Secret Religion – Prayer

 

SECRET RELIGION – PRAYER by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

secretreligion_prayerIntroduction: Today we’re in the second message in our series – “SECRET RELIGION.” Again, Jesus calls us to be the salt and light of the world but He warns us not to do it for public praise but for the praise of our Heavenly Father who sees in secret.

Matthew 6   5 “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. 6 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.

Overall Background: In the passage we just read, once again, Jesus is taking the hypocrites to task. Just like in the previous passage where some people gave charity in order to be applauded by others, these people prayed in order to be admired by others. For e.g. Growing up we knew a man who made long prayers but it was all a show. He wanted people to flock around him and call him spiritual. Listen to what Jesus says – “For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.” In reality, these hypocrites were not praying to the Almighty but they were praying to their audience. What is the result? “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” Meaning: some gullible people may love these prayers but God sees the heart. He knows the real intent and He refuses to answer all such prayers.

Listen carefully – Prayer is vital to our daily life. Prayer is central to our Christian life. Prayer is essential to everything that happens in this life. But, prayer that is misused and prayer that is misdirected is artificial before people and remains unanswered by God.

Question: Do you pray? Do you pray for show? Do you pretend to be more spiritual than you really are? Are your prayers going unanswered? Are you saved? Someone may say – “That’s right – God doesn’t hear the prayer of the unsaved.” Not true. Psalm 65:2 “O You who hear prayer, To You all flesh will come.” If a homeless child says, “I’m hungry,” will I say, “No. You’re not my child?” Of course not! But there’s a big difference in what I would do for my child. If he needed my heart, I would give it to him. God answers the prayer of everyone but that doesn’t mean that everyone is a child of God. If you’re lost, the first prayer He is longing to hear from you is the sinner’s prayer.

Today, we will learn 3 things from this passage about Secret Religion and Prayer:

I. THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUE PRAYER 

5 “And when you pray…”

Background: Again, it is important to remember that Jesus did not say “if you pray” but “when you pray.” God expects us to pray to Him daily. Prayer, by definition is a daily conversation with God. It’s a daily dialogue with God in which we ask Him and receive from Him. Prayer has been around since the beginning of time.

  • Adam and Eve prayed everyday. It was a little different than our prayer today where Adam and Eve actually saw and felt God’s presence. We’re not sure if it was the actual presence in a human form or a strong whirlwind. Either way, God talked to them. (Genesis 3:8)
  • Abraham prayed overlooking Sodom and interceded for His nephew Lot. “God, would you destroy the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50, 45, 40, 30, 20, and 10?” (Genesis 18)

———-I don’t have time to go through every example in the Old Testament———-

  • Moses The Bible says – “the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)
  • Hannah was “in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish.” (I Samuel 1:10)
  • David prayed and many of his prayers are recorded in the psalms. One of the famous ones is Psalm 51, his prayer of repentance. Listen to verse 10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Wow!

———-For time’s sake, let’s jump over to the New Testament————-

  • Jesus Mark 1:35 says, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary
    Cave of Eremos

    Cave of Eremos, Mount of Beatitudes (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

    place; and there He prayed.” We went up the Mount of Beatitudes to film for the video and there was a cave on the side of the hill known as “Eremos cave” which is considered the place where Jesus often prayed on the mountainside.

  • Paul

————–I can go on and on—————-

The point is this – prayer is extremely important in the Christian life.

Jonathan Edwards said, “Prayer is as natural an expression of faith, as breathing is of life; and to say a man lives a life of faith, and yet lives a prayerless life, is every bit as inconsistent and incredible, as to say, that a man lives without breathing…he that lives a prayerless life, lives without God in the world.

Application: Is prayer important to you? Do you complain rather than pray? Do you make decisions and then pray or do you pray before you make any decisions?

