Thursday, 06 February 2014 21:48

Our Father

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The Lord’s Prayer, from the first line with its opening words to its last phrase, the doxology, is simply most wonderful in every respect. Today and in the coming weeks, we hope to study the Lord’s Prayer, line by line. Where is it found in the New Testament? We find it in two of the gospel accounts, Matthew 6 and Luke 11. It is such a special prayer even just because Jesus Himself taught it to His disciples as a model prayer. Jesus never meant it as the only prayer we should pray but as such an example and pattern for us in true prayer to God Triune. The Lord’s Prayer, which could also be called His disciples’ prayer, is not a substitute for our own prayers but a guide in all our prayers. The Lord’s Prayer is a model prayer given by the Saviour to help us pray diligently and jubilantly to our God every day again in praise and reliance on Him in all our needs. Dear friends, what the Lord Jesus all included in the prayer He taught His disciples is truly amazing too! In less than 70 words we have compressed every conceivable element of true prayer into such a brief and simple form. The Lord’s Prayer is in a form that even a young child can learn and understand it, and yet at the same time even the most mature believer can never fully comprehend or digest the scope and extent of this blessed prayer. Before we look only at its opening words today, it is good just to remind ourselves of the simple structure of the Lord’s Prayer. There is the preface or opening statement, followed by six petitions or requests. Three are in reference to God and three are in reference to us and our needs. In this prayer too, strikingly with any and every petition brought to the Lord, it never is only in regards to self but also in reference to others as well. We can learn so much just from the pronouns “our” and “us” in this prayer. .It is never once just only about me, myself, and I. It is truly amazing how much is included in this prayer. Each part of the prayer is so loaded with meaning its truths impossible to exhaust! For today, let us look at just the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer. ”When ye pray,” said Jesus, “say, Our Father who art in heaven.” What an opening address this truly is that Jesus taught His people to pray. It is an opening incredibly gracious and glorious as we shall see. To learn this, let us notice together the following four main points concerning the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer. It is an opening address that is so exceptional, so gospel-saturated, so comforting, and so balanced too. I pray that going through these points will help each of us so appreciate and cherish the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer. When you pray, you can begin with saying: “Our Father who art in heaven.” Why is this teaching of so being able to approach God something so exceptional? Here we need to think of the term “Father”. It is in general a very loving term, speaking of a close endearing relationship. Sadly we know all too many in our fallen sinful world, especially also in the perilous last days in which we live, will have reasons not to be so drawn to that word “Father”. We can and do sympathize with those for whom the term “Father” brings up all kinds of bad memories, maybe because of having grown up with a weak father or an unfaithful father or even an abusive father, or no father at all or a confusing number of fathers in some cases. In spite of that reality, however, the word “Father”, Scripturally speaking, is a very endearing and highly respectful term. Strikingly it was Jesus’ favorite term in referring to God. He used it speaking of God as His Father at least 170 times in the four gospel accounts. What is so exceptional now here is that Jesus says His followers should so, and may so, approach God in prayer too, addressing Him as “Our Father who art in heaven.” Jesus is teaching here that His disciples, those who trust and follow Christ as only Saviour and Lord, may and should so approach God using this same intimate close family related paternal title, “Our Father”. We are talking about so addressing the one only true infinitely almighty, holy, just, majestic, glorious God, calling out to Him as our Father! The one and only true God, the God of all creation, and God of all providence, and God of all salvation, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God Who is from everlasting to everlasting. We who look to Christ Jesus and follow His gospel word are instructed here to approach this infinitely great and glorious God in the special loving title, of “Our Father who art in heaven.” Oh, no other religion in the whole world speaks of so addressing and approaching their god or gods. The false and idol gods of this world are seen as remote and cold and only as ruler and lord and dictator over people and not as loving, kind, protecting,, caring,, gentle, and understanding. No, none of the false religions of the world so speak of such close precious relationship with their god or gods that they can be addressed with the loving term and relationship as ‘Father’. Interestingly, in fact, many of the heathen idols of pagans are full of feminine characteristics and female features only, suggesting, if