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The Greatest Show on Earth

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
April 17, 2023 12:00 am

The Greatest Show on Earth

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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April 17, 2023 12:00 am

The religions of the world are preoccupied with performance. Prayer, rituals, works, and traditions give people a false sense of righteousness. And this is not a new phenomenon; in fact, Jesus confronted the same themes 2,000 years ago. The Pharisees were the masters of seeming righteous, they performed in all the right ways, but their hearts were far from God. As Jesus calls them out for their hypocrisy, we can glean a valuable reminder about what true worship—and what truly living for Christ—is all about.


With these disciples, with everything we've just studied, which leads us to this account in Luke's Gospel at chapter 11, and we now come to the same place the disciples come, and we say the same thing the disciples say, Lord, teach us to pray. Because the truth is, we don't know how. We're muddled up with misconceptions. We're diminished by our sin nature.

We're more focused on our words than His hand. The religions of the world are preoccupied with performance. Prayer, rituals, works, and traditions give people a sense of false righteousness.

And this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, Jesus confronted the same things 2,000 years ago. The Pharisees were masters of seeming righteous, but their hearts were far from God. As Jesus calls them out for their hypocrisy, we can glean a valuable reminder about what true worship and truly living for Christ is all about.

Stephen called this message the greatest show on earth. Religion worldwide is quite a show. It has more money, more pageantry, more clowns, never ending supply of actors and costumes. The truth of the matter is that we are all originally part of the circus. Because of our fallen sinful nature, when we're born we're automatically given free tickets, not to see the show, but to be part of it. It wasn't long before our original parents, Adam and Eve, started putting on a religious show.

In fact, the first religious costumes were made by them out of fig leaves so they could pretend that everything was all right with God. And from Adam and Eve to this day, religious activity has been the longest running, greatest show on earth. Now to set the stage for what Luke records next as we work our way through this gospel account, I want us to listen in as Jesus invites everyone in his audience to get off the train and to get real and sincere in their religious activity.

Now Matthew's gospel gives us the most information to set up the scene for us, so I want you to take your copy of the New Testament and turn to Matthew chapter 6. While you're turning, I want to tell you that by the time Jesus arrives on the scene, Judaism has developed into a three-ring circus. In fact, it's interesting to me to discover that in my study as I read that the rabbis were teaching that there were three primary spiritual activities or religious activities that had really become a three-ring circus in many ways. They were called by the rabbis three pillars of good living. In other words, if you wanted to be a good religious person, you got involved in these three activities, and of course it had all gotten messed up by the time Jesus stepped into the scene.

He's going to address these activities head on. Matthew chapter 6 and verse 1, beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. One author paraphrased it this way, don't try to demonstrate how good you are in the presence of others in order to be seen by them.

If you do, you'll have no reward from your Heavenly Father. Now in this opening verse, the key word you might notice is a verb translated to be seen. It's going to appear several times.

You might circle them in your text as I have. It's the verb theophani. It gives us our word theater.

It's the same word for theatrics. Jesus is effectively saying, don't become an actor here. Don't put your piety on stage. There's nothing wrong, by the way, as he'll address these three with giving money, fasting, and praying.

Just don't turn it into a production. Don't put on a religious show. The critical issue isn't that people see you, but that God sees you. God is your audience.

The question is, is he enough? In the world of religion, he isn't. And that's because they're not doing it for God anyway, but for others. There's another clue here to help us understand where Jesus is going. It's the word hypocrite. It's going to appear again three times, verse two, verse five, and verse 16.

You might circle them. The Greek word is hypocrites, which we transliterate to give us our word hypocrite. Hypocrites originally referred to an actor who wore a mask during a performance. We use that icon today in theater. It's the frowning face.

It's the smiling face. Jesus is pulling the mask off religious actors. Verse two, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you as the hypocrites do. Look down at verse five. When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, hypocrites.

