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The Lord’s prayer & daily prayers. Learning how to pray: The Lord’s prayer

We’re finishing up our series on the Lord’s prayer this morning. As we saw when the disciple asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:2). And we have also now sought to learn how to pray by learning the Lord’s prayer.

Let me begin today by asking, “How often should we pray the Lord’s prayer?” Or, “How often do you think Jesus intended us to pray it?” Ever thought about this? One way to answer this is to ask: How often do you need forgiveness? Or, how often do you want to be spared difficult times of testing? Or even more specifically,  how often do you need daily bread? Hint – “daily.” The answer for all these questions is every day. Now we could leave it here and have an early morning of it.

But I want to set this question against the background out of which the Lord’s prayer comes, which is the practice of –

Daily prayers

This was an ancient Jewish pattern of devotion to God. Daily prayers are set times of prayer in the morning and evening. Here are some examples of this in Scripture –

  • Psalm 22:2 – “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”
  • Psalm 88:1-2 – “O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!”

These times of prayer coincided with the routine of the Temple sacrifices. The Temple was, after all, the house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7, Mark 11:17), and prayers were offered up with the sacrifices. And, indeed, the prayers themselves were also seen as sacrifices to God or as a part of the sacrifice. Here are some examples:

  • Morning sacrifice: Psalm 5:3 – “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”
  • Evening sacrifice: Psalm 141:2 – “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”

So prayers are being offered at the times of sacrifice in the morning and evening. It may well be true that the temple routine is the root of this practice of set times of prayer in the morning and evening.

There is also a threefold pattern in Scripture with an afternoon time of prayer added on. Here are a couple of examples –

  • Psalm 55:16-17 – “But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.”
  • Daniel 6:10 – “Daniel . . . got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God.”

This afternoon time of prayer, when it was observed, was usually shorter. (See also Psalm 119:164)

The actual times of prayer are as follows:

  • Morning prayers – 9:00 AM (the 3rd hour)
  • Noon prayers – 12:00 PM (the 6th hour)
  • Evening prayers – 3:00 PM (the 9th hour)

There was some flexibility here as to morning and evening prayers. It was more casual, perhaps, outside of Jerusalem and the Temple routine. It was more like early morning and sunset, perhaps related to the work schedules of the common person (see Jesus’ practice below).

Now let’s look at –

Jesus and daily prayers

We see this pattern of daily prayers in Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Luke 18:1 says, “And Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” In Luke 18:7 this means praying “day and night” – a reference to daily prayers.

We also see daily prayers in Jesus’ example of praying, for instance –

  • He practiced early morning prayers, as we see in Mark 1:35 – “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
  • He also practiced later evening prayers, as we see in Matthew 14:23 – “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” (It was already evening before the feeding of the 5,000 began – 14:15, so this is even later in the evening.)

Let me also share this, because it’s interesting, and it ties in with Jesus’ example. These times of prayer are connected to the cross:

  • During morning prayers (3rd hour) – Jesus was crucified
  • During afternoon prayers (6th hour) – there was darkness
  • During evening prayers (9th hour) – Jesus died

But not only this, in Luke there is a prayer connected to each one:

  • At the time of morning prayers – Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” – Luke 23:34
  • At the time of evening prayers – Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” – Luke 23:46

So Jesus observes daily prayers, in shortened form, on the cross.

 And then at the time of afternoon prayers – the thief prays to Jesus – Luke 23:42. He prayed, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Now, let’s look at –

The apostle Peter and daily prayers

Just going through the book of Act in order, three examples:

  • Morning prayers in Acts 2:15 – Peter and the rest were in the upper room in morning prayers when the Spirit fell at Pentecost.
  • Evening prayers in Acts 3:1 – Peter and John were on their way to evening prayers in the Temple when they healed the paralyzed man.
  • Afternoon prayers in Acts 10:9 – Peter was observing afternoon prayers when he received the vision of the acceptance of the Gentiles.

Peter and the early Christians in the book of Acts observed daily prayers.

And then we have –

The apostle Paul and daily prayers

Paul practiced daily prayers. For example:

  • In 1 Thessalonians 3:10 he said, “we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you.”
  • In 2 Timothy 1:3 he said, “I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day

Also, with regard to teaching Paul’s calls to constant prayer should be seen against the background of daily prayers.

  • Colossians 4:2 – “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving”
  • Romans 12:12 – “Be constant in prayer” that is, be constant in your prayers every day.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:17 – “pray without ceasing” which is to say, don’t cease to say your daily prayers. I don’t think that this is a call to a figurative kind of prayer – ‘to be in a spirit of prayer.’ It’s a call to real prayer at set times during the day.

Bringing this home, let’s look at –

The Lord’s prayer as a daily prayer

Daily prayers are the context of the giving of the Lord’s prayer. In Luke 11:2 Jesus said “when you pray . . .” pray the Lord’s prayer. In this Jewish context this could only be taken as a reference to daily prayers. The background here is that John the Baptist had taught his disciples a set prayer for their daily prayers and now Jesus is saying when you say your daily prayers, say this prayer. That is, during your set times of prayer offer up these five petitions of the prayer of Jesus.

This was understood in the early church, even among Gentiles. In The Didache, a book written for Gentile Christians instructing them how to be Christians, parts of which may be from the late first century, teaches us to pray the Lord’s prayer three times each day (chapter 8).

Disciplined praying

 So we’ve answered our question. How often should we pray the Lord’s prayer? Once, twice, or maybe even three times a day.

We’re not talking about some dead routine or lifeless ritual here. We’re talking about discipline in our prayers. And it’s certainly possible to be both disciplined with set times for prayer and Spirit led, as Jesus and the apostles model for us. After all, who knew more about the Spirit than they? And they observed the discipline of daily prayers.

Now, of course, this doesn’t exclude spontaneous prayer at any time during the day and night, but our focus today is planned times of disciplined prayer.

If you already have a good pattern, I want to encourage you in it and to work in the Lord’s prayer in a way that’s meaningful to you. If you don’t have a disciplined pattern of prayer, I encourage you to try daily prayers with the Lord’s prayer as a focus, remembering that it only takes a minute or two to pray it.

However you want to do it, let’s remember Paul words in Romans 12:12 – “Be constant in prayer.” And that’s the message for today. Be disciplined in your daily devotion to God and utilize the prayer that Jesus gave us for this purpose.

The testing request. Learning how to pray: The Lord’s prayer

We’re finishing up the second set of requests of the Lord’s prayer today, which have to do with our needs and concerns.

As we’ve seen we need the food, clothing and shelter necessary to sustain us day by day. We also need regular forgiveness and grace to maintain our relationship with God – and as a part of this we also need to give forgiveness and grace to others.

And then today we have before us what I’m calling the testing request; the final petition of the Lord’s prayer. It comes to us in two forms:

  • “And do not lead us into testing” – Luke 11:4
  •  “And do not lead us into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” – Matthew 6:13

Now, these are the same, except for the additional phrase that Matthew has, which is really just saying the same thing in the opposite way (antithetical parallelism). As we’ll see, to not lead us into testing is to deliver us from the evil one, who tests us.

Let’s begin with –

Three clarifications about this request

And first, we deal with a matter of translation. You are no doubt used to hearing this request with the word “temptation” in it, that is, “lead us not into temptation.” So, should it be “temptation” or “testing”?

