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Taking Off the Mask Before God

Matthew: The Message and Mission  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction: In verses 1-18 of Matthew chapter 6 Jesus is instructing His disciples concerning three ways a believer worships God: through giving, prayer, and fasting. Last week, as Pastor John opened up the Word, we saw the three snares of the charitable deed. When we give genuinely, we give out of a heart of worship to God, and we should not give as the hypocrites do. The hypocrites give to be seen by men and to draw attention to themselves. Surely, they have their reward. They sought to be seen and so they were. Jesus, however, desires for his disciples to give secretly as an act of genuine worship not before men but before the Father.
Now as we turn to , Jesus continues to instruct his disciples by contrasting hypocritical and genuine worship in prayer and fasting.

Be Genuine in Prayer

Hypocritical Prayer

Here Jesus is teaching his disciples that prayer must never be motivated by the desire to be seen by men. The evil of the hypocrites in this verse is that they desire to use prayer as a means of self-glorification. “Look at me,” the hypocrite says as he stands in the synagogue and on the street corners, “look at me for I am unlike other men, I am spiritual beyond all ordinary men.” Men like this are correctly described as hypocrites. As we know, the word hypocrite was originally used to refer to actors who would use large masks to portray roles they were playing. Hypocrites were pretenders, and what a hypocrite said and did did not accurately describe who he was but only portrayed what he wanted others to see. The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees prayed for the same purpose - not to portray their humility and dependence on God, but instead to attract attention and to glorify themselves.
Isn’t it ironic that God can give us the gift of prayer, which is meant to express our adoration for and our complete dependence on God, and the human heart can pervert that gift and use it for self-glorification?
John 14:13 NKJV
And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Example: Tell them about when I used to speak to my friends hypocritically in order to earn brownie point with Mr. Musselman.
It is one thing when we do this facetiously with men, but it is wicked to worship self at a time when we should be worshipping God. The scribes and Pharisees sought to make themselves rather than God the center of their prayers.

Genuine Prayer

The basic definition of prayer is “communion with God.” So, if we are to pray God must be at the center of our prayers. In contrast with the traditions of the hypocrites Jesus instructs that when you pray go into your room and shut your door. The idea here is that when you pray find the most private place possible. Jesus’ point is that if you are tempted to make prayer a show go to the most private place possible and shut the door. Shut out everything and everyone else so that you can have communion with God. When you are in your room and the door is shut and all possibilities of putting on a show have been closed down pray to your Father. Do what you need to do to draw the attention away from yourself and place it on God alone.
This does not mean that Jesus is forbidding public prayer, but Jesus is pointing out that we must be careful to pray out of a heart of genuine worship and dependence on God, and it is for this reason that most of an individual’s prayer life is done privately. There may be times when people know we are praying but what is said is not meant for them, but it is meant for the Father. When we pray we are having fellowship with God and God alone, and when the believer prays in secret with a pure heart he has the attention of the Father.
When we pray genuinely to God out of a heart of worship and dependence on God we will have the reward that only He can give. Jesus does not specifically say what this reward might be but the important truth for us to know is that God blesses those who come to Him in sincerity.

Let Your Content in Prayer Be Genuine

As for the hypocrites, they have already received their reward.

Hypocritical Content

Jesus continues in verses 7-8 by also instructing his disciples to not allow empty, hypocritical content to invade their prayers.
The Jews had picked up the practice from the Gentiles that the value of prayer was based on the quantity of prayer. The longer the prayer the better because they think that they will be heard for their many words.
We see this heathen practice where the prophets of Baal cried out to Baal from morning till noon saying, “O Baal, hear us!” And not wanting to miss the opportunity Elijah mocked telling them to just cry louder - maybe Baal is meditating, or busy, or on a journey, or sleeping. Cry louder prophets of Baal and wake Him!
We see this practice again in the New Testament in when Demetrius and the other silversmiths of Ephesus aroused a great crowd against Paul and they repetitively chanted for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
We even see this today with Buddhist prayer wheels and the Catholic prayer candles and rosaries. All of us have even been guilty of this at some point or another as we repeat prayers at meals and prayer meetings with no thought to what we are actually saying or the One to whom we are praying. Prayer that is thoughtless and indifferent is offensive to God.
Now, we are permitted to repeat genuine requests. Thoughtful and persistent prayer is encouraged. The widow in was praised for her persistence before the ungodly judge and Jesus says, “ And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him?” In other words, if the ungodly judge responded because of the persistence of the widow how much more speedily will God respond to His own who are persistent in prayer.
Repeating genuine requests is not wrong but it is wrong to indifferently recite spiritual sounding words over and over again as a show of being religious. Not only must we worship God out of a pure heart but also out of a mind that is focused on Him. Heartfelt prayer is always thoughtful prayer.
Praying is sharing our burdens with our Father who already knows what we need but who wants us to confess our dependence on Him. Prayer is worshipfully confessing our need for God to act in our lives and with faith giving God the opportunity to display His power and love to us.

