Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 2

[This message was delivered on Easter Sunday, 2015]

Matthew 6:9-10.  Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Every Lord’s Day is a remembrance of our Lord’s death and resurrection.  He rose on the first day of the week, and it was this consideration that led the early church to set aside this day as the day to gather and to worship the crucified and resurrected and living and returning Christ.  But on this day, we give it special consideration, for it was at this time of the year that our Lord was crucified and raised from the dead.  And it is fitting that we do so, because apart from the resurrection of our Lord, our religion is meaningless.  The apostle Paul put it this way, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).  The reason is that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith if futile and you are still in your sins” (v. 17).  In fact, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v.19). 

Here is what the Christian religion teaches: it teaches that it is possible to have all one’s sins forgiven.  All of them!  And it teaches that on the basis of this forgiveness one can have eternal life, an increasing, never ending, life of joy, glory, and peace in the presence of the God of the universe.  But it also teaches that the only way forgiveness can happen and thus the only way we can have eternal life is through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.  Apart from him none of this is even remotely possible.  That’s why Paul said what he said to the Corinthians.  He would never have been able to imagine a Christianity without an atonement.  And he would never have been able to imagine a Christianity without an empty tomb.

Now what does this have to do with the Lord’s Prayer that we are considering this morning?  First of all, as we noted last week, this prayer is a God-centered missionary prayer.  It is not simply a prayer that in some abstract sense God’s name may be sanctified.  Nor is it just that God’s name may be hallowed in our own hearts, though that is certainly implied.  Rather, it is a prayer that God’s name may be hallowed among all the peoples of the earth.  In fact, you cannot want to sanctify God in your own heart apart from wanting him to be sanctified in all the nations.  David prayed the Lord’s Prayer a thousand years before when he wrote this Psalm:

May God be gracious to us and bless us

                And make his face to shine upon us,

That your way may be known on earth,

                Your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praised you, O God!

                Let all the peoples praise you!  (Psalm 67:1-3, ESV)

But how can this happen?  It cannot happen apart from the supernatural work of the Spirit of the risen Christ.  It is in virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection that we die to sin and rise to newness of life (cf. Rom. 6:3-6).  And no one is going to hallow God’s name in their hearts until they have died to sin and risen to newness of life.  This prayer, like every other aspect of the Christian life, has its roots in the death and resurrection of our Jesus Christ.

Another link that this prayer has with Easter Sunday is its insistence that the Christian religion is inherently concerned with historical realities.  One of the things that led C. S. Lewis to embrace the Christian religion after so many years of atheism was ironically the very thing that led him away from it to begin with.  One of the things that caused Lewis to reject the faith of his parents was the presence of so many mythologies.   It seemed to him that Christianity was just another mythology.  But then he saw that there had to be something that made these myths plausible, and that behind these myths was a reality.  Lewis came to see that this reality ultimately is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  He wrote, “Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.”

You see the same thing in this prayer.  You see this connection between the supernatural and the historical.  Now this is anathema in our generation.  People are perfectly content to talk about the supernatural or the historical, but they never want to talk about them together.  But when we pray, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,” we are not praying something just to make us feel good.  We are praying that God’s kingdom will come in a very real and concrete way in this very real and concrete world of ours.  And this is not some vague expression of a desire that the United Nations get its act together and bring about world peace.  This prayer is rooted in the realistic and Biblical conviction that real world peace is only attainable when Christ returns and puts down all opposition to his rule.

We can sum it up like this.  The reason we can pray this prayer with any confidence is because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  He has gone to receive the kingdom, and he is coming again to establish it in its fullness.  But in the meantime, his kingdom is already spreading; he has sent the Spirit so that men and women will hear the gospel with new hearts and embrace Christ as Lord and Savior.  And when they do that, they will hallow his name, they will submit to his rule, and they will begin to follow his will as the rule of their lives rather than their own.  And all who have experienced this for themselves are going to want other to experience it as well, and thus this prayer is a true expression of one who has experienced the reality of Christ’s resurrection and wants others to experience it as well.

Let us then consider each of these petitions in more depth.  I am going to consider them together, because I believe that to pray for one is to pray for the others.  Or, one might argue that the second two petitions are implicit in the first.

