse that rides a rocket ship…Friends may laugh. But there is no secret dream a child won’t tell the stranger they are told to call Santa Claus. And they have absolute faith he can do what he promises. Some secret wishes, we learn from those strangers as they go back to their jobs as sales clerks, are quite poignant. A wish for a job for Daddy or make mommy well from this sickness she needs new blood for every week.
Even as adults we long for a lap we can snuggle into and an ear we can pour our secrets into. And JESUS says we have it for the asking and the only thing keeping us from it is seeking attention from others instead of snuggling into secret conversations with the Father Who loves us.
That is the reason JESUS, GOD the Son, came as a man to earth. His arms were nailed to the Cross to enable us to reach out in prayer to our Heavenly Father and be heard as His child. His feet were nailed to the Cross so that we can stand in His footprints as a child of GOD bought by His Blood into relationship with GOD the Father again. He rose from the dead to prove we are forgiven for His sake and can rise into the Presence of the Father and have a secret snuggle with Him through the Holy Spirit snuggling us close to Him and interpreting our childish gurgles into the longings of our hearts He longs to hear.
Any parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt knows the joy of a child curled in their laps. And if they are blessed to be trusted by that tiny heart they may be told the ultimate secrets of their lives. Maybe their words can’t be understood in words but in a look or touch or laugh. Or maybe they can verbalize that you mustn’t tell but there are untold riches…a whole quarter…hidden under the couch cushion in the sock the dog was chewing on last night.
JESUS is calling us to this joy of prayer. Stop shouting to the world for their approval, He says. They can’t help you and their attention and approval are worthless. But if we come to His Cross and follow His footprints into eternity as a child of GOD we have the comfort of the Holy Spirit anywhere we are in life. And we can know the joy of a snuggle, not with a stranger, not with a frail human, even if a family member, but with our Heavenly Father. We can snuggle into Father GOD’s lap and whisper our secret longings and be comforted by His Presence through the Presence of the Holy Spirit because of what JESUS has done.
“”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.”
Matthew 6:5-6 ESV
JESUS is giving examples of how we can be mature in living the changed Life He gives by following Him so we attract people to Him, not drive them away.
It doesn’t matter whether people were literally blowing horns in the street when giving to the poor in ancient Israel. Even today we immediately get the picture that calling attention to your giving makes it about you, not the one you’re supposedly helping. JESUS is a master of irony and that’s what He is using here to contrast the attention to ourselves being the reason we give.
Horns were only blown in Israel to tell the people change was underway. Either a holiday like New Year’s when all sorts of special preparations had to be made or preparation for war or a special announcement. Horns meant commitment to change.
But those giving to others but calling attention to themselves were hypocrites. They acted like they were going to change the lives of those they gave money to. But they weren’t. Their motivations hadn’t changed because their motivation was still themselves.
JESUS calls us to allow the Spirit of GOD, given when we give ourselves to JESUS, to change us. If we are willing, with GOD’s help, we will give out of love and the Father will return what we give in surprising ways.
Secrecy is part of the fun of most children’s games. And GOD is calling us to make almost a game of giving. How much can you give secretly? And how will GOD return it to you to allow you to keep giving in His Name?
We don’t give expecting the money back. We may never get it back and it may not be money that we give. It could be time or food or something else material. But GOD’s reward is that He always replenishes the ability to keep giving even if it’s love and support. We are not to donate to a ministry with the idea that GOD will bless us with more money but in the knowledge that nothing we do in love will go unnoticed by our Father. And it is pleasing Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit, because of what JESUS did to return us to the Father, that drives why we help others.
The left hand was considered to be the weaker hand and less dignified, even evil. Middle Eastern countries wipe themselves, after doing what all humans do in private, with their left hands and eat with their right. Perhaps if our less noble, left handed, nature knew what the right hand planned to do or give in righteousness it would try to prevent it.
Love suffers strategically. It counts the cost and gives sacrificially, knowing the effects of the loss but suffering it out of love for another.
I do not declare charities on taxes. Mostly because I prefer to give to individuals in need, not organizations. But even when I donate to tax deductible organizations I don’t declare it. Some say they do so they have more to donate but then they declare it again and they are repaid. They have their reward. I prefer to make a game of it, giving so my Father knows but no one (other than absolutely necessary) else knows. Then I wait to see what He will do, now or at Home.
Love is sensibly extravagant to those in real need. It suffers wisely. Then, having done so without fanfare (a word that originally meant blowing horns before events), or left-leaning selfishness or pride stopping it, Love waits and asks with a giggle “What will Daddy do? How will He restock the cupboard so we can play again?”
“”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.”
Matthew 6:2-4 ESV
Bible scholars will tell you, and I agree, that you should never build an entire message on one word in Scripture. This is the way of barterers of “breakthroughs” like TD Jakes, Joel Olsteen, and others who take words out of context and sell you entire DVD collections of their deadly misperceptions so you can try to get what you think you want in this world.
But in Matthew 6 there is a word, used properly and in context, that made all the difference in the world to the people listening to JESUS. And it should to you, too. That word is “when.”
Although JESUS preached in Hebrew and Aramaic we have the word in Greek in the New Testament because Greek is a language of nuance. Greek can convey meanings to the intent of the Holy Spirit we wouldn’t have if the New Testament were in Hebrew. That is why GOD saw to it that it would be carried in that language.
