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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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

We’re looking today at Matthew 5:43-48. In this passage Jesus teaches us to love our enemies.

These verses are a part of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. And in chapter 5 this topic of loving enemies is the culminating example of the six that Jesus gives of how his teaching goes beyond what Moses taught.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 As we begin, I invite you to think about someone who’s an enemy to you. That is, someone who has harmed or hurt you or those you love, who seems threatening, who opposes you, who slanders you, who dislikes you. Now, this may well be someone very close to you, even a family member – and you may not technically classify them as an “enemy” – but this teaching applies nevertheless.

My prayer this morning is that as we look at this passage – God will work in us a deep love for our enemies and bring about in us an ever greater Christ-likeness in this area.

Let me share four things with you from this passage about loving enemies:

1. Jesus teaches us to return good for harm

Moses, of course, taught that we’re to return harm for harm. This comes out clearly in the example just before ours in Matthew 5:38, where Jesus quotes Moses regarding “an eye for an eye.”

But it’s also in our passage. For although Moses taught in Leviticus 19:18 to forsake revenge and love your neighbor – that is, your fellow Israelite, he also taught in Deuteronomy 23:3-6 to hate the enemy who is an outsider, who does you harm, that is, the Ammonite and the Moabite.

These were the descendants of Lot who didn’t give the Israelites food and water in their time of need after the Exodus, but rather tried to curse them by hiring Balaam the prophet. Because of this, Israel is commanded never to act for their well-being. Deuteronomy 23:6 says, “You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.” So you have the harm they did to Israel, and then how Israel is to harm them in return. This is harm for harm or the pattern of an eye for an eye.

Indeed, this is where Jesus gets the phrase in v. 43 – “You have heard that it was said . . . hate your enemy.” But Jesus changes this. After laying out Moses’ position he says in v. 44 – “But I say to you . . ..”  If you have an enemy, don’t hate them – love them. If someone persecutes you, don’t curse them – pray for them. As is the case in all six examples of righteousness in Matthew 5, Jesus is calling us to a higher standard. Even when someone harms you, return good for evil.

This teaching is echoed by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:9 – “Do not repay harm for harm or abuse for abuse; but on the contrary repay with a blessing.” The apostle Paul says it this way in 1 Thessalonians 5:15 – “See that none of you repay harm for harm, but always seek to do what is good to one another and to all.”

Although returning harm for harm is the standard of Moses and the standard of worldly governments in dealing with evil, Jesus calls us to his higher way. And this is how we are to treat our enemies – even the person you have thought of this morning.

 2. This teaching is packaged in a contrast between incomplete and complete love

In v. 48 the word “perfect” can also be translated as “complete.” This is, at least in part, where I’m getting this idea of complete love from.

  • Incomplete love means loving only certain people – those who are in your group, or those who do good to you.
  • Complete or perfect love means loving everyone: those who do good to you and those who harm you; those who are a part of your group and who are not a part of your group (whether it’s your religious, ethnic, cultural or national group)

It’s complete love because it encompasses all people.

Jesus gives two examples of incomplete love.

  • In v. 46 – tax collectors love only those who love them, a subset of all people.
  • In v. 47 – Gentiles greet only those in their own group, again a subset of all people.

Now these are, obviously, negative examples. You can tell this by reading vs. 46-47 – “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Again, Jesus is calling us to a higher standard than what “tax collectors,” “Gentiles,” or as he says in Luke 6 (vs. 32 and 33), “sinners” live by – the standard of incomplete love.

Jesus also gives us two examples of complete love.

  • In v. 45 – the Father gives sunshine to the good and the evil.
  • In v. 45 – the Father gives rain to the just and the unjust.

And, of course, in an agricultural context, giving sunshine and rain means that God supplies food to all. God feeds even his enemies.

The point here is that the Father’s love is complete. It includes everyone. And if tax collectors and Gentiles are not a model for us, here the Father certainly is, for Jesus calls us to emulate this love of the Father.

Now, we always try to draw boundaries on who we have to love, to make our lives easier. We are often like the lawyer in Luke 10, who, knowing that he’s called to love his neighbor, asked Jesus, “who really is my neighbor?” Does it really include my enemies, like the wretched Samaritans???

We try to tame Jesus’ words. But his teaching is clear here. Our love is to include all people – any enemies we might have. As he says in v. 48 about love, “You therefore must be complete in your love, as your heavenly Father is complete in his love.” And yes, it includes the person you have thought of today, who has harmed you.

3. Loving enemies is about actions that benefit them

Love is not merely an emotion or an inner intention that doesn’t bear fruit in good actions. After all, Jesus teaches us that a tree is known by its fruit. That is to say, what is within our hearts is what comes out in the fruit of our deeds and words (Matthew 7:20; 12:33-34). If we love someone it will show up in our deeds; how we act toward them.