Well, the Greek word here (πειρασμός) can mean temptation. But more broadly it means a test or trial. The reason I prefer the translation “testing” is that it refers to the whole process of faith testing.

You know how it works – we find ourselves in a difficult situation and then we have to make choices about whether we will be faithful to God or not. And this request doesn’t just refer to the moments of temptation, but to the whole situation of difficulty; the trial we’re going through.

A second clarification, God does allow us to be tested. We wouldn’t need to pray this, if God didn’t. So God may or may not lead us into times of trial, and we ask that he not do this. Here are just a few examples of God’s testing:

  • God tested Abraham. Genesis 22:1 says, “after these things God tested Abraham,” referring to when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac.
  • God tested Israel in the wilderness – Deuteronomy 8:2, specifically with regard to being hungry and relying on God for daily food.
  • And God tested Jesus in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry – Matthew 4:1-11.

As Proverbs 17:3 says more generally, “the Lord tests hearts.”

Why does God test us? God wants to know what’s in our heart; whether we will be faithful or not. This is what Deuteronomy 8:2 tells us.

Also Hebrews 12:10 tells us that God tests us – “for our good.” It’s not that we’ve done something wrong, although God can discipline us in this way. It’s that God wants to train us and help us grow in our faith and in our relationship with him.

And as he tests us, God is on our side. He wants us to succeed. And God is with us and helps us by his Spirit when we go through difficulties.

Third, in Matthew’s extra phrase, “deliver us from the evil one” should it be “evil one” referring to Satan or simply “evil/harm”?

 It’s true that tests always involve some kind of difficulty or suffering – so there’ harm to us. Faith testing does involve going through a hard time. The reason I prefer the translation “evil one” is because it’s broader. It includes both ideas. In a test we suffer hardship and the evil one is the instrument of the hardship.

For although God allows us to be tested, it’s actually Satan who tests us. He is called the “tester” – in Mark 1:13. It’s one of his names. And how was Jesus tested in the wilderness? “Jesus was . . . tested by the devil” – Matthew 4:1.

Satan asks to test us and God either allows it or doesn’t.

  • This comes out clearly in Job 1-2 – Satan asked permission to test Job.
  • And In Luke 22:31 Jesus says that “Satan demanded” to test the apostles when Jesus was arrested.

Why does Satan test us? He wants us to fail. He wants us to sin so that he can condemn and judge us (Hebrew 2:14). Peter tells us that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” – 1 Peter 5:8

So faith testing is a high stakes situation. God wants us to succeed and grow, but Satan is ever lurking to destroy us.

What this request means

It’s a bit strange, really. Even though we’re promised in Scripture that we will be tested (1 Thessalonians 3:4; 2 Timothy 3:12; Acts 14:22), and even though God uses testing for our own good, what Jesus is teaching us to pray for here is “spare us  testing!” Spare us trials, spare us suffering, spare us pain. “Father, have mercy!” “Deliver us from the evil one who wants to test us.”

When we understand how this works, we understand that to be delivered from Satan is to be delivered from testing.

So this is what’s going on: Satan comes before God to seek permission to test us. And we pray that God not allow it. “Don’t listen to Satan!” We’re countering his petition to test us.

Why pray this?

1. Because hardships are painful and distressing. And if you’re anything like me you should be highly motivated to pray this request. For, I firmly believe, when we pray this God does hear us and spares us testing that we would have otherwise undergone, if we didn’t pray it. So, unless you just like trials, you should have every incentive to be faithful in praying this request!

2. Because we’re weak and might fail God. This prayer is based in a sober awareness of our weakness and vulnerability to fall. In the context of encouraging his disciples to pray this prayer request just before his arrest, Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38.

Yes, God gives us his Spirit to help us, as Jesus also said to them, “the Spirit indeed is willing” – Mark 14:38. But our request comes from humility. So we call out, “Have mercy on us in our weakness.” “God, we might fail the test and bring condemnation on ourselves and dishonor to your name. Spare us!”

Now, God will not always grant this request. He told Jesus no in the garden of Gethsemane and he will tell us no at times also. But even in this situation, we know that we have at least reminded God of our weakness and we can know that God will have mercy on us in the test. He will not allow us to experience the full assault of the evil one that would surely overwhelm and destroy us (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Some final thoughts

1. You can also pray this when you’re in a test, that it might end. So the sense is, “Do not lead us into further testing.” The request is not just preventative. “This test is very hard, God, please let it stop. I’m barely hanging on.” I have prayed this many times. (See Philippians 1:19)

2. The Lord’s prayer is “circular.” We pray to be spared testing – the last request, but also we go back to the first two petitions – Your name be hallowed, Your will be done. The end loops back around to the beginning. “God, if this test honors your name and is your will – may it be so.”

What I’m saying is that sometimes the first two petitions trump the last one, and we’re tested nevertheless.

  • When facing the cross Jesus prayed “remove this cup from me” in Mark 14:36, which is another way of praying “lead me not into testing.” But he also prayed the first petition, “your name be glorified” in John 12:28 looking ahead to the cross.
  • Jesus prayed to be spared in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he also prayed right after this, “yet, not what I want, but what you want” in Mark 14:36, which is another form of the second petition, your will be done.

We ask to be spared, but we submit this request to the first two requests – “your name be honored, your will be done.”

3. This is a corporate request. We pray “don’t lead us into testing,”  not just “me.” As we pray this we’re also praying for fellow believers in our congregation and throughout the world, many of whom are suffering greatly in times of testing – through poor economic conditions and political and religious persecution.

4. We should pray this diligently. We need to understand that we’re in a spiritual battle. Through baptism you declare yourself for the kingdom of God in a war between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of darkness. And so you become a target of Satan’s wrath.

Satan appears before God’s throne to seek to test us; to destroy us. And it’s God’s plan that we come as well and make our counter petition, “spare us.” Satan is not lazy, but persistently seeks our demise. But how often are we more like the disciples in Gethsemane, who don’t know what’s going on, who are not alert in prayer, and we fail.

We need to be diligent in our prayers and in praying this request.

The forgiveness request. Learning how to pray: The Lord’s prayer

We’re continuing on in our study of the Lord’s prayer, remembering that when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray in Luke 11:2 – the Lord’s prayer is what he taught them. And so as we learn to pray the Lord’s prayer we’re learning how to pray.

Last time we started into the second section of requests that have to do with our needs and concerns. And we saw how to pray for daily bread is to pray for what we need of food, clothing and shelter to sustain us day by day.

Today we have before us the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer. And it comes to us in two slightly different forms:

  • “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” – Luke 11:4
  •  “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven those indebted to us” – Matthew 6:12

[Notice that Luke has “sins” for “debts” in the first phrase. Also Luke has “for” instead of “as” in the second phrase, although the meaning is basically the same. Finally, whereas Matthew has “we have forgiven” past tense (aorist), Luke has “we ourselves forgive” or “are forgiving” which is present tense. A different emphasis.]

Alright, let’s dig in and see what we can learn from this –

First, this request is all about relationships

It deals with our relationship with God and also our relationships with all other people. And the focus is on maintaining right relationships. So, really, every time we pray this prayer we’re checking in to make sure that we’re right in our hearts and lives with God and others.

  • Each time we can pause and examine our relationship with God. What needs to be taken care of? Is God close? Is there some barrier that I’ve erected?
  • And each time we can pause and examine our relationships with others. Specifically, am I holding a grudge? Is there bitterness? Do I have wrong feelings and attitudes toward someone else?

