Prayer in the Kingdom

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Isaiah 61 ESV
1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 5 Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; 6 but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. 7 Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy. 8 For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.
Matthew 7:7–12 NASB95
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! 12 “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

A True Way to Be Human

Alright, let’s back up. What has Jesus been doing in this sermon?
He was baptized, tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he began his public ministry and began preaching a gospel of the kingdom of heaven, he gathers his disciples, starts healing people, which draws big crowds, and when he sees the big crowds, he dishes out this incredible sermon.
And what are some key features of this sermon?
First of all I love how it starts. “And he opened his mouth and taught them
This unique way of beginning a sermon is fitting for a God who breathed life into mankind at their original creation.
And that is in a way what Jesus is doing with the sermon on the mount. He is breathing new life into mankind by giving a description and foundation of what life in the kingdom looks like. What life for Kingdom followers entails.
1. He instructed Israel in their covenant purpose as salt and light, a true blessing to the world
2. He explained how the law is to be fulfilled in Him and then expounded on
3. Murder and how to be reconciled to a brother or sister
4. Adultery and escape from lust
5. Divorce and marital faithfulness
6. Oath breaking and basic truthfulness
7. Being persecuted and how to love an enemy
8. Honoring God with wealth
9. Prayer
10. Fasting
11. Money
12. Anxiety
13. Using good judgement
All the good gifts!
As one commentator puts it:
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (c. Source and Means of Power (7:7–11))
So here: the Sermon on the Mount lays down the righteousness, sincerity, humility, purity, and love expected of Jesus’ followers; and now it assures them such gifts are theirs if sought through prayer

A Simple Command

If we put ourselves in the shoes of a man or woman sitting and listening to Jesus’ sermon, there might be a thought of,
“Jesus, this sounds great, but I struggle. I struggle to obey, and I struggle to live these things out.”
Jesus, who knows our weaknesses, hits us with this next part of His sermon.
Matthew 7:7–8 LEB
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
These three words are imperatives in the text, or commands. The way they are communicated in the Greek, what we miss in the English text, is that Jesus is in a sense saying, “All of you, ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking.
Why do you think God works this way?
Is he a Father who just likes to exasperate His children by forcing them to nag him to get their way?
Rather than incessant pestering or whining, what the Father is looking for here is children that have their eyes fixed on him. Who know what His character is like, and who ask for the things they KNOW he will give them, but politely, and with respect.
Even my two year old is starting to learn that just because he truly needs food, or truly needs our help tying his shoes or using the bathroom, and even though he knows that we want to help him, I want to hear him ask for help. And I want him to ask with delight and confidence that I will help him because I love him.
So if my two year old needs help from me, surely I need help from God, right?
But, Why do we not pray?
If Jesus prescribed method of prayer can be described as constant, perpetual, and regular… Than we must then self categorize ourselves as American Christians that are a prayerless people.
I don’t mean that we don’t pray at all, or that there aren’t those in our church communities who have an uncommon devotion and practice of prayer.
Here’s the deal...
A quick glance at some Barna stats showed me that the more money you make the less likely you are to pray for your own health.
And it’s not a stretch to assume that the more comfortable we are, the less likely we are to be reliant on God.
Today’s text is an excellent example of Jesus laying down a standard that can be equally challenging for both the rich and the poor.
To the rich man, Jesus is showing through this whole sermon on the mount that money cannot buy you health, it cannot buy you peace, it cannot buy you a good marriage, it can’t buy you righteousness before God.
And inversely to the poor man, Jesus is showing through this whole sermon that despite the suffering and pressure they feel, God’s greatest gifts are not riches made out of gold (or bitcoin), but the immeasurable riches that come from being found in Christ.
Both men, in fact, ALL men need a course correction, a vision adjustment in order to set their eyes on that which is most valuable.
A simple persistence in asking for His good gifts is what God requires of both men.
And God has chosen to use this persistence in asking as a formative discipline in the lives of those who love him.
This pattern that God desires to see in prayer is not just for the Jews that Jesus was speaking to at the Sermon on the Mount.
It’s actually for all people who are grafted into Israel through faith.
One of the best examples of this is the Canaanite woman
After a particularly exhausting string of events in Jesus’ ministry we see this scene:
Matthew 15:21–28 NASB95
21 Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
What does this tell us?
1. God delights in persistence in prayer.
2. That this woman though born a Canaanite, was an heir of the promise of Abraham through faith.
And if she could be, so can you.
Which tells us that we can have assurance when we pray because God is our Father too :)