II. THE DISTORTION OF TRUE PRAYER

5 “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,

Background: To understand this passage, we have to understand a little bit of the historical context. After the Jewish people had returned from their exile, they were serious about religion. So, the priests and the scribes created this elaborate ritual of prayer and liturgy. For example, the Daily Prayer was a list of petitions. Each of them opened with the statement “Blessed are You, O Lord” and ended with the statement “The whole world is full of His mercy.” All these petitions became standardized, even before the coming of Jesus, into 18 petitions known as “Shemoneh Esreh.” The first 3 expressed praise, the next 13 expressed requests (6 personal, 6 communal, and 1 that God would accept the requests), and the last 3 were thanksgiving. 3+13+3 =19. One more was added for the Jewish people of Babylon. You had to pray this prayer standing up. Hence, the daily prayer is also called “Amidah.” You had to pray facing the “Aron Kodesh,” the ark that houses the Torah scrolls. Observant Jewish people begin by taking 3 steps backwards and then 3 steps forwards. The steps backwards symbolize moving away from the material world and the steps forwards symbolize approaching the King of Kings. During the prayer there is a certain way of bowing – Baruckh Atha Adonai. Make sure to come back up when you say Adonai. Then when you say Kadosh, you have to get on your tippy toes about 3 times, with each time rising a little taller. Again, not everyone follows this. There are many variations. When it’s over, you bow to the left, then to the right, and then to the front and say – “He who makes peace in the heavens, may He make peace for us and all Israel, and let us say, Amen.” Then you had to do the same stuff after the prayer – take 3 steps backwards and 3 steps forwards.

How does this tie in with this passage? Listen again to what Jesus says, “For they love to pray standing in the synagogues…” Can you imagine Jesus watching this ritual with their tallit and tefillin and thinking, “What a show…You’ve lost the purpose of prayer. It has become a game as to who is more pious and who prays the loudest and who is more spiritual.” Then Jesus also adds, “For they love to pray…on the corners of the streets…” Jewish people were not expected to pray in the streets. What is happening here? They would be on their way to the synagogue and be running late. It was time for prayer and it must happen right now. So, they would stop in the street corner and start their Amidah. Many times they would be running late so they could stop at the street corner and put on their show. It was forbidden to interrupt praying the Amidah unless it was a safety issue or you had to go. It was forbidden to interrupt someone praying the Amidah. You can use your imagination how they would jab the listeners in their prayers – Looking at the shopkeepers – “God, we have sinned with greed!” Looking at the prostitute – “God, we have sinned with adultery.” Looking at the young people – “God, this generation is so foolish and immature and ungodly.” Jesus knew their hearts and confronted their hypocrisy. “You’ve lost the significance and seriousness of prayer. You are doing it for show. You are doing it to jab people. You have your reward. God will not answer your prayers.”

Having been to Israel twice, I’ve seen it many times. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that they are doing it for show or jab others. But it’s not what prayer was originally intended to be. Someone asked me – “Doesn’t that just inspire you? Don’t you want to do it too?” Not really…it amuses me. Listen to Paul in Colossians 2 16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Ever seen a child play with shadows? It’s not inspiring, just amusing! Colossians 2:23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 3   1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Application: Are you pretending to be more spiritual than you really are? Are you more interested in what people think than what God thinks of you? Are you really praying to your Father in heaven when you bow your head?

III. THE RESTORATION OF TRUE PRAYER 

6 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.

Background: Now, don’t misunderstand. Jesus was not saying, “Don’t pray in public.” In He prayed in public many times. What He was saying is – “Before you pray in public, make sure you’ve prayed in private.” Public prayer is like the edifice, the visible part of a building, and private prayer is the foundation. You don’t start building an edifice before you have dug the foundation. Before you can jab the rich man for bring greedy or the prostitute for being lewd or the young soldier for being violent or the person who did something wrong to you, have you prayed for them in private?

Don’t use your public prayer to pat your pride or to settle your personal score. Instead, handle those issues in private with God. In fact, here are some questions to consider: Have you prayed for that person before you spoke about them in public? Have you prayed for the person before you tore them to pieces before others? Have you been to the secret place?

Coming up in a month we will be having a 24-hour prayer vigil. We will set up a room for prayer and you will be able to sign up a 30 min slot for prayer for yourself, your family, your children, our church, our community, our nation, and our world.