We need to maintain our relationships with God and others.

I’ve already told you that of all the things Jesus could have chosen as the most important things we can pray for; our most important needs – he chose this as one. So this is a real priority. First keeping up with our relationship with God and then with others. And as we’ll see in a minute the two are interconnected.

This request assumes we will not be perfect

We will fail at times in our commitment to God and in our relationships with each other.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not an excuse to sin, you know, “we’re going to fail anyway, so why try?”God has given us everything that we need for a life of godliness – 2 Peter 1:3. There’s no lack from God’s end in terms of his power and grace given to us.

But, the fact that this request is in the prayer shows us that we do still fail, we still struggle, we make mistakes, we choose to do what is wrong, we often take the easy way – that is not God’s will for us. Like daily bread, we need regular grace and forgiveness in our lives. Again, we see that this prayer is supremely practical and connected to our real life experiences.

It teaches us something about the meaning of sin and forgiveness

In both versions, the word “debt” is used to talk about sin. (Luke also uses the word sin and Matthew in 6:14-15 uses the word trespasses to make sure we get that debt here means sin). Jesus is using a financial metaphor for sin and forgiveness. This was not uncommon in that day (also Matthew 18:23-35).

It goes like this – because God created us, we owe God everything. We have obligations to God. Specifically we owe God honor and obedience as his servants. When we don’t give God what we should, we incur a debt to God, which is what sin is.

This same idea is true in our relationships with each other. We owe each other to treat each other well. And when we don’t give this to someone we incur a debt to that person; we have sinned against them.

Forgiveness, then, is the release of this debt by God or another person. And indeed the word “forgiveness” in Scripture means “to release” someone from an obligation – whether legal, financial or moral. Have you ever had a financial debt you couldn’t pay? One with disastrous consequences? Can you imagine having it forgiven? Well that’s what sin and forgiveness is like. That’s the picture this request uses.

Next, even though it may appear that all we’re doing here is asking for forgiveness from God, biblically . . .

Asking for forgiveness assumes confession and repentance

In other words, asking for forgiveness is part of a series of actions that lead to finding true forgiveness from God – all of which are necessary to be forgiven.

The assumption here is that if you’re asking to be forgiven you are acknowledging that what you did was truly wrong, which is confession. And you are committing to not do it again, which is repentance.

But yet we do sometimes simply want the benefits of forgiveness – peace and relationship, without the hard work of confession and repentance. But this doesn’t work!

  • 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the connection between forgiveness and confession.
  • 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people who are called by my name (talking about the the people of God here or the church today) humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Notice the connection here between forgiveness and repentance – turning from our wicked ways as God’s people.

To ask for forgiveness without confession and repentance is presumption upon God’s grace, and we should not expect such a request to be received by God.

We’re not just asking for ourselves, but for all the people of God

This is a corporate prayer, “forgive us,” not just “forgive me.” This may seem a bit strange to us, but it was common in biblical times to think and act this way. They had a stronger sense of community and communal identity.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Daniel says in Daniel 9:20 – “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel . . .” He confesses his and his people’s sins.
  • Nehemiah prays in Nehemiah 9:33 – “we have acted wickedly” – talking in context about things that other Israelites have done, not what he has personally done.

So when we pray this request, we pray for forgiveness for ourselves, but also for God to forgive all of his people who turn to him in repentance. We’re asking, “God have mercy on your people. Forgive, heal and restore.”

Here I would just mention, that yes, Jesus could pray this prayer request. Some say that we shouldn’t call the Lord’s prayer the Lord’s prayer because Jesus couldn’t pray this petition since he was sinless. But he could pray this petition for us.

Finally, if we don’t forgive others, God will not continue to forgive us

Jesus makes crystal clear that our relationship with God is interconnected with our relationship with others. That’s why this request for forgiveness from God has the additional phrases:

  • as we also have forgiven those indebted to us” – Matthew 6:12
  •  “for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” – Luke 11:4

 The “as” and the “for” point this out. God will forgive us, but we must also forgive others who sin against us. There’s a connection. And every time we pray this we’re reminded of it.

In Matthew, this point is emphasized with an additional comment at the end. Jesus says this in 6:14-15 – “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Let’s note here that we’re not earning our forgiveness by forgiving others. Jesus doesn’t mean that if we forgive someone first, then God has to forgive us. We do something and then God is obliged to respond.

No. To pray this prayer is to have already first received God’s grace. That’s why we can say, “father.” We’re God’s child by grace. God’s grace always comes first. We don’t earn it. (Also in Matthew 18:23-35.)

But this petition does teach us that those who receive mercy from God, have to pass it on to others. And if we cut off mercy to others, it will be cut off from us by God.

This is a common theme in the teaching of Jesus:

  • Mark 11:25 – “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
  • Luke 6:37 – “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” To judge or condemn is to withhold forgiveness from others. If we do this we will be judged and condemned by God (see also Matthew 18:35). But if we forgive others, God will forgive us.

The bread request. Learning how to pray: The Lord’s prayer

We’re back to the Lord’s prayer today talking about what it means to ask God for daily bread.

As we do this we’re moving into the second section of requests in the prayer. Remember, section one focuses on God’s agenda – the hallowing of God’s name and the coming of his kingdom. Section two focuses on our needs. And the petition for daily bread begins this second section of requests.

We start with the question –

What are we really asking for here?

“Bread” literally means “a baked product produced from a cereal grain” (BDAG). In Jesus’ day it could be made from wheat, like today, or for the poor from barley. The word is also commonly used as a way of talking about food in general, not just bread. Still broader it can be used to talk about our basic needs or material provisions for our lives. So not just food but also things like shelter and clothing.

This idea still persists and shows up here and there. In our culture, in the 60’s – “bread” was a way of talking about money – which we use to provide for our needs. Sometimes still today we talk about getting some “dough.” In this broader sense “bread” can also mean a livelihood or a job. So to have bread is to have your basic needs met.

The word “daily” seems simple enough. But it’s actually the first place that this word shows up in all the ancient world in all the surviving documents. And it’s not clear what it means. So there’s lots of disagreement in discussions of what this word means. But we won’t get into all that. I would just say that “daily” works, but it’s not so much a reference to time, but to amount.

Here are some texts that help us get the sense of what this is about. Proverbs 30:8-9 says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” The author doesn’t want too much or too little, but what’s needful; an amount.

Exodus 16:4 talks about gathering the manna in the wilderness. It is surely connected to our petition. It says, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day . . ..” Again, an amount is in view. Enough bread for the day.

So when we put these two words together – “daily” and “bread” – what we’re doing is praying for what we need to sustain us day by day.

Just a note here on –

The difference between Matthew and Luke

They give the request in slightly different forms:

  • Matthew 6:11 – “Give us this day our daily bread”
  • Luke 11:3 – “Give us each day our daily bread”

Luke’s present tense verb “give” and the phrase “each day” emphasizes the progressive day by day provision. Matthew’s request is more general.

Let’s look at some –

Lessons we learn from this request

1. Bread is very important. Notice that this very mundane request for material provisions comes first – before forgiveness, and for help in difficult times of faith testing. I’m not saying it’s more important, but it’s important.

We sometimes marginalize it, maybe because we have so much abundance around us. Or, we say let’s focus on the spiritual because it has priority. But the material is necessary too. And it’s hard to be focused on other things when you’re hungry.