A Model Prayer

Now, we might ask, what does prayer out of a pure heart and mind look like?

Hallowed Be Your Name

Because genuine prayer is worship its first request is that we would see God as He is - holy. He is unique and set apart from all others and there is no one like Him. The first request in a genuine prayer places God at the center and prioritizes His glory as the number one priority of the believer’s life. To see and to know God changes the Christian’s perspective on everything else. It has been said that to see God as He is in the Scriptures is to then see everything else as it was meant to be seen.
It is also a request that we would live our lives in agreement with His holiness. In other words, if we truly believe that He is holy we will obey what He has said. For someone to call themselves a Christian and live in disagreement with His character it to malign rather than glorify then name of God.
This is a request that we must all pray every day as we are often tempted to disobey and tempted to believe that sin is more glorious than our heavenly Father. To give ourselves over to sin is to confess that we do not believe that God’s name is holy, and so we are all driven to our knees as we realize our constant need to see Him as He is.

Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done

The second request of genuine prayer is that God’s kingdom would come and His will be done. Prayer should be evangelistic. To pray for God’s kingdom is to pray for new converts and new kingdom citizens. When we pray for God’s kingdom we are praying that God would give Christians boldness to open their mouths and witness, we are praying for those outside of the kingdom to repent and turn to God, and we are praying for opportunities for both of those things to happen.
Second, this is a request that God’s kingdom would come through our commitment to it. This is a request that all believers would do God’s will and respond to His rule in their lives now so that His rule over them would be evident just as His rule is evident in heaven.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

The third request of genuine prayer worships the God who provides. This request might sound irrelevant to us since the media constantly tells us of America’s obesity epidemic, but this is a request that God would provide for all of our physical needs. I think all of us would agree that we all do have physical needs.
Lord, help my car to run tomorrow.
Father, allow my heater to make just it through the winter.
I really can’t afford a new computer so help this one to make it so that I can finish this big project for work.
Father, I don’t know where that $10,000 is coming from for my tuition but I am thankful that you do and I trust you
We all do have physical needs, and this is a plea for God to meet those needs. In voicing those needs, this request is also a display of trust. “Father, I can’t even meet my own needs, but you can and I trust you to meet them.”
And this is a request for daily bread. Do you remember the rich fool from who said, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”? The heart that requests daily bread is completely the opposite of the heart that seeks to build bigger and bigger barns. I think the best summary I have heard of the heart behind this request is when I was taking Rand Hummel back to the airport this past March and he made this comment to me, “The daily prayer of Amber and me is that God would provide enough for us to be content today, but not so much that we do not depend on Him for tomorrow.”
We truly do depend on God for all of our physical needs.

Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Forgive Our Debtors

The fourth request of genuine prayer is the recognition of our need for continual forgiveness of sin. Vastly more important than our need for daily bread is our need for continual forgiveness. Aren’t you thankful that because of Christ we are no longer condemned, we are no longer under judgment, and we are no longer destined for hell? Because of Christ, God has declared us pardoned, justified, and righteous. No one can condemn us or bring a charge against us, yet we still sin and so we are in need of God’s gracious forgiveness. We no longer seek forgiveness from God as our judge but we do seek it from God as our Father. As Judge, God freely forgave us because Christ paid our debt, and as Father He is even more willing to extend His arms of forgiveness and continually welcome His children back home.
Because of the overwhelming forgiveness of the Father, those who are forgiven freely forgive those who sin against them. Because we daily go to the Father and recognize our need for forgiveness we go from the throne of grace ready to dispense grace to those who have sinned against us. Remember, the model prayer Jesus is giving here is a genuine prayer. Jesus offers this prayer as an example that is completely the opposite of the prayers of the hypocrites, and to not forgive when we have been forgiven an infinite debt reeks of outrageous hypocrisy. The assumption here is this: those who pray genuinely genuinely understand the grace of God towards them and when they leave the throne room which overflows with grace they themselves freely dispense grace to others.
So, when we pray we pray for forgiveness and having received forgiveness we freely forgive.

