Ash Wednesday Service and Homily - The Secret Life of Believers (Matt. 6)
The Secret Life of Disciples (Matt. 6:1-21)
As we enter once again into the season of Lent, we remember Christ in the wilderness. Christ’s wilderness journey was a time of training and finally of testing. The 40 days of Jesus paralleled the 40 years of Israel in the wilderness. God “led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Dt. 8:2). Christ passed this test, though it was clearly a human struggle, which shows His full humanity. He emerged victorious over the very real temptations of Satan. The struggle of Jesus in the desert led to His overcoming temptation and ultimately the victory of the cross, His resurrection and His ascension to glory; because all of the temptations were in place of suffering and provided a “glory” without the cross. But Jesus did not forsake the way of the cross. He fully prepared to be obedient to the death of the cross.
Now if Jesus, the very Son of God, took upon Himself 40 days of fasting in order to prepare for His ministry, then are we not misled to think we should be like Him without any such discipling? If Christ Himself thought it needful to fast and pray before engaging the enemy and leading in His public ministry, then how will we make any progress in pursuing godliness without such testing? If God’s purpose throughout our lives is to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) and this is what Christ did, should not our lives conform in a some measure to Christ’s example?
Matthew 6 indicates we are to practice righteousness. But our motivation is the difference between that practice being evil or good. Two people may do the same religious act and for one it is evil and the other it is good. Religious people have all kinds of motivations. Jesus highlights the desires of the Jews of His day to be seen by others as righteous and pious. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them” (6:1). We may want to “sound the trumpet” when we give to others (v2), to pray publicly so as to be admired (v5), to be seen doing the ultra-spiritual discipline of fasting (v16). These desires all arise from that most basic human motivation: pride. We would rather lie about who we are and look righteous, than be authentic and be seen as who we really are. This lack of honesty is a great cause for unbelief in the world. Jesus calls this storing your treasure on earth (v19). It is misplacing values in our life. Where is your secret vault for treasures in life?
There is another place to store our treasure, however. Jesus does not call for us to have no desires for approval in our pursuit of righteousness. He does not say a desire for “reward” is evil. He simply redirects our desire for approval toward God. Our secret desire (or perhaps not so secret desire) for the reward of others to commend us, is placing our treasure vault for earthly corruption. This shows were our heart’s focus. Our godly secret life as disciples is to be doing what we do for God’s approval alone. We are to carryon a God-ward focus in our actions and reflections on our motivation.
What do you desire? There may be periods of time when our secret desires, rolling in our minds like TV reruns, endlessly play episodes of sin. We covet scenes of worldly wealth, putting others in their place, secret lasciviousness, retirement from into a secluded and unending vacation in a tropical paradise to disengage from all the demands on us. We are tempted by these desires. Inasmuch as we give-in then we are accepting the lie that there will be godliness without discipline; glory apart from the way of the cross.
If we find the grace to lay aside these impure ambitions and remember that we are bought with a price, then what is our deeper desire. What is our secret desire? Is it not for our character to be transformed into Christ’s likeness? Isn’t that what you know to be your most truly right ambition? When we can scrub off the dirt of our lusts and covetousness and even the dead skin of our flesh-provisioning habits, then we stand with a stringent burn since we have scrubbed away much that was precious to us. In these times we actively advance in being more like Jesus. In these ways we are like Christ who endured temptation and endured suffering for our salvation unto great glory. “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18).
God, it appears, often brings us to these places whether we want
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more