Here are some examples from our verses:

– When Jesus says, “love your enemies,” it can be paraphrased, don’t harm, but care about and do good to your enemies. Right? This is what love means.

– When he says, “pray for those who persecute you,” it can be paraphrased, ask God to be merciful and bless those who persecute you.

– When he talks about the example of the Father it shows us that God feeds his enemies, and so we are to feed our enemies.

– When he says don’t be like the Gentiles who only greet people of their own group he points us to bless all people with the greeting of “peace” or “shalom” which was the standard Jewish blessing, a wish for their well-being.

As a side note here, notice the contrast in these last two examples of feeding and blessing enemies with Moses in Deuteronomy 23:

  • The Ammonites and Moabites did not give Israel food. Instead of returning the same, as Moses commanded, we are to feed our enemies.
  • Also, the Ammonites and Moabites sought to curse Israel. Instead of returning harm for harm, as Moses said, we are to bless our enemies.

If we look further in the New Testament and the example of God, love includes self-sacrifice for enemies. Not only does God give food to his enemies, he gave his Son.

Romans 5:8 says, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And Romans 5:10 goes on to say, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God.” God loved us when we were his enemies.

And following the example of God, loving our enemies means that we are to act for their well-being even to the point of self-sacrifice. And this applies to the person you have thought of today.

Now, although this might not be a temptation with regard to the person you’re thinking about, let me say that based on what we’ve just seen, whatever love means, it doesn’t include killing them.

4. There’s a promise here for those who love their enemies

Loving enemies is really hard. When we’re wronged it can make us angry. It can cause us fear and distress. It can deeply wound us. All of these things make us want to strike back. An eye for an eye – if not more. We need strength from the Spirit to overcome the desires of our flesh. We have to give our anger and fear and pain over to God and trust that God will take care of us and help us.

Not that this means you allow people to continue to harm you. It simply means that whatever you do, you don’t resort to the pattern of harm for harm.

Loving enemies is really hard. So, as an encouragement to us, Jesus gives us a promise, which gives us hope.

In v. 45 he says that we are to love our enemies, “so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” To be a “son” here is not about being male. It’s not about gender, but about a certain social status – the status of an inheritor. The son inherits the Father’s blessings.

When we look at the overall context of Matthew 5:17-48 it’s all about “Who will inherit the Kingdom?” “Who will gain the Father’s blessings?” In Matthew 5:20 Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Then Jesus gives us the six examples of the greater righteousness necessary to enter the Kingdom, culminating in the example of enemy love. So what Jesus is saying, is that those who don’t practice enemy love are no better than tax collectors and Gentiles. Their practice of righteousness is no different. As he says in v. 46 – “What reward do you have?”

But, 1) those who love their enemies, by God’s help, imitate the Father. And by imitating the Father, 2) they show that they are true sons of the Father – for like Father, like son. And since they’re true sons or children, they show that 3) they will inherit the Father’s blessings; that is, the kingdom of God.

So in the midst of the difficulty of loving our enemies, we have a promise of blessing and reward. It’s worth it. And we need to remember this in our struggles with our enemies.

 

The literary structure of Mark 7:32-37

We’re back in the Gospel of Mark today looking at 7:32-37 and how Jesus heals a man who can’t hear or speak well. (This is one of three stories in Mark that are not a part of any other Gospel.)

Last time we saw how Jesus went into the region of Tyre and Sidon – a Gentile area – and he did so to get away from the conflict and crowds in Galilee. Well, today he continues on his –

Trip through Gentile territory

Mark 7 trip thru Gentile territory

On the map you can see how he left Galilee to the region of Tyre. v. 31, which comes just before our story says, “Then Jesus returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” So he goes over 20 miles north to Sidon, and then to the South Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is also a predominantly Gentile area – called the Decapolis (Although see Robert Stein, Commentary on Mark)

Which brings us to –

 

Our story

32And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

So this man, most likely a Gentile, can’t hear. And he also has a speech impediment. The word used here literally means “to speak with difficulty,” which could just mean that he’s been deaf from birth and so has trouble speaking.

How did these people know about Jesus? Well, it could be from word of mouth, like with the Syrophoenician woman who had heard about Jesus far away from Galilee. But also remember that when Jesus cast out the Legion of demons from a man, from this area, he said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And Mark goes on, “And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” (Mark 5:19-20) Perhaps this is why Jesus is known in this region.

They want Jesus to touch this man, which means heal him (Mark 5:23; 8:22). And they’re imploring Jesus to do this.

 33And taking him aside from the crowd privately . . .

