Father Knows Best (Matthew 6:9a)
Passage: Matthew 6:9a–6:9a
I. The Other End of the Line
Have you ever noticed how the same person can sound so different on the phone at different times? I'm talking about differences in volume, in inflection, in tempo or speed.
And I'm not talking about differences that stem from someone's mood or whether they have a cold or not. I'm talking about differences that are directly connected to the identity of the person at the other end of the line.
You know what I'm talking about. Without giving any consideration to the actual words being used, you can tell a lot about who a person is talking with solely based on their tone, volume, and tempo.
You can tell if a man is talking to a friend: “Whassup!?!”...or talking to a business associate: “Good afternoon, how are you?”...or to his grandmother: “Hi there, how are you doing?”...or to his wife: “Hey there...how's everything going...pooky-bear.”
You see, things change according to our relationship to the person at the other end of the line. This morning, I want us to consider that same principle, but this time, in the context of prayer.
This month we are exploring “the prayer”...the prayer that Jesus himself, the Son of God, taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. It's a prayer we traditionally call “The Lord's Prayer”. In regard to this prayer, I talked to you last week about two goals that I want to continually challenge you purse this month. Here they are:
First, I am hoping and praying that you will pray this very prayer every morning this month. Who was praying the prayer this past week?
Second, or number two, I am hoping and praying that you will deepen in your understanding of this prayer so that each morning, your time in prayer will increasingly deepen, and God will in turn deepen you.
We learned last week that, while this prayer does and should shape all of our prayers, Jesus taught this prayer to His disciples so they would use it as a daily prayer of submission to God's priorities, in contrast to our sinful tendencies.
While Jesus' first listeners would have used this prayer “as is”, He also warned them about praying “empty” or “meaningless” prayers, like the pagans did. Therefore “the prayer” should never be prayed in a mechanical way, but always in a meaningful way.
II. The Passage: “Our Father in Heaven” (6:9a)
And to pray “the prayer” in a meaningful way, we need to understand it. We need to be able to unpack the incredible richness of every word and every phrase. Let's work toward that goal this morning by focus on the first phrase of “the prayer”. Let's look at the whole prayer together...Matthew 6:9-13...
9 Pray then like this: “Our...Father...in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
A. Worshiping in Light of God’s Fatherhood
Now even though the pronoun “our” stands at the beginning of this prayer in every English translation, it is not the first word in the original Greek. The first word, which is the heart of this address, is the seemingly ordinary term, “Father”, a term that, even when it comes to prayer, is quite commonplace to most of us.
But when we look at Jesus’ use and understanding of this term, and the cultural setting in which Jesus’ used it, I think you will see that this title is far from ordinary.
Did you know that when Jesus prayed, He only addressed God as Father. There is only one instance in which this is not the case, and that is Jesus’ cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; and that was a quote from Psalm 22:1.
In every other instance, in fact, 125 times in our four gospels, Jesus addressed or referred to God as ‘Father’, or “the Father”, or “my Father”.
Now, while this was not unheard of or unknown in the Old Testament and/or the Judaism of Jesus’ day, it was very unusual to address God so consistently as Father.
What is more astounding though is the choice of words that Jesus used to refer to God as Father. Even thought the Gospels were written in the Greek language, listen to how Mark 14:36 reveals the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke: And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Did you hear that? Jesus used the Aramaic word abba. This was a word that children and adults alike in that culture would use to refer to their father, with the emphasis being on the fact it was my father. The word implied both personal relationship and intimacy.
And so because of Jesus consistent usage, most likely, abba is the term that Jesus uses here in Matthew 6:9, that is, Jesus taught his followers to address God in the same way.
And what I think confirms this idea is that Paul, a former Pharisee, a Hebrew of Hebrews, Paul twice...twice in his letters stresses the fact that we too can address God in the same way Jesus did. Look at what He writes:
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)
Why else would Paul write out the Aramaic word for his Greek and Roman readers if that word did not have some special significance?
We need to stop and think about that significance for a minute. How is it that you and I can address God, who is infinite and eternal, the God who created everything, both seen and unseen, the God who sustains the universe by His inexhaustible power, the God who will judge both the living and the dead, a holy and awesome God, how is it that we dare address him as abba?
