There is not a subject I enjoy teaching on more than the subject of the fatherhood of our God. We are in the midst of a series of praying biblically. In our last two sessions I spoke to you on the principles of biblical prayer. Today I want to apply those principles as we begin to study what should rightly be called “The disciple’s prayer.” It is a prayer that our Lord taught to his disciples as a pattern for them to pray. It is recorded for us in Matthew 6, and we know it as the Lord’s prayer. The words that Jesus used with his disciples were in the Hebrew language: “avinu shabat shamayim…” or “Our Father who are in heaven.”
In Jewish prayer of this period, there are three great themes that pervade the structure of the Prayer Book.
1. The fatherhood of God—he is the Father of Israel.
2. The holiness of his name and our responsibility in our confession and in our conduct to sanctify that name, to treat it as holy.
3. The priority–and really our purpose–to live under the kingship of God. God’s dynamic ruling and reigning in the lives of those who submit to his authority.
Three themes are embodied in what Jesus taught. Today our subject is “Our Father in heaven.” I want to look at each of these words “Our Father” and “heaven,” and try to give you some understanding of what was in the background of Jesus’ thinking and part of his world as he taught his disciples this prayer.
Embodied in this opening expression are three principles about biblical prayer. Firstly, biblical prayer is direct speech—you are directing your speech to a person. Secondly, is that very fact that God is personal; so when you pray you direct your speech to him. You do not invoke some magic formula or manipulate some spiritual force. You are dealing with a person and you address him in reverent speech. Thirdly, it is prayed in the plural—with a community consciousness. He is our Father. We should pray as part of his community, his body, and indeed his church in the world.
"God is personal; so when you pray you direct your speech to him.
You do not invoke some magic formula or manipulate some spiritual force. You are dealing with a person and you address him
in reverent speech."
We say our “Father” as opposed to “the Father” because to Jesus’ mind and his Jewish disciples, God is uniquely the Father of Israel. He is never spoken of in the Scriptures as the Father of all mankind. He is the Creator of all, but he is uniquely the Father of Israel. That identification is bound inseparably to the experience of the Exodus—God’s redemption of his children Israel. We can say Elohim, the God who creates in Genesis, is the Creator of all, but Yahweh is the Father of Israel. We say “Our Father” when we pray because he has redeemed his people. In Exodus 4:22God says for Moses to tell Pharaoh: “I want you to release Israel my firstborn son, and if you do not I am going to take your firstborn son.” Thus, God says, Israel is uniquely his son. They are called the sons of Israel—the sons of God. He is a father to them. In Deuteronomy 1:31, commenting upon the great Exodus, God says, “I bore you to this place as a father carries his son.”
The image is unmistakable to the Jewish mind. The image of a father who would put his youngest son up upon his shoulders, straddling his head, holding onto his little feet as he walks about Jerusalem. It is a sign of great affection that a father has for his choicest son. God gives this mental image to Israel, he says: “I put you on my shoulders and I carried you from Egypt to this place Sinai, where I am now going to give you wisdom, guidance and direction as to how you live.” So God is uniquely the Father of Israel, because he has redeemed his children and instructed them in his ways. The image of a father is a very positive one in Jewish society, unlike in our world today. The image of a father speaks of honor, of dignity, and authority. It speaks of one who is a provider and a protector. It speaks of a God who is full of grace and truth, one who is loving, caring, and even passionate for his people. This is the image of “our Father,” a very positive image.
Through the centuries so many Christians have been corrupted into thinking about Jehovah as a distant, stern, cold, deity and judge—a very negative image. Rather it is the image of a father who is honorable and who is to be treated with dignity and respect because he cares for his children. He is passionate about his children. He abounds in grace and lovingkindness. He is merciful beyond all reason and logic. This is our Father. We say he is in heaven. It is important that you understand this phrase hebraically. It does not speak of a spatial place—of God being in space somewhere. Rather, hebraically when you say “our Father in heaven,” you are saying, “the Father who is supernatural.” It distinguishes our Father God from earthly fathers. He is our Father who is mighty in Spirit, powerful is he—so we say he is in heaven. It is not that he is somewhere, it is that he is someone who is full of power and glory, and he is to be magnified and honored.
So because of what he had done for Israel and who he is, in Deuteronomy 32 it speaks of the fact that we owe him proper behavior—appropriate responses. And if we do not, we forsake in a real sense our Father in heaven. Verses 3-6 are a prophetic utterance in the Spirit, “Is he not your father, and before he was your Father, he is your Creator.” In other words, because God is our Father, not only is that a blessing, that is also an obligation upon us to act in such a way as to honor him. To sanctify the name of God simply means to act in a way to show him to be holy, to act in a way that is honorable, so that when people see your good deeds, they will say: “what a God in heaven you serve!” They will give honor to your God. He is not only your Creator, but also your Father. To him you have responsibilities.