In giving us the Lord’s prayer, Jesus is not giving us a ritual to perform or a spiritual discipline to ensure our prayers are answered. Jesus is challenging us to consider what is our hearts are set on.
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) makes one main point which can be summarized in various ways: What does genuine saving faith look like? Or who will inherit eternal life? Or what characterizes the children of God?
The third section (Matthew 6:1-7:11) examines the same question from another angle: Beware of the kind of righteousness that is a show for other people.
Jesus begins this section: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (Mathew 6:1).” Then he gives 3 parallel examples of traditional Jewish religious practices (giving to the poor, praying and fasting). For each example, he contrasts how the hypocrites perform these practices with how those genuinely seeking God perform them. The particular point Jesus emphasizes is to avoid practicing your religion as a show for your peers and seeking their approval as your reward.
In the middle of his second example, Jesus includes a discussion of prayer which includes the Lord’s prayer.
In Matthew 6:5-6, Jesus warned against praying like the hypocrites pray. The pray because they want other people to admire them for their piety and devotion. Now he warns against a different kind of mistake in prayer.
7“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:7-8 ESV
- The NASB has “do not use meaningless repetition.”
- The Gentiles heap up phrases to ensure that their gods hear them.
- The Gentiles use prayer as a technique to manipulate their gods into answering.
- God is not a force to be manipulated by your skillful use of words.
- God is like a loving Father who knows your needs before you even ask.
Jesus sets up the Lord’s prayer by warning about two common mistakes.
- Using prayer as a tool to gain the worldly approval of others rather than seeking the approval of God.
- Using prayer as a tool to manipulate God into giving you worldly gain in this life.
We fall into these traps today. You can still find many books claiming to teach the “techniques” and “secrets” to a good prayer life. Jesus calls us to see prayer very differently.
How then should you pray?
- Jesus’ main point was not to give us a ritual or command a practice. He was contrasting two wrongs views of prayer with the proper view of prayer.
- Rabbis typically gave their students a prayer which embodied their main teaching (Luke 11:1). A rabbi’s prayer has one main point.
- Like a rabbi’s prayer, the Lord’s prayer is a prayer for one thing only: asking God to bring holiness.
- Each request comes in pairs. All the pairs ask for a different aspect of the same thing.
- “Thy kingdom come” is the main point which is echoed in each line. It is asking for God to completely banish sin and death once and for all and make us holy as He is holy, which will happen when He establishes His kingdom through the Messiah.
9Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread, 12and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:9-15
This podcast covers the the first three petitions (Matthew 6:9-10). Below is a wooden, literal translation to help you think about the prayer and to see the poetry of it.
Our Father — who is in heaven
Let it be holy — your name
Let it come — your kingdom
Let it be done — your will on earth as it is done in heaven
Our Father — who is in heaven
- In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to God as “your father” 15 times in 13 verses; 8 times he qualifies Father by saying “your father who is in heaven” or “your heavenly father” (Matt 5:16; Matt 4:45; Matt 5:48; Matt 6:1; Matt 6:4; Matt 6:6; Matt 6:8; Matthew 6:9; Matt 6:14; Matt 6:15; Matt 6:18; Matt 6:32; Matt 7:11;).
- Jesus continues to refer to God as “our Father” throughout the rest of Matthew’s gospel.
- By contrast, in the Old Testament “Father” is never used as direct address to God. Rather “father” is used metaphorically in to describe God in the Old Testament.
- Scholars are divided how whether addressing God as “Father” was common for Jews of the day or Jesus is introducing something new.
- In either case, calling God “our heavenly Father” is Jesus’ preferred way to talk about God to us.
- “Father” (probably “Abba” in Aramaic) affirms both the respect of addressing a superior and a profound personal relationship between the speaker and the one addressed.
Let it be Holy — your name
The request is for God to vindicate His name so that everyone on earth will know that He is holy.
16The word of the LORD came to me: 17“Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. 18So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. 19I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. 20But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ 21But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. – Ezekiel 36:16-21
- Israel was in the land but they defiled it by turning away from God and worshiping idols. God disciplined them by sending them into captivity in other nations. Their enemies defeated them.
- God says as you’re taken out the land and into captivity, you have profaned my name.
- To profane means to treat it as common, or to treat it as not holy. To profane something is the opposite of sanctify.
- To sanctify something is to proclaim it as holy.
- To profane God’s name is not to acknowledge that He is awesome and glorious, to deny that He is the author and creator of the universe who needs to be reckoned with.
- When the Babylonians defeat Israel, they could scoff: why worship the God of Israel, who lets His people be captured (Ezekiel 26:20-21)?
- God’s name and reputation have been profaned by the disobedience of His people.
22“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. -Ezekiel 26:22-28
- As I understand it, Ezekiel 26:22-28 describes the coming kingdom of God still in our future.
- God is going to forgive His people for their sins and gather them together as people. He will give them a new heart and put His Spirit on them, such that they will walk in all His statues and obey all His rules.
- In doing all this, God says He is going to vindicate the holiness of His great name.
- God is going to vindicate His name when His kingdom comes so that every living creature will see and understand that He alone is God, and He is wise, holy and just.
- To pray “let it be — holy your name” is to pray for that day to come.
Let it come—thy kingdom
- The Old Testament promised that a day is coming when God will establish His kingdom over all the earth through the Messiah.
- At that time all the people of God throughout history will be raised from the dead and they will live in peace and righteousness under the Messiah.
- In one sense, God is King and rules over the whole world now, but in another sense, His rule has not yet been established. Sin on earth has disrupted God’s rule and broken His people.
- This petition asks God to restore His holiness and remove sin and death.
- This request is for God’s holiness to come in the form of His kingdom.
Let it be done—thy will on earth as it is done in heaven
- This request is for God to establish His will on the earth just like His will is established in heaven.
- God is going to give His people a new heart and a new spirit such that we will be cleansed, forgiven, and holy like He is. Sin, death, futility, evil and corruption will be no more.
- When that happens, God’s will will be established on the earth in a full, complete and perfect way.
All of these are requests for the kingdom of God to come.
- For God to bring the day when no one dismisses or curses God anymore and everyone recognizes that God is the one true God.
- For God to establish His promised kingdom through the Messiah ruling over all the earth.
- For God to bring the day when all evil is vanquished and this world finally reflects God’s commitment to holiness, righteousness and justice.
This prayer challenges us to think about what we really want from God.
- We could have our hearts set on the applause of our peers. We could use prayer as a means to gain that approval.
- We could have our hearts set on the prosperity of this world. We could use prayer as a means to gain God’s material blessings.
- We could be seeking to use prayer as a means to get God to solve our problems in this world and give us an easy life.
- Or we could have our hearts set on being freed from our sin and finding eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.
- Jesus is not warning something like: don’t use either of these 2 styles of prayer.
- Jesus is asking us to consider what is our hearts are set on. What do you really want from God?