anything, maybe to come to their idols and gods as God mother or our mother God. But while the one true God of the Bible also is described with motherly characteristics, yet Jesus reveals here it is especially as our Father God that God would be known by His people. When Jesus arose from the dead as Saviour, He said to Mary Magdalene, as we can read in John 20:17: “Go to my brethren [meaning Jesus’ disciples], and say to them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” Paul writes thus too in Romans 8:14-15: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” which can literally be translated as it were, “Daddy, Father.” Oh, so we may come to God, Jesus says to His followers. It’s incredible really, exceptional beyond words. Listen here to what the Heidelberg Catechism, a 16th century Bible-based reformation catechism, explains about this opening of the Lord’s Prayer. In Question and Answer 120 of that Catechism, the question is asked: Why has Christ commanded us to address God thus, ‘Our Father’? And the answer given is: That immediately, in the very beginning of our prayer, He might excite in us a childlike reverence for and confidence in God, which are the foundation of our prayer, namely, that God is become our Father in Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in true faith than our parents will refuse us earthly things. What a beautiful confessional teaching this is, so Scriptural not only but so very rich too! Do you see with me so far something of how exceptional that we may approach God not just as God or Ruler or King or Lord, but especially and primarily as “Our Father”? But how do we understand this all? How can we sinful people of ourselves so approach God and truly call on Him and relate with Him as “Our Father”? That question brings us also to our second main point where we learn the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer is not only so exceptional but so gospel-saturated. The truth is only in and through Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners, can any person come to God at all, and only by His saving work can we come to know and have God as our dear heavenly Father. Didn’t Jesus Himself say in John 14: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father but by me”? It has been mentioned by some, no doubt you have noticed it too, how never once do you find the name of Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer. But rightly understood, the whole prayer can only be prayed in and through Christ Jesus because of what He has accomplished with His once for all sacrifice for sin on sinners’ behalf. Here let me just mention the solemn facts about our fall into sin and terrible results thereof. When God created the world, on the sixth day He created Adam and Eve. They were the first humans ever, and God created them good and righteous, in His image. This meant they were fully able to know and relate with God truly and to live in all righteousness and holiness before Him. But then we know they willfully sinned and rebelled against God, believing the lie of the devil rather than the truth of God. And what was the result of that fall into sin? The result was that Adam and Eve and all their natural offspring too would be corrupted and depraved in sin and of themselves forever separated and alienated from God and headed for everlasting condemnation and punishment. Along with that now instead of having God as their father, with the fall into sin all of us by nature are followers of Satan and we have him as our chosen real father, left to ourselves. Hear Jesus say this even to the unbelieving Jews in His day in John 8:44. He says to them in scathing judgment: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar and the father of it.” So of ourselves as fallen in Adam we have rebelled against the one and only God and our good Creator God, and we have chosen to have Satan, the devil, as our father and to follow after that wicked one. So how now can Jesus say then about His followers that they may come to the one only true God calling to Him: “Our Father who art in heaven”? This is exactly what Jesus accomplished through His saving work. Jesus came as the One only begotten eternal Son of God to be Saviour of sinners. He made reconciliation with God for sinners like us through His perfect sinless life lived on behalf of sinners, and by means of His perfect sacrifice even to the death of the cross, bearing all the just and eternal punishment for sin in the sinner’s place. It was Jesus’ joy so to give His life a ransom for many that whoever believes on Him not only be saved but saved in such a perfect way with such a beautiful result. Yes, that now as many as trust and follow Jesus as only Saviour and Lord may truly and constantly come to God praying and saying,: “Our Father who art in heaven, Abba, Daddy, Father, please hear my petitions as I now come to you in prayer and supplication!” How we need to think of and ever remember to what lengths God went to make it possible for us, by nature sinful rebels, to come to God saying: “Our Father who art in heaven”. God sent His own most dear only begotten beloved Son to this earth, and He took on the human nature so that as the one mediator between God and man He might bring about plenteous redemption for sinners like us! It