Series Title: "Pray Then, Like This ..."
I want to study the prayer our Lord taught his disciples as a pattern for them to pray—Pray then, like this. It is recorded for us in Matthew 6, and we know it as the Lord’s prayer. It should rightly be called the disciple’s prayer, passed to them and through them to us.
To begin, you should know that three great themes pervaded the structure of Jewish prayer in this period. It should come as no surprise these themes are emphasized in Jesus' prayer pattern. But as always, he imbued them with messianic realities.
The first theme is the fatherhood of God. The one, true God is the Father of Israel.
The second theme is the holiness of God's name and our responsibility to sanctify his name. That is, to treat it as holy in our confession and in our conduct.
The third theme is the priority of living under the kingship of God. God’s dynamic ruling and reigning in the lives of those who submit to his authority is our purpose.
I want to look closely at our Father and heaven to gain some understanding of what was in the background of Jesus’ thinking and part of his world as he taught his disciples this prayer.
First, notice three principles in this opening expression that give insight into what makes biblical prayer unique.
Firstly, biblical prayer is direct speech, you are directing your speech to a person. Secondly, because God is personal, you address him in reverent speech rather than invoking a magic formula or manipulating some spiritual force. Thirdly, it is prayed in the plural, with a community consciousness—our Father. Because He is our Father, we must recognize and pray as part of His family, His community, indeed His body in the world.
There is not a subject I enjoy teaching more than the subject of the fatherhood of our God. Here is an important distinction. God is never spoken of in the Bible 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 Yahweh's redemption of His people experienced in the Exodus.
Listen to Exodus 4:22, You shall say to Pharaoh, "Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son," and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me." Again, in Deuteronomy 1:31-32, The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.
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 is unmistakable to the Jewish mind. It is a sign of great affection. So God is uniquely the Father of Israel because he has redeemed his children and instructed them in his ways.
The idea of a father is a very positive one in Jewish society, unlike in our world today. It speaks of honor, dignity, and authority. It speaks of one who is a provider and a protector. God is a model father who is full of grace and truth, one who is loving, caring, and even passionate for his people. When Jesus teaches us to pray like this, our Father, these concepts are as vivid and real for him as he wants them to be for us.
Through the centuries, many Christians have been corrupted into thinking about the God of the Jews as Jehovah, a distant, cold, stern deity who desires to judge them. It is a negative image, exactly the opposite.
When Jesus says our Father, it is the image of an honorable father who is to be treated with dignity and respect because he cares for his children. He is passionate about his people. He abounds in grace and lovingkindness. He is merciful beyond all reason and logic. This, brothers and sisters, is our Father!
When we say he is in heaven, it is important to understand this phrase hebraically. It does not speak of a spatial place as if God is in space somewhere. To the mind of Jesus, when you say our Father in heaven you are saying “the Father who is supernatural.” Heaven distinguishes our Father God from earthly fathers. He still is the Almighty Creator of all things and to whom all things owe gratitude and allegiance so we say he is in heaven.
Our Father in heaven does not mean he is located somewhere; it means he is someone full of power and glory, and he is to be magnified and honored.
I will proclaim the name of the LORD;
ascribe greatness to our God!
“The Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
just and upright is he.
They have dealt corruptly with him;
they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
they are a crooked and twisted generation.
Do you thus repay the LORD,
you foolish and senseless people?
Is not he your father, who created you,
who made you and established you?
Remember the days of old;
consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you,
your elders, and they will tell you.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
But the LORD’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
Because our Father is our Redeemer, we owe him proper behavior and appropriate responses. If we do not, in a real sense we forsake our Father in heaven. To sanctify the name of God simply means to act in an honorable way, so that others may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
When we come to the New Testament account of the life of Jesus, we see that he takes this well-known Jewish concept of the fatherhood of God and intensifies it even more so. In fact 107 times in the gospel of John alone, he speaks of God as Father. Further, Jesus illustrates for us the character of our Father in all he says and does, whoever sees me sees him who sent me.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.