Sermon on the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father in Heaven”

May 19, 2024

Book: Matthew

Sermon on the Lord's Prayer -

Scripture: Matthew 6:5-15

SUNDAY PM SERVICE – 5/19/2024 – Matthew 6:5-15

Introduction

We all love the opportunity when we can do a juicy bit of name dropping. If someone else is able to throw into the conversation that they once had a chat with Humphrey Bogart or Ronald Reagan or Taylor Swift, whatever you think of those people, you’re likely still impressed that your friend got to be in an interaction with someone of that stature. Even while we were planning our most recent conference here at the church, someone on the committee asked how we were able to get Chris Larson to come. When I said that I just emailed him, it seemed to land as if I’d really accomplished something.

We love it even more if we are the one who gets to drop that exciting tidbit about someone of great prominence with whom you’ve rubbed elbows. It gives us a sense of importance that someone whom everybody knows is important would have time to interact with us.

I’ve already used my one interaction with a celebrity as a sermon illustration, so I won’t exactly recycle it here. I will note that whenever I tell that story, people are always interested. They want to know who it was and a little more about him.

It strikes me that no one really gets that interested when someone says that they’ve been praying. The buzz that surrounds conversations with the rich and famous is notably lacking from situations where we might drop that we have just been in meeting with God in prayer.

I wonder if the lack of excitement around prayer is because may we have lost a clear sense of whom we address in prayer. If we are enthralled by conversations with the most known, most respected, and most interesting, why does a conversation with God seem blasé?

Perhaps, we easily lose track that prayer is an address to the God of the universe. As Christians, we get used to hearing that God is there for us and that we should pray. Maybe we have lost an accurate perception of the privilege we have in prayer. Because it seems like it should be the biggest name drop of all to say, “I was just talking to the Creator of all things, the One who upholds all things that exist, and the One who has overcome sin for his people.”

I wonder if we have lost a good sense of what prayer is regarding what is means that we have this privilege to speak to God. In that regard, the Lord’s Prayer starts on a note that ought to recenter our perception about what happens in prayer and what an amazing thing prayer is.

The main point is prayer ought to help us see the depth of our relationship with God.

  1. Beginning
  2. Belonging
  3. Brotherhood

Beginning

At least as I start this series, I think that we need a similar template to how we came at exploring each of the Ten Commandments. For each commandment, we asked three questions: What does this commandment teach us about God? How does it apply today? How does it point us to Christ?

It might help to have a sense of the outline of the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer consists of six petitions, bookended by what Westminster Shorter Catechism calls the preface and the conclusion. For each of these eight lines, we need to ask similar questions as from our Ten Commandments series. Namely, what does this line teach us about God, how does it help us pray, and how does it point us to Christ?

In Matthew 6:9, we have the opening address to God, has usually been called the preface: “Our Father in heaven.” This phrase reminds us of what prayer is by focusing our attention on where we send our prayers. We send them to God himself.

This phrase teaches us about God because it reminds us that he wants to hear from us. We should not be so cold as to think of prayer as a work required of us, when it is more fundamentally our privilege to speak the Creator that we might know him well and even seek his help. Westminster Shorter Catechism 100 brings this point home, “The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teaches us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.”

What prayer is should also remind us of God’s power. Heidelberg Catechism 121 raises this question, “Why the words ‘who is in heaven’?” What’s the point of mentioning that this Father whom we address in prayer is in heaven? “These words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty in an earthly way, and to expect from his almighty power everything needed for body and soul.”

The nature of prayer, as an address to the Father in heaven, highlights how in prayer we are speaking to the sovereign God who holds all things in his hands. Prayer, by its very premise, is seeking after the God who can in fact act in response to our prayers. We are not submitting a request form to a cosmic landlord who may or may not get back to us. We are not writing a letter to our congressman, who often is disinterested in what the people have to say.

 In prayer, we are speaking directly to the universal sovereign over all creation, the one who decrees what will come to pass and makes it so as he pleases. This God, who has that sort of power, is the one we address in prayer. The beginning of this prayer sets our focus on God himself as the object of prayer.

Belonging

How does the opening address, or the preface, to the Lord’s Prayer help us to pray. When we pay careful attention, we see that this profile for prayer grounds our practice of prayer in how we belong to God as his people. We see that in one little word here in the preface, “our.” 

When we address God as “our Father,” we are invoking a personal relationship. “Our” emphasizes that we should pray as if we belong to God. We are his people and have the special privilege of being able to address him and seek him in prayer.

Our practice of the Christian life must be fundamentally rooting in the reality of our belonging to God. In 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, Paul explains how Christians do not belong to themselves but to God, since Christ purchased us with his own life and the Spirit indwells us as his temple: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 

John Calvin reflected on this passage’s idea, and concluded, “we are consecrated and dedicated to God in order that we may thereafter think, speak, meditate, and do, nothing except to his glory.” Because Christ is our new representative and has definitively earned everlasting blessings for us, we are his. We are in his hands in grace because he has been so richly good to us. Our understanding of the Christian life should be fundamentally shaped by an awareness that we belong to Christ.

Heidelberg Catechism 120 asks, “Why has Christ commanded us to address God as ‘our Father’? To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer what should be basic to our prayer – a childlike reverence and trust that through Christ God has become our Father, and will mush less refuse to give us what we ask in faith than will our parents refuse us the things of this life.”

To pray addressing God as our Father out to remind us that he has made us his. It ought to place us at every moment of prayer in the posture of amazement. It ought to remind us that God has long promised that he will be our God and we will be his people. Belonging to God is at the heart of prayer.

Brotherhood

There is a common idea that has floated around for the past few hundred years, which originated in German liberalism, about the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. Now, certainly, God created all human beings. We owe our existence to him in that way. Across cultural and ethnic lines, we all trace our origins back to the same source of Adam and Eve, which means that we are all bound together in a certain way.

But, as Kevin DeYoung points out in his so far helpful book about the Lord’s Prayer, “There is no biblical warrant for thinking that God is father to all and that we are all his children in a spiritual sense.” Rather, “Only disciples get to call God ‘Father.’”

The privilege of addressing God as our Father is particular to those who belong to him because of Christ Jesus. Why is that? I’ve never caught this connection before but, in Paul’s famous section in Romans 8 about how God works all things for the good of his people, the directly preceding point is about prayer.

Romans 8:26–30: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

God is working through prayer, especially as the Holy Spirit helps us in prayer because Christ is the first among brothers [and sisters] who belong to God. In other words, we can call God our Father because of Christ. Because we belong to Christ by faith, we are made his brothers and sisters, adopted into God’s family.

Christ is God the Son. He is the natural Son of God, coming forth from the Father eternally. Christ has the first and proper right to refer to God the Father as his Father, namely because that relationship cannot be otherwise. But as Christ died to forgive our sin and rose from the grave to ensure our salvation, he has purchased us as his own. He has made all who trust in him part of the brotherhood of Christ. Christ is the reason we can pray, the reason we should have confidence as we pray, and the reason that we should rejoice as we pray.