So the very practical nature of this prayer comes out here. It’s very much connected to the reality of life around us.

2. We are to trust God for our provision. This is why we ask for it in prayer.

As Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:32-33 – we are not to be like the Gentiles who devote their whole lives to the pursuit of material provisions and trust in their own powers for this. We are to seek first the Kingdom of God and righteousness and then trust God to provide for our needs.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-26 – “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” God will provide for us if we seek him and trust him.

For many to whom Jesus taught this  they literally did depend on God for food each day. They had no reserve. They lived hand to mouth. If they worked a given day they would eat, if not they didn’t. And they had no job security. Maybe they’ll have work tomorrow. Maybe not. And this is still true today in places.

But even we who have a lot – several weeks or more of food stored up – we need to remember that what we have can perish. It really could all disappear tomorrow. The future is not in our control. We feel that nothing can touch us, but it could. Nations rise and fall and people’s lives can turn from calm to turmoil in a second.

And so we must never trust in our resources, but in God. And so we continue to pray daily for our needs.

3. We pray for bread for ourselves and for others. As we saw before, this is a corporate prayer – “give us.” It’s both petition and intercession at the same time. We pray for our material provisions and at the same time we pray for the needs of God’s people throughout the world. It’s not just about us or selfishness. And, of course, we can pray for others who have need of bread as well.

4. We are to pray for “daily” bread. This teaches us to learn contentment. Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray for more than we need. Jesus doesn’t say pray for abundance, indulgence, extravagance. So, you see this speaks against various prosperity preachers who say that God wants you to have luxury and to seek God for this. We pray for the bread we need day by day.

In our culture of more is better, and where every few seconds we are bombarded by messages that say we need more and better stuff – we need to learn once again what contentment is.

Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” God is our portion, not wealth and we can be content that God is with us.

1 Timothy 6:7-8 says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Who among us can say this?? Content with food and clothing? Now, granted, Paul was single and a missionary, and we live in a colder climate – but this is amazing.

So this is a challenge to our abundance and our ingrained expectation of continued abundance. I hope we can receive this and truly learn to pray for our “daily” needs.

5. If we receive more than we need, we ought to share with those who have less than they need.  We live in the most affluent society that has ever existed on earth – not everyone here is rich, of course, but by the standards of history – most are. And yet all around us in the world there are those who don’t have their basic needs met.

  • More than 805 million people in the world go hungry
  • About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger related causes
  • One person dies every three and a half seconds – mostly children. How many is that just since we started our worship service?

And there are Christian families among these who cannot feed themselves.

Is God not giving enough daily bread? Well, there’s more than enough food in the world. It’s just that God distributes it in such a way that some get more and some get less  – and God expects us to share.

Paul makes this point in 2 Corinthians 8:14-15 where he references the giving of the manna and gathering just what you need. He says to the Corinthians, “Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’” Because of this sharing all had their needs met.

So the question comes back to us: Will we who have more from God than we need, give to those who have less than they need? We need to learn contentment so that our excess can become their provision from God of daily bread.

 

The kingdom request. Learning how to pray: The Lord’s prayer

We’re in our series on the Lord’s prayer. As we’ve seen, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he gave them the Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:1-2). And so as we learn how to pray the Lord’s prayer we’re learning how to pray.

And I certainly want to challenge you to grow in your prayer life and your discipline in prayer as we go through this series.

Last week we looked at the first request – “hallowed be your name.” We saw that it’s a plea for God to act to make himself known in the world through his people – so that everyone will come to glorify and honor him. Today we look at the second petition – “your kingdom come.”

Now the phrase “the kingdom of God” covers a lot! In fact in Mark 1:15 it’s a summary for all that Jesus taught. But we’ll keep it simple here today and begin with some broad themes.

First –

God’s kingdom equals God’s will being done

In Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer the kingdom request has another phrase connected to it which means the same thing (synonymous parallelism).

  • There’s “Your kingdom come”
  • But also “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” [Like the hallowing request this phrase is also a divine passive and means something like “cause your will to be done.”]

I say these requests mean the same thing because, other than heaven, the kingdom of God is not tied to a particular place, like earthly kings usually have specific areas they rule over and if you live there you have to do what they say. God’s kingdom is wherever God’s kingly rule is being put into practice; wherever people are doing God’s will.

So God’s kingdom coming to earth, and God’s will being done on earth mean the same thing.

To pray “your kingdom come” means calling on God to act so that his will is done on earth.

A second theme has to do with conflict –

God’s kingdom is opposed by another kingdom

With the hallowing request, the assumption is that the world doesn’t know God and so God needs to reveal himself so that he will be known and glorified. Notice the assumption here. God is not fully in control of the earth. God’s will is fully done in the realm of heaven, but it’s not on earth. Otherwise we wouldn’t need to pray for this!

Even though God created the earth and so it’s rightfully his, and he created us and we should gratefully obey him, for now God chooses to allow us to defy him. Another way of saying this is that the world is in rebellion against God.

 This other kingdom is often called in Scripture “the world” or as Revelation 11:15 puts it – “the kingdom of the world.” It’s made up of several parts:

  • The nations of the earth: Psalm 2:1-3 says, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’” The nations do not walk in God’s way and they oppose his purposes.
  • Cosmic, spiritual powers: Ephesians 6:12 speaks of  “the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” These are behind the nations and influence and control them. Think of Daniel 10 and the angels who were the princes of Persia and Greece who fought against God’s angel Michael.
  • And then there’s Satan: Jesus calls him the “ruler of this world” – John 12:31. And Paul calls him the “god of this world” – 2 Corinthians 4:4.

So the earth is under the control of powers hostile to God and God’s purposes – both human and spiritual. And life under this kingdom is characterized by sin and rebellion and ends in death.

So to pray “your kingdom come” means calling for the defeat of this kingdom and the establishment of God’s rule. This request is all about spiritual warfare.

A third theme –

The coming of the kingdom is God’s promised salvation

It’s the fix for all that’s wrong with this world. It’s the fulfillment of all God’s promises to overcome evil, to heal our suffering and brokenness, and to bring forth blessing, peace and life.

When it comes:

  • “The Lord will be king over all the earth” – Zechariah 14:9
  • The good news will go forth, “Your God reigns” – Isaiah 52:7
  • God will establish “a kingdom that shall never be destroyed” but will bring to an end all human kingdoms – Daniel 2:44
  • God’s people will be given “a new heart” that obeys the Lord – Ezekiel 36:26
  • The nations will seek the Lord to “teach them his ways” “that they may walk in his paths” – Micah 4:2
  • God “will swallow up death forever . . . and wipe away tears from all faces” – Isaiah 25:8
  • “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” – Habakkuk 2:14

So praying “your kingdom come” means praying for God’s salvation to come and for all to receive.

A final theme  –

The kingdom of God has to do with the exertion of God’s power

It’s about God releasing his power. 1 Corinthians 4:20 says, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power.”

To what end is God’s power released? To do all that we’ve just looked at:

  • To make sure that God’s will is done on earth
  • To defeat the kingdom of this world
  • To bring to pass God’s salvation

The kingdom is all about God moving in power to do these things.

This power is exerted through God’s Spirit and God’s Word, who is Jesus and also the gospel (and the written Scriptures). This is how the Father acts to bring about the kingdom.