Do you believe we need it? How about starting right now? Are you saved

Can You Handle the Truth About Jesus?

You can listen to this and other sermons online by clicking here.

CAN YOU HANDLE THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS? by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Can You Handle the Truth About JesusWe’re in our series on the life of Christ from all four gospels and today our message is titled, “CAN YOU HANDLE THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS?” When Jesus began His ministry, the first place He went to was His hometown. After all, He knew the place, the people, and the culture. What better place to begin than with your own?

Luke 4 16 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”…21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”…28 So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.

Overall Background: The passage we just read was very disturbing for me. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a sight where a mob of people has gone after one person. I have seen it many times and it is very ugly. I remember this one time I was coming home from a friend’s house and I saw this angry crowd of people. From what I could gather, they had caught a thief and they were letting him have it. Everyone who could was trying to slap, punch, or kick this guy. His clothes were torn and covered in dust. One of his eyes was swollen and his mouth was bleeding. I’m sure he was guilty but it was a horrible sight.

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Now imagine that person is Jesus. Listen again to verses 28 So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things…” It was fine that Jesus, the local boy had come home. They had heard that He was doing some wonderful things. He was at the synagogue on the Sabbath. They even let Him stand and read a passage from the Bible. All that was fine until Jesus claimed that He was the Messiah. At that point the whole mood changed. 28 (They) were filled with wrath, 29 and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Why were they so angry? Because Jesus had disturbed their perception of Himself. They were all right with Jesus the local boy coming home but they could not accept Jesus the Son of God who had come to save them.

Application: Many of us are comfortable with our personal idea of Jesus. Jesus the little baby in the manger – I can deal with that. Jesus blessing the little children picture hanging on the wall of the Sunday School room – that’s alright. Jesus helping the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and preaching to the multitude – that’s alright too. But Jesus, God’s Son, who came to save you – a hell bound sinner, condemned to die – I don’t know about that. Jesus – once He is my Savior, I have to make Him my king and I have to obey His every Word – that’s taking it way too far! We’re no different than that mob in Nazareth that wanted to push Jesus off a cliff. We also try to kill the truth about Jesus when it doesn’t suit us, when it’s too costly, when we have to give up something.

The problem is – we want a Jesus we can manage, not a Jesus who manages us. As we walk through this message, ask yourself “Can you handle the truth about Jesus?” – Would you have pushed Jesus off the cliff? 5 reactions we will see in this passage:

 I. INDIFFERENCE

16 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up.

Background: According to Luke, the first place Jesus went to when He began His ministry was his own hometown. Now let me clarify something – If you read Matthew and Mark, they bring up this episode somewhat later – Matthew 13 and Mark 6. Scholars have argued over who is correct and who is not and sometimes those on the outside have used that against us – “Oh, your Bible has obvious mistakes.” As I mentioned to you last week, when you study the life of Jesus systematically, the hardest thing to keep straight is the chronology – calendar of His life – when did He start His ministry, what did He do first, how long was He there, where did He go next, and so on. It’s easy when you are looking at just one gospel but when you put all four (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) side by side it quickly becomes complicated. Keep in mind that Luke is like a newspaper editor. He puts the headline right on the front page. This does not mean that it was the first incident of the week but it’s the highlight or the main topic of what’s coming up.

I used to ask God – “Why didn’t you make things more plain in Your Word?” “Why did You allow these questionable, debatable, grey areas?” “Why not just give a calendar of Jesus’ life?” God showed me a verse in Proverbs 25:2 “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” Let me illustrate – think about our Easter Egg Hunt – Why don’t we just give the eggs with candy to the kids? Why do we parents and adults hide them? Because its fun to watch them look for them! So also God wants us to dig into His Word. It brings Him great joy to see His children search after and discover the truths in His Word. That’s called Bible Study. It is very unique! No other religion has it. You’ll never hear of a Quran Study or Gita Study or Lotus Sutra Study. They may have readings but nothing like our Bible studies.

