This week, we continue reading the message that Jesus began teaching in chapter 5.
(If you’re now joining in this study you are welcome to read Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1 here.)
In chapter 5, Jesus began to address the crowds teaching that the heart is the root of all sinful behavior and now He will drive home His main point in chapter 6: that where one’s treasure is, there the heart will be also. Jesus continues to reveal the problem of the heart as He begins addressing the issue of public displays of works, prayer, fasting in verses 2-18.
Jesus discourages the crowd from performing religious public displays meant to win admiration from people. Jesus wants them to understand that God is the One who sees. His opinion matters. Just because someone may look righteous on the outside doesn’t mean that they are on the inside. Jesus will mention this later in Matthew 23:27 referring to the Pharisees when He calls them “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” Just as John the Baptist saw through the Pharisees’ hard hearts, Jesus does too. And Jesus addresses this problem.
While Matthew writes this gospel he includes Jesus’ words so that his readers, who were mostly Jews, would recall what Jesus had taught. And then notice how different Jesus’ teachings were compared to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Matthew wanted for his Jewish audience to be compelled by Jesus’ words and find that His message was true and worth believing. Matthew uses Jesus’ words throughout this gospel to teach the reader about Jesus while also showing how He is the one that the Jews have been waiting for. His message is the One that matters. No other message but His. And Matthew will continue to characterize the Pharisees and teachers of the law as the foil to Jesus.
In chapter 6 specifically, Jesus makes it clear that the righteousness of the heart is what matters to God, not the outward expressions of a routine religiosity.
In verses 5-13, Jesus talks about prayer by saying “you must not be like the hypocrites,” referring to the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
But reading verse 5, it can be a little confusing about what Jesus is trying to say here. In verse 5 He goes on to tell the crowd not to pray like the ones on the street corners in front of everybody or like the gentiles with ritualistic phrases. But after saying not to make prayer a ritualistic effort, He gives us a very formulaic prayer to pray in verses 9-13.
So I’m wondering, is Jesus saying that we pray following a ritualistic pattern or not? But after reading more, it seems that Jesus is teaching the crowd how to pray with one’s heart postured towards God the Father. Not what to pray, per se. But how to pray.
Jesus instructs the crowd to pray “like this” as it says in verse 9.
He wants them to emulate the heart and intention of His words.
Christianity today has taken these words of Jesus and marketed them as “The Lord’s Prayer” front and center on journals, picture frames, bookmarks and what-not. We’ve taken these words of Jesus and isolated them as a formal prayer when I’m not sure it was intended to be like that. I’ve never understood the significance of praying the Lord’s prayer formulaically just for the sake of doing it. Some people think that it is an extra special godly prayer but I don’t think that was Jesus’ intent. At least that’s not what Jesus said.
Jesus didn’t say pray this prayer any time you really want to commune with God…sure pray how you want to the rest of the time but make sure you get in the Lord’s prayer every so often.
No, that’s not what He said.
He said to pray “like this.”
Not this specifically. That doesn’t mean you can’t pray it, but you need to make sure you actually mean it before you pray it. But I guess that applies to any prayer.
Too often we tend to default into trusting in works (pattern and form) rather than the heart (intent and motivation). So it seems to me that Jesus teaches prayer like this because He wants to redirect their hearts towards a pure intention and away from ritualistic doing.
He wants them to experience the intimacy of connecting with God for real in prayer.
Not out of routine.
He wants their hearts to be in the right place.
Postured towards God the Father… in reverence (v. 9), selflessness (v. 10), hope (v. 10), recognition of Him as the provider (v. 11), recognition of the need to forgive and be forgiven (v. 12), and a desire to resist evil (v. 13). Then one can talk to God normally, no need for pretense or formality. This isn’t to say that one has to checkmark all of these postures either before he or she prays. There’s much more grace than that.
Jesus is in the process of reteaching them what it means to relate to and with God.
Just as in chapter 5 when He points out all the things they had heard that He now wants them to hear afresh from Him, this manner of praying is just another lesson He wants the crowd to learn. That this is the way one should pray…not like the Pharisees or teachers of the Law…but with a pure heart postured towards God.
As mentioned earlier, Jesus’ main point of His message is clarified in verse 21: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In all of His teaching, beginning in chapter 5 until now, Jesus seeks to address the condition of the heart.
For the heart reveals one’s inability to keep the law and the need for something more. So by addressing the heart, Jesus is preparing the crowds for repentance by showing them that they need a solution for the sin within the heart.
As we keep reading, Jesus declares in verse 24 that “nobody can serve two masters.”
