“The Audience of One” – Matthew 6 & 7
Epiphany 2 – January 15, 2017
E100 Intro & context
This week, or perhaps last week already, some of the small group home Bible Studies and the Sunday 10:00 group are going to be starting a new Bible reading program called E100. This program breaks down the message of the Bible into 100 essential Bible passages: 10 groups of 5 each in the Old Testament, and 10 groups of 5 each in the New Testament. By reading through these passages you can more easily discover the Big Idea and the Bible’s essential message and how it applies to your life. [If you haven’t already considered it or been asked to join one of those groups, it’s not too late… they’re just getting started.]
Since some 40 or more people from Hope are engaging in this discipline of Bible reading, and since there are other resources available from the publishers of these materials, I want to use some of those resources to begin an E100 sermon series. The dilemma that I faced as I considered this option is that each of the study groups will be dealing with 5 passages a week, and that would be entirely too big a chunk to deal with in one sermon – if I wanted to complement their readings with a Sunday message. Besides that, if I start where they will – in the Old Testament – my messages will be incongruent once we get to Palm Sunday and the Easter season.
So, I’m going to do the best I can right now to deal with some of those essential passages from the life and ministry of Jesus, trying to match them here and there with the various Bible readings that we normally use for the specific Sundays of the Church Year. Then, in about June, we’ll go back to the beginning, and deal with those essential Old Testament passages which give us the background to creation and to God’s dealings with His people, Israel, in Old Testament times. I’ve never done this before… so buckle your seatbelts, and let’s go for a ride through the Bible that will possibly last the better part of two years. I truly believe it will help glue God’s plan of salvation together in your mind and for your faith.
- Matthew 6 & 7 – The Sermon on the Mount
Today we’re going to start with a famous passage taken from Jesus’ teaching ministry. It’s called the Sermon on the Mount, and in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, it encompasses chapters 5 – 7, but today we’re going to limit our discussion to chapters 6 & 7.
You can tell Jesus didn’t go to seminary. If he did, he would have begun His sermon with a joke, covered three main points, and concluded with a poem. But Jesus was on a mission. He had three short years to cover everything that God wanted Him to communicate to the world. Then He faced the cross. So, He packed everything in a concise message.
- The Big Idea
Four or five years ago, I sat in on one of the professional development days for the teachers, and heard about the principle of considering: “What is the Big Idea that I’m trying to get across to my students in this lesson?” If you know what your goal is, then at the end of the class you could assess whether or not you were successful.
So what’s the Big Idea in Matthew 6 & 7? I think it could be stated in this one sentence: Seek first God, God’s kingdom, God’s righteousness, and all other things will find their proper place.
Keep that in mind as we flesh out some of the specific things that Jesus said.
- The Audience of One
In his book The Call, Os Guinness describes a concept that he refers to as the “Audience of One.”
He tells the story of Andrew Carnegie’s return to his home town of Dunfermline, Scotland, after achieving fame and a fortune as America’s “King of Steel.” His mother, Margaret, accompanied him on the journey across the Atlantic from New York, through England, north to Scotland, ultimately rolling into Dunfermline in a coach pulled by four horses at 4:00 P.M. on July 27, 1881. There was some pomp and ceremony and even an official parade as the townspeople welcomed home their famous son. Margaret had ridden on top of the coach most of the way but then asked to sit inside so she could weep freely but unseen on the day of her triumph. Years before, while the family was living in poverty in Pittsburgh, Carnegie promised his mother: “Someday I’ll be rich and we’ll ride in a fine coach driven by four horses.” His mother snorted, “That will do no good over here, if no one in Dunfermline can see us.”
That was the moment when young Andrew promised to make a grand entry into Dunfermline, and the whole town would witness it. For his mother’s sake, he would “show them.” A Pittsburgh audience would not be enough. He had to prove the family’s success before his hometown audience. The 1881 coach ride was to display his personal pride and egotism to the people that mattered to his mother.
Guinness contrasts this desire to “show them,” this need to somehow gain the approval of some audience or other with a life lived before one audience only… the Audience of One… God!
We seem to go through life trying to gain the approval of one person or another – our parents, our teachers, our employers, our sports team-mates, and it sure feels good when you get that pat on the back for making a good grade, for making a good shot, or for making a good sale. So many people live to gain the approval of those audiences.
When God calls us, behind the voice of God is the eye, behind the eye is the face, behind the face is the heart. To follow the call of God, to follow in discipleship of Jesus is, therefore, to live before the very heart of God. It means that we shift our awareness of audiences to the point where only one audience counts – God. We’re not living our lives to impress others, to be better than others, or even just to build up ourselves, our sense of ego.
Many famous people struggled with this concept. The musical genius Mozart wrote in a letter to his father: “I am never in a good humor when I am in a town where I am quite unknown.”
German screen goddess Marlene Dietrich issued recordings of her cabaret ovations – two sides of nothing but applause, and she could identify the city as she plays those ovations to her friends.
In contrast to gaining the approval of others, or playing to one audience or another, the way Jesus said it in Matthew 6 is: Seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.
Christ-centered heroism, in fact just Christ-centered living does not need to be noticed by others or publicized to others. The greatest deeds are done before the Audience of One, and that is enough. According to Jesus, it’s what God thinks of us that matters, not what others think. So, it’s not just coincidence that four times in Matthew 6 Jesus refers to “your Father.” Whether he was talking about prayer or fasting or giving or any other subject, the point is we are to do ALL things with our heavenly Father in mind… our Audience of One.
- Spiritual Pitfalls:
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus identified several spiritual pitfalls, most of which directly contradicted the concept of the Audience of One.
