The Lord's Prayer
Scripture: Matthew 6:9-15
Many of us memorized much of the passage in front of us today as we grew up in Sunday School. We memorized this, along with Psalm 23 and a few other passages of Scripture, because they are so dear to understanding who God is. The passage in front of us is important because of what it reveals about God and what it tells us about our own prayer lives.
It is important to note that the words that Jesus used in this prayer were not that much different from what would have been expected by any other rabbi in his day. This passage continues the previous one, in which Jesus condemns hypocritical prayer that is self-focused. In this passage, Jesus is commanding his disciples to ensure that their prayer is God-focused. In this way, this passage serves as an extension to Matthew 6:5-8. Whereas the previous passage dealt primarily with how not to pray, this passage is instruction on what prayer is supposed to look like. Jesus was not trying to give a prayer that is to simply be repeated over and over in the exact same words. He forbade this is the previous passage (Matthew 6:7-8). Rather than setting down the specific words that we are to say, Jesus is setting down the type of prayer that we should pray. Each clause is important in making this point, and we will examine this prayer, clause by clause, to help us see what our prayers themselves should look like.
Jesus begins this prayer with the phrase "Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name." By beginning with the words "Our Father," Jesus is reminding us of the relational nature of God. Note that this prayer can only be prayed by those who are in Christ. It is in Christ that God is our Father. This phrase also serves to remind us who is in charge in this relationship. It is God who is in heaven, and we are here on earth. Jesus recently reminded his disciples that heaven is God's throne (Matthew 5:34). While God is our Father, he is also the One to whom everything and everyone are subject. Finally, this opening shows a zeal for God's holiness. God's name is holy, and our actions (which should be tied closely to our prayer lives) and our prayers are to reflect this. We are to stand in awe of God and his holiness and remember that he alone is perfectly holy.
Jesus continues by praying "Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." This is a reminder that we are not to pray in accordance with our own will, but in accordance with the will of God. That is, God is not a genie that grants us whatever we want just because we ask. Throughout Scripture, we see the importance of praying in accordance with the will of God. This does not necessarily mean, as some have argued, that since there is never any sickness in heaven, then there is never to be any sickness here on earth. To say this is to take this petition out of context. Rather, understood in context, it means something different. It is closely connected to the previous clause that God's Name be regarded as holy. This is what it means for God's Kingdom to come and will to be done here as it is in heaven. When this happens, God's holiness will be seen, and people will be drawn to him. To say that this is primarily about sickness or some other issue is to take it out of context, as well as ignore the passages where Jesus himself did not heal everyone around him (see, for example, John 5:1-15).
Jesus then petitions, "Give us this day our daily bread." This is a petition showing the complete dependence the disciple has on God. We recognize that even the food that we eat is a gift from God, and without God we would have nothing. Our utter dependence upon God is to be recognized as we pray. This also highlights a trust in God's goodness to provide the daily bread for the disciple.
Jesus continues, "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." This petition should scare some of us, as becomes evident in verses 14 and 15. This shows that we are to seek forgiveness, both for ourselves and for others. Forgiveness is not an option for the disciple of Jesus. It is required.
The final petition, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." We know from the rest of Scripture that God does not tempt us (James 1:13). It is not God's desire that we fall into temptation. We are praying in accordance with the will of God whenever we ask God to deliver us from evil. Jesus likely had in mind not just evil that is done to us, but also evil that we may do. The contrast here is set up in such a way as to imply that the petition asks God to deliver the disciples from evil by not allowing them to fall into temptation.
Jesus closes this section by addressing the disciples. In verses 14 and 15, Jesus reminds the disciples of the importance of forgiveness. Forgiveness of this kind is a fruit of a changed heart that can only come from God. We forgive others because we know that God, in Christ, has offered an even greater forgiveness to us. Thus, should we refuse to conform to the image of Christ by withholding forgiveness, we end up in rebellion to God. There is a close connection between our forgiveness of others and God's forgiveness of us. At the end of the day, the Lord's Prayer was intended to be practical. It is not something we are to pray and then forget about. We must take its message and apply it to both our prayer life and to the rest of our lives.
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