I skipped over this section of the text last week when we looked at how the Pharisees used alms, prayer, and fasting as a means to bring glory to themselves rather than God. Jesus wants His true disciples to glorify God instead. The practice of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting must be done for this purpose, even if this means that they are done in secrecy. We do have an obligation to be a public witness. The church is a city set upon a hill. It cannot help but draw attention. So we do not need to draw attention to ourselves.
In the midst of this exposition, Jesus takes time to elaborate on the topic of prayer. We are going to zoom in on what is commonly referred to the Lord’s Prayer which is an example of how Jesus wants the true disciple to pray. It is a prayer we recite every Sunday from memory. But we also need to slow down and listen to what it says.
There are many good expositions on the Lord’s Prayer. Some have written books about it. Obviously we cannot go into that kind of detail this morning.
We need to pick up at verse seven before we go into the prayer itself. Jesus tells His disciples that it is the content of the prayer that is important and not just its form. We get the idea that Jesus is here commenting on the public prayer that the Pharisees made in public. They must have been long and full of flowery language. Outwardly, it had a nice sound to the ears, but inside the prayer was empty. It was in reality no more pleasing to God than the Heathen practice of repeating words over and over again. One cannot schmooze God into answering prayer. Nor can one wear God down by endless repeating of the petition. So this pray form Jesus teaches us is direct and to the point. Yet it beautiful simplicity is full of power.
Jesus begins this model prayer by focusing the disciples’ attention upon God and His character. First of all, we are reminded of the paternal nature of God. God is Father to the true disciple. Notice that God is addressed as “our Father”. Only Jesus addresses God as “My Father”. This reminds us that we are part of a larger family. Matthew, even though he rarely uses the word, is a gospel of the church or the new called out people of God. But the word for church does indeed appear in Chapter 16 at the pivot point of the gospel. Sometimes in the West, we see our relationship with God as a one on one thing between me and God. The Western Creeds begin with “I believe”. The Eastern creeds, on the other hand, begin with “We believe”. We get so fixated upon our standing with God on an individual basis that we forget we are a church. I am not in any way saying that each individual of the church must individually confess Christ. However, we do not make this individual confession alone. So when we pray “Our Father” we need to remind ourselves that we belong to a bigger family. We are not the only child.
The idea of “father” was somewhat unusual language for a Jew to use, although the Old Testament does refer to God in that way. The Jews of Jesus’ day were afraid to even use the formal title “God” in their prayers. Neither did they use His name “Yahweh”. So they would certainly be uncomfortable with using such a familiar term as “father” to refer to God in their prayers. The heather did use “Zeus the Father” (Latin, Jupiter). But the god they served was far different than the true God revealed in Scripture. But at least the Heathen would be attracted to the term. But we must be careful to define what “Father” means in relationship to the revelation of God in Scripture and not pollute it with the human views of fathership derived by how earthly fathers act. This has led to gross distortions of who God is. If anything, human fathers are admonished to conform their role as fathers in a family to the example which God sets.
The residence of God the Father is in heaven which again sets some distance between earthly fathers and God. This distance between us and God is called “transcendence” by the theologians. But unlike the transcendence which both Greek and Pharisee applied to God was to transcend Him out of the earthly realm altogether. He was exalted to the point that He ceased to have any concern for earthly things together. This of course led the Pharisees to be able to substitute their rules of morality for those of God. Jesus’ use of Father for God keeps God in this world as well, something the theologians call “immanence”. Father is a superior relationship within a family arrangement which strikes a perfect balance which the theologians call “transcendence in immanence.” He is a God who can be approached.
But we are reminded that we are to be respectful when we bring our petitions to God. God is the Father in this new family and is to be respected. His name is to be held in the highest respect. But He allows us access to come to him and bring our petitions to Him.
The first section of the prayer is known by theologians as the “adoratio” or the adoring of God for who He is. This is not just mere flattery to get God to see things our way. In fact, the first petitions of the prayer are not for us to have our own way. Instead it aligns our will to the will of the Father. So this next part of the prayer is to get us to think about matters the way God does rather than getting God to see things our way.