Before, I never really knew why this statement was included here in this spot of the message. Kind of isolated. But as we read along in verses 25-34 when Jesus begins His discourse on not being anxious and trusting in the Father, it makes sense that Jesus would preface this section with verse 24. Affirming that it is not possible to be double minded helps one agree with what Jesus is saying when He says do not be anxious and then lists out the reasons why one doesn’t need to be anxious. If it’s not possible to serve two masters, then it’s not possible to serve anxiety and the opposite of that at the same time.
So Jesus is telling the crowd, by means of the verse 24 preface, that they can either believe His words or not. They can listen and agree with Him or not. They can serve anxiety and whatever else or they can serve God. But they can’t do both. They can’t just hear His words, agree, and do nothing. They cannot serve their old way of life and serve Jesus at the same time. They must decide whether or not they want to repent and follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
We will get a glimpse of how people respond in chapter 7 and more evidence as we read through Matthew.
In verse 28, Jesus talks about worrying over clothing specifically. I wonder why 1st century Jews would have been anxious about clothing? Maybe it’s my own ignorance but last time I checked there weren’t any magazines or malls around to shop for the latest fashions. From what I assume about 1st century antiquity I’m thinking their choice of clothing is pretty basic. Pretty simple.
So what’s the issue about clothing that Jesus needs to bring this up? Well, Numbers 15:38-41 gives instructions about a garment with tassels to be worn as a reminder for the people to “remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, to not follow after your own heart and your own eyes.” This is also referred to as the “fringe of the garment” which is mentioned later in Matthew 9:20 when a sick woman longs to touch Jesus’ garment to be made well. The tassels were thought to manifest a person’s authority and so she might have thought that touching His garment would grant healing authority or power to be released.
But Matthew 23:5 gives us more understanding when Jesus says, “for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long” discouraging a public display of excessive dress with these tassels so that others would see this and esteem them. The phylacteries were little black boxes strapped to the head with scriptures inside that reminded a person about the law and the fringes refer to the tassels on the tunic.
So it seems that this item of dress had become a symbol of status for the religious elite and, again, a source of public display of righteousness that Jesus is strongly warning against in His message.
This could be why He addresses clothing in His teaching.
Jesus ultimately wants to discourage public displays of assumed righteousness and advocate the inner righteousness of the heart.
This is why he continually condemns public displays of works and status. He wants the people to understand that those things do not reveal the righteousness of a person. Only the heart reveals the righteousness of a person. And God is the only one with the ability to know the heart of a person which is why pleasing Him is the only thing that matters.
In verses 28-30, Jesus compares the lilies of the field to the splendor that God will cloth his people with.
Jesus says, “Consider the lilies of the field…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…will He not much more cloth you, O you of little faith?” This is interesting that the lilies would be said to be more beautiful than Solomon. And that Jesus would be promising these 1st century Jews more glorious clothing than Solomon. Why all the sudden are they promised more glorious adornment? And how is this possible considering how rich and lavish a lifestyle Solomon lived?
The Jews in the crowd that Jesus was preaching to would not have had glory outweighing Solomon. So Jesus can’t be referring to God’s provision of clothing for them on earth in the here-and-now because Solomon would still outdo them in comparison.
For theses Jews to outdo Solomon’s glory can only mean one thing: Jesus is talking about resurrection life…resurrection clothing…not this life.
So Jesus speaks of a glory yet to come.
Jesus will start to use more of this kind of eschatological language as we progress in Matthew’s gospel, introducing the listener to future realities and the kingdom of heaven. Over and over He will tell parables with the opening line, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” as He informs His listeners of this hope and their necessary response.
Matthew employs this “kingdom of heaven” language as he aims to show the Jews how Jesus has come to bring forth the kingdom of heaven. He is the One they have been waiting for. And though many expected for the Messiah to arrive and establish a mighty kingdom for Israel in the here-and-now, Jesus is preaching of a future kingdom. And Matthew wants his audience to understand this. That just because Jesus didn’t bring about a temporal kingdom of reign for Israel doesn’t mean He’s not the Messiah.
For He surely will initiate God’s kingdom that is to come. Matthew wants the Jews to understand this and to look forward to this hope which is only found in Jesus, the Christ.
As we end chapter 6, Jesus encourages the crowd in verse 33 to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first. Not their own kingdom. Not the pursuit of their own righteousness. But to seek God’s righteousness. And He promises them in verse 34 that everything they need will be given to them.
As we read chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel let us get to know Jesus better through His own words as He continues on in this first sermon. Let us pay attention to what He says and how He is teaching the people a new message that is starting to stir their hearts towards repentance. Let us learn more about His compassion and concern for people and fall more in love with this Jesus who cares enough to challenge His hearers with the message of truth. May His words penetrate our hearts and teach us more about Himself.