  • As the crowd said about Jesus, “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him” – Mark 1:27
  • And Jesus said, “It is by the power of the Spirit that I cast out demons” – Matthew 12:28.
  • And Paul said this about the gospel – “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” – Romans 1:16.

So praying “your kingdom come” means praying for God’s power to go forth through his Spirit and Word to bring the kingdom to earth.

Next we look at –

How the kingdom comes

And there’s a process here.

1. The kingdom has begun with the coming of Jesus. God prepared for it throughout the Old Testament, but it truly came when Jesus came.

And he came, fully empowered by the Spirit to bring forth the kingdom. In Acts 10:38 Peter says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

– Jesus said in Mark 1:15 – “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” God’s promises are being fulfilled and the kingdom has begun.

– He said in Matthew 12:28 – “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

In his ministry he illustrated the reality of the kingdom. He taught us what God’s will is and he gave us a glimpse of God’s salvation when he cast out demons, forgave sins and made people whole. And he set up a community, a remnant of Israel, committed to doing God’s will.

In his death and resurrection he established the kingdom – dethroning Satan and taking his rightful place as Lord. And he poured out the Spirit on his community to continue his work. Which leads to the next part of the process.

2. He sends us out to spread God’s kingdom. We go forth in his name and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is what he said when he commissioned us – Matthew 28:19-20 –  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

And as we share the good news of the kingdom people receive God’s salvation and new communities of the kingdom are established that stand apart from the nations and their ways because they do God’s will.

3. When Jesus returns he will bring the kingdom to completion. He will return in great glory. And then it will be said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he shall reign forever and ever.” – Revelation 11:15.

This will be the time of the resurrection, the final judgment and the new creation. And God’s will, will be done on earth just as in heaven. The two will be one.

Finally, and practically, let’s look at –

Different ways of praying this request

We can pray it in different time frames. In the future tense we pray that God will bring about the final day, when God does just what we talked about when Jesus returns.

In the present tense we pray:

  • for God’ will to be done in our own lives
  • for individuals to be saved or “enter the kingdom” as Jesus often talked about.
  • for new churches to be planted; communities of the kingdom, where God’s will is done.

We can also use different words. Here are some scriptural examples of this request:

  • “Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! – Psalm 82:8
  • “Rule in the midst of your enemies” – Psalm 110:2
  • On a more personal level, we can pray as Jesus did in Gethsemane – “Father, not what I will, but what you will” – Mark 14:36
  • We can also pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” – Revelation 22:20. How many of us pray for Jesus to return?

Here are some paraphrases I use that try to catch some of the nuances of what this request means:

  • May your glorious reign be established. May your will be done on earth, just as in heaven.
  • Cause this world to be transformed by your power so that righteousness prevails and evil is no more.
  • Send forth your Word and your Spirit. Set people free, transform us, make us whole, so that we can all do your will, just as Jesus has taught us.
  • May many hear your good news and receive your salvation today. And may many churches be established that do your will.
  • Take away evil, suffering and death. Fill the world with righteousness, peace and joy.

 

The name request. Learning how to pray: The Lord’s prayer

We’re beginning today to look at the first section of requests found in the Lord’s prayer, and we start with the first one – “hallowed be your name.” This is probably the least understood request of the whole prayer, so I want us to spend some time looking at what it means.

The meaning of the request

1. First of all, this is not an offering of praise to God. We’re not saying, ‘Father, we hallow your name,’ so that we begin our prayer with praise. Now this is a good thing to do as Psalm 100:4 tells us, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” But that’s not what we’re doing here.

Rather this is a petition to God. This is clear in the grammar that’s used in both Matthew and Luke. (It’s an aorist imperative – an imperative of entreaty; a request.) We’re asking God to do something.

2. The phrase “hallowed be your name”– notice the passive voice here –  is what’s called a divine passive. This is a deferential, respectful way of speaking of God that uses a passive grammatical construction, but has an active meaning. It means, “God, hallow your name.” This is kind of odd to us, but was fairly common in Judaism at this time.

But, what does it mean to ask God to hallow his name?

3. A person’s name stands for the person, their character and identity. It has to do with their reputation or renown; who they are and how they’re seen by others. So we’re asking God to act. Show who you are, so that people will know who you are. Make yourself known.

4. The word “hallow” means to regard as sacred or holy. We don’t use this word anymore, except in the word Halloween (all hallows or saints eve) which isn’t much help here. Sometimes it’s translated “sanctify” as in, “your name be sanctified.” But I don’t think this get us much further in terms of understanding the meaning.

“Hallow” is from the word “holy” which means ‘set apart or different’ with the idea of ‘better or special’ connected to it. So we’re praying that people will see that God is different and better than all else – whether people or any other so-called gods. God’s in a class all God’s own in terms of power and character.

5. When people see who God is they will hallow God and God’s name. To truly know who God is leads us to be in awe of God and to glorify God. In Isaiah 29:23 we see that to “hallow” or “sanctify” God’s name is the same as to “stand in awe” of God (synonymous parallelism).

Putting all this together so far, we can say that this is:

  • a request
  • for God to act (divine passive)
  • to reveal who he is (his name)
  • so that people will see God’s unique greatness (hallow)
  • and will respond with awe and praise (hallow)

 Next we look at a bit more at –

How God hallows his name

There’s a process involved. 1. God acts. This is what we’re asking God to do when we pray “hallowed be your name.” The hallowing process begins with God acting to do great things that show who he is.

2. God displays his glory through his people, by acting for them. Since we bear God’s name as his people, we’re connected to God. So when God acts for us to bless and help, or uses us as his instruments to accomplish his will, or we faithfully live out God’s wisdom in this world – this reflects back on God as others see this. This is how God makes his name or identity known to others.

  • Leviticus 10:3 says, “Through those who are near me I will show myself holy and before all the people I will be glorified.”
  • In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that the world may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

We are God’s instruments. And it is through us that God makes himself known to the world.

3. Those who see this come to know and acknowledge God’s greatness. They hallow his name.

The background to this petition is that the world doesn’t know God or it has distorted ideas about God. In the context of idolatry the question is, “Who is the true God among the various gods?” Today we ask, “Is there really a God? Is God alive? Does God care?”

So this request is missional – we’re praying that people who don’t know God will have their eyes opened to who God is, so that they will know and glorify God. And sometimes this is a request for God’s people, who should know God, but easily forget how great and awesome God is, and need to be reminded.

An example of the hallowing process: Ezekiel 36

The context here is that Israel has been judged by God for their unfaithfulness. They have gone into exile among the nations; into Babylon. But this has profaned God’s name, which is the opposite of hallowing God’s name, for the nations say, “Yahweh must be weak, for his people, have been defeated!” (Ezekiel 36:20-21)

What does God do to hallow his name? 1. God acts. v. 22 – “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act . . .” (NRSV) God is going to do a great thing. In this case God will act to bring them back from exile (v. 24).

2. God displays his glory through his people, by acting for them. v. 23 – “I will hallow my great name . . . when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.” (NRSV with “hallow” for “sanctify.”) God’s greatness will be seen in that he can bring his people back from exile and re-establish them in the promised land.

The result is that 3. Those who see will come to know and acknowledge God’s greatness. v. 23 – “the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.”

 Notice again the missional part of this request – those who currently don’t know God, will know that Yahweh is God.

Now in this example God’s people are unfaithful and he acts despite them, for his name’s sake. But what God wants is to act through our faithfulness to bring glory to his name.

