Sermon on the Mount
“The Great Pretenders”
A father complained about the amount of time his family spent in front of the television set. His children watched cartoons and neglected their schoolwork. His wife preferred soap operas to doing housework. His solution was that as soon as baseball season was over he was going to pull the plug.
A husband and wife were discussing the possibility of taking a trip to Israel. The husband said, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic to go to the Holy Land and shout the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai?” The wife replied, “It’d be better if we stayed at home and kept them.”
Tonight I’d like to look at the Jesus’ message to the Great Pretenders.
Read Matthew 6:1-6
At first this section may seem to contradict an earlier teaching where Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
What we see are some glaring similarities. Both speak of doing good works, and doing them before others. But Jesus earlier remark makes this a command; while in our text tonight He prohibits it. Is Jesus contradicting Himself?
Not at all! In our text Jesus is prohibiting religious devotion that’s done publically for self-glorification, whereas in His previous statement He commands good works be done so that God will be glorified.
What Jesus is saying is that everything we do is suppose to give God glory, not ourselves. It’s to call attention to God and His kingdom, not to call attention to ourselves.
Jesus is re-iterating a common theme, that is, remembering what our real motivation is. He’s dealing with the hidden thoughts of our hearts. Jesus is more concerned with the motivation behind the deed than He is in the deed itself.
It’s not about what the hand’s doing; rather it’s about what the heart’s thinking while the hand’s doing.
Throughout the gospels there seems to be an enormous appetite on the part of the Pharisees for public recognition.
“They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:6-7 NKJV)
After they tried to kill Him for blasphemy, Jesus asked,
“How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44 NKJV)
Later John commented that the reason they didn’t believe is because they feared losing the prestige and honor within the synagogue.
“For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:43 NKJV)
And while it’s easy to criticize the Pharisees, the reality is they’re no different than we are. We all desire to be noticed, valued, and feel important. But what Jesus is speaking against is letting this desire transcend into our devotion to God. The Pharisees were turning their religious devotion toward God into a public performance.
In our text this is seen in two ways.
First is Jesus calling them hypocrites. The Greek term “hypocrite” was used to describe an actor. In Greek plays the actor would wear a variety of masks to portray different emotions. In essence they were hiding who they really were behind a mask, pretending to be someone they were not.
Actors no longer wear masks, but in movies and plays they do the same thing. They become someone other than who they really are in real life. And while this may be good for the movies, it’s deplorable in real life.
So by calling them hypocrites Jesus was saying that by their actions they were assuming false identities. They were making themselves into something they were not.
The second way is seen in the verb, “to be seen.” They wanted to be seen by all those around them. The Greek word is where we get our word, “theater.” These Pharisees were then like actors giving a performance upon a stage.
And they played these roles so well they even began to deceive even themselves.
Once we begin with a lie it kind of perpetuates itself until we perceive it as truth. They became so deceived they actually believed they were acting in God’s best interest. But in reality they were practice these deeds for men, not God.
They are pretenders, hiding behind masks of religious devotion so that no one would see them for who they truly are.
But it goes beyond mere acting, because of what they were doing. They were taking real devotions, like giving, prayer, and fasting and turning them into a theatrical performance. It’s as if these devotions had lost their meaning and power for the sole purpose of making these guys look good.
It’s easy to poke fun at these Pharisees, but Christian hypocrisy is not so funny. It’s being someone else every Sunday. Unfortunately Christian hypocrisy is one of the biggest excuses people use not to attend church or accept Jesus Christ.
But the reason there are hypocrites in church is because church is nothing more than a gathering of sinful people worshipping the only One who isn’t.
What’s more amazing is these same people who opt out of church because of hypocrisy don’t allow the same hypocrisy from stopping them from doing other things.
• Business is full of hypocrisy, but seeing a chance to make money doesn’t stop them from getting involved in business.
• Society is crowed with hypocrites, but these people aren’t selling their homes to move to the mountains and become hermits.
• Almost everything we’re involved in has hypocrites, and we’re a part of that hypocrisy.
