LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 11 August 2019
Sermon Text: Matthew 6:9-15
I. “OUR” Father in heaven
II. Our “FATHER” in heaven
III. Our Father “IN HEAVEN”
Last Sunday, we concluded the sermon series on the First Book of Samuel which we enjoyed the messages very much. Reading through those chapters and preparing for sermons, my thanks to God for His grace and wisdom became deeper. Having enjoyed drinking the Lord’s living water from that book, I would like to lead you to turn your eyes to Matthew’s Gospel and especially to the section where the Lord Jesus teaches us a prayer, i.e. the Lord’s Prayer. And from today and over seven Sundays, not consecutively though, we’ll read and meditate on this Lord’s Prayer and drink the refreshing water for our souls.
To begin with, I’d like to point out to you that this Prayer is the best-known prayer for all Christians of all generations. Every believer since the formation of the NT church has known and recited it almost every week, if not every day. Even many non-Christians are well aware of this and quite a good portion of them could recite it. This is a truly interesting prayer.
But, as much as interesting, there’s strange thing with this prayer. Its familiarity has led so many Christians to lose the sense of what this Prayer is really about or what they pray when they say the words of this Prayer. Two possible reasons for that; firstly, some believers think that they know it too well for too long, so, they say it habitually; secondly, more number of Christians lose their attention to the meaning of this Lord’s Prayer bit by bit over a long period of time, then, at last, they no longer are conscious of its significance when they say it.
But this prayer is not something we could say habitually without being conscious of each word we say. Rather, this prayer is the model for all Christians to follow its pattern and teaching. That’s what our Lord teaches us, saying to us to “Pray … like this” or “say [this].”
So, the aim of this sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer is to teach everyone who hasn’t thought about its deeper spiritual meaning as well as to remind all believers of the need for saying this prayer with their heart’s full assent and commitment. And we begin today with its first phrase, ‘Our Father in heaven,’ and see what every word teaches.
I. “OUR” FATHER IN HEAVEN
First of all, it is “OUR Father in heaven.” Not ‘my Father’ or ‘your Father’ or ‘their Father.’ He is “OUR Father in heaven.” Saying this means that I am with some others in a certain relationship. And that relationship is of a ‘family.’ I and others are together ‘us.’ I am of the others and the others are of me, being interwoven in a relationship and this is what, ‘our,’ the very first word in this prayer, tells us.
Having said, you need to know the sense of ‘our’ or ‘we’ in light of the 1st century Jew’s mindset because Jesus spoke to His disciples who were the 1st century Jews. To them, this word ‘we/us/our’ meant something truly serious because this concept pointed out their very existence. No Jew could think about himself apart from other fellow Jews. It meant the entity of their nation and race – not in terms of recognising the Jews as one among many races on earth, but in terms of their special relationship with their God. Saying ‘our’ or ‘we,’ they meant their status as the covenant people of God and all of its implications and blessings. When they said ‘we,’ they meant their rich memory with God who had chosen their forefather, Abraham, and called him out of the land of the Chaldeans, then, again called the nation of Israel out of Egypt, appearing to them on Mt Sinai. The word ‘we’ meant to them their inheritance received from God and shared among themselves. In a word, they were one inseparable body of God.
So, when our Lord Jesus tells us to begin a prayer and say, “OUR Father in heaven,” He means that we must know from the very beginning that all who bow and say this prayer in Jesus are inseparable members of one family. So, we’re not individuals gather together according to each one’s will, but members of one family of God called out of the land of the unbelievers, and inherit and share the one same inheritance in Jesus!
At the same time, this word ‘our’ would recall in the minds of the 1st century Jews what they had shared in fighting against evil forces in the history of their nation. They had fallen in various sins over many occasions, but their God in His grace recovered them to stand on their feet again and again. At the time of Jesus, they were once again under the rule of the pagan nation – the Roman Empire – and they altogether were looking forward to seeing God’s saving hand rescuing them again. In this sense, they were together, belonged and united to one another. They were, as one big body of people, fervently waiting for the Messiah, Saviour.
This means that we must remember that we’re of one family, waiting for the one and same Lord who promised to return to us and rescue us from the groaning in the fallen world. This must be the beginning of our prayer. No wonder why we rejoice when we hear of Christ’s scattered churches grow in faith, and we become sympathetic and compassionate toward any church under trouble or persecution. As you and I are one, we and those churches are one under the one and same headship, Jesus Christ. In God’s mercy and grace, and the guidance of His Holy Spirit, we must eat the same food for our souls; we must live the same life; we must fight the same fight for the glory of God in the name of Jesus our Lord and Saviour. This is the beginning of our prayer and we say, “OUR Father in heaven.”
II. OUR “FATHER” IN HEAVEN
Then, the Lord teaches us to call God as “Father.” Many Christians will say, ‘Of course, we call Him Father; what else title could we call Him?’ Not to call Him ‘Father’ seems to us not just awkward but unthinkable.
However, Jesus’ teaching for His disciples to call God ‘Father’ was more than a surprise; it was rather a great shock. The Jews from the OT times and up to the time of Jesus had never viewed God nor called Him as ‘Father.’ Such a concept wasn’t there in their religion. To call Him ‘Father’ was rather a blasphemy. Let me help you understand this with Bible statistics. Among numerous occurrences, I could find only nine occasions in the OT that God is referred to as ‘Father.’ For example, Dt. 32:6 says, “Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not He your Father, who created you, who made you and established you?” Or in Mal. 2:10, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” On the contrary, in the NT, which is relatively much shorter than the OT, and especially in the fourfold gospels, at more than one hundred places God is referred to as the ‘Father’ of Jesus and of all believers.
