Chapter five identified the intended audience. There were the nearby crowds and some other disciples –but Jesus’ target was the twelve apostles. Jesus calmed their hearts with the Beatitudes –God’s rewards for living by faith– to prepare them for the tumultuous change in covenants.
Then He described the failed state of the Jews’ ministry. The Old Covenant’s Law was intended to expose everyone’s guilt for usurping God as the Judge (of good and evil) and the need for being reconciled to Him. Yet the self-righteous religious leaders turned it into a platform to elevate themselves to judges –and intimidate the humble. He railed against them for judging others for not doing exactly what the Law required while they were guilty and fully deserving of hell’s fires.
Jesus was specifically talking about that one thing –mankind’s judging, our acting as though we’re God– when He said “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Commandeering God’s judgeship brought about the expulsion from the garden of Eden –and those judgmental ways have been the crux of our problem ever since.
This chapter, Matthew six, contains His instruction to the apostles. They were to leave the Old Covenant behind without looking back –and instead look forward to the New as it was unfolding before them.
It starts out with Jesus telling them to avoid outward religious practices. Those were public displays performed by self-righteous men (in Matthew 6:1-8).
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them. . .”
“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. . .”
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. . .”
“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them. . .”
During the coming months He would reveal the fullness of what the Old Covenant predicted. For the examples noted above, righteousness is not achieved through good behaviors; it’s by being a member of God’s family. Giving isn’t about money; it’s passing on to others whatever God has generously provided. And prayer isn’t an eloquent speech for men to hear; it’s inwardly voicing the overwhelming passion for aligning one’s own thoughts and ways with His.
Jesus told His apostles to pray for understanding about the transition that was underway. The Old Covenant with its Law was ending soon. (It was the set of pictures and dramas predicting His life, death, resurrection and what those would accomplish.) The New Covenant with its Law was nearly in view. (It would state that Jesus indeed completed the reconciliation between God and man —and He offers new, eternal life.)
He related it through their Jewish heritage. . .
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.”
He told them about specific changes that they would personally witness. Those God-instituted changes are listed in what we call the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15). We use it as our own –but it was theirs. . .
“‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.”
The promised land was a shadow of the kingdom of heaven being here on earth. The apostles recognized Jesus as the One that the Law described. And they would come to know that the kingdom had come –it’s where Jesus is God and king over His own. They would be the first priests (ambassadors) of the New Covenant –leading people directly to Him through faith.
“‘Give us this day our daily bread.”
Those following Moses in the desert lived on manna –it was their daily bread. Soon Jesus would be comparing it to the true bread which came from heaven. They would say “Lord, always give us this bread” and He would respond “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (from John 6:32-35).
“‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
They were familiar with the Law’s directions about forgiveness. Since the time of Moses, the Jews made loans (regarding money and servitude) but on the seventh year they were to cancel those debts owed to them and generously help their debtors. When they did, God made sure that no one suffered for the loss of income (Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 12-14). The apostles were going to see this fully played out. The cross would demonstrate that all of mankind’s debts for rebellion against God were canceled once-and-for-all by His own payment.
“‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
After Jesus was baptized to distinguished Him as the Messiah, He was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the evil one, the devil, in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). If He had succumbed, Jesus would have used His God-powers and not lived as a mere man who experienced our troubles. That would have disqualified Him from being the perfect Passover Lamb of God and the ordained High Priest of the New Covenant –the very things He came here to do and be.
But He did overcome temptation –so all who trust solely in Him are overcomers of the evil one too (John 17:12-21; 1 John 2:12-14; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-3).
“[For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]”
This closing text, concurring that all goodness comes from God, was added years later.
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
This disturbing and often omitted verse takes us back to that Deuteronomy passage for understanding. . .
If someone refused to cancel their debt and help their debtor, that brother might cry out to God –and He would listen (Deuteronomy 15:9-10). The apostles would see many examples of people refusing to believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law –canceling mankind’s debt. Those people wouldn’t believe that everyone was forgiven (reconciled) –and accordingly they wouldn’t receive eternal life (John 3:36).
That prayer was for the apostles –it identifies the changes that they would witness in their future. It’s also an ideal reminder to us of what God has already finished.
Jesus often taught in parables –speaking about spiritual things using physical examples. He would say “The kingdom of heaven is like. . .” His listeners would stand in wonderment –and the apostles would ask what He meant.
But really, how do you describe something to a person who has never seen what you are talking about? Isn’t it by relating the unknown to what is well-known? That’s what He did –relating to things like a buried treasure, an important possession, monetary wealth, social status, a house (tent, the temple), gardening, shepherding, death, marriage, birth. . .