- Praying to the gallery
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase playing to the gallery. It means to behave in a way intended to make people admire or support you. (Think Andrew Carnegie.)
The first spiritual pitfall that Jesus identified could be called “praying to the gallery.” That means praying for show, praying to impress others. This is what Jesus said: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men… And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words… And when you fast, do not look somber… to show men [you] are fasting.”
That’s praying to the gallery, praying so that people can admire your eloquent words and conclude that you must be a really holy person.
In contrast, and with an “Audience of One” mindset, Jesus counsels “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen… Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” We are not to parade our spirituality before others, we are to practice it before God.
- Trying to serve two masters
A second spiritual pitfall is trying to serve two masters. Jesus leads up to that statement by saying: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” He does this to illustrate how transitory “things” are. They can be destroyed, they can be stolen, they can wear out. Jesus adds, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If you treasure things, if you treasure treasure, those things will capture your heart, and in essence become your God.
Then Jesus makes it painfully clear: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” This spiritual pitfall is worshiping and serving created things rather than the creator.
- Worrying instead of seeking
The next pitfall Jesus addresses is worry. How many of us are worry warts? We worry about our jobs, or we worry about our grades at school, we worry about our kids, or we worry that we can’t seem to have kids, we worry about making our money last until the end of the month, we worry about finding the right person to marry, then when we are married we worry about what might have happened when our spouse doesn’t come home at the time we had expected, we worry about the test results the doctor is going to tell us about tomorrow. We even worry that we don’t have enough things to worry about!! Life is complicated… worry helps… NOT!!
Have a look at these quotes about the meaninglessness of worry (slides).
Jesus doesn’t talk about the complicated things of life that we worry about. He talks about the simple things, the basics – food and drink, and clothes. He says God provides food for the birds of the air and He beautifully dresses the lilies of the field. If that’s how He takes care of the birds and the flowers, Jesus concludes, He will surely take care of you.
And then He tells us that our seeking is facing the wrong direction. Instead of seeking the things of earth, Jesus directs us to seek God, and His Kingdom, and His righteousness. Like the advice not to serve two masters, this statement is First Commandment stuff: “You shall have no other gods!” You shall not have money as your god. Neither shall you have earthly things as your god – food, drink, clothes, home, car. Seek God’s things first and foremost… think Audience of One again. Then you will find that those other things just fall into place, because God provides for His people. This is the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message version of the Bible: “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”
- Unfair judging
A fourth pitfall that Jesus identifies is unfair judging. He says it in a pretty straightforward way: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Then He adds that you will even be judged in the same way, with the same measure, as you judge others.
It’s easy to judge others with pride, considering ourselves better than them in some way – character, morals, appearance, social interaction, business acumen, spiritual maturity. The illustration that Jesus uses is that of seeing a little sin in your brother’s life while at the same time you have a big sin. As a former carpenter, He uses a carpenter’s analogy… seeing a speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye while you have a 2X4 plank in your eye.
Instead of judging others (which, ultimately, is God’s role), we are called on to treat others with grace – walking a mile in their shoes before we issue any scathing critiques of their words or actions, treating others as you would like to be treated (which are the next words out of Jesus’ mouth), and forgiving someone freely and completely when they have sinned.
- Being deceived by false prophets
The fifth pitfall in the Sermon on the Mount is being deceived by false prophets. On the news this week has been the abundance of false news stories – that is, stories that make the news that have no basis in fact or truth. That was an election issue in the U.S. a couple of months ago. Whose “news” did you believe about whom?
My friend, Cam, sent me an e-mail this week from the journal Scientific American. It read: “subjects were given fake newspaper articles that confirmed widespread misconceptions, such as that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When subjects were then given a corrective article that WMD were never found, liberals who opposed the war accepted the new article and rejected the old, whereas conservatives who supported the war did the opposite … and more: they reported being even more convinced there were WMD after the correction, arguing that this only proved that Saddam Hussein hid or destroyed them.” So, people believe what they want to believe. When corrective facts are provided, it only seems to deepen their already held beliefs rather than change their opinion.
Not everybody who claims to know God or speak for God does. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then He adds, “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.’”
I noticed a website this week that purported that everyone has a spirit animal that conveys their wild soul, and Scholastic Books even sells this idea to school children. Where did that idea / teaching come from?
Jesus said, “A good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit… By their fruit you will know them.” It is up to us to know the truth, and the benchmark for us is the truth of God’s Word. That’s why I’m so encouraged by all of you who are making it a priority to study God’s Word together, so that you can know the truth.
- Building a weak foundation
The last pitfall Jesus identifies is building a weak foundation for our lives. He paints the picture of a man who built his house on sand, and when the winds and rains came that house fell with a great crash. OK, I said that Jesus was a carpenter, but this was not really about house construction. If was about building a solid foundation for your life. If your life has no firm foundation on truth, then when the storms of life come – sickness, job loss, divorce, poverty, death – you have nothing solid on which to stand.
Jesus contrasted that image with the one of a man who built his house on the rock. When the winds and rains came, it stood the test because it had a solid foundation. Jesus is the rock on which to build our lives. When we do build our lives on Jesus, no storms of life will destroy us.
Let me remind you of what I said last Sunday… from Romans 8: “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- Spiritual Certainty… the love of God
The love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord… that’s the truth that will not deceive you, and on which you can rely; that’s the kingdom to seek first and foremost, the kingdom that dispels worry; God… the Audience of One for whom you live, and to whom you direct your fasting and your prayers.
Jesus Christ our Lord… He’s the rock on which to build your life; He is the one master to serve; the one who has judged you according to His grace, freely and fully forgiving your sins by His death on the cross so that when the final Judgment Day comes, your Father will look at you with love, call your name and invite you into His kingdom. Amen.