Either way, it was somewhere in the early part of his ministry that Jesus decided to go to his own hometown of Nazareth. But did you notice – nothing is said about their reaction to His coming. They neither restrict Him from coming nor did they send out a welcome wagon. In other words, they didn’t care. That’s how many people are – they are indifferent to Jesus. It doesn’t really matter. Jesus is not the most pressing issue on their minds. They have career, relationships, sports, hobbies, and entertainment on their minds. They don’t lose any sleep over Jesus.

Application: May I ask you? Are you indifferent to Jesus? Is He a priority to you? Sadly, the more familiar you are to Him, the less you think of Him. People like that care a lot about church, denominations, and values, just not Jesus. Here’s a test – how much do you read His Word? How much do you talk to Him? How much do you obey His voice?

II. CURIOUSITY 

16 …And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day,

Ancient Village of Nazareth

Ancient Village of Nazareth (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Background: Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his εἰωθὸς = habit. For us Christians – he went to church on Sunday. I often hear “you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” May I ask you – “If Jesus gathered regularly with God’s people, are you better than Him?” Just like baptism He laid out a pattern for us to follow.

Listen to what happens next“…and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”

Those verses are from Isaiah 61 and 58. Isaiah 61 was the message of God’s deliverance to the exiles. They were about the year of Jubilee when debts were cancelled and slaves were set free. Isaiah 58 was God’s rebuke against those who were being cruel towards those in need. Again, in the year of Jubilee if people did not set the captives free, God would not accept their fast and sacrifices. Hint! Hint! The Messiah had come to set the cancel the debts, set the captives free, and where Israel failed, He would do right.

20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. They still did not run up and hug Him or worship Him. They were intrigued and fascinated by Him. They were just checking Him out.

Application: There are a lot of people out there who are just intrigued by Jesus. They are just curious about Him. Let me ask you a question: Are you just fascinated with Jesus? That’s wonderful but that still does not mean that He is your Savior?

III. CONDESCENSION 

21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.

Grotto of St. Joseph, Nazareth

Grotto of St. Joseph, Nazareth (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Background: Now Jesus went a step further and claimed Isaiah 61 and 58 for Himself. This was the moment of truth. Their initial reaction was one of amazement but when those words sank in, they realized what He was really saying. They were the POOR, BROKENHEARTED, CAPTIVES, BLIND, and OPPRESSED in sin. Now listen to their response: “And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” There is a tone of derision and disdain in that statement. Isn’t He that illegitimate boy whom Joseph adopted? They were being condescending to Him. They were talking down to Him. They were insulting Him to His face. WOW!

When the Holy Spirit begins to convict our hearts, it can go one of two ways – either receive the words with humility or reject the words with some excuse.

Application: How do you receive the truth about Jesus? Are you humble? Are you willing? Are you arrogant? Are you looking for some excuse? Do you look down on the presenter? Does this church offend you? Does this pastor offend you?

IV. ANGER

Luke 4 23 He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’ ” 24 Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.

Background: Seeing the hardness of their heart, Jesus lays out their future. It will only become worse. One day some of them will stand at the foot of the cross and mock Jesus.

Every time you reject the Holy Spirit, your heart is hardened and your destiny is sealed.

But Jesus goes on tells them something else25 But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26 but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

Meaning: You look down on the Gentiles. Guess what – they will come to know the truth but you won’t. Show me a person who looks down on someone because of their skin color or background, it’s just an evidence of a deeper problem.

28 So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.

Application: How do you respond to the truth? Do you receive it with humility? Do you receive it with joy? What emotions rise up when you hear about Jesus?

V. REJECTION

30 Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way.

One of the saddest verses in the Bible.

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,

Hear my humble cry;

While on others Thou art calling,

Do not pass me by.

Refrain

Savior, Savior,

Hear my humble cry;

While on others Thou art calling,

Do not pass me by.

Let me at Thy throne of mercy

Find a sweet relief,

Kneeling there in deep contrition;

Help my unbelief.

Refrain

Trusting only in Thy merit,

Would I seek Thy face;

Heal my wounded, broken spirit,

Save me by Thy grace.

Refrain

Thou the Spring of all my comfort,

More than life to me,

Whom have I on earth beside Thee?

Whom in Heav’n but Thee?

 

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