[This sermon is one of a series entitled “Sermon on the Mount, Concentrating on the Beatitudes,” which is being preached on Sunday mornings by Pastor Tim Senter.]
In Matthew 6:8 we found prayer to be a spiritual event focusing upon God as God, and not upon ourselves controlling the prayer. We can be wrapped up in ourselves very easily and prayer is no exception. Trying to hide the things (skeletons) in our prayer closet from God is like trying to hide tons of gold from thieves, inside Fort Knox. Both already know what is in there. It is no secret at all. Face the truth, step up to your responsibilities and open up to God about your most private thoughts, concerns and sins. He already knows them, but as David said in Psalm 51 – you must acknowledge them (Ps 51:3). This is God. He is sovereign. He is omnipotent. He is omnipresent. Praying as though God has no concept of what you are really dealing with is blatantly dishonest, insults God and is blasphemous.
Last week we found that the entire Sermon on the Mount was a preparation for this section. Everything up to this point has to do with our heart and spirit dealing with God. From the first Beatitude (poor in spirit), to the last discussion (baring your spirit to God in prayer), the Christian finds himself exposed to a glorious God that will heal their wounds (Is 53:4-5).
This week we begin looking at the Lord’s Prayer as a unit. This is instruction within instruction. The Lord’s Prayer is not simply a pattern we should follow when talking to God, but a complete description of the relationship as it ought to be between God and man.
The Lord’s Prayer is in Matthew 6:9-13. We will read through this prayer and memorize these verses as we study them. There are a number of individuals who use this prayer as a prayer to God. It is good to pray scripture. In fact, it is probably one of the best things you can do; pray God’s Word back to Him. However, in this passage we find something more than just a set of verses we can pray to God. With what has come before we must consider how we will really respond to this teaching. Should this be a prayer at night just before we close our eyes and fall off to sleep? Conversely, is this simply a pattern we follow to properly worship God in prayer? Could it be both? We should work through this together and see what we can find.
To prepare for this study, we considered the Beatitudes carefully and reviewed them in conjunction with the individual challenges in scripture for our encouragement. Matthew 5:13-16 told us of the difference we should make in the world. We are to be as different as darkness is from light. In verses 17 through 20, we discovered how we are to be disciples of the law of God. This was not for our own power, but for our own good to develop us into godly creatures capable of honoring and glorifying God in what we do. In verses 21 through the rest of the chapter, we talked specifically about relationships with others and how we are to treat others. We found words could kill as easily as a knife or gun and be even more damaging as well. Conviction in our hearts produces a number of reactions; some of them are poor such as anger and hate. We talked about the Christian response to these convictions, who our friends should be, and who our opponents should be. This led us to a discussion on adultery and temptations in adultery. We also found a connection with divorce and making oaths. We must honor our oath to our closest confidant, our spouse, if we expect to honor any other oaths. Submitting to our needs is one thing, submitting to vengeful emotions is wholly another. We are to deny vengeance and hateful action against our enemies and love our enemies. We found a command to love the unlovable and love them perfectly.
With our salvation experience, our life now in Christ as compared to the world, as well as our changing spirit’s relationship with others, we should not wonder that after these very engaging subjects (all dealing with our spiritual condition, both in Christ and in the world) that we then go into a discussion of prayer. Prayer with God is the most intimate of relationship experiences you can have with Him. Prayer as worship, both public and private, is a great concern in our society today. Giving of ourselves in worship was also discussed as this giving is not only and solely a physical event, but spiritually driven for the glory of God. A few questions might plague us once we look at the entire picture of Christ’s teaching. How can anyone, if praying properly and truly seeking a spiritual connection with God in prayer, ask about giving and then give as the hypocrites in scripture do? How can one praying in the spirit and connecting with God in their prayer closet, be hypocritical in prayer and put on some exhibition for others? How can an individual truly desiring an intimate relationship with God ever react vengefully if they first seek God’s face for guidance? The answer is that we all have hate filled wickedness in our hearts and regularly react from that heart toward others. Even the most chaste and humble of us have the potential for great destructive hate.
There is this selfish and destructive issue then that we have to deal with. It is interesting that one of our most selfish activities is our desire to have things quickly and easily. We want food served in this fashion. We want success delivered up to us in this form (not climbing, but leaping up the ladder of success – even being pulled). We want our spiritual life to take on the junk food, pop-culture attitude that says ‘get it, use it, dispose of it.’ It should surprise us then to find that in this section of scripture every verse begins with an imperative. Imperatives are commands or demands in this case. This study concentrates on “introducing prayerful demands.” Part of our ‘let me believe what I want to believe’ attitude speaks of our need to organize things to our liking. We think if we organize our prayer properly (in accordance to the Lord’s Prayer) we will always get through to God. Organized prayer is not the answer.