So when we read “when” in Matthew 6, as JESUS tells those who follow Him “when” you give, “when” you pray, it has the special meaning of intent. It is not the must that they are accustomed to being told about the “when” of the Law. It is the difference between the 10-year-old boy being told “when” his parents bring him to the store he must buy a birthday present for his sister and the “when” of the husband who, when he passes his wife’s favorite flowers at the grocery checkout, buys them for her “just because” he knows they will please her.
The Holy Spirit changes those who give themselves to JESUS to make them want to give to others out of love. It’s no longer an exterior pressure in order to manipulate GOD. It is the pressure from a heart full of love. Not scheduled, but certain to happen just because love acts that way. There will be prayer, calling to the Father not at required times, not from outward pressure or a desire to be seen, but whenever love compels us to talk to the One we love.
The wonderful word of “when” in Matthew 6 changes everything. Because JESUS is freeing those who were under the Law to pray and do good for others out of fear and working at being seen to now live out of love, instead. He says they…and we… will do now from a new nature what pleases GOD rather than acting unnaturally when they and we were lost. Because He is leading them…and us…Home.
JESUS has been teaching on a mountainside for maybe an hour. And He already seems to be contradicting Himself. He started off telling those who follow Him not to hide the changes that will happen to them if they give their lives to Him. He says to let the changes the Holy Spirit will make in them when they believe He rescued them from death and Hell shine out! But now, maybe an hour later, He is giving example after example of why they shouldn’t seek attention. Why the change? Why contradict Himself?
But He isn’t. He is talking about two different things: action and motivation.
Think of a young girl just reaching sexual maturity and growing breasts. A healthy girl doesn’t try to strap down her breasts so others can’t see she is maturing. It is part of the changes that are going on within her that will eventually enable her to give life and sustain a baby human. Yet she doesn’t walk around topless to get attention for herself, either. Then she would be emotionally or mentally immature. There is a difference between becoming naturally mature in who we are becoming and being emotionally and mentally mature to live out those changes.
The same is true of Spiritual life. JESUS tells us that when we follow Him, we surrender all we have and are to Him because we realize He gives all He has and is to us by His death on the Cross to rescue us. And His rising from the dead shows we have been forgiven for what caused Him to take our place. His Holy Spirit comes into us and matures in us. We change in ways that help us to share the eternal Life He gives us to others. We are meant to mature in Him and attract others to Him to share what we experience and learn of Him with them so they can meet Him for themselves. We are not to hide these changes out of fear for suffering for belonging to Him.
But if we are trying to get attention intentionally, our motivation is wrong. It is a danger sign that we don’t really understand what JESUS did or that we are Spiritually, mentally or emotionally immature. We may not really be following JESUS at all but just fooling ourselves. We are a contradiction to what JESUS says we are to be.
When we fall in love we don’t show it by telling others how wonderful we are. If we are really, truly in love with someone else we can’t keep quiet about how wonderful they are and live to please them and those they love.
JESUS is not contradicting Himself. He is warning anyone calling themselves Christians to beware of contradicting themselves. If they really know how much He loves them they will be openly loving Him and others in His Name. But in ways that don’t show they doubt His love is enough and still seek attention for themselves. Love is not a self-portrait. Love looks like the loved One.
“When therefore thou doest alms, sound not 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 received their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee.”
Matthew 6:2-4 ASV
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As JESUS is teaching those who want to know more about Him how to have a relationship with Him, He is speaking to fishermen who had followed Him literally straight off their boats. These disciples are among many folks from near and far who had heard about His miracles. And He uses words that had their origins as fishing terms. Being careful is from being cautious how you dock the boat. Doing or performing or practicing righteousness has its roots in unloading cargo from a ship onto the dock for delivery. So let’s read Matthew 6:1 in those terms.
In our translations it’s about being careful how we behave as Christians in front of others so GOD doesn’t zap us for being prideful. But if we read the background of the language and the context of the listeners into it, it becomes much deeper.
Imagine that you’re a fisherman hired to catch fish. You do a great job and have a load of fish but must be careful where you dock the ship. If you dock at the wrong place you won’t be where the person who hired you agreed to meet you. You’ve got to be careful about how you dock the boat so you don’t lose the catch or damage the boat. And you may still sell the fish to someone but it won’t be the greater reward you could have received which was more than you realized.
JESUS is fulfilling His earlier promise to Peter, Andrew, James and John the fishermen to make them fishermen for human hearts and minds. He has already explained that they will be changed from the inside out. Now He is saying that they don’t make themselves fishermen but as He makes them fishermen for hearts and minds naturally they must be careful how they dock their boats. They must be careful how they show the changes GOD is making in them. If they don’t act wisely they will ruin their opportunity to reach people. They will not have the blessings they were intended to have, more than they could have imagined, if they are perceived as no different from others or so different that they are no longer living as the changed children of GOD but as strangers to Him.
It’s all about pulling into port to bless others in the power of GOD the Holy Spirit, resulting from our belonging to JESUS, GOD the Son, to the Glory of GOD the Father. And His joy is our reward.
For the rest of Matthew 6, and until chapter 8, JESUS gives specific examples of how to maneuver in various tides of life to dock without damage to our relationship with GOD and others in His Name.
“Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 6:1 ASV