The only reason we can do this is because the gospel makes possible our adoption [quote I Corinthians 15:3, 4]. Because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, by grace, through faith, slaves of sin, sons of disobedience like us can become sons of God.
Jesus addressed God as abba because of a natural relationship. We address God as abba because of a supernatural relationship. Jesus is the Son. Through Jesus, we can be sons and daughters of God.
Last week we talked about the fact that the Lord's Prayer is powered by the gospel, by the good news about Jesus. You see, not only does Jesus teach us this prayer, but Jesus makes it possible for us to pray this prayer. When you pray the Lord’s Prayer, and you utter that title “Father”, remember, remember, you can only do so because of the Cross of Christ. The unparalleled privilege of addressing God as father came at an incalculable cost.
And so every time we pray this prayer, the word “father” should be a doorway that transports us to a place of humility, thankfulness, and praise.
B. Walking in Light of God’s Fatherhood
But I think we also need to understand this term “father” better, don’t we. Just like the term God, the word “father” can mean different things to different people.
I remember being in a new small group where each person was sharing about their father. What was so interesting, and also heartbreaking, was that there were as many perspectives on fathers as there were people sharing. While some had positive things to say, many shared realistic perspectives of fathers who had ultimately failed to be fathers at all.
But we need to understand what Jesus knew about the fatherhood of our Father in heaven. How do we do that? Well, what's wonderful is that right there, within the Sermon in the Mount, this section of teaching running from Matthew 5 through chapter 7, within this section are some passages in which Jesus gives us clues about His own understanding of God’s fatherhood.
Let's start by looking at what we learn just from the rest of the prayer’s address in verse 9:
1. We are Members of His Family (6:9a)
Notice first the possessive pronoun “our”…”Our Father in heaven”.
In some sense, the choice of pronouns is not strange because many, if not most, of the standard, daily prayers of Jews in the time of Jesus, and Jews today, are prayed in the first person plural. Why? Because the Jew knew that God was not just His God, but the God of His people, His kin. He knew that he was part of something much larger, and because of this he prayed not only for himself, but also for His people, who were God’s people.
I believe Jesus’ prayer here also uses the first person plural for that very reason. The first facet of God’s fatherhood reminds us that God is the Father of a family and we are members of His family.
Because of the gospel, we do not stand alone; we are part of something much bigger; all of us exist in a state of blessed interdependence with God’s people. So when you pray this prayer each day, pray as a member of this family of faith, but also pray on behalf of, intercede for, your church family using the Lord's Prayer.
2. He is a Father without Fault or Frailty (6:9a)
Now, if we move past the term Father in v. 9, we’ll find the phrase “in heaven”. Now the version of this prayer we find in Luke’s gospel does not contain this phrase. So what accounts for this difference?
Well Matthew wrote to a Jewish Christian community. Because of this, he drew upon a tradition that made explicit the connection between the term Father, and everything else we know about God. In Jesus’ day, the term “heaven” was often used to point to God himself. This is why Matthew so commonly uses the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven” as a substitute for “the kingdom of God”.
So Matthew’s version makes explicit what is implied in Luke: this Father to whom we pray is Yahweh, the Lord God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the One reigning over all the nations, the One who is exalted in the heavens.
So here’s another facet of a God’s Fatherhood: because God is our Father in Heaven, God is a Father without fault or frailty. Our Father in heaven is not subject to the corruption of the earth, not like our earthly fathers. We can praise Him that He is divine, and thus He is dynamically different; He is decidedly distinct. He is perfect in all His ways. He is holy!
3. He Will Provide and Protect Perfectly (6:25-33)
Now if we move to the broader context of this verse, as we begin to explore the Sermon on the Mount (chp 5-7), we learn a lot more about our Father in heaven.
Look first with me at verse 25-33 of this same chapter. Now as I read these verses, consider what they tell you about the One to whom we can pray. Matthew 6:25-33:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Notice the contrast again between the disciple of Jesus and the pagan in verse 32. This is perfectly in keeping with the context of our prayer earlier in this same chapter.