Look over at verse 16. And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. Do, they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. In other words, they got their costumes on. They're ready to give you a religious show like you've never seen before. So their piety becomes a demonstration of their pride. It's their pride on parade, even though they look pious. So what the Lord does here is he essentially deconstructs everything the disciples had known, had been raised to observe. Everything they understood about fasting and praying and giving, everything had become a show.

He's not going to break it down so that they understand what it's really all about. Let's go back to verse two and take a closer look as Jesus says here. When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you.

It's an interesting expression. No one, frankly, is certain what Jesus meant when he referred to sounding a trumpet. We have no evidence that the Pharisees or the religious leaders had their own trumpet players out there on the street so that whenever they gave money away, the band would strike up.

Interesting thought. Ed Hirschheim, an Old Testament scholar, probably is more than likely correct that this is figurative language because we know that in the temple there were horn-shaped receptacles along the wall in the court of the Gentiles into which people put their money. Made of brass, these receptacles were shaped like the flared end of a trumpet and they would attach, they'd cut it in half and they'd attach half of it to the wall. So you slid your money down that brass receptacle through a hole in the wall or perhaps into a bucket. And it made, of course, noise. It would echo around that courtyard every time somebody dropped a coin in.

They were effectively sounding the trumpet. Jesus refers over in Mark's Gospel to people dropping in bags of money, lots of money. To put it in today's economy, imagine you want to give $100 and you're living back then and we have the same currency just for the sake of illustration. You could either slip in two $50 bills and it would just sort of slide in noiselessly. Or you could convert that into 400 quarters. That'd be a lot more fun, wouldn't it? I mean, you could just stand there with your bag and you could just make all kinds of noise and just sort of wave as you're putting those quarters in and people are oohing it high.

Wow, do you hear that? Dropping the trumpet. We have an expression in English taken from this original context. We call it tooting your own horn.

Don't toot your own horn, basically. Now, there's nothing wrong to be recognized for giving, but if you gave in order to be recognized to get your name on that brick, they may be put in the lobby and that's why you gave. Look at my name. There it is in that brick.

Well, Jesus says in verse 2, the latter part, truly I say they have received their reward. The attention, the applause, that brick. Enjoy that brick. That's all you get. Go into that lobby, take a selfie, take a photograph. There's the brick. My name. That's it.

Make sure you enjoy it. See, the statement by the Lord again is getting behind the mask. He's asking, why did you give that? What's the incentive behind your investment? I wonder how many people today, people of it in our culture, are giving to charities, to the church.

Their internal motive that moves them is a tax advantage at the end of the year. There's nothing wrong with deducting your donations for tax purposes. I'm all for paying Caesar not one dime more than I have to. But if you're giving primarily because you want that tax receipt, at the end of the year, Jesus would say that tax receipt is your reward. Enjoy your deduction.

That's it. I have wondered at times what would happen when charitable giving is no longer tax deductible. Would it change what you give, what I give? Now in verse 5, Jesus introduces the second pillar, according to Jewish teaching, the pillar of spiritual activity known as praying. Luke only references this. We're dealing here with Matthew to get a running start.

Notice what he says in verse 5. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and the street corners that they might be seen. There's that word, theater.

They might put on a little theater by others. Again, don't misunderstand. There's nothing wrong with praying in public. Jesus did. Nothing wrong with praying in synagogues. Jesus did. Nothing wrong with praying at intersections. Like he says here, I've prayed many times at intersections. Lord, change that light to green. I'm late. I don't know if he answers it, but he can turn the water into wine.

He can turn it red. Never mind. Now in the Lord's generation, there were set times for Jewish people to pray, 9 a.m., 12 noon, and 3 p.m. In addition to those times, they prayed for every conceivable thing. There were written prayers in connection with rain, fire, lightning, the sight of the sea, the use of new furniture. They had prayers for everything. That's actually a wonderful thing. It's intended to convey the idea that we bring God into everything in life. It's wonderful when prayer is this ongoing conversation. Lord, thank you for that couch. Thank you for that meal.