Finally, let’s look at some –

Different ways of praying this request

We can pray it in different time frames. God’s kingdom has begun, but will only be completely here on the final day. So God hallows his name now by working in the world, and will also more fully hallow his name on the final day.

In the future tense we pray that God will bring about the end when every knee will bow before Jesus and glorify the Father, as Paul says in Philippians 2:9-11. This is when God will fully reveal who he is and even those who have spurned God will have to acknowledge how great and good God is. They will hallow his name.

In the present tense we pray that God will act day by day to do great things in the world so that people will come to know and honor him.

Also, in the present tense, we can pray it on two levels, individually or corporately.
As it’s written it’s both at the same time, as we saw, but we can focus on one or the other.

Pray that God will bring glory to his name through your own life

Pray that God will bring glory to his name through our local church, as well as the church world-wide.

Finally, we can also use different words. This request actually shows up lots of times in Scripture, said a little differently, and we can use these to pray this request. Here are a few examples:

  • Psalm 57:5 – “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth.” Let everyone see who you are and glorify you.
  • Psalm 67:2-3“May . . . your way be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God!” This has to do with the nations seeing how God provides for and blesses his people.
  • John 12:28 – “Father glorify your name.” Jesus prays this as he begins to face the cross.

These are some of the ways that I pray this request that try to capture some of the nuances we’ve talked about:

  • Do great things in the world so that everyone will know who you are and honor you.
  • Cause all people to know that you are God through your mighty acts which display your character.
  • Glorify your name through your people. May others come to know you through our witness.
  • Act in the world, O Lord; show everyone that you are alive. Make known your power and your character. May we all come to honor and glorify you.
  • Bring forth the final day when every knee will bow and rightfully glorify your name.

Some prayer basics. Learning how to pray: The Lord’s prayer

If you were teaching a Sunday school class, or talking to your kids or grand-kids, or if someone just came up to you and said, “teach me how to pray” – how would you respond? What would you say?

Luke 11:1-2 says, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say . . ..’” Then he gives them the Lord’s prayer.

Would you have said this to your imaginary inquisitor?? The disciples wanted to learn to pray and Jesus’ answer was to teach them the Lord’s prayer.

I think most of us want to learn to pray as well, so I want to spend some time teaching the Lord’s prayer because, as our text indicates, the Lord’s prayer teaches us how to pray. It doesn’t teach us everything about prayer for sure, but it gives us the foundation.

Today I want to begin this series by looking at the form of this prayer and then we’ll look at some basic lessons on praying that we learn from this prayer.

The form of the Lord’s prayer

There are two versions of the prayer of Jesus:

lp1

You can see they’re a bit different.

A second observation. There are three parts to this prayer (in both versions).

lp 2

First there’s the address to God.

And then, there are two distinct sections of requests. Even without getting into the details of what these requests mean this is obvious based on the different pronouns used:

  • The first section (the first two requests) uses “your” language (or second person singular pronouns) with reference to God. >These requests have to do with God’s concerns.
  • The second section uses “we/us/our” language (or first person plural pronouns) with reference to us. >These requests have to do with our concerns and needs.

There are five requests in this prayer, as you can see below:

lp3

But, you might ask, what about the two extra phrases in Matthew’s version? Well, they’re simply parallels that occur at the end of the first and second sets of requests that say the same thing.

  • To pray “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is the same as praying “your kingdom come.” They’re different ways of saying the same thing (synonymous parallelism).
  • And also to pray “deliver us from the evil one” is the same as praying “lead us not into testing.” The evil one is the one who tests us.

So both versions of the prayer of Jesus have five petitions.

The petitions have the same meaning.

lp4

This, even though the 3rd and the 4th requests have some different wording:

  • “each day” vs. “this day”
  • “sins” vs. “debts”
  • “for” vs. “as”,
  • and “forgive” (present tense) vs. “have forgiven” (perfect tense)

Certainly there are differences of nuance, which we’ll look at when we get to them. But this really is one and the same prayer in both versions.

One final observation.  The doxology at the end of Matthew is probably not original. Matthew 6:13 says, “Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” Most Bibles put this in the footnotes or in brackets because it’s not in the earliest Greek manuscripts.

Now, in Jewish practice it was customary to add an ending like this, so something like this was probably used. And I like to use this one from time to time because, even if not original, it’s a very ancient way of ending this prayer (The Didache).

Now let’s look at some basic –

Lessons about prayer from the Lord’s prayer

1. We learn about priorities in prayerNotice God’s concerns come first, in the first set of requests. They come first because they’re the most important: the glory of God’s name and the coming of God’s Kingdom to this earth. Nothing’s more important than these things. Our needs come second, after God’s concerns.

As we look at this, I ask, “How many of us ever even get to God’s concerns in our prayers?” Our own needs are always right in front of us and therefore so pressing. But I want to challenge you on this. True, authentic prayer covers both our concerns and God’s concerns, with priority given to God concerns.

2. We learn what our most important requests are. These are –

  • Bread – God’s provision of our material needs
  • Forgiveness – God’s mercy for our failings
  • Deliverance from testing or difficult situations that make us choose whether we’ll be faithful to God or not.

Jesus teaches us here what we should focus on. Although we certainly pray for other things, this keeps us focused on what we absolutely have to have.

3. We pray to God our “Father.” Not only does Jesus teach us this in the Lord’s prayer, in the examples we have of Jesus praying, he addresses God as Father in all but one (Matthew 11:25-26, Mark 14:36, Luke 23:34, 23:46, John 11:41-42, 12:28, 17:1ff), where he’s quoting Psalm 22:1 (Mark 15:34).

We can certainly use other addresses as we see in the rest of Scripture. But there’s something fundamental about God as our father. To address God as father is to acknowledge that God is both protector, provider and authority, and also one who loves us in close relationship.

But please note – God is not male! God is neither male nor female. It was in the pagan world that the gods had gender, either male or female. Scripturally, both male and female are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And there are also feminine metaphors for God in Scripture (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 42:14; 49:15; 66:13; Jeremiah 31:20; Matthew 23:37). Let’s not be confused by the use of father language to think that God is a man. God is God.

4. It’s fine to use a set prayer, that is, something written out or memorized that helps you to pray.

In our tradition we think it isn’t real prayer unless it’s totally spontaneous and we’re suspicious of something that’s too formal. But in Jewish tradition this was common, and various teachers would give a set prayer to their disciples. Which is why the disciples asked for one. John the Baptist had taught his disciples how to pray with a set prayer and the twelve wanted this too from Jesus, which is what the Lord’s prayer is.

What I’ve learned is that you can use a set prayer – as a pattern – and still allow the Spirit to guide you, as you embellish it, extend it and apply it to your situation. In fact it’s my testimony to you that praying the prayer of Jesus – meaningfully, from the heart (not rote reading), can be a very powerful Spirit experience as the Spirit guides you through this prayer.

5. Prayer can be brief. A Jewish proverb says, “the prayers of the righteous are short.” Jesus said, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words” – Matthew 6:7.

Indeed, in Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer there are only 36 words in English (ESV; 38 in Greek). Not a lot! It takes about 30 seconds to pray it meaningfully (not just reading it). So we can’t say we don’t have time to pray!

As we see from this, petitionary prayer can be direct and to the point. That’s because there’s no correlation between the amount of words you use and the effectiveness of your prayers.

