For once the hecklers were absent. The air was clear and those seated on the slope of the mountain could see the Jordan River winding through the valley below. Dusty tracks between villages were nothing more than threads on the draping fabric of the faraway land.
“Be careful,” began Jesus as He turned His attention to a topic that was of great importance to His listeners. Perhaps He paused there to draw their attention from the distant view back to His words—words of deep importance. Perhaps the disciples began to anticipate His next words: Be careful… of the precipitous drop-offs here on the mountainside? Be careful… of thieves hidden among the clefts of the paths in solitary places? Be careful… of the Roman soldiers who might demand you carry their gear on their journey to the next town?
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). So begins a chapter whose theme must have kept every eye and ear glued to the speaker. In teaching His followers how to live authentic, relevant lives that please God, Jesus uses a term for God that would have been unusual, maybe even unthinkable in those days. He calls God “your Father.”
We noticed he used this term in the previous chapter—He had said “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He had also taught His astonished followers to “Love your enemies…that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
Had they heard Him right? Did Jesus call God their heavenly Father? This kind of informal, unceremonious terminology was not commonly used of God. Yet the earth had not opened up and swallowed the man who used it. In fact, it somehow brought God closer, hearing Him referred to as heavenly Father. Some remembered the one hundred and third psalm saying, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.”
Now Jesus continues using the term Father and its pronouns twenty times in the next thirty-four verses (You really ought to read Matthew chapter six to get the full impact of it). He is warming to his subject and the ears and hearts of His listeners are burning. Jesus is teaching them that life is about pursuing a close relationship with the unseen Father; it’s not about external show. It’s not about the power that comes through prestige, wealth, or fashion. It’s about the interior life that God designed to be eternally expanding with the sort of rewards only an all-knowing compassionate heavenly Father can give. Jesus explains the family rules:
Stop trumpeting your charitable giving—the world needs public praise because they haven’t a heavenly Father to reward them like you do. The Father sees the good you do in secret. Trust Him to settle accounts in His time.
Stop trying to look holier-than-thou in front of others; a humble attitude of seeking forgiveness from others and from your Father will get you more in the long run.
Stop surrounding yourselves with the treasures of this world—property that will ultimately be taken from you. The Father is your greatest treasure—valuing Him above all else will keep your heart safe.
Stop fretting about your lot in life. Instead, set your vision on your Father’s plans for you to be people of good character. Your hope ought to be trained on the heavenly home the Father is making available for you.
Jesus’ focus on the Father is a message for each of us, every day—including today. He even sketches out a prayer for us to incorporate into our daily routines. It starts, “Our Father in heaven…” Remember it? The point is, we must think on the Father. Bringing Him into our thoughts will change our outlook on life.
Do we really want to take advantage of God’s fatherhood in our lives? We need to spend some time, as Jesus calls it “in secret” with the Father. Voice a prayer. Read a Psalm. Think about how He wants us to respond to life’s challenges. Ask Him to make Himself present in our lives. When we contemplate, ruminate and meditate on our heavenly Father, we are living in the present as God designed us to. Isn’t that right, Father?
(Photo Credit: “Gorakh hill lonely tree” by Shahrukhphotoart – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gorakh_hill_lonely_tree.JPG#/media/File:Gorakh_hill_lonely_tree.JPG)