Oh, look at the sea. Thank you, Lord, for that. The problem is Jesus makes it clear they are praying to be seen in the text. In fact, they're timing their performances to bring them to the most public places when the call of prayer goes out at a downtown marketplace or at a busy intersection, which is where you can be seen in all four directions.

They just somehow end up there at 9 a.m. or 12 noon or 3 p.m. Sometimes they would time it, one historian writes, so that the call of prayer would coincide with them arriving at the top stair of the temple porch. And they'd be compelled to stop and turn and pray. And the maximum attention garnered from that location, maximum visibility, and the people again would say, man, are they spiritual or what?

It was just acting. Jesus says here in verse 5, truly I say to you, they had their reward. They had everybody's attention but one person, the Lord. Again, there's nothing wrong with praying in front of a congregation or a Bible study group.

The problem isn't your location, it's your motivation. Are we trying to impress somebody with eloquence, vocabulary? Now let's admit we all struggle with that.

You're in a group, you're in a circle, and you're number three. You're spending the first two prayers figuring out how you're going to start yours. You don't want to fumble.

You want to know how to do it right. But this passage is about to remind us that Jesus is not impressed with vocabulary, he's impressed with authenticity. He's not going to teach us some kind of formality. He's actually going to lead us into simplicity, authenticity. By the way, don't overlook the fact, especially if you're older in the faith, you already know, you're already ahead of me, you've got to slow down here.

But you already know that he's going to teach a prayer that will take less than 20 seconds to pray. Notice down here verse 16, here's the third pillar, fasting. And when you fast, do not look gloomy.

You could translate that, don't put on a gloomy face, like the hypocrites. For they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. The Pharisees were known to rub ashes into their cheeks so that it would look like, you know, they're pale and they've been praying and they're hungry.

They wouldn't comb their hair. They wouldn't change their clothing to give the appearance in their little theater that they've been so wrapped up in communing with God. Fasting was a way to focus your attention on the Lord and for the Jewish nation it was observed once a year during the Day of Atonement. But by the time of Christ, the religious leaders had decided that once a year wasn't spiritual enough, so they decided to do it twice a week. If you read a Bible customs book, you'll discover that there were two days reserved for shopping in the marketplace. Two days where people crowded into the city, into the town to barter and buy and sell. And those two market days were Mondays and Thursdays. And is it any surprise to discover the religious leaders had chosen to fast on Mondays and Thursdays? The greatest show on earth needs the greatest number of spectators. And again, the phrase appears here in verse 16 that their fasting might be seen by others.

It's a Broadway production. Fasting was to focus attention on God and they had turned it into a way to get attention focused on themselves. And once again, Jesus says here at the end of verse 16, truly I say to you, they got their reward.

That's it. They wanted people's attention, compliments, that's their reward. You might be thinking about now, wow, I am so glad I'm not a Pharisee. Have you ever fasted and were disappointed nobody noticed you were skipping lunch? Have you ever given money to God and made sure somebody knew about it? Have you ever began a discipline in prayer and made sure you communicated your discipline?

Have you ever been used by God and you can't wait to spread the news? As Spurgeon wrote over a hundred years ago in the church, we can't kill a mouse without publishing the news. The truth is we have more Pharisee in us than we can see in us. There's more Pharisee in us than we can see in us. We find it nearly impossible to keep our spiritual disciplines a secret.

It's just no fun if you can't turn your piety into a parade. But God observes, the question is, is he audience enough? Now with that, Jesus becomes even more specific about telling us how not to pray. Luke doesn't include it.

I want to cover it. So go back to verse seven. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases.

Your translation might read meaningless repetition. As the Gentiles do. Unbelievers do that.

The pagans do that. For they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. Now in this very brief statement, Jesus exposes three misconceptions that we struggle with to this day.

Here's misconception number one. The more often you repeat your prayer, the more likely God will hear you. Notice again verse seven. And when you pray, do not use meaningless repetition or empty phrases. Again, there's nothing wrong, by the way, with praying the same prayer request over and over again.

