The Lord’s Prayer – ‘Our Father’
‘Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, "Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead." So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand. The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.' "’ Exodus 4:19-23
‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. "This, then, is how you should pray: " 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ Matthew 6:5-13
‘But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.’ Isaiah 63:16
Prayer is a mystery. It has always been a mystery, yet it is the way through which God chooses to work and act. And prayer is vital to the life and growth of our own relationship with God and for the life and growth of the church here. If the Spirit of God is the breath in our lungs as a church then prayer is the heartbeat that keeps the breath moving through our body. Prayer needs to be at the forefront of everything we are about. Paul urges us to pray without ceasing, which means that the way we live is like prayer, seeking God in everything we are about. If we don’t pray we’re in trouble.
We’re going to spend the next 6 weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer as a means of helping our understanding of who God is and then how we should pray. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that cries out for justice, forgiveness and deliverance and therefore is a prayer that is very relevant for our world today. It is a prayer that Jesus taught us to pray and, just like John 17 does, it gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ eternal relationship with his Father as we listen to this prayer. We begin by looking at ‘Our Father’.
Many have said over the years that when Jesus addressed God as ‘Father’ it was a revelation and something unique that people had never heard or experienced before. People have said that Jesus introduced us to a new intimacy with God and that no-one had ever called God ‘Father’ before. And while I would want to agree that Jesus reveals to us a new intimacy with God unparallel, his use of the term ‘Father’ was not something new. Indeed, I believe that when Jesus said ‘Father’ he was evoking in his Jewish hearers memories and promises of their past that would have filled them with hope and expectancy. You see Israel in their history already knew God as Father, for in their slavery in Egypt God calls Israel his firstborn and how he was going to deliver his firstborn out of slavery into the promised land. So as Jesus said Father he was declaring that the time of the new-exodus was upon them. An exodus that would see all of creation delivered out of slavery and into the Promised Land. And this new exodus was to brought about by Jesus. Yet this time God would not strike down the firstborn of Pharaoh. This time the ‘Moses’ would not take a staff in his hand, but a cross on his back. No, this time the Son of God, the firstborn over all of creation would be killed on a cross and this is the way the new-exodus would occur.
Jesus was the firstborn that Israel failed to be. When God refers to Israel as his firstborn it is a way of saying that Israel were called to reveal to other nations who God is. The firstborn you see was the one who received all the blessing from the Father. The firstborn is the sign of the Father’s strength (Deut.21). The firstborn receives the blessing and honour of the Father. Yet Israel failed in her calling to be a blessing to other nations and to reveal who God is. But Jesus fulfilled everything and achieved where Israel failed. Therefore Jesus is called in the NT the firstborn over all of creation (Col.1) and the firstborn from among the dead (Rev.1:5). Jesus is victorious and is bringing about this new exodus that we are invited to be a part of. Not only that, but Jesus invites us to call God ‘Father’ that we may share in the blessings of the firstborn. As we call Jesus Lord and Saviour we share in his blessings as the firstborn over all of creation by being created new and ourselves being new creations. As we call him Victor and Lord we share in his strength and victory as the firstborn from among the dead and so have the hope of being raised from the dead ourselves and joining in the celebration of all of creation in the victory of Jesus over sin, death and hell and with the whole of the cosmos, march into the Promised Land. As we say ‘Our Father’ we are speaking in exodus language hopeful of the time when all of creation will experience freedom from death and decay and experience newness when there will be no more death or pain. So how do we apply this to our lives?
Jesus said that he only did what he saw the Father doing. So when we say ‘Father’ we should be seeking to be imitators of Christ and only do what we see the Father doing as he only did what he saw the Father doing. This however is a bold and risky thing. To say ‘Father’ is to say ‘I want to be involved in our Kingdom and do what you do’. And that can involve suffering. Not only that, but Jesus came and fully revealed to the world who God is. ‘If you see me you see the Father’ were Jesus’ words. So Jesus wanted people to see who the Father is and what he was doing by looking at him. And we have been called to continue in that. When people look at the Church they should see what God is like. When people look at us they should glimpse at what God is like. They should see a community who is passionate about God. They should see a community who seeks to see God’s Kingdom of love, justice and beauty come here on Mersea. They should see a community that desires to feed the hungry and be full of grace and forgiveness. They should see a community that desires to see God honoured in all areas of life. Of course we fail again and again in our calling to be imitators of Christ, but as we say ‘Father’ we call on the grace and mercy of God to forgive us our sins and help us to become more and more like His Son Jesus. And as they see who God is, we invite people to come and experience for themselves this Jesus who leads us out of slavery. As they meet with this Jesus they receive the blessings of the firstborn.
So, as Jesus showed us through his words and actions that God is Father, then we can humbly yet boldly take on our lips the opening line to this amazing prayer and say ‘Our Father’ and in saying it we are poised to see his Kingdom come.