meant even that Jesus as Sinbearer had literally to be forsaken by God His Father! Imagine God leaving His beloved Son to Himself while Jesus suffered and bore in His human flesh and soul the equivalent of all the righteous eternal holy wrath of God against sin. It was then that Jesus also called out, from the depths of hellish agony, not “My Father, my Father why hast thou forsaken me, but only just, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is forever unexplainable how the bond of infinite love between God the Father and Son was not known nor felt by Jesus when hanging on the cross to save sinners! Just think of God forsaking His Son so that Jesus could justly and totally fulfill His saving work on sinners’ behalf so that the blessed result could and would be that God might truly be as Father God to us. And that we might really know and embrace Him as such and so approach Him in prayer once and again and again. Even so, we can know it was a tremendous joy and trust in God His Father that Jesus, even before His crucifixion, taught His disciples when they pray, to say: “Our Father who art in heaven.” Do you not find this too such great gospel tidings, almost too much to absorb even? I think in this regard it is true what one wrote: “Embracing God as Father is part of our discipleship as Christians.” Are you embracing, by grace through faith, God as Father in your following after Christ Jesus as only Saviour and Lord each and every day? Jesus’ goal together with the Father and the Holy Spirit is that all His people might know and enjoy God as Father in a way comparable to Jesus’ own knowing and enjoying God as His Father from eternity to eternity. The gospel truth is that as many as receive Jesus Christ in true faith become adopted children of God, and together with Christ then also become heir of all things, including knowing and having God as your dear heavenly Father. Without the gift of God’s Son and Jesus’ finished work on sinners’ behalf, no Lord’s Prayer could be given or prayed, and most certainly then never can or could we so approach God saying: “Our Father who art in heaven.” But now with Jesus’ Person and work, all who trust and follow Him may truly and repeatedly so come to God in prayer, calling out to Him: “Our Father who art in heaven” and so approaching Him in all our needs and cares. God in Christ is no longer alienated from us or distant from us but ever near and ever ready to hear and help in the least cry or sigh or petition from His children. Like little children run to their parents in their needs and concerns expecting a loving and caring and most helpful comforting remedy doing so, so you and I, when confessing Christians, are encouraged to call upon God, saying as we come or run to Him: “Our Father who art in heaven… I am again….with my petitions and needs”. Again I say, think of Jesus teaching this prayer to His disciples and with what joy and thankfulness and holy excitement He did so, without question. How even the teaching of this prayer must have spurred Him on in His gospel ministry even to the death of the cross! What a Saviour God is the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all the planning and accomplishment and goals with the salvation of sinners in and through Christ Jesus. Don’t you too so love this Savior God, speaking of all three Persons of the Trinity, the Father who planned salvation, the Son who accomplished it, and the Spirit who applies it by His Holy gospel? Oh, how wonderful to belong to God as His children for Jesus’ sake and to have the unspeakable constant privilege to pray to Him saying: “Our Father who art in heaven”. That is more precious than gold and a matter of greater joy than anything or anyone in this world could give us! Is this your hearty conviction and testimony too, by God’s grace? Here let us move to our third main point and think about how comforting this truth truly is that as Christians we may come to God, time and again, praying and saying: “Our Father who art in heaven”. What makes this teaching of so approaching God most comforting? Who in the whole world is a father as God is the Father of His children? God as Father is always most wise and infinitely caring and faithful and mighty to protect and save. He is full of understanding and counsel, and so very loving and gentle and good in all His works and ways with His own. No good thing will He ever withhold from them that walk uprightly and He makes all things in life work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose. Paul exclaims in Romans 8:32, a verse always so wonderful to repeat and think about: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him, also freely give us all things?” Think here too of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 after His instructions about asking and receiving from the Lord and seeking and finding Him and His help and knocking and having the door opened in time of need with Him. He says in conclusion: “If ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” The point is, yes, the gospel point of endless comfort and constant encouragement in the faith, there is no God and Father so gracious and great and good and generous and glorious as our Saviour God, especially also as Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, for Jesus’ sake, He is infinitely rich to all that call upon Him, even when time and again of ourselves we show and prove to be so undeserving of even the least of His mercies. Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, knows His Father as the most faithful, wonderful, everlasting Father there ever can be. Through His saving work with His death and resurrection, Jesus declares the one true God and Father of Jesus Himself may be your and my God and Father in spirit and truth and forever, all always for Jesus’ sake alone! What Jesus accomplished as Saviour by God the Father’s design and the Spirit’s ministry with Christ and through Christ and His Word is that God now even comes into closer bonds with us His creatures than in the beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Through Jesus’ saving work our relationship with God is on a richer and higher and more intimate and everlastingly sure foundation than could ever be enjoyed just in the Garden as sinless creatures of God. Through Christ Jesus, as many as repent of sin and believe on Him become children of God with Jesus the Saviour as their elder Brother and together with Him made heir of all things in all eternity. Truly, it is all wonderful and boundless beyond words who God the Father is and forever will be for all His people. Oh, does this gospel fill and thrill your soul too? Won’t it surely do so when blessed by the Holy Spirit to your mind and heart? If you are still outside of Christ, not truly repenting of sin or trusting and following after Him and His Word, then you can’t know God as your dear heavenly Father either. You may repeat the Lord’s Prayer perhaps, and know it by memory even, maybe even in Latin and other languages too, but without Christ you only have Satan the devil as your father still, and what a terrible wicked awful father he is! Satan is only after our destruction. I pray none of you will follow the devil’s lies of living in sin and for this world as being what makes for life, for it doesn’t! No, always following sin and Satan and this ungodly world only leads to misery and ultimately eternal doom and gloom. Will not even the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer convince and guide us all, each one, to flee to Christ as only Saviour? For as many as come to Christ, repenting of sin and believing on Him, this too may be your privilege and comfort, your refuge and joy, saying to God the prayer Jesus taught: “Our Father who art in heaven.” Here let me mention our fourth and last point about the wonderful balance of the opening words in the prayer Jesus taught us. We are to pray “Our Father who art in heaven”. Listen here to the Heidelberg Catechism’s good and relevant further question in regards to that second part. “Why is it here added, ‘Who art in heaven?” Answer: Lest we should form any earthly conceptions of God’s heavenly majesty, and that we may expect from His almighty power all things necessary for soul and body.” The fact that God as Father is in heaven reminds us, though He in and through Christ is ever so close to us, even as daddy with his children, yet God is high and lifted up, the infinitely holy and majestic God still. This reminds us though we may come to Him as our Father, always due reverence and humility on our part is rightly shown by us. We see that also in the great saints in the Bible. Though ever so close to God, they yet saw every reason to bow in holy awe and submission before Him. We are not thinking of God as Father rightly when we speak of that holy relationship tritely and flippantly. It is never not a big deal that we can come to God, calling upon Him, saying: “Our Father”. No, not when you remember that precious privilege is only on account of the salvation work of the Lord Jesus from beginning to end in the whole of His ministry as crucified and risen exalted Saviour of sinners. So the opening words drive home the close open most loving and dear and caring relationship we as sinners redeemed by grace, may have with God as our Father. Yet at the same time notice we are reminded God as our Father is truly God over all, holy and majestic beyond words. He is the everlasting almighty One, and we are creatures of the dust ever dependent on Him for everything. Don’t we, time and again, need that reminder too, if we know ourselves? Oh, do you see it with me, dear friends? What Jesus all teaches in the opening six words of the Lord’s Prayer is just so amazing and wonderful, so gospel encouraging and full of endless comfort for body and soul in life and death. In conclusion then, let these opening words help teach us to pray and richly bless us in prayer to God to the praise of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Do you understand what an inestimable privilege and invaluable blessing it is to be taught by Christ to pray: “Our Father who art in heaven”? Oh, that this all may immediately and constantly and increasingly excite us in ever looking to the Lord and relying on Him in thankful humble prayer every day again. Even so, Lord, bless this gospel message on Christian prayer, encouraging Your people thereby and drawing lost sinners to Christ for all His worth and the gospel blessings in and through Him. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor
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