Summary of Matthew 6
Jesus continues on in this teaching/message that he began in chapter 5; Jesus teaches the crowd about doing in secret what pleases the Father rather than doing in public what others will see and esteem; Jesus tells the crowd to not accumulate treasures on earth but in heaven; Jesus addresses the heart as the indicator of what one treasures; Jesus talks about the eye as the entry for light and darkness into the whole body depending on if one’s eye is good or bad; Jesus tells the crowd they cannot serve two masters; Jesus commands the crowd three times to not be anxious while providing examples of what they should not be anxious about and reasons why; Jesus exhorts the crowd to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first above all things.
Jesus in Matthew 6
Jesus warns the crowd not to practice righteousness in front of others (v. 1)
Jesus discourages doing things just to be seen (v. 1)
Jesus discourages seeking others’ affirmation (v. 1)
Jesus encourages seeking the Father’s affirmation (v. 1)
Jesus discourages public showings of good works (v. 2)
Jesus discourages the desire to be praised by others (v. 2)
Jesus encourages giving in secret (v. 3-4)
Jesus reminds them that the Father sees their giving (v. 4)
Jesus reminds them that the Father is the one who will bless them (v. 4)
Jesus instructs them how to pray (v. 5-6)
Jesus discourages praying like the hypocrites in the synagogues and street corners (v. 5)
Jesus discourages praying with the intent that others will see (v. 5)
Jesus teaches them to pray in a secret area (v. 6)
Jesus reminds them that the Father will see (v. 6)
Jesus reminds them that the Father will reward (v. 6)
Jesus discourages praying with empty, ritualistic words (v. 7)
Jesus discourages praying like the Gentiles (v. 7-8)
Jesus reminds the crowd that the Father knows what they need before they ask (v. 8)
Jesus teaches them how to pray (v. 9-13)
Jesus tells them that forgiveness from the Father is the reward of forgiving others (v. 14)
Jesus warns them that the Father will not forgive if they don’t forgive each other (v. 15)
Jesus teaches the crowd not to make yourself look like you are fasting (v. 16)
Jesus calls those that do this hypocrites (v. 16)
Jesus tells them to anoint their heads and wash their faces when they fast (v. 17)
Jesus reminds them that their fasting is not to be seen by others (v. 18)
Jesus reminds them that their fasting will be seen by the Father (v. 18)
Jesus warns against accumulating earthly possessions (v. 19)
Jesus tells them that earthly possessions are vulnerable to being lost (v. 19)
Jesus encourages them to accumulate treasures in heaven (v. 20)
Jesus tells them that treasures in heaven are not vulnerable to being lost (v. 20)
Jesus tells them that their heart is directly aligned with their treasure (v. 21)
Jesus tells them the eye is the lamp of the body (v. 22)
Jesus declares that what they see will affect the rest of their body (v. 22)
Jesus declares that if the eye is healthy, the body will be full of light (v. 22)
Jesus declares that if the eye is bad, the whole body will be full of darkness (v. 23)
Jesus teaches that no one can serve two masters (v. 24)
Jesus declares one cannot serve God and money (v. 24)
Jesus commands the crowd to not be anxious about their lives (v. 25)
Jesus commands the crowd to not be anxious about what they will eat or drink (v. 25)
Jesus commands the crowd to not be anxious about their bodies (v. 25)
Jesus commands the crowd to not be anxious about their clothes (v. 25)
Jesus compares God’s care of birds to His care of them (v. 26)
Jesus points out how God provides for the birds always (v. 26)
Jesus reminds them that God cares about them far more than the birds (v. 26)
Jesus discourages anxiety (v. 27-28)
Jesus reminds them that anxiety and worry do nothing to help (v. 27)
Jesus discourages anxiety about clothes (v. 28)
Jesus compares God’s care of the lilies to God’s care of them (v. 28-30)
Jesus declares that not even Solomon was adorned with the splendor of the lilies (v. 29)
Jesus reminds them that God will clothe them just as He clothes the grass (v. 30)
Jesus points out their lack of faith (v. 30)
Jesus tells them a second time not to be anxious (v. 31)
Jesus contrasts the Gentiles seeking after all these anxious things with the crowd as the ones whose Father already knows what they need (v. 32)
Jesus reassures the crowd that God knows all (v. 32)
Jesus commands them to seek God’s kingdom first (v. 33)
Jesus commands them to seek God’s righteousness first (v. 33)
Jesus reassures them that all the things they need will be given to them (v. 33)
Jesus tells them a third time not to be anxious (v. 34)
Jesus specifies for them to not be anxious about tomorrow (v. 34)
Jesus reminds them that tomorrow will take care of itself (v. 34)
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” –Matthew 6:21 –
Questions for Today:
- What is Jesus’ main point of His message so far?
- What is Jesus’ goal in His preaching?
- How should we let Jesus’ example of prayer influence the way that we pray?
- Why does Jesus care about the heart more than public works or status?
- How am I learning more about Jesus in Matthew chapter 6?
“Great Things (worth It All)” by Elevation Worship