First of all, let’s consider the first request: “hallowed be thy name.”  What does it mean to hallow God’s name?  The word used here is often translated by the verb “to sanctify.”  For example, it is used in a similar fashion in 1 Pet. 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” [ESV, “honor the Lord God as holy”].  To sanctify something or someone meant to set them apart for a holy purpose.  With respect to God, it means to recognize God’s holiness, his supremacy above all created things, and to see that he is worthy of our worship, our obedience, and our trust. 

When we pray that God hallow his name, we are simply asking that God himself will be seen to be holy.  In Biblical language, God’s name stands for all that he is.  This is more than just the expression of a desire that people not blaspheme.  It is much more than that.  It is asking that people will see God’s glory and transcendence and supremacy above everything else.  This is more than a prayer for pure lips; it is a prayer for a pure heart with respect to God.

I’m going to take the next two petitions together.  They are: “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”  What many people think when they speak of God’s kingdom is some future, earthly millennial reign of Christ.  And though I do believe that God’s kingdom is ultimately future, there is no reason to believe that it is only future.  For example, when Jesus spoke about the kingdom to the Pharisees, he said this: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).  Though there are different ways to interpret the meaning of “within,” it at least means that the kingdom of God was a present reality even during the earthly ministry of Jesus.  There is both a present and a future aspect to the kingdom.

You can see this also in that the gospel is called the gospel of the kingdom (cf. Acts 28:31).  The gospel is not a message primarily about some future millennial reign; it is the message that Jesus is Lord and Savior.  It is not about one who is going to be a king sometime in the future; it is about Jesus who is king even now.  “The Son of David holds his throne, and sits in judgement there.” 

Thus, when we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are not just praying for Christ’s return.  We are praying for that; but we are praying for more than that.  God’s kingdom is God himself ruling over his own people in Christ.  So this prayer is a prayer first of all that God would establish his rule in people’s hearts worldwide, and then a prayer that this rule would find its ultimate consummation in the return of Christ. 

And thus, when we also pray “thy will be done,” we are essentially praying for the same thing as when we pray for God’s kingdom to come.  We do his will as we bow to his authority and sovereignty in our hearts.

Whereas the first petition has reference primarily to the holiness of God and his transcendence and supremacy, these last two petitions have reference primarily to the sovereignty of God and his right to rule over us.  In the first petition we are praying that God would overcome our blindness and help us to see his glory; in these, we are praying that God would overcome our rebellion and help us to submit to his rule. 

But they also complement one another because you will never submit to the Lordship of one whose glory you do not see.  There is the story of Alfred the Great, that, due to certain reverses of fortune, he had to go incognito for a while, and so he went about as a commoner.  At one point, as he was resting in the home of some peasants, the lady of the house treated him as she would any other servant.  She of course did so because she didn’t recognize that it was her king in her midst!  In the same way, until we recognize the glory of God in Christ, we will never truly submit our hearts to his lordship and seek his will for our lives. 

But this also goes the other way.  We cannot say that we have truly seen the greatness of our God if we treat him with contempt; if we do not love him and keep his commandments.  Here is the great test.  Is our theology real or is it something we hold only in an intellectual sense?  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” said our Lord (Jn. 14).  To love God for who he is, as he is revealed in Scripture, this is the proof that we have seen his glory.  But the proof that we really love him lies in our obedience.  An unholy man has no idea of the holiness of God.  If he did, he would repent and turn from his sin.

This prayer is fitting because we and everything else exists to glorify God.  We were created to give glory to God: “Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west . . . even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (Isa. 43:5, 7).  We were redeemed to give glory to God.  The refrain of Paul in Ephesians 1 is “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (ver. 6, 12, 14).  Thus, when we pray this prayer we are praying that God would put things right, that things be as they ought to be.  To pray this prayer is more fundamental, more important, than praying for food on the table, or even air to breath.  It is a prayer that we be what we would have been in an unbroken, sinless world, and that we will be through grace, in the world to come.

