Our Father in heaven - Matthew 6:5-15

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 19th October 2008.

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Well as we all know, today is St Faith’s Day. And I have to admit, that before I came to Dunswell, I’d never even heard of St Faith. And for those who have joined us here at St Faith’s more recently, you might not know the background to our Parton saint either.

So I want to start this morning with a brief history of St Faith. Not St Faith’s church, but of a young girl who live in Agen in the C3 in SW France. And this young girl was a Christian. But France was at the time part of the Roman Empire. And the C3 was not a comfortable place to be a Christian; indeed, it was one of the worst periods of persecution the church has even known. And like many other Christians of the day, this young girl was arrested and ordered to make pagan sacrifices. Ordered to renounce her Christian faith that is. But she refused. Even when tortured, she refused. And so she was tortured to death by being strapped to a red hot brazier.

The story of St Faith. A young girl who would rather forfeit what was left of her life in this world, rather than give in to the idolatry of the majority living all around her. As Jesus put it Mark’s Gospel:

35For whoever wants to save his life[c] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

And in the C 11 the remains of St Faith were allegedly moved to a new Abbey-church built in her memory in Conques, also in SW France. And that Medieval Catholic church built in her honour then became a centre for idolatry. It became a place where people prayed to St Faith and other saints instead of praying straight to God. And of course the irony is that St Faith died for taking a stand against idolatry.

Link

Because the Bible is crystal clear that we should only pray to God. There’s only One true God; One God who exists in 3 Persons: Father, Son and HS. And because they’re all equally God, it is legitimate to pray to both Jesus and the HS. However, in the LP, Jesus himself lays down the pattern that we should normally address our prayers to the father. And that’s what we’re looking at this morning: the first line of the LP. This term we’ll be going through the whole prayer line by line. And we’ve had 3 introductory sermons to help us get the context of the prayer right. But this morning, we start looking at the prayer itself. So if you’re not already there, then pl turn back to Matthew chapter 6 on p901 and look with me at v9:

Mt 6:98: This then is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven...”

This then is how you should pray. The LP was never intended to be a mindless mantra that we simply repeat in church with no understanding of what we’re praying. No it’s a model prayer. And in order to base our prayers on this model prayer, we need to understand it. We need to unpack it line by line; Or even word by Word. So that’s what we’re going to do.

Our Father

So first of all: “Our Father...”

And I guess many of us are so familiar with the phrase, it’s lost its impact on us. Jesus teaches his disciples that Christians can call God “Father”. We have that sort of intimate relationship with Almighty God.  We can call the Creator and Sustainer of the universe “Father”.  I think we need to pause right there and wonder at the astonishing privilege we have as Christians.

[hold up] I found this picture on internet – can you see it. It’s a picture of President Jesus. F. Kennedy working at his desk in the Oval Office while his son, John, plays underneath.  Now I think it is safe to say that no other boy in the world could have got anywhere near that desk; but John could walk straight into the Oval office and play at his father’s feet. Why?  Because of his relationship with the President.  And if someone said; hey you, what do you think you’re doing in here: he could simply reply: "He may be your President, but he's my Daddy."  He’d got a level of access and intimacy with the President that was impossible for anyone else.  

It was no small thing for John to be able to play under his father's desk; and the point for us is that it’s no small thing for a Christian to call God "Father"; it no small thing for a Christian to be able to come into His presence in prayer.  Jesus teaches His disciples to call the Sovereign Lord of the Universe “Father” - the word is “Abba”. It’s an Aramaic word used by children to address their father.  It’s not quite as familiar as our “Daddy”, but it’s not as formal “Father”.  Don Carson suggests it’s more like the French word “Papa” that French-speaking Canadians use when they speak to their father.  It has respect, but it’s full of warmth and intimate relationship.

And Jesus begins like this because the word Father speaks of redemption and relationship – indeed, redemption that leads to relationship.

Redemption

So first of all then, calling God our Father speaks of redemption. Why? Because calling God “Abba, Father”, should remind us of the gospel.  Let’s take a step back again.  And when we do, I hope we all realise that it’s impossible for any of us to wander into God’s presence on our own. Why? Because we’re all sinful aren’t we?

If you were with us last year, then you might remember that in our FSs we did a basic Bible Overview: genesis to Jesus for Kids. And just like this year’s series in Mark’s Gospel, we had some special music from a CD especially to go with that series. And we sang one of those songs at our last FS 2 weeks ago if you remember: Clap your hands and should for joy. But there’s another track on that CD called: God is a Holy God. And the first two lines of that track go like this: “God is a holy God. We can’t be friends because of our sin.”  