The first thing we must align ourselves to is that God is King. This kingdom is already realized in heaven as Satan and his angels have already been kicked out there. His will is actually being expressed there. This kingdom is coming to earth which is in rebellion against God’s rightful kingship. This Kingdom is already present in His true disciples who have prostrated themselves at His feet. And it is the very King who was teaching His disciples how to pray. The effective prayer before God is then to align one’s life to the reality that God is their King. for the true disciple of Christ is to pray what God has willed.
With “Give us this day our daily bread”, the petition seems to move toward the petition of a subject to his or her benefactor. This is true to a point, but God has already expressed his willingness to provide for His children. It is part of God’s nature and will. So even here, we are praying according to God’s will. We are praying for something that God has already willed and promised to do for His children.
The next petition follows the same line. God is willing to forgive our sin. The proof was standing right in front of those who heard the sermon this day. This same Jesus laid down his life as a sin offering for those whom He came to save, to those who believe on Him and become His true disciples. So when we pray this prayer, we are again reminded of the nature and character of the Father who sent the Son.
The next petition follows the same line. The Scripture in James says that God cannot be tempted. Nor does He tempt anyone. It is not His will for His children to fall into temptation. And Jesus is the rescue from this temptation and the one who has delivered us from the evil one.
Some think that the “For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever” is actually a benediction that the early church used when the prayer was recited. Did Jesus say these words? I will leave this argument to the text critics, but it adequately expresses how we should respond for what God had willed and done in Christ, and is doing in us even now by the Holy Spirit. It is a reminder that life and what it has to offer on this earth, both good and bad, is temporary. It reminds us that God’s Kingdom does not expire. His Kingdom is no 1000 year Reich. It has neither beginning nor end as earthly kings and kingdoms have. There is no need for a successor or fear that the one who follows a king might be worthless. We must orient our lives, therefore, to this eternal reality. We have a place in a Kingdom that was not established by human hands, although it was made possible by the shedding of blood. But unlike earthly kingdoms which are established by the shedding of blood of the vanquished, this king established this kingdom by the shedding of His own precious blood. It is to this Kingdom we press forward.
I have deliberately excluded a very important line in the prayer to this point. It is the only line of the prayer that Jesus comments upon. This line is “as we forgive our debtors”. In Luke, the word “trespasses” is used which gives this additional understanding. Forgiveness and reconciliation is at the heart of the Kingdom of God. It is the very basis of our entry. We have been forgiven a great debt of sin before God. As this sermon is for the true disciple of Jesus who hears His words and puts them into practice, then this must be seen as a command to be like God in this matter. Because God is King and we are His subjects who are bound to do His will, it is our purpose to demonstrate the forgiveness we have received from God in our actions. This is absolutely essential in the matter of forgiving and reconciling others, but it should extend in principle to other areas as well. A disciples purpose it to be like His master.
Jesus says if we do not forgive men their debts against us, neither will the heavenly Father forgive us. If we will just stop and think about this, we should throw up our hands in despair. We all struggle with forgiving those who have hurt us. We are so thankful that God has forgiven our debt which we could not pay. But how do we extend this to others. We know that Jesus is dead serious about this forgiveness of others as he later speaks about it in a parable of the servant who petitioned for and was forgiven an absolutely unpayable debt and faced having himself and his family sold into what would have been perpetual slavery. He was of course delighted when he was forgiven the debt by the unmerited favor and grace of his master. But he failed to show the same mercy to someone who owed him a comparatively small debt. The master withdrew his offer of cancellation against the wicked slave and had him thrown into debtor’s prison. An eternity would never pay off that debt.
What do we do with this? Are we doomed to eternity in the debtor’s prison of hell? This is indeed a pertinent question and is not easy to answer. We could never do this in ourselves. Jesus is asking what is impossible among men. Again the ‘them” is “us”. It’s me, it’s me, it’s me. O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. This extends to the church offering forgiveness and reconciliation to those who have hurt her. We must remember that what is impossible with man is possible with God. While we despair in ourselves, we need to put our faith in Christ who actually lived the principle of forgiveness to the letter, even from the cross of His suffering. The church is His body. He is the head, and we are the member sf that body. So in this sense, as long as we are in the body by faith, then we are His.
Our hope can never be in ourselves. Our hope cannot even be in the institution of the church. Our hope is in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and cancelled the debt. It is indeed God through the Holy Spirit which must work out the idea of reconciliation and forgiveness of others in our lives. This prayer reminds us of this dependence. Thanks be to God for His gracious gift!