This next passage uses fasting –something that’s well-known– to describe the kingdom. Our Christianity has kept a veil over its deeper meaning by promoting the surface story –the self-denial of food. But that’s not the spiritual message being imparted.
Please keep in mind that most of the Scriptures that refer to fasting are from the Old Testament –the pictures of the coming Christ. Yes, Paul talked about it briefly. And Jesus acknowledged it –but that was while He was correcting its practice, like here in Matthew six (and even more so in chapter nine).
“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
“But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)
God’s view of fasting is contained in Isaiah 58:5-12. He says that fasting is not something done to one’s self for gaining favor. Instead, it’s releasing others from oppression –and feeding, clothing and housing the poor. This description of caring for physical needs predicted Jesus’ mission. Let’s take a look at the correlation in chapter nine. . .
When He was questioned by John’s disciples about why His disciples didn’t fast (in Matthew 9:14-17), Jesus used a parable to reveal what fasting only symbolizes. He described a bridegroom’s attendants (referring to His apostles) as mourning when the groom (He) would go away. Jesus was hinting about them being separated from their Daily Bread –the Manna that came from, and would return to, heaven. Through His life, death and resurrection, He would free everyone from the oppression of sin and death; they could all eat the Bread of Life, be clothed in His righteousness and be at home in the eternal temple of God.
In that chapter nine passage He also spoke about the consequences of putting a patch of new cloth on an old garment and new wine in an old wineskin. Those were parables about the New and Old Covenants being incompatible with each other. Under the Old, righteousness (the old covering) was attained through the blood (the wine) of animals (the old wineskins). Putting a bit of the New Covenant on the Old is equating His blood and His body to that of earthly sacrifices. It’s a false teaching that distorts both the prediction and the fulfillment of His life.
Religion tries to mix those two by demanding that people attempt to do the works of the Law –the things that only Jesus could do, and did complete. And it leaves a person in doubt about his salvation –or at least his value to God.
We often think of this next passage as practical advice, saying: “Whatever is important we should entrust to God’s care and whatever troubles we have can be blamed on Satan –the destroyer and the thief.” But let’s consider its context.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
It was in the Beatitudes that Jesus told them to look forward to unseen blessings that would only be realized in the kingdom. These men (and those who have followed in their footsteps) would suffer the injustices and harsh treatment of this world while telling people about Him.
In his gospel, John wrote about Jesus’ arrival.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-4)
Here in Matthew six, Jesus describes the results of seeing, and of not seeing, “the Light.”
“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)
Denying that He was God living among people (that’s what Immanuel means); that He was God’s Passover Lamb; that He was the Atoning Sacrifice for all; that He was the true Light of men –leaves a person in the worst of all possible conditions (Matthew 8:11-12, Matthew 22:13-14, Matthew 25:30).
In Matthew fifteen, Jesus described those religious men as “blind guides of the blind.” They were blind because they wouldn’t believe the Light. (Note what He says in John 8:12, 9:5, 11:9-10, 12:35-36, 46.)
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)
There are those who cherish this world and live by its ways –deciding what brings wealth and what is worthless (what’s good and what’s evil). Either unwittingly or consciously, they’ve displaced God as the Judge. They measure themselves by their successes and failures in what they’ve accomplished and accumulated.
That’s exactly the opposite of what He –the true Judge– desires. He wants people to trust Him alone “for all things” (Ephesian 5:20) and “in all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) for He is the One who works them all out for our good.
This next passage is a sobering encouragement to the apostles –and those who have chosen to serve God instead of their self-serving desires.
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? (Matthew 6:25-26)
The birds are analogous to the human spirit. Almost like angels they fly in the air above the troubles here on the earth –only interacting with it as the Spirit leads.
“And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? “And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.
“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! (Matthew 6:27-30)
And the lilies describe the physical body –the flesh. Even though they live on the ground, and bloom just a few days, their beauty –their testimony about Jesus’ magnificence– is a stunning contrast to their surroundings.
“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)
God feeds the spiritual being –that which is housed in this earthly body of flesh– with all that is needed to fulfill His purpose as His ambassadors to the world (John 6:35). And God has made that flesh –as ungodly as it sometimes appears– fully righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
Like the apostles, we too can enter His Sabbath rest –trusting wholly in Him. There will always be antagonists to harass and persecute those who drive the wedge between living by faith (eating the fruit of the tree of life) and that of religious works (eating the fruit of the tree of judging good and evil).