But this prayer is needful because sinful men and women do not glorify God (cf. Rom. 1:21-25), do not submit to his rule and will.  Now if we do not see the glory of God it is not because God is not glorious.  It is because we have become blind to God’s real beauty (cf. 2 Cor. 4:3-6).  Sin is destructive.  It blinds us.  It is like a disease that takes away one’s ability to taste good food.  So sin takes away our appetite for God.  It is a spiritual leprosy that takes away our ability to feel the pain that sin is causing in our life, so that we keep on with our destructive habits unaware of the fact that our bad habits and attitudes and desires and thoughts are slowly eating away at our true self and turning us more and more into a disfigured monster, and finally into a dead one.  So when we pray this, we’re praying that God would help us to see more and more of his glory and to take away the sin that prevents us from seeing it; and to pray for the lost that God would no longer allow their eyes to remain blinded by the master of this world.

And so this petition is hope-filling.  The very best thing that could ever happen to us is to hallow God’s name, to see and to savor his supremacy, and to bow to his authority. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

This is not a prayer that we glorify God’s name as Pharaoh did – through his sin and therefore through his destruction (cf. Rom. 9).  There are two ways God’s name will be hallowed in us: God will either be glorified in our destruction, if we do not see his glory, or he will be glorified in our salvation, if we know the true God and his Son (Jn. 17:3).  But you don’t pray this prayer if you have not seen the majesty of God.  God is either your ruler or he is your rival.  You don’t root for your enemy.  If you want God’s name to be hallowed it must be that through the mercy of God your blindness has been taken away and through grace you have come to see the worth of Christ.  This is the prayer of someone who has been saved.

The fact that our Lord puts this prayer in our lips means that grace has come into the world to save, to take away blindness and to give us hearts that have the unspeakable privilege to see the glory of God – not second hand, like someone looking at a photo of an Alp, but like someone who is actually standing on the top of an Alp and experiencing it in person.

When we pray this, we are praying that God would make us more and more into the kind of person who does hallow God’s name.  This is not just a prayer that God do something objective to us.  This is especially a prayer that God do something in us.  And so we are thus praying that God would take away those attitudes and habits that cause us to enjoy this world above God, and especially that we would not embrace anything that is in opposition to the enjoyment of God in the soul. 

And then we are praying that God would do this to others around us.  Like the apostle John, we pray that the fellowship we have with the Triune God may be shared by our friends (1 Jn. 1:3). 

I think praying this prayer with any reality will have at least two effects upon our lives.  First of all, it will orient us away from ourselves and our petty interests to see our present lives in light of God’s purposes.  It will kill the worldliness that is so apt to drain our affections from kingdom work and its priorities.  The main thing at home, or in the office, with our family or friend, is to glorify God.  We need this prayer to remind us of this, because there are a thousand things, pressures, distractions, that will turn our lives into a godless affair.  Why do we miss opportunities to share God’s word?  Is it not often because we do not have the mindset, “Thy kingdom come”?  Why do we allow work to consume us to the point of squeezing prayer and Bible study out of our lives?  Is it not because we do not hallow God’s name as we ought?

In particular, it is not our name that we need to be so concerned about.  It is not what needs defending.  And it is not our little kingdoms and causes that should have the main allegiance of our heart, but rather the kingdom of Christ and its mission in our time.  And finally, it is not our will that is so necessary, though often we think that if everyone just did what we thought was best, everything would turn out alright.  We need to have our hearts thrilled rather with God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will.

And then I think the second thing this will do is to orient us away from the merely present and to cast our eyes to the future.  God’s kingdom is here, but it is primarily future.  And when we pray for God’s will to be done in earth as it is in heaven, though this does not exclude an earnest desire for this reality to take place in the here and now, yet we cannot pray this without also praying for the time when this world will be rid once for all of sin.  And this is one of the most needful things.  We need to be looking for the return of Christ.  When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it is not only with an eye to the past for what our Lord has done for us, but also with an eye to the future, “till the Lord come.”  We need to be looking to the future, because that is where our reward is.  It is not now, and if we look for it now, we will become discouraged.  In this world we will have tribulation.  But we can be of good cheer, because Christ has overcome the world – not in the sense that he will save us from the tribulation now, but in the sense that he will bring us through the tribulation to eternal life.