Now there’s a crowd in a Gentile area, not just in Galilee! Jesus’ reputation is spreading. But Jesus doesn’t want to draw a lot of attention to himself; he’s trying to get away from crowds. So he goes to a more private place with the man and presumably those who brought him to be healed.

. . . he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.

This is one of the most detailed descriptions of how Jesus went about healing someone, although there’s no reason to think he did the same things each time.

Here Jesus touches the body parts that need healing. He puts his finger into his ears and apparently he spits on his finger and then touches it to the man’s tongue. Jesus uses his saliva here and in two other places (Mark 8:23, John 9:6). Now this strikes most of us, I would think, as pretty gross! But some ancients thought that saliva had healing properties, especially from great people.

Is Jesus showing the deaf man, through motions, what he’s doing – seeking to heal his ears and tongue? A kind of sign language? Maybe.

34And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

Jesus is praying and the sigh seems to be a part of this prayer (Romans 8:26), perhaps expressing his compassion for the man and his suffering and the intensity of his prayer.

And then Jesus commands that the body parts function. The command is an Aramaic word, the common language of the day for Jews and others in this region.

35And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

His ears are immediately opened in response to Jesus’ command. And here we see that he could speak, but not clearly. But now his tongue is released. The imagery is that of a tongue that is bound in place. The phrase can also be translated, “the chain of his tongue was loosed.”

36And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

The charge to silence here is quite similar to Mark 1:44-45. Jesus doesn’t want to overwhelmed by crowds. He can’t fulfill his mission if all he does is heal everyone’s needs day and night.

He charges the man and his companions, apparently several times. Think how hard it would be for the friends to stay quiet about this. And then think how hard it would be for the man, who’s not only healed, but can now, for the first time speak clearly! Yet Jesus wants him to stay quiet!

Well, they do disobey, but you can be sympathetic as to why – Jesus’ greatness seems to demand it. The word “proclaimed” is a positive word throughout this gospel referring to proclaiming the good news of the salvation Jesus brings – which is what they’re doing.

37And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

 Jesus’ power amazes them – “they were astonished beyond measure.” What they just witnessed is not a common event. It’s extraordinary and it produces over the top amazement on their part.

There are two echoes of the Old Testament in this verse. First, the phrase “he has done all things well,” alludes to what Israel said about King David in his early reign in 2 Samuel 3:36 – “all things the king did pleased all the people.” Jesus is, of course, David’s descendant and his promised son; the Messiah.

The second echo comes from the last phrase “he even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” This is a reference to Isaiah 35:5-6 which says, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” This passage speaks of God’s salvation of Israel, promised at the time of the exile, now coming to pass in Jesus – as this healing indicates – for a man who was deaf and mute is healed, just as predicted.

(This connection is confirmed in that the word used for “speech impediment” in v. 32 is only used in this verse in all the New Testament. And it is used only one time in all the Greek Old Testament (LXX) in Isaiah 35:6. Mark wants us to get the point.)

Let’s end with –

The take home

-for us today. In as much as this healing is a sign, that is, it points to truths beyond just the physical healing itself:

1. It tells us who Jesus is. Once again Jesus is the anointed one, the reference to 2 Samuel 3:36 and Jesus as the Son of David, come to fulfill the promises of God’s salvation, here from Isaiah 35:5-6.

2. It also symbolically portrays that Gentile ears can be opened to hear the good news and their tongues loosened to glorify God, just as with the Jews. (Alan Culpepper, Commentary on Mark, p. 243). This looks forward to what will be after Jesus is raised from the dead.

And in general we learn again that 3. Nothing is too difficult for Jesus. He can heal any condition. He can deal with any situation, even what we think is impossible. We too can be “astonished beyond measure.” Jesus still does all things well, as he works salvation and blessing in our lives.

We’re finishing up our series on Christians and suffering today. Last time we looked at three kinds of suffering we go through as Christians.

  • First, there’s the lowliness and suffering that comes from living in a fallen and sinful world – sickness, brokenness, tragedies and death.
  • Second there’s the lowliness and suffering we freely choose, in that we lower ourselves to love and serve others.
  • And finally there’s the lowliness and suffering that comes our way because of our connection to Jesus – rejection and persecution.

Anytime we go through these kinds of suffering it unleashes a struggle within us. Will we remain faithful to God? Will we take the easy way out of the test? Will we lay down our cross to find relief?

This struggle is a part of what I’m calling the inner cross. And my message today is this – the secret to being victorious in our times of suffering is to overcome by the Spirit in the realm of the inner cross.

First we look at –

Jesus’ inner cross: Mark 14:32-42

When Jesus faced his greatest trial – the cross – he experienced the inner turmoil of it all. Jesus was fully human and as he said to the disciples about humanity, “the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).