Jesus did that in the Garden of Gethsemane. But for him, it wasn't meaningless. It was meaningful.

This was the great burden on his heart. The Greek word for empty phrases or meaningless repetition literally means to babble. Just to sort of run off. To have your mouth in motion and your mind in neutral. To do a rote prayer, which even the disciples' prayer can become. Just kind of spit it out.

How quickly can we say it? God is not begrudging. God is not distracted. God doesn't just answer the squeaky wheel. God is unlike us.

In fact, Jesus is going to revolutionize the whole idea by that first word that you already know. Father. Father. He's not tuned out, but he heard your first word the first time. He's always listening. You know, my wife can ask me to do something to help out, and I immediately respond. Oh, excuse me.

Wait a second. I'm looking at her. I hear her. I see her mouth moving, but I'm not listening. That's one of the things she loves about me. Any other men like that out here?

Ladies, raise your hands, would you? You know, it's a misconception of prayer to think that God's like that. Maybe he'll really listen if I repeat it ten times.

The second misconception is this. The longer you pray, the more likely God will pay attention. Again, notice what Jesus says here in verse seven. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, and believers do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them. See, during the days of Christ, it was a popular view even among the Gentiles that many words, long prayers, would eventually tire out their gods.

They'd just wear them down until they finally say, enough, okay, you can have it. It was their idea of their gods. The rabbis were teaching in Jesus' day.

Let me quote a couple of them for you, going back to his generation. One rabbi taught, whoever is long in prayer is heard by God. Another, whenever the righteous make their prayer long, their prayer is heard. There's nothing wrong with a long prayer, but you can pray an effective short one. Like Peter who walked on the water, starts to sink, and prays a very effective prayer.

Lord, what? Save me. Jesus didn't say, no, no, no, no, start with our Father who art in heaven. See, when you bow your head, God is not pulling out a stopwatch. If you make it to 10 minutes, he'll answer you. If you make it to 30, he'll back the truck up and you get everything.

An hour, you're good. We think like that. The world of religion thinks like that.

That leads me to the third misconception. The more details you provide, the more likely God will know what you need. Now, I know we would all say, look, Stephen, we're theologically more aware than that.

You don't need to tell us that. But do we really get it? Jesus says here, don't be like them, verse 8, for your Father knows what you need before.

Circle that word before you ask him. So pouring out the details of prayer is more for our benefit than his. It's a way for us to verbalize our request, to hold our requests accountable to the word, to hear what we're saying, to hear what's coming from our heart, to communicate those needs, those desires, those details which our Father loves to hear. Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has ever occurred to God, that God has never learned one thing?

He's always known. Jesus is reminding us that our Heavenly Father never needs reminding. Prayer is a reminder to us that he will give us what we truly need, and that in the end, he is everything we truly need. So is it any wonder then to come to this same point now in the Gospel account with these disciples, with everything we've just studied, which really is just an introduction, but it leads us to this account in Luke's Gospel at chapter 11, and we now come to the same place the disciples come, and we say the same thing the disciples say, Lord, teach us to pray. Because the truth is we don't know how. We're muddled up with misconceptions.

We're diminished by our sin nature. We're more focused on our words than his hand. They come to him and they watch him first, chapter 11, verse 11. They watched him praying in a certain place.

Finally, one of them, we're not told which one, says, you've got to teach us how you do that. Because we've grown up, we've been surrounded by prayers about everything, and you're doing it differently. Teach us how you pray. That was a message called The Greatest Show on Earth here on Wisdom for the Heart.

Stephen Davey is the pastor of the Shepherd's Church in Cary, North Carolina. Jesus has power over death. The exciting news is that Jesus offers his resurrection power to you. Stephen's resource, called Resurrection Power, will deepen your appreciation for what Jesus has done for you in offering you eternal life. Receive a free copy of this resource today at forward slash resurrection. And join us next time on Wisdom for the Hearts.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-17 00:12:00 / 2023-04-17 00:20:59 / 9

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