And we need to remind ourselves that of all else that will happen, we can be assured that God’s name will be hallowed, his kingdom will come, and there is coming a day when his will shall be perfectly followed in every corner of a renewed heavens and earth.  Thus, this is not only a prayer that God will do something in us and others, but also a reminder of God’s promise that he will complete what he has begun in us.  It therefore ought to greatly encourage us and fill us with hope and joy when we pray this prayer in faith.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1

Matthew 6:9, “Our Father which art in heaven…”

John Calvin first published his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536 in order to give the world an idea of what the Reformed faith was all about.  He organized the first part of his little book around expositions of the Ten Commandments (Law), the Apostle’s Creed (Faith), and the Lord’s Prayer (Prayer).  The last two chapters deal with the doctrine of the church.  But it’s interesting, isn’t it, that Calvin would choose to put the Lord’s Prayer front and center in a book that was meant to delineate what it meant to be a Reformed Christian?  Clearly, Calvin did so because he understood the vital importance of prayer.  And he also understood the primacy of the Lord’s Prayer when it came to getting a handle on how to pray.  

The church has always embraced the Lord’s Prayer as a model for prayer.  Surely this is how our Lord meant for the prayer to be taken.  It is not wrong to pray the Lord’s Prayer verbatim, but we should be careful lest we turn it into vain repetitions (ver. 7).  In fact, Paul wrote down many prayers for us in his epistles, and none of them are exactly like the Lord’s Prayer.  So it’s not meant for that purpose.  This prayer is not magical, as if it acted like some spiritual potion when it is uttered.  Rather, the prayer is a model.  It is meant to inform the priorities of prayer, as well as to give us encouragement to prayer.  The fact that the Son of God has given us a prayer is the best evidence that God wants his children to pray.  A loving parent would never even consider tormenting their son or daughter by giving them a sandwich and then telling them not to eat it.  A good parent does not give their children a gift and then tell them not to enjoy it.  Even so, God, with whom we are all evil in comparison, is a good and loving Father.  He does not give us the good gift of prayer without inviting and expecting us to use it.  “After this manner therefore pray ye:” this is a command to pray.  Here then, is not only a model for prayer, but an invitation to prayer, an invitation from God the Father himself.

As we begin to look at this prayer, we should perhaps devote a few words to an overview of the prayer itself.  This prayer is clearly divided up into two parts.  In verses 9-10, the prayer addresses God’s mission to glorify his name in the earth.  Thus, we are to pray that his name be worshiped among the nations, that his kingdom come to all men, and that his will done on earth as it is in heaven.  I really do believe this is a God-centered missionary prayer.  Prayer does not start with our needs, but with God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will.  When we pray this way, we are putting into practice our Lord’s admonition in 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God.”  It is so important to begin this way.  Because if we don’t, we are going to lose sight of what is most important, and we will become self-centered and self-absorbed.  We will use the gifts that God has given us which are meant to magnify his name in this world and spoil them on ourselves.  In other words, we can’t even pray rightly for our own needs, without seeing them in the context of our place in God’s larger purpose – the pursuit of his glory among the nations.  So it is right that we begin here.

Again, this does not mean that we have to start with these words every time we pray.  But what I think our Lord is telling us is that we need to see all our requests in the light of God’s priorities.  John Piper has said that prayer is not meant to be used as a domestic intercom, but rather as a wartime walkie-talkie.  And the way to be of a mindset that sees prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie is to constantly be reminding ourselves that the purpose of prayer is not to pad our life with comforts but to draw near to God and to enjoy him more and to draw others into the enjoyment of God.

However, seeking the kingdom of heaven does not make this world go away.  Every believer, no matter how saintly, is constantly exposed to pressing needs brought on by life in the here and now.  Our Lord does not teach us to neglect the present in light of the future; only to see the present in light of the future.  So he goes on in verses 11-13 to the disciple’s personal needs. 

But even among these requests, which are divided into three, two out of the three are prayers for the spiritual health of the believer (prayer for forgiving and being forgiven and a prayer for deliverance from temptation).  This does not minimize the fact that “give us this day our daily bread” is a comprehensive request that God meet our physical needs.  However, the focus in the Lord’s Prayer is that we be the kind of person who can join God in advancing his kingdom.  Our physical health is important, and we ought to take care of that and ask God to bless it, but our spiritual health is so much more important, and the priorities of the Lord’s Prayer demonstrate this.