Our Father’s Character

Jesus reveals much about the character and nature of His heavenly Father now:
Matthew 7:9–11 NASB95
9 “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
Is there a wrong way to ask?
James 4:2–3 NASB95
2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
One wrong way to ask is to not ask at all.
Another is to ask with the wrong motives.
And the wrong motive here is selfishness.
Just like with our own children, sometimes asking the wrong way or for the wrong motives is just as bad as not asking at all!
If my son asks me for a hammer and there’s glass nearby, I probably will not give him the hammer no matter how nicely he asks.
Or if he is standing near the hose, and he asks me to go inside, I will assume his motives are selfish and his wish being granted would not be in his best interest.
Brian story Pliers
But when my son asks me for help to wipe his face or comb his hair, I delight in answering him, YES!
And Jesus tells me, Thomas, even though you are an evil person, you know how to give good gifts to your child.
So if I can do that, then what will a perfect God do?
Give good gifts. If we ask for them.
So what are the good gifts?
Let’s remind ourselves with the prayer Jesus taught us earlier in the sermon.
Matthew 6:9–13 NASB95
9 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread. 12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’
So what are some things we know we can pray for?
1. God’s name to be made Holy before men.
2. His Kingdom and rule to be advanced on earth.
3. Physical and spiritual food.
4. The forgiveness of sins.
5. Freedom from the temptation and entrapment of sin.
Of course there is much more that we can ask God for, just open your Bible for material :)

Law and Prophets

And now Jesus makes a statement that serves as an end to this part of the sermon, but it also is one summation that could be used for the entirety of the sermon on the mount:
Matthew 7:12 NASB95
12 “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7:12 NIV
12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
This is what Jesus has been teaching.
It’s what God has been revealing to his people since the garden of Eden.
A principle of creational care.
That starts in a garden caring for animals and plants and ends in a city, as all civilization worships God at His holy mountain.
I really don’t like the phrase the golden rule.
It has in recent centuries become a sort of catch all type term for many religions that teach a concept of reciprocity.
In fact, Rabbi’s used a phrase very close to this.

About A.D. 20, Rabbi Hillel, challenged by a Gentile to summarize the law in the short time the Gentile could stand on one leg, reportedly responded, “What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it”

Do unto others is a positive, not a negative.
Now, there are many religions that have a similar mantra, even a positive one.
But when Jesus speaks here he connects it with everything he has just said about prayer, and about the kingdom of heaven.
A building up of others is a building up of the kingdom of heaven.
This “Golden Rule” stands apart from the quips of religious mystics across the world, because this Golden Rule is for God’s children.
It is His call from His throne room in the temple. That men and women would treat each other with the dignity and respect owed to fellow image bearers.
That through their actions, the people of God would indeed fulfill the law in Christ and be found blameless. Salting the earth with good flavor and bringing light to the darkest corners that sin has corrupted.
Romans 8 tells us that those who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons.
These good gifts that Jesus describes in the sermon on the mount are gifts that are given through the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit that seals us in our adoption as sons and daughters.
My Grandma… Snakes, Royal Priesthood
She doesn’t know
But she is led by the Spirit
Let’s listen to this Spirit.
What is the Spirit saying to the 1st century church?
Ask for Christ, Seek for Christ, Knock at His door, that Christ might be found and the people of God formed to bless the world.
What is the Spirit saying to the 21st century American church?
Ask for Christ, Seek for Christ, Knock at His door, that Christ might be found. And know that you Desert Son are part of an ancient household of faith that was dependent solely on God and persisted in prayer. Do not let your comfort distract you from your dependence on me.
Let’s finish with the last stanza of the Lutheran Hymn
That word above all earthly powers— No thanks to them—abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours Through him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also: The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still, His kingdom is for ever.
The Spirit and the gifts ARE ours.
Ask for them with the simple repetition of a child.
I leave you with a benediction from 1 Peter 5
“Peace to all of you who are in Christ”
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