Jesus confirms here something all of us should know: A father cares for his children. Fatherhood is not simply a matter of paternity, it is a matter of provision and protection. A good father does not simply father children. A good father is a fatherto his children.
When they are cold, he clothes them. When they are downcast, he loves them. When they are off track, he disciplines them. When they are impatient, he is patient. When they are fragile, he is gentle. When they are hungry, he feeds them. Whey they are confused, he counsels. When they are needy, he gives. When they are in danger, he protects. When they run, he waits. When they cry, he comforts. When they share, he listens. When they despair, he inspires. When they fall, he picks them up.
If that's what a good human father does for his children, how much more will you Father in heaven do that for you? What we see here is that when it comes to God, He is a Father who provides and protects perfectly.
For those of you who had an earthly father like this, such an experience is merely the shadow of your heavenly Father’s care. For those of you who tragically did not know such a father, your longings (and you do have longings whether you know it or not) ...they can be fulfilled by God's fatherly love in a manner that will astound you
What does our Father’s care mean for our prayers and our lives? It means faith, and not doubt. It means trust, and not worry. Jesus implied as much back in verse 8, just before He taught us this prayer. He said, Do not be like them [the babbling, manipulative, doubting pagans], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him…This, then, is how you should pray…
Prayer is not about informing God of our needs. God knows what we need, better than even we know. More than speaking up, prayer is about bowing down. More than an act of communication, prayer is an act of submission.
When I was little, I would often ask my mother for this or that, and she would tell me that I needed to go ask my dad. The funny thing about this was that my dad was sitting right there. He heard everything I said. He knew what I was asking for. Why did I have to repeat it? Because the act of going to my father and offering my request was an act of submission to his authority and wisdom. He wanted me to acknowledge him. He wanted me to demonstrate that I cared about and trusted what he had to say.
Do you pray as an act of submission, or as an act of coercion? Doubt sustained prayers attempt to sway God, they attempt to bargain with God, they attempt to appease God with this or that. Doubt sustained prayers are more focused on the act of prayer, the length of prayer, the pageantry of prayer, rather than on the Father himself.
Our Father knows what we need before we ask Him.
4. We Should Follow His Fatherly Example (5:43-45)
But what else might Jesus have wanted us to understand about the facets and implications of God’s fatherhood, of the fact that we can address God as abba? Well take a look, not after the Lord’s Prayer, but this time before it in 5:43-45:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Here it seems the focus on our Father in heaven has more to do with conduct than care. As is clear from this passage, Jesus wanted His followers to know that there should be a family resemblance in the Father’s children. We learn here that when it comes to God, we should follow His fatherly example.
Children who do not love like their Father, and love ALL people, are illegitimate children. According to Jesus, it’s just heavenly genetics.
So again, when we, in prayer, address God as Father, we are submitting ourselves to the Father’s example. We are praying with a preparedness to do what He wants. You cannot genuinely address God as Father and not be submissive to His fatherly guidance and example. It doesn’t work that way.
I think it’s fair to say that a large part of what makes us us, is directly tied to the character of our fathers. Whether your father was good, bad, or just missing in action, his feats or failures have shaped you.
When Jesus gave us access to God as abba, he wanted us to understand that a large part of what should make us us, is directly tied to the character of his father. …that you may be sons of your Father in heaven
III. An Everyday Reminder
In closing, let me remind you of the point I mentioned at the beginning: things change according to our relationship to the person at the other end of the line.
How you understand your relationship to God changes the way you pray. If you are a true Christian, then God is not your business associate or your buddy. And He is not simply your King and your Maker. He is your father. You are His son or His daughter. Therefore, the Lord's Prayer should be an everyday reminder of God's gracious adoption of you through Jesus.
The Apostle John expressed the wonder of this in I John 3:1...See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1)
If you have not turned from sin and self and embraced Jesus Christ as your only hope, God is not your Father. But He can be, even this morning. Reach out to him in faith (use “Confession of Trust”).
As we pray “the prayer” this week, and in all the prayers we pray, may God's Spirit cry out through us: “Abba! Father!” And may we be comforted and encouraged and emboldened because God IS our Father in heaven...we ARE His sons, thanks to THE Son, Jesus.