Part 1 / Matt. 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-13
Few biblical prayers have attracted as much attention as the prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples. “The Lord’s prayer” (as it has become known) has also been called the “Pater Noster” (which is Latin for Our Father). The prayer is recorded in Matthew 6 and in Luke 11. There are slight differences between the two and the setting seems to be different as well. This would suggest that Jesus taught this prayer (or a variation of it) to his disciples on several occasions.
The setting recorded in Luke 11 is particularly interesting. Luke 11:1 tells us that “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."” The Incarnate Christ prayed… a lot. This was not particularly unique. The Pharisees prayed a lot as well, and they did so in public. Jesus warns against turning prayer into a public spectacle right before he teaches his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:5. So what was it about Jesus’ prayers that prompted the disciples to ask: “Lord, teach us to pray”?
Jesus’ prayers were private moments of intimate communion with his Father. Jesus did pray out loud and in public on the odd occasion (for example, at the tomb of Lazarus in John 11:41-42). Most of his prayers, however, were private. Mark describes Jesus’ normal pattern like this: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35). The disciples, who were close to Jesus, were aware of this. They saw something in Christ’s prayer-life that they did not see with the Pharisees. They heard something in the prayers of Jesus that they had not heard before. And they wanted in… they wanted to pray like that. They wanted fellowship with the Father like Jesus.
What did Jesus teach them? Jesus taught them a pattern for prayer. The differences between Matthew and Luke’s versions remind us that this is not some magic spell. There is nothing particularly powerful about reciting it word for word. Crocheting it on a pillow does not make you spiritual. You can pray the Lord’s prayer verbatim, but if you don’t pray with a sincere faith the words are meaningless. If you do not have a relationship with the Father, you have no right to address him as such.
Which brings us to the first part of the prayer: “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). That is where we will be spending the rest of our time today.
Addressing our Father
Quick question: was Jesus the first Person to call God Father? Jesus’s assertion that God was his Father first occurred in a debate about the Sabbath. Jesus claimed that it was proper for him to perform healings on the Sabbath because, in his words: “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). In other words, although God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation, his work of preservation and ultimately of redemption was still ongoing. Moreover, Jesus associated his own ministry with that continuing work of the Father, raising the question of their relationship in a way that antagonized his fellow Jews. As the Gospel records: “That was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
Was their reaction justified? The Old Testament seldom uses the word Father as a description of God, but there are a few occasions where it does so. For example, Isa. 63:16-17 reads: “You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from old is your name”. And in the next chapter of Isaiah we read: “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever” (Isa. 64:8–9).
At first it appears that Isaiah was calling God Father because he was Israel’s Creator, but it is not that simple. God is the Creator of every human being, not just of Israel, but he had not established a covenant relationship with everyone. Israel’s connection to God was something special, and different from what could be said about the entire human race. For Isaiah to call God Father was to acknowledge a particular relationship with him. In these verses, God is addressed as Father, not because he is Israel’s Creator, but because he is its Redeemer.
You find something similar in Deut. 14:1-2: “You are the sons of the Lord your God … For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” And again in Psalm 103:13: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him”. God was their Father through redemption. They were brought into this unique relationship with God because of God’s saving work.
Israel, as a nation, did call God “Father” on occasion because of his covenant relationship with his OT people, but this was not something that the individual claimed, nor was it the way common Jews addressed God. So, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he was instructing them to relate to God in an intimate and personal way. This was new!
Relating to God as Father
Christians know God as Father. In the words of JI Packer: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all… “Father” is the Christian name for God.”
We are encouraged to pray to the Father and enabled to do so because, through faith, the Son has united us to him in his death and resurrection (Gal. 2:20). This union with Christ means that God has made us Christ’s “brothers” (Rom. 8:29). Of course, we are not like Jesus in every respect. He is the divine and sinless Son of the Father by nature, whereas we are sinners who have been adopted by grace through faith in him.
After his resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”” (John 20:17). We are not children of God by nature, but we are by grace. To help us understand, experience, and live out this new relationship which is ours in the gospel, God has given his children the Holy Spirit. Paul describes it like this: “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:6–7).
The opening line of the Lord’s prayer sets the stage for what follows. It frames the whole prayer. For the believer, prayer means approaching your heavenly Father. Jesus explained it like this: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). Even fallible human fathers want to do good to their children; how much more our perfectly good heavenly Father!
Question 120 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: “Why did Christ command us to call God ‘our Father’?” The answer? “To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence for and trust in God, which are to be the ground of our prayer, namely, that God has become our Father through Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in faith than our parents refuse us earthly things.”
This is where true prayer starts: “Our Father in heaven”