Mark tells us, “And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’” (Mark 14:33-34). Jesus doesn’t want to die, and certainly not the shameful death of a criminal or blasphemer on a cross (Hebrew 12:2).

Three times he prayed for deliverance. This, even though he knew it was God’s will for him to go to the cross. (He told his disciples this three times – Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). But this is a final discernment. Is there not some other way, God? “And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.’” (Mark 14:35-36). (See also Hebrews 5:7-8)

During these times of prayer he received help from the Spirit. As he said, “the Spirit indeed is willing” (Mark 14:38). The word “willing” can also be translated as “eager to be of service” or “ready.”

We see the evidence of the Spirit’s enablement in two ways: 1) Jesus prayed, “not what I will, but what you (Father God) will” (Mark 14:36). He submits his heart to the Father. And then 2) He rose up from prayer to do God’s will. He said, “The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:41-42). And he then went to the cross.

By the power of the Spirit Jesus crucified his human desire to live and be honored. He denied himself and took up his cross (Mark 8:34). He received strength to endure arrest, slander, shame, torture, crucifixion and death.

So there’s a death within before there’s a death without. He finds victory by the Spirit at Gethsemane, which allows him to find victory in his circumstances of suffering at Golgotha.

Paul’s teaching on the inner cross – Romans 8:1-17

There are several points of contact between Paul’s teaching here and the story we’ve just looked at. Paul seems to have Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane in the background as he teaches. 1) There’s the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (Romans 8:5-8). 2) He talks about prayer to “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). 3) There’s a theme of suffering (Romans 8:17; also 18-39). 4) And he highlights how the Spirit enables us to overcome (Romans 8:3-4, 13). We’ll focus on this last theme.

Because Jesus suffered for us and overcame, we receive the benefits of God’s salvation. After presenting in Romans 7 the futility of trying to obey God from the heart without the Spirit, Paul describes this salvation. We are forgiven – “there is now no more condemnation” (Romans 8:1). And we receive the Spirit of God into our lives (Romans 8:9, 15-16).

And because of our new relationship with God and the presence of the Spirit within in us we are enabled to fulfill “the righteous requirement of the law” (Romans 8:4). We are empowered to do God’s will. And we can do this because we “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).

More specifically, we are enabled to crucify the desires of the flesh by the SpiritPaul says, “So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12-13).

Paul is saying here that by the power of the Spirit within us, we are strengthened to be able to crucify our own desires that oppose God’s way. “By the Spirit we put to death” these desires and thus any deeds that would come from these desires. As he says in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Again, the Spirit is key. And again the inner cross – putting to death our wrong desires by the Spirit – is the key to walking faithfully before God in our times of suffering.

Let’s look at –

How this works

When we’re in a time of testing and suffering, and we’ve discerned that it’s God’s will for us to go through this, and we’re struggling within – so that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17), like Jesus – we can call out to God our Father for help.

And in prayer we can receive encouragement and strength from the Spirit. Without the Spirit we would easily cave in. The desires of our flesh want to avoid suffering. The flesh wants the easy way out, it wants comfort and security. Or it leads us to just give up.

But the Spirit strengthens us to say no to the desires of our flesh. And when we say no a crucifixion takes place. There’s a death within to our own desires, so that we don’t act on these unfaithful desires of our flesh. By the Spirit we put them to death (Colossians 3:5). Our “old person” (Romans 6:6) dies a little bit more. This is the inner cross.

Also, there’s a resurrection within. The new person God is creating us to be is strengthened to walk in the path God has for us. We are raised to new life within so that we can walk in newness of life without.

Just as Jesus had to gain the victory at Gethsemane before he could gain the victory at Golgotha, so it is with us. We must prevail in the realm of the inner cross by the Spirit, before we will prevail in our lowliness and suffering.

Let me end with –

A word of encouragement

 1. We’ve been given all that we need to overcome by God’s grace. As 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” We’re not left to our own resources. We rely on God’s Spirit and power. As Paul says in talking about suffering, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” – Romans 8:37.

2. Even if we fail, God’s grace is sufficient. It’s true, as James tells us, “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). We will not always respond correctly to our times of trials and cross bearing. But as 1 John 1:9 teaches, //“if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And then we can move forward again by God’s grace.

3. God will come through on his promises. As we’ve seen, the faithful will be exalted and blessed (Matthew 23:12, Luke 6:20-26, Mark 8:35). As Romans 8:17 says, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

On the day of the great reversal, when the kingdom comes in its fullness, we will inherit the blessings of the kingdom and we will be lifted up by God to receive honor and glory.