It’s a kids song, but there’s an important point for all for us. My sinfulness bars me from God’s presence.  And the very structure of the Temple in Jerusalem made this point crystal clear. What was at the heart of the temple? The Holy of Holies; the room where the Ark of the Covenant was kept; the place where God symbolically dwelt. And can you remember what separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple? A huge curtain. And this curtain acted as flashing ‘no entry' sign. It was basically saying to everyone who looked at it: “You can’t come into God’s presence.”   Indeed, it was protecting them from being in God’s presence. “God is a holy God; we can't be friends because of our sin.”

Only the High Priest was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies and even he was only allowed in once a year. He went in with a rope tied around his ankle, in case he died in there, because no one else would dare enter God’s presence. As the author of the book of Hebrews puts it: Our God is a consuming fire; in other words, not a God to be messed around with.

As the kids song puts it: “God is a holy God; we can't be friends because of our sin.” But listen to the rest of the lyrics: “Jesus died to wash us clean. When we put our trust in him. God opens his arms and welcomes us in.”  It's what we're going to be remembering as we take bread and wine later in the service.  At the very moment that Jesus died on a cross outside Jerusalem, at that very moment, that temple curtain was torn in two.  Jesus' death, and only Jesus' death, gives me access into God’s presence.  There’s no other way in the presence of the Almighty Creator of the Universe.  

So here, as Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, he tells them not only that they can come into the presence of Almighty God, but that they can call him Father – Abba – Papa.   Amazing isn’t it. So how is that possible for me as an individual? Because, if you’re a Christian, through Jesus' death you’re adopted into his family.  This is why it’s all about redemption and relationship.

Turn with me to Romans 8:14-16 which we looked at last term on p1053:

“those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father.  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.”

When we become Christians, when the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us, God the Holy Spirit teaches us to call God “Father”.  And that’s only possible through the death of Jesus Christ. And that’s the important point:  Jesus is the only acceptable Son of God.  So it’s only through faith in Jesus as our Saviour that we can enjoy the same status that Jesus has.  All those who are genuinely in Christ, v14 tells us, are sons of the Father.  We’re sons not as a matter of our gender, but as a matter of our union with THE Son.  Our sonship isn’t a gender issue; no it’s a status issue.  And it is only because we’re sons of God that we can come into God’s presence and call Him Father; just like Jesus. F. Kennedy’s son John could walk into the Oval Office and talk to his father; how could he do that? because he was Jesus F K’s son.

And that’s the point of the LP beginning as it does.  It reminds us of the gospel; the gospel of redemption.  And in that word “Father” is the motivation for prayer.  The very word “Father” reminds me of Jesus' sacrificial death and my adoption as a son of God.  And that should thrill me so much that I would want to pray to my Heavenly Father; because I can; because of the gospel.  

And that naturally leads on to relationship, because I’m redeemed by and through Jesus order to be in a relationship with God the F.

Relationship

Last week we were thinking about how to pray. And we were thinking about planning to pray and thinking about where our secret place of prayer was going to be and when we were going pray there. And the question that might have raised in your mind was this: “How long should I pray for?”  

But actually it’s the wrong question isn’t it. Because it’s a bit like me asking “how long should I speak to my wife for?”  And if that’s the kind of question you’re asking about your wife, then I would suggest you’ve got a serious problem with your marriage. But that’s how many of us think about our relationship with God. Whether we articulate the question of not, many of us want to know how we can tick the prayer box in our Christian lives and get on with the rest of it. ‘How long should I pray to my heavenly father’. If I’m trying to minimise the amount of time I spent talking to someone, then there’s something seriously wrong with that relationship. And if that is the case, then perhaps it suggests that there’s something seriously wrong with many of our relationship’s with our Heavenly Father.

Last year many of us did the Christianity Explored course in the sports hall with others from Riverside church. And if you’ve been on the course then you might remember, that we started by saying: “If you could ask God one question and you knew he would answer, what it would be?”  And one of the questions that regularly comes up is this, “Who is God and what is he like?”  

Now, I want you to imagine that one of your friends asked you that question: what would be the first thing you’d say to them?   What’s your instant reaction?   Is it to say, “He’s like a wonderful, loving Father.”?  When you get down on your knees to pray, when you open your Bible each day, are you conscious that you’re coming before your Heavenly Papa?

Or do you suspect that God’s someone who’s out to get you?  Out to make life hard for you?  