The Jews of Jesus’ time shared the same thought with the Jews of the OT. A clear evidence of this is in Jn. 10:22 and the following verses. In v. 30, Jesus called God “My Father” and said, “I and My Father are one.” Hearing Him, the Jews tried to stone Jesus. It was to their ears a blasphemy and they said to Jesus, “You, being a man, make Yourself God.” So, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray by calling God ‘FATHER,’ they must’ve been shocked and thought, ‘How could we call the Sovereign Adonai, the King of the Universe, Father?’ ‘What is this teaching?’, they must’ve trembled.
Truth is that calling God ‘FATHER’ is impossible for the unbelievers. But for all who are washed of their sins through repentance and faith in Jesus the Son, calling God ‘Father’ is a tremendous blessing, privilege and joy! None but you and I and all true believers of Jesus Christ can call Him ‘Father.’
Our Lord Jesus even called God, “Abba, Father,” or ‘daddy’ if you like, showing His father-son relationship with God. And through Jesus and by the Spirit indwelling us, we can also call Him “Abba, Father”! No wonder why Jesus, after His resurrection, triumphantly said to Mary, “Go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to MY FATHER and YOUR FATHER, to MY GOD and YOUR GOD’”!
What does this teach us? We’re not lost in the world; we’re not orphans; we’re not abandoned. Instead, we are God’s children; we have our ‘Father.’ The unbelievers can never understand this, can never know this joy. In fact, this is incomprehensible in the eyes of a rebellious heart; without faith in the Son, without the Holy Spirit’s saving work, never can anyone call God ‘Father’! This confirms us that our Father listens to us when we pray. Our Father is unlike any human father; He is our great and loving Father who knows us thoroughly and His eyes keep watch on us, His beloved. So, come to the Father boldly and joyfully, expecting His abundant blessings!
So, this rich blessing and privilege in God is what we must mean when we say, “Our FATHER.”
III. OUR FATHER “IN HEAVEN”
Moreover, we must call God ‘our Father’ who is “IN HEAVEN.” This is an absolutely important lesson of this prayer. The Jews of Jesus’ day were well aware of this. God is not man; He is God, sovereign, almighty and all knowing. He belongs to the spiritual realm and nothing of this world binds Him or describes His nature.
But, they including the Jews of the 1st century inclined too much to God’s transcendency. Although God was their God, although they believed that He loved them with a special favour, they still thought that God was so transcendent, so far away. So, quite often they lost sight of God’s intimacy with His people. Jesus pointed out this fault to them by teaching them to pray and say, “Our FATHER in heaven.”
But that’s not the only teaching of our Lord Jesus for His followers which include you and me and all Christians in the NT era. It seems obvious that our Lord teaches us and many churches of our generation to recover our awe and reverence for God our Father because many seem to portray God as almost exclusively intimate, only personal and warm than holy and transcendent. Somehow, in their picture of God, His sovereignty and exalted transcendence seem to barely exist. When the believers of this generation read the Bible passages that describe God’s power, for example, the story of God’s coming down onto Mt Sinai and people’s reaction to that at the foot of that mountain, or the prophet Elijah’s encounter with God, not many people seem to pick up on the seriousness of that situation. Not many see why the entire nation of Israel, seeing God’s epiphany, trembled and moved away from the mountain, and literally begged Moses to intercede with God for them. They saw God’s glory; they felt God’s power; and being sinful, and standing the righteous God, they tasted death and damnation which is the result of sin; they literally wished to be covered with rocks, hiding from the face and eyes of the holy and righteous God. Not many seem likely to fall before Jesus as Thomas did, calling Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Yes, God is our ‘Father’ and we can come to Him with joy because of Jesus. We rejoice in His salvation and freedom in His Son our Lord. But, we cannot dump our fear of Him, that is, our reverence and awe and love for Him who is ‘in heaven.’ His sovereignty cannot be marred, nor can His wise instruction to His own like us be mistreated or twisted. “Our Father IN HEAVEN” teaches us that we must remember the basis of our relationship with Him is our biblical ‘fear’ of Him, and that is non-negotiable.
It is unfortunate to see some Christians and churches losing their reverence to God. They twist the Word of God and alter its meaning to make it suitable for their ideas. While some of them move away from the orthodoxy and go into a heresy, some others creep away from the Lord’s teaching, leaving their fear of God on their way. These people and churches teach God’s word, but some areas of the true doctrine are never taught or emphasised, if not altered. They have a form of teaching the Bible but so shallow in their teaching that hardly is found in it enough nutrition for souls.
But when the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray and say, “Our Father IN HEAVEN,” He means the opposite; we must not forget that our Father is ‘in heaven’ who deserves more than our praise and worship in awe and reverence. He teaches us to know the awesomeness of God’s transcendence, the grandeur of His indescribable exaltation. No doubt this knowledge springs up from a believing heart a deep appreciation for the tremendous privilege of approaching this marvellous God as His dear children! In case anyone loses sight of this, he loses the depth of the pleasure of calling God FATHER and approaching freely to His throne that is in heaven!
Jesus taught us this Lord’s Prayer as an example for us to follow. He wants us to know some specific spiritual things in our prayer to God. Here, right in the beginning of His example given to us, He wants us to think about “OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.” We’re God’s children and members of His one big family. So, as God is ‘our Father,’ we are brothers and sisters to each other, together with all believers in the past, present and future. So, have compassion on one another.
At the same time, we belong to our Father God on earth as much as in heaven. Our sovereign and almighty God is with us always, and we give Him due glory in words and deeds as we revere Him and love Him always! So, God help us and keep Christ’s Church pure and acceptable to His sight when we pray in these words. Amen. ***