With this in mind, if they hate hypocrisy then church is really where they should be. Why stay away from the one person, Jesus Christ, who can forgive us of our hypocrisy and sin, and give us eternal life where we can spend an eternity free from hypocrisy.
Therefore to stay away from church because of hypocrisy just doesn’t make sense.
Jesus then says that all who act in this way have their reward, but its not from God.
The word Jesus used for “reward” is a technical or commercial term for a sales transaction. By their public performance in these religious devotions they have received the full sum they desired, and gave back to the people a receipt of payment.
In essence they were buying their own reward. For example in giving alms they weren’t meeting the needs of the people as much as they were buying their praise.
To receive God’s reward, however, our devotions should be done quietly without fanfare, that is, we shouldn’t be blowing our own horns. If God has us feeding the homeless or fasting about something, then we’re not to go around publicizing it or feeling superior.
When we do our devotions and good deeds, let’s make sure they’re done with the right attitude, heart, and motives. Make sure everything we do glorifies God. Then God will reward.
The reward isn’t something earthshattering either, rather it’s the simple reward of seeing a person’s need get met, or knowing God has heard our prayer, or even knowing that we’re not controlled by our appetites but rather by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus gives us three examples of these devotions and showing the difference.
Alms are acts of mercy, and during these times they became identified with monetary giving to the needy.
Alms differ from tithes. Tithes are given to the temple for its and the priest’s upkeep. Alms were given to people to alleviate their difficulties and to help meet their needs. If they needed food, food was given or money to buy it. If help was needed, help was given.
What the Pharisees were doing was perverting this act of mercy and making it into a circus event.
Jesus shows us, however, the Christian way saying,
“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.” (Matthew 6:3-4 NKJV)
Not only are we not to tell others what we do, but in an unusual way we’re not even to tell ourselves. We’re not supposed to be self conscious about our giving. If we dwell on our good deeds, we may fall into the trap of self-congratulations, which soon deteriorates into a form of self-righteousness.
And so as soon as the gift is given or need met, we’re to forget about it. John Stott said, “Christian giving is to be marked by self sacrifice and self forgetfulness, not by self congratulation.”
“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.” (Matthew 6:5-6 NKJV)
Standing and praying was an accepted practice. But the word Jesus used here literally means to position oneself conspicuously so as to be seen.
Praying became a sideshow event. It was done to get attention and to show people how godly they were. Today we see similar examples, like praying in perfect King James English, or boasting about how much we pray.
When we pray, Jesus says we’re to do so in private. Jesus isn’t coming against corporate prayer, because there are plenty of examples throughout the Bible of our need to gather together for prayer. But in our personal time we need to withdraw from others to get time alone with God.
The room that Jesus is talking about is an inner room or storeroom. It would be that room where valuables and treasures are kept
What a beautiful picture of prayer. When we get ourselves alone with God, when we have that intimate communion with Him, He’ll reward with such things as peace and forgiveness, which truly are spiritual treasures.
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18 NKJV)
To disfigure means to become unrecognizable. What they would do is wear sackcloth and smear ashes over their faces and into their hair so that they could show everyone how they were humbling themselves before God.
But Jesus said don’t do that. Instead we are to anoint our heads, wash our faces. Today we’d say, “Take a shower, shave, and comb your hair.” When we fast we want God’s attention, not men. Man is not our audience, God is.
Now, in each of these devotions we see something that cannot be dismissed. Jesus said, “when.” Jesus didn’t say, “if.” Jesus expects us to give and show mercy, pray, and fast. He also gives us the instructions as to how it’s to be done. Don’t do it publically for others to see and praise you for it.
And that’s the whole point. We’re all on a stage and God is the one we’re playing to, not man.
If it’s for man, we can bluff our way through, but we can’t bluff God. We cannot deceive Him as we deceive others. Man looks on the outside, but God looks inside and sees our hearts, and therefore He sees our motivation.
So let’s do our devotions and works as unto God, and God who sees will reward. And the greatest reward is when we come before Him and hear, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.”