Our pride filled heart is one reason we have the pattern of prayer we find here today. It is not a pattern to follow as much as it is a pattern that teaches us humility and submission. This prayer calls us to see how far we are from true godliness. This prayer begins and ends with God. In the five verses, three of them directly reference and talk of God. The two in-between concern our spiritual needs. Both the physical and spiritual still focus upon God as the provider. It is interesting that even when we look at scripture so rich with our eternal God, we tend to focus on ourselves by saying this is our pattern of prayer. It is the pattern given to us, true. Let us never forget that it is God’s prayer. This is a prayer to and for God. We did not make it up, nor did we ask for it. This prayer is given for our benefit to better love, honor, and glorify God in obedience.
I. Prayerful Glory (Verse 9)
I believe there is no better thing than to thank God for all He does in my life. I know people who relish this in their prayers. I empathize with them. However, is this as productive a prayer as someone can utter? The truth is, thanking God in prayer is essential. It shows our dependence upon His sovereignty and omnipotence, and our appreciation. Opening your prayer by recognizing God as God identifies with His deity, His authority, His sinless location, His holiness and the holiness of His name. It sets a tone of reverence in prayer.
In Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu (Aaron’s sons) had just offered strange fire to God. They were consumed by fire in their disobedience. Interestingly, no reference records the word translated as “strange” to mean unique, weird or even disrespectful. The word is used in various places in scripture and means, to scatter or fan – to disperse or spread. It can also indicate casting away or throwing away. What Nadab and Abihu did was offer the fire in their censers in such a fashion that was strange or different than what God wanted. This offering was irreverent, and dishonored the Lord. They performed the offering in a fashion (scattered or spread) previously forbidden by the Lord. We do not find in scripture any clear description of “authorized” fire, or how it is supposed to be spread. It may not be the fire that is the subject, but how the fire or incense is offered that is the concern. Many commentators over time have debated this issue. What is paramount is that Exodus 19:22, 30:20, Leviticus 16:4 and many other passages tell of how clean an individual must be before they enter. The place was holy and God’s glory could be present there. God took sacrifices properly presented (Lev 9:24). What do we glean from these Old Testament lessons? Psalm 51:16 and 17 tells us God does not want animal sacrifices. He wants our heart’s sacrifice. Nadab and Abihu entered wanting to worship the Lord the way they wanted to. They spread the fire from their censers in a strange fashion. They entered with the attitude that they would worship God how they desired and when they desired. In Leviticus 16:2, God tells Moses to inform Aaron he is not to enter the Holy of Holies at any time he wishes, but at specific times. Nadab and Abihu approached God in a way that was improper – in their own way, not God’s way.
We do not sacrifice animals to God because we know the Messiah has come and provided Himself as the perfect sacrifice once for all. Nadab and Abihu wrongly entered, offered things thinking they would glorify God in their own way. We must approach God on His terms, not our own. Our hearts must be perfectly clean. Christian – seek to open your communication with God on His terms, not on your terms.
There is little better way to enter before God than submissively.
II. Prayer for His Will (Verse 10)
Jesus said, not my will, but as thou wilt. He says here for us to pray God’s kingdom will come, regularly. Do you really want God’s kingdom set up on the hill in Jerusalem? It would usher in the Millennium. Is there anything we hold back from God in our testimony, in our life, in our person, in all we are that we would desire to hold on to tenaciously? As the saying goes, the tighter you squeeze the more that slips through your fingers. Christian, hold loosely in your hand the things of the world, but hold tightly in your heart the things of God. Lock the godly things within your soul that they should never escape except in witness and service. The things that must stay within stay there only in so much as they honor the Lord.
Not many realize that the words translated “come” and “will” are actually imperatives. You are issuing an imperative that God bring His kingdom. Tell God to bring His kingdom down to earth. How reverent should one be in making a demand upon God? Unquestionably so. Have you ever wondered how Abraham got away with questioning the Lord saying,
“23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24 Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? 25 That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? 26 And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes. 27 And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes: 28 Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it. 29 And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake. 30 And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there. 31 And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake. 32 And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake. 33 And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.”
Abraham was not guided by self, but by compassion and a pure heart for the people of Sodom and especially his brother Lot. Abraham believed in God wholly. Can you be this righteous before God as you pray? Are you righteous enough to be able to stand before Him and tell God to bring His kingdom? Tell God to bring forth His will as He promised.
Could you stand before God as Moses did in Exodus 32:11-13, and tell the Lord what He promised and that He needs to keep those promises and not destroy the wicked, evil and ungrateful people that He has given those promises to – especially if they deserve destruction?
Have you considered what commanding Him to bring forth His will might do to you? Does it concern you that your soul may not be in a position to withstand God’s will for it? The only way to ensure your success is by being completely submitted to God. Are you?
