In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave some of the most beautiful truths every spoken or written. Each statement has infinite worth, and yet everything He says in His sermon hangs together like a beautiful golden chain. It helps to look at each part in depth. It also helps to see the beauty of His Sermon in light of how all of the ideas work together to cast a broader vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus stated with the qualities that belong to a true disciple. The deep humility of those who are poor in spirit is key…it is the beginning of a life of repentant obedience and utter devotion to the Lord. Jesus promised that He would bless it. Everyone who lays down their right to build their own kingdom in this world for the sake of Christ will be given the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus went on to warn His listeners to give up the false piety of their religious leaders. He stripped away their corrupt interpretations of the holy Law of God. Then He re-explained the ways of God’s Kingdom with all the purity and exalted goodness they deserve.
After setting the record straight, Jesus began to talk about how His disciples were to change the whole focus of their lives so that every part of their time on earth was focused on the Kingdom. First, He gave His listeners a prayer that shows the right, pure way to talk with the Lord. Then He began His teaching about the right way to fast.
Fasting was yet another way the religious leaders of Christ’s time had set a bad example. The Jews would make a big deal about how spiritual they were because they were choosing not to eat. They would go about their day with very sad, hungry faces so that everyone would know they were fasting. It was a way of bragging about how pious and godly they were. They didn’t fast out of a love for God. They did it for their own glory. What a disgusting betrayal.
Fasting is meant to be a way to come before God with singular devotion. It is supposed to be a special time set apart so that our whole heart is focused on our pursuit of God. It is meant to be a pouring out of absolute appeal to His will. That is a beautiful thing.
Jesus said that the right way to fast was in secret. He said that when a sincere disciple fasted, they would wash their face and put oil on their head so they would look shiny and clean and cheerful. That way, only God would know about their offering, and it would insure that their motives were pure. Jesus promised that God would see it, and there would be great reward.
Once again, let’s think about how amazing that is. God, who sits on His throne in Heaven and keeps the stars blazing, is looking down on you. He enjoys the offerings of devotion you give Him. Wow. Why should we care if anybody else knows? We have the audience of God!
But you know what? Often we do. We are sinful, and we often value the things of this world that we can see more than we value the Magnificent One that we can’t see…yet!
When Jesus taught about how to please God, the first thing He talked about was giving to the needy. The next two things that please the Lord are prayer and fasting. It is interesting that He didn’t say “if” you pray and fast. He said “when” you pray and fast. These were the critical things for the citizens of God’s Kingdom to do. It is a way for the subjects of the Great King to join His powerful work in the world! That is the kind of righteous shining out that God looks for and rewards. But when we seek to shine for our own glory and honor, we deserve the only reward we will receive: the empty praise of the fickle crowd.