Do Not Lead Us Into Temptation, But Deliver Us From Evil

The fourth request of genuine prayer is that God would protect us from sin. Now, wait a minute does God ever lead us into temptation?
James 1:13 NKJV
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
If James tells us that God does not tempt then why would we ask God to do something that He would never do anyway? Well, this is not a theological problem, instead it is an interpretive question. The word used here for temptation is πειρασμός and it is actually the same word that James used when he wrote that we ought to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” So, the word can be translated in two ways: trial or temptation. πειρασμός is a neutral word in the Greek without a connotation towards good or evil. The root meaning has to do with a testing or proving, but the question does remain for us though since it parallels evil in this passage. So, in this passage, it does have to do with an enticement to sin. The idea that Jesus is communicating here is the desire of the believer’s heart that hates and fears sin and wants to escape any chance of falling into it. In other words, the believer knows that trials and temptation will come but he so desperately wants to stay away from sin. So, that we can better understand it in English the request is this: “Father, I value You and our relationship so much that I don’t even want to encounter a situation where I might sin, but when I am in those situations, Father - please - protect me from sinning.”
Jesus prayed something similar in the Garden of Gethsemane
Matthew 26:39 NKJV
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Jesus’ heart did not desire to experience taking the sin of the world on Himself, yet He knew it was the Father’s will. So, why did He pray that way? He was being honest in His prayer to the Father, but He was willing to endure it in order to fulfill the will of the Father.
The desire of the believer’s heart is to never ever be in a situation where they might sin, and so, we can honestly pray, “Lord, if at all possible do let ever let me be in a situation where I might chooses sin.” Yet we know we will face temptation. So, why pray that way? We are being honest in our prayers to the Father. We know we will face temptation even though we don’t want to, but when we do face temptation we pray that the Lord would protect us from sin.
And thanks be to God because we know that when we yield ourselves to the Spirit the Father will protect us from sin.

The Conclusion

Jesus then concludes His lesson on prayer in verses 14-15.
Jesus concludes His lesson on prayer with His own comments on the believer’s request for forgiveness. He positively says that if you forgive you will be forgiven, but then negatively states that if you do not forgive you will not be forgiven. Later on in Matthew in chapter 18 Jesus illustrates the ugly nature of bitterness with the parable of the man who was forgiven an unpayable debt who then turned around and refused to forgive another who owed him a payable debt. The man was then immediately chastened by his king. To receive pardon from the perfectly holy God and then to refuse to forgive others when we ourselves are sinful is the epitome of hypocrisy. James warns:
James 2:13 NKJV
For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Be Genuine in Fasting

Jesus then concludes this section of His sermon with instructions on fasting. Like prayer, the believer wants to fast in a way that is genuine and not like the hypocrites.
When the hypocrites fast they fast with a sad and an unrecognizable face. Why would they do this? Once again, to be seen by men. Like many parts of Jewish religious life fasting had been perverted and what was meant to be sincere had become a hypocritical show and so they would draw attention to their fasting by making themselves look miserable and sickly. History tells us that some would even use makeup while fasting in order to look pale. Truly, the word hypocrite was in full force here and Jesus was literally calling his disciples to take off their mask before God.
Jesus makes clear here that fasting is a normal part of a believer’s life. It is often a response to a time of testing or at the beginning of a new task or ministry in order to dedicate time and resources towards that which is most important: the believer’s relationship before God. In every Biblical account fasting is paired together with prayer. Fasting is also to be done out of sincerity and purity of heart.
Zechariah 7:5 NKJV
“Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me?
Zechariah 7:9 NKJV
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion Everyone to his brother.
Jesus’ instructions for fasting here is to anoint your head and wash your face. To anoint the head was a normal practice of good-grooming and like washing your face it was associated with day to day cleanliness. The idea here is that when you are fasting you ought to do everything in your power to look normal before others because fasting is not for them. Fasting is abstaining from something that is valuable in order to make room for your heavenly Father who is most valuable.
Fasting is our heart’s desperate cry for our Father whom we love more than food, sleep, sexually enjoying our spouse, or even social media. The irony of social media fasts is that they usually begin with an open declaration before men and conclude with an essay entitled “What I Learned While I was Gone From Social Media”.
The hypocrites seek to be seen and make sure they are and that is their reward. However, when a believer takes off his mask and genuinely fasts before God he will receive the reward that only God can give.
Conclusion: In conclusion, is it time for us to take off our masks? Do I need to stop doing Christian things because I am worried what others may think of me and instead do them because I really want to know and be known by my heavenly Father? Do I need to start praying because I really want to see Him as He is and I really want to have my will aligned with His? Do I need to begin crying out to Him in desperation for protection against sin? Do I need to lay something aside for a season, not to post about it on social media, but to be seen by the only one that matters - my heavenly Father?
Jesus’ call is to do just that. Lay aside your mask and genuinely seek the Father.
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