Now, there are other types of prayer that do require more time, for instance listening prayer. But with our requests to God, we don’t need to labor on and on unless we sense the Spirit leading us to do this. What’s important is our heart and the content of the request, not the length of the prayer or the amount of words.

6. Prayer is communal.That is, it’s to build community among us. Remember that in the second section of requests, the pronouns are all plurals – “our,” “we, ” or “us.” So even when we pray this as individuals we’re never just praying as an individual. We always have others in mind – our brothers and sisters in our local congregation and spread throughout the world.

This breaks us out of our individualist mindset – just me and God. It’s not, “Father give me this day the bread that I need.” It’s “give us this day our daily bread.” “Father, I need bread and my sisters and brothers need bread also.” Our prayers are both petitions for us and intercession for others at the same time. And because we pray this way we’re constantly reminded of our broader Christian community.

John the Baptist prepares us for Jesus. His example of humility

John the Baptist is our Advent focus this year. John prepared the people for Jesus’ coming. And he can also prepare us as we get ready to celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas and also as we await the second coming of Jesus; his second advent, which could happen at any time.

Last week we saw how he prepares us through his message of repentance. We are to set aside our sin and our excuses for our sin, and commit to do God’s will in all of our lives. And then, just as the people did in John the Baptist’s day, we can come and confess our sins and find forgiveness.

Today we focus on how John’s example of humility prepares us. But first, a bit more on the person of John the Baptist. We looked at some things last week, but today we take note of –

John’s exalted status

John was chosen by God and given a special role in God’s scheme of things; God’s plan for this world. And not only this, he is spoken of very highly in Scripture.

1. His birth was announced by an angel in the Temple – Luke 1:13. How many people can claim this?

2. He received the Spirit ‘in utero’ as it were. The angel said, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” – Luke 1:15.

3. His birth was special. When people heard about the circumstances of his birth, about his mother being older and unable to have children and his father not being able to speak and then speaking to name him “John,” they said, “‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him.” – Luke 1:65-66.

4. It’s the testimony of Scripture that “He was a righteous and holy man” – Mark 6:20.

5. He baptized Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17. An amazing privilege.

6. He was the first to confess Jesus’ identity. He said, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” – John 1:34.

7. He was immensely popular. “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” – Mark 1:5.

8. He was respected by the king. Herod arrested him, but nevertheless, “Herod feared John . . . and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly” – Mark 6:20

9. Jesus said about him, “He was a burning and shining lamp” – John 5:35.

10. Jesus said, “John came to you in the way of righteousness” – Matthew 21:32.

11. His father prophesied great things about him at his birth. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” – Luke 1:76-77.

12. He is the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. Jesus said, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” – Luke 7:26-27.

13. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” – Matthew 3:3.

14. He is the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6. This speaks of Elijah coming before the day of the Lord. “And the disciples asked Jesus, ‘Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?’ He answered, ‘Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased’. . . Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” – Matthew 17:10-13. (Also, Matthew 11:14; Luke 1:17)

15. John is the dividing line between the old and new covenants. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” – Luke 16:16.

16. John was the greatest of the old covenant. Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” – Luke 7:28. That is, those among the old covenant. Think about it. John is greater than Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah!

It’s difficult to find someone in Scripture spoken of more highly, and certainly none in terms of the words of Jesus. What an amazing person! And what an amazing ministry he had!

Now lets’ look at –

How John’s example prepares us for the coming of Jesus

And what I want to say here is that he presents an example to us of true humility. And given his exalted status and all the accolades, this really stands out.

He saw himself as unworthy in comparison to Jesus. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” – Matthew 3:11. He sees himself as not even worthy to do slave service for Jesus; carrying his sandals.

He claimed no titles. “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’” – John 1:20-21. Now, Jesus called him the prophet and Elijah. But John was uncomfortable with these titles. He simply saw himself as the one who prepares the way.

He felt unworthy to baptize Jesus. Scripture tells us, “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” – Matthew 3:14.

He willingly let his disciples follow Jesus. “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” – John 1:35-37.

John always deferred to Jesus. Someone said to John, “Rabbi, he . . . to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” – John 3:26. Would he be envious? John answered them, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” – John 3:29. He’s simply the friend of the bridegroom. The party’s for the groom, not the friend. And he’s happy for Jesus. Finally, and succinctly, John said this about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30.

What an amazing portrait of humility! He was socially humble, claiming no status. He was economically humble, being poor. He was personally humble, as a virtue in his relations with others. And he was humble before God and submitted to him. “Whatever you want God, that’s what I want.”

And this stands out all the more in contrast to king Herod and the Pharisees and Sadducees, where we see pride, self-righteousness, and self-sufficiency.

But notice that John, in his humility, was blessed by Jesus when he came. But all these others, because of their pride, found themselves opposing Jesus and being opposed by Jesus. They lifted themselves up and so they were not ready for the coming of the Lord.

What about you? Where is there pride, self-righteousness or self-sufficiency in your life?

Do you strive to be recognized, as opposed to lifting Jesus up? Do you have areas of your life where you think you don’t need Jesus? Are there issues where you think you know more than Jesus, and so you don’t listen to him or obey him? When he challenges you, do you resist because you are too arrogant to listen or yield?

John teaches us that getting ready for Jesus’ advent means getting rid of our arrogance and learning true humility before God.

Jesus said in Luke 14:11 “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” that is by God when he comes. But he also said in the same verse, “he who humbles himself will be exalted,” that is by God when he comes – just as John was exalted and blessed.

And if we follow John’s example, we too can be blessed, when we celebrate and worship our Lord this Christmas, and on that final day when he returns in great glory.

John the Baptist prepares us for Jesus. His message of repentance

I want us to look at John the Baptist this Sunday and next for our Advent focus. Certainly a part of Advent is anticipating and preparing for the celebration of Christmas – the coming of Jesus to us. So we’re getting ready for this. But a part of it is also looking ahead so that we’re prepared for the second coming or second advent of Jesus.

And who better to prepare us than John, whose ministry it was to do just this. Today we’ll focus on how his message prepares us.

But first let’s look at –

John’s life and ministry

He was quite unique and that in several ways. He lived in the wilderness. He lived here before his ministry (Luke 1:80) and this is where he received his prophetic message (Luke 3:2). And he continued to minister from here. Matthew 3:1 says, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea . . .”

In terms of food his diet was unique. Jesus said, he came “eating no bread and drinking no wine . . .” (Luke 7:33). He was known for fasting and certainly not for feasting. And he was known for abstaining from alcohol. Rather he ate “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4).

His clothing was unique as well, “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist . . .” (Matthew 3:4) looking very much like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8)

He was a prophet. He was widely acknowledged to be this by the people of Israel. The Jewish leadership in Jerusalem bore witness to this, when they said, “all the people . . . are convinced that John was a prophet” (Luke 20:6).

Jesus also held this view. Speaking of John he said, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes . . .” (Matthew 11:9). As we’ll see, he had a strong prophetic message for the people.

He was the forerunner, the one sent to prepare the way. As Jesus said, John is “more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” (Matthew 11:9-10).

This comes from Malachi 3:1. And John is the fulfillment of this prophecy. He has this unique role of preparing the people for the Lord’s coming.

Another text that sees John as the forerunner is found in Luke3:4. It identifies John as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” This prophecy comes from Isaiah 40:3-5.