Just as the humbling experience in the poor spirit must bring the Christian to his knees, recognition of a just and pure, all powerful God must drive us to dependence, if we are smart. We can walk through life thinking it will not catch up to us, but it will. We need to be submitted and dependent upon His loving care.
III. Prayerful Dependence (Verse 11)
Of the entire Lord’s Prayer, this is probably the most oft quoted verse. We find it quoted for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to depend upon God for our daily sustenance. Once again though, we find that this verse begins with an imperative. This is a demand issued by the individual to God. “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is not a request; it is a demand. Honestly, the heart needs much more than physical bread to live on and considering that the discussions of late and especially immediately preceding this pattern of prayer deal with the heart, we should assess the heart issues dealing with sustenance.
What provision do we receive in our souls from God? Consider grace – the beginning of salvation. Paul tells us this in the famous discourse in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, concerning the thorn in his flesh. Paul submits because it is not relief from the world, but the grace of God that sustains us.
One might ask, why doesn’t God relieve us of pains? Truly grace is something given without cause or merit. Grace is given freely without obligation to give, and accepted in freedom from obligation to merit. Gifts operate that way. This freely given grace is our spiritual sustenance and much of the driving force of our dependence upon Christ for life.
Are you wholly given to the grace that God provides? Alternatively, do you look for more to come your way even though you know you did nothing to receive the first dose? We must stand in a position that can demand the grace promised to us. Asking for grace (spiritual and physical sustenance) that is outside of God’s promise may prove dangerous. A heart submitted to the answer (2 Cor 12:9) is the key to success.
Certainly, mentioning submission must lead us to repentance. Considering what we have to admit to in receiving salvation acknowledges change must take place. Submitting to an answer of grace in whatever form therefore indicates a repentant heart bent to change for the grace of God.
IV. Prayerful Repentance (Verse 12)
We find ourselves faced with another demand upon God in prayer. This time, it is for forgiveness of debt. The question is, What debt? Many have confused this passage over the span of time. Most confusion stems from orienting the discussion to a temporal plane. Many attribute this to the physical world’s debts – what one person owes to another. The entire context of the Lord’s teaching to this point is about your heart. What debt can be indicated then, except the debt of sin in the heart of man? The sin debt we owe is eternal death and torment. If we are forgiven from eternal death, we must forgive others in like fashion. People sin against God first, but they sin regularly against one another in turn (Ps 51:4). We have sought one another in this fellowship and humbled ourselves one to another regularly seeking forgiveness from one another. This is how we forgive our debtors.
Have you forgiven your debtors? If not, how can you expect to demand forgiveness from God? That is the question. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Are you in a rightful place to demand forgiveness of sin?
Interestingly, the Lord does not begin with salvation, but ends with it. It might seem that we should first be saved, and then we are able to pray to God in the fashion being described – to demand the things of the Lord’s prayer. We find an interesting paradox when we consider salvation coming at the end of this pattern of prayer.
V. The Lord’s Salvation (Verse 13)
Have you ever asked how many in attendance at His sermon were actually believers in the Messiah? Have you considered what the audience might have thought when you know that Jesus was telling them to demand, to command, to insist upon the subjects of these lines (that His kingdom come, that He give us daily grace, that He forgive us)? What are the Pharisees thinking as they hear this preacher tell all these folks to make demands upon the all mighty God – especially demands that God not tempt, but deliver (the command) us from evil? If the Pharisees were anything, they were publicly reverent and demanded reverence, even if they were not pious in their private lives. One can almost hear them saying, ‘What does this ‘Nazarene’ think he is doing, telling people to demand things of God?’
Our Lord teaches the people to get their hearts into a position to be able to rightly demand God’s promises in prayer through a discussion on forgiveness. Everything before (having a just, pure, righteous heart) coupled with what follows (acting in the righteous, justified, pure heart God gave you) is essential and central to this pattern of prayer.
What are you thinking Christian – that this may be another admonishment by our Lord? You may be right. This can be encouraging because some may already live a life capable of this prayer. What is your heart’s condition before the Lord in prayer? Are you afraid to commune with God? Have you ever thought you should be? If your heart is not right, you may suffer as Nadab and Abihu did, for many are sick and sleep because we are not properly judging ourselves before doing the things the Lord directs, be it prayer or participate in communion (1 Cor 11:30-32).
Pray to God in a reverent but bold fashion that does not take Him or His salvation for granted. Seek His promises with a poor and mourning spirit, a meek heart full of mercy that hungers and thirsts for righteousness and purity making peace with your debtors. Be joyous when you are persecuted. This is truly a salt-and-light Christian, living out the Beatitudes before God in prayer. This dependent belief was reckoned unto Abraham for righteousness (Rom 4:3).