Summary: What is this forgiveness thing all about?
What Do We Learn from the Lord’s Prayer?
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.