Because if that’s how you think, then you won’t pray much, will you?  But I suspect that’s how many of us do think.  A few months ago, I was praying with a dieing man who had much to be thankful for in his long life; but this man felt that God had dealt him a rough deal. I wonder if you feel the same?  Because if you do, then let me tell you that you’ve got a warped view of God: you’re thinking of God the celestial sadist, looking down from heaven., looking out for people enjoying life, just so he can spoil your fun.  Or what about the person who’s going through a hard time for whatever reasons and thinks that God’s punishing them.

Now, do you see, that if you think in these ways about God, it’s going to affect your prayer life. Because if you think like that, then you’ll never really mean Lord's Prayer; you won’t be praying: “Your will be done” from the heart.   Why? Because that’s a very scary and risky prayer unless you’re sure that God’s your Father and that He works out all things for your eternal good. I'm not going to ask for His will to be done in my life if I don't think He loves me and cares for me.  

Listen to these words from Jim Packer in our book of the term: Knowing God: “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God's child, and having God as his Father.  If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers, and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.  For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new and better than the old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God.   'Father' is the Christian name for God.”

As many of you know I’ve been on a conference this week so I’ve been missing both my wife and my children. I love being a Dad.  It’s hard work and I have to admit that sometimes my 2 cheeky monkeys drive me up the wall; but on the whole, most of the time, I love them to bits and I love spending time with my children.  I love it when Daniel comes running up to me in the mornings and says Daddy. I love it when Bethan gets home from school of Jesus club or wherever and wants to tell me about the things she’s been doing and show me the stuff she’s made. Now I suspect that most go you wouldn’t be interest in most of the stuff and stories she comes home with. As most of you know, Bethan can talk for England and sometimes we have to say: stop talking. But at the right time and in the right place, I love listening to Bethan pour her heart out to me, especially at bed time. I love listening to her, because she’s my daughter and I love her very much. So let me ask you: do you know God like that?  As Father, as Papa?  Is that how you see prayer?  Talking to your heavenly Father.  Telling Him about everything and nothing.  Yes we need to have some structure and to make sure that the overall shape of our prayers is in ling with God’s will and plans as we saw last week. But as a starting point, is that how you see prayer: pouring out your heart to your heavenly father who longs to hear us, because he’s our Father; our father who loves us. What an amazing privilege. As the author of the book of Hebrews put it:

Heb 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Our Father In Heaven.

So, if we are cleansed by J's blood, if we are Christians that is, then God is our father, our ABBA father. But coming back to Mt 6:9, he’s our Father in heaven. And that means that he’s the Sovereign Lord over the universe he created in the first place. Our Father is in control, that’s the point.   In the book of revelation, we’re given a picture of God on the throne. He’s the king; he’s in control. The nations are like a drop in a bucket as Isaiah put it in our second reading; from God’s perspective, the nations are like dust on the scales; apart from God, who has ever measured the earth’s great oceans in the palm of his hand. He’s not some puny powerless God like Baal. No He’s our Father in Heaven; If he were just our Father, it would be great to talk to him, but what could he do about it?  Bethan talks to me about what’s going on in her world; and she might feel better after we’ve talked about it; but there’s lots of things I can't do anything about. Because I’m not God.

If God were just our Father, there’d be no point praying things like: Your kingdom come”, or “Give us this day our daily bread”. Why? Because he wouldn’t have the power to answer our prayers. And there’d certainly be no point praying about the latest financial crisis. But He’s not just our Father. He’s our Father in Heaven. He’s in control; in complete control of everything in His universe. And that should give us great confidence in prayer.   Indeed, it should encourage us to pray.  Because as we pray, we have the confidence that our loving Heavenly Father can actually answer our prayers. As the Parcel force advert puts it: “He’s got the power to deliver”. Because he's in heaven, he's the sovereign, powerful Lord.  So as I pray, I come to one who loves me and cares for intimately.   He’s my Papa in Heaven. And because He’s in heaven, he's got the power to deliver. Deliver on his promise to work out all things for my eternal good.

What an amazing God. But the question is: is that your God? And if it is, are you praying to Him as your father, the one who wants an intimate relationship with you, and the one who’s got the power to deliver. Because anything less is idolatry. And there’s nothing that makes God more cross than idolatry. Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Dear HF, forgive us for our idols; when we have a wrong view about you or about prayer. If we are your children already, help us to see the privilege and the power of prayer; a privilege rooted in our redemption from sin and our new relationship with you. Help us to grow in that intimate relationship with you by delighting to spend more time with you in prayer; prayer that’s more and more in line with your plans and purposes as we understand you more fully from your word. For our eternal good, but your ultimate glory we pray. Amen.

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