He prepared the way for Jesus in several ways. One is that he called people to look for the one to come. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:11-12.

He also identified Jesus as this one. He said, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him (Jesus). I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34

He was faithful to his call. John did what God told him to do without hesitation. He didn’t care what others thought and he was fearless with those who held power.

He called the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him a “brood of vipers” or a nest of poisonous snakes (Matthew 3:7). And proceeded to warn them of judgment in they didn’t change. He also criticized King Herod – Mark 6:18, which eventually led to his own death

And he was faithful to death. Matthew 14:6-11 tells this story. “When Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.” He stayed true to God until the end.

Now we look at –

How John’s message prepares us for the coming of Jesus

John’s message was a message of repentance. He preached, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – Matthew 3:2. So repentance is the way to prepare for the proper celebration of Christmas, as well as the second Advent of Jesus.

  • Repentance is a change of heart and mind that leads to changed behaviors.
  • It is choosing to turn away from our sin so that we can do God’s will from now on.

Here are some examples of John’s call to repentance. 1. He pointed out personal marital and sexual sins. “John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” – Mark 6:18. In this particular case Herod was guilty of both adultery and incest (Leviticus 18:16). And John was not afraid to call him to repentance.

2. He pointed out human greed. Our desire to have and to hold on to more than we need. “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’” – Luke 3:10-11. If you have more than you need, share your food and clothing with those who do not have these.

3. He pointed out the abuse of power, that is, using your power to take advantage of others. “Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’” – Luke 3:12-13. That is, don’t do what most tax collectors do, take more than required in order to pad your own income. Only take what you are supposed to.

Not only did he address very specific issues of sin, he undercut their excuses for their unfaithfulness. They thought, Abraham’s our father. We’re the chosen people. It’s OK. We’ll be alright.

John said, “do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” – Matthew 3:9. So what if you are Abraham’s children! God can turn a rock into a child of Abraham. Repentance is what’s necessary.

As he said to them, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. . . Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:8, 10. Bearing the fruit of repentance is what God requires.

What about you? Where are you allowing yourself to continue in wrong behavior? Where are you holding out on God? Those areas that you would rather not think about? And what are your excuses? You think, well God doesn’t really care about that issue. Or, hey, I go to church. Well, God can make church members out of rocks too! That won’t rescue you.

John teaches us that getting ready for Jesus’ Advent means dealing with our sin through repentance. It means setting aside our excuses, our rationalizations and our justifications so that we begin to do God’s will.

And then, like the many sinners who responded to John in his day (Matthew 21:32), we too can confess our sins and find forgiveness (Mark 1:4-8). And then we will be ready to welcome Jesus and follow him in all of life.

Christians and wealth. Luke 12:13-21

Jesus has a lot to say about his disciples and wealth. In fact, besides the general theme of the kingdom of God, there’s nothing he talks about more. And what he has to say is quite radical, especially to us, who live in what is certainly the most wealthy country that has ever existed; and who live in a culture that glories in wealth – in the seeking of it and in the indulging of it. But Jesus teaches us another way – and this is our topic for today.

Our passage is found in –

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (NRSV)

I chose this text for two reasons. First, because it shows us how serious this topic is. God says, “You fool” to the man as an expression of judgment and condemnation. And we don’t want to be called fools by God or be condemned.

Second, because it gives us the closest thing to a definition of what it means to be wealthy that I can find from Jesus. There is an abundance beyond one’s needs (bigger barns), which you store up for yourself. It’s as simple as that. It’s not how much you make. It’s how much you keep for yourself. So if you’re here today and you have a large income Jesus isn’t necessarily talking to you. Maybe. Maybe not. And, if you’re here today and you have a small income Jesus may well be talking to you. Maybe. Maybe not. In both cases it all depends on what you do with what you have.

With this background in place, let me share with you three things that Jesus teaches regarding wealth. And the first is –

Don’t go on accumulating wealth

There are two obvious reasons to accumulate wealth beyond our needs, both of which will kill us spiritually:

1. We want wealth as our security, to rely on in an uncertain world. The farmer stored up his abundance in bigger barns to take care of his future. But this is not loving God with all our heart – the greatest commandment. This is idolatry, which is actually hatred of God, because we make wealth to be our true god. We trust in it to take care of us.

As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

2. We want wealth in order to enjoy it. The farmer said to himself, “relax, eat, drink, be merry” (v. 19). But this is not loving our neighbor – the second greatest commandment. This is love self love and hatred of our neighbors. For even though there are many in the world who don’t have their basic needs met – including fellow believers – we want to keep our abundance for ourselves, for our fleshly desires and comforts.

So whether we accumulate wealth beyond our needs for the sake of idolatry – which is hatred of God, or indulgence – which is hatred of our neighbors, our lives with God will be destroyed. And so we should have nothing to do with it.

Hear the words of Jesus from our passage in v. 15 – “be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” And hear the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:9 – “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

Love God, not your wealth

This has to do with getting our heart in the right place regarding our wealth.

1. Be content with God’s provision for you. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Give up seeking after more and more and more. Work hard, but be satisfied with God’s supply whether it’s much or little, because he’s with us and that’s our true treasure.

2. Give up your possessions. Jesus says in Luke 14:33, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up (or renounce) all your possessions.” (NRSV) Notice he isn’t talking about a certain percentage, say 10%. He’s talking about all our possessions, all we have.

We have to recognize that whatever God gives you is not your own, it’s God’s. And if he takes it all, or asks you to give it all away – that’s fine. But how many of us can say our hearts are committed to this? Do we own our possessions or do they own us? This is talked about in Acts 4:32 when it says about the early Christians,  “and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own,” but they were willing to part with them.

So this is a call to dethrone your possessions, because without this we can’t follow Jesus. As he says, “none of you can become my disciple . . .” if you don’t do this.

Well, if we give up holding onto our abundance for our security and comforts, and if we have a right heart toward our possessions being content with God’s supply and renouncing what we do have – then we are ready to do with them what God wants us to do with them, which is to –

Love others with radical generosity

We are to act with our wealth to love our neighbor. Let me just highlight two basic patterns for doing this in the New Testament.

1. We give to the needy. Jesus says in Luke 12:33 – “Sell your possessions and give to the needy.” Jesus isn’t saying, “become needy” but rather get rid of your excess – sell it, give it to those in need. (And you can even give up what you need to help others, because giving sacrificially is encouraged, as we learn from the story of the widow who gave all she had in Luke 21:1-4.)

An example of this is seen in the early Jerusalem church in Acts 2 and 4. As there was need, those who had excess would sell and give to the needy among them – 2:45; 4:34-37.

2. We share what we have with others. Jesus said this in Luke 14:12-14 – “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers and sisters or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Use what you have for God’s kingdom. It’s God’s so share it.

An example of this is found in Romans 16:23 – “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you.” Here was a well to do man who used his large house to host the church in Corinth (they had no building) and he hosted Paul as well.

A final word, wealth is dangerous. But only if you accumulate it for yourself. The other side of this is that wealth is a blessing of the Lord, as Psalm 112 says, but again, only if you are generous with it.

Wealth is a strange thing spiritually. It’s from God, but if you keep it for yourself, it’s like trying to store up God’s provision of manna – it spoils and becomes a bad thing. But if you’re generous with it, you can bless many in need and thus store up treasures for yourselves in heaven. Wealth can be a curse or a blessing and it’s your choice which it will be in your life.