I love how God’s sovereignty lies beneath each request.  As we shall see, the prayer really begins with an affirmation of God’s sovereignty, and then as we go on to pray for our needs, we are appealing to God’s sovereignty to do something for us.  It is an implicit affirmation that without him we are nothing, and that he is able to provide for our every need.  Thus, “our own needs, though demoted to second place, will yet be comprehensively committed to him (‘Give us . . . forgive us . . . deliver us’).”[1]  You don’t pray this way to a God who can only look on with pity but who cannot intervene.  We are praying to a God who is sovereign over the money we have in the bank and the food on our plates, who is sovereign over our own hearts, who is sovereign over this very evil world that seeks to overthrow our faith.  Last time as we looked at the previous verses, we noted that our Lord was at pains to emphasize that God knows and cares about our needs.  In this prayer, he is at pains to emphasize that God is able to meet our needs.

Finally, before we go on to consider the prayer in more detail, I think it should be pointed out that there is a community aspect to the Lord’s Prayer.  It is not, “My Father” but “our Father;” not “forgive me” but “forgive us,” and so on.  In the same way, when Paul prays for the Ephesian believers, he prays that they “may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18-19).  Thus, it is not right to pray only for our own personal needs, but we ought to look outside ourselves to pray for the needs of our spiritual family, for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  

So let’s look now at the opening words of the prayer: “Our Father which art in heaven.”  As the Puritan Thomas Manton put it, in these words our Lord describes God to us “partly from his goodness and mercy – Our Father; and partly from his greatness and majesty – which art in heaven.[2]  We shall consider these words from these two different but complementary aspects.

I. There is a sense in which God is the Father of every human being because he is the Creator.  In Malachi, we read these words: “Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10).  In this sense Adam is call the son of God (Luke 3:38).  However, when the Biblical authors refer to God as Father, they are not usually referring to him in this sense.  Rather, they are referring to a relationship that is not ours by virtue of creation, but one that is ours by virtue of adoption.

Why would we need to be adopted by God?  You don’t adopt your own children!  However, we all recognize that it is possible to denounce a stubborn and rebellious child.  These are extreme cases, to be sure, but sometimes they are necessary.  If the rebellion is so bad that it has brought the family name into disrepute and if it is so stubborn that there are no hopeful signs of repentance, then it might be time to disown that son or daughter.

In a similar way, mankind has been disowned by God because of sin.  And sin is really that bad.  We have brought God’s name into disrepute because of sin, and our sin is incorrigible.  It is no longer only creation that defines us; sin and Satan now rule men and women in rebellion against God.  We are by nature no longer in his family, and we are born, as Paul puts it, under the wrath of God, without hope, and without God in this world (Eph. 2:3, 12).  We are born, not the happy servants of God, but God-less, wanting to be masters of our own fate, and hostile to any law external to our own will.  We, who owe everything to God, for “in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28), we have rejected God, even sometimes while paying lip-service to him.  We are thankless for his gifts, ascribing them to our own abilities, while we live not for God’s glory but for our own.  We have slapped Almighty God in the face numerous times, saying “no” to him every time we sin.  And to top off the indignity, even though we have rejected God we still think he owes us a good life on earth and an easy entrance into heaven when we die.  Man in sin no longer sees God as King and himself God’s servant, but sees himself as King and God as his servant.

But here is the amazing thing.  God does not need us.  We are dust and ashes before him (Gen. 18:27).  God is perfectly happy in the fellowship of the Trinity.  And yet, God is willing to share his love with this fallen humanity.  Though sin has created a breach so definite between us and God that we can no longer be considered his children, he has made a way to bring us back.  That way is Christ, the eternal Son of God.  He made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21).  God punished sin in Christ, who bore it on the cross and made a full and complete atonement for it, so that if we are connected to Jesus Christ we are no longer considered Iiable to the just wrath of God.

But God has done more than that.  In Christ, he has not only made a way for us to be right with God, he has made a way for us to be reintroduced into the family of God.  The apostle John put it this way: “But as many as received him [Jesus], to them gave he power [the right] to become the sons of God, even to them which believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).  Of all the blessings which are ours through Christ, to be adopted into the family of God is the crowning privilege.

Think about what this means.  If you belong to Christ, then you are in the family of God.  And that means that God is no longer your enemy, he is your Father.  It means that you are an heir of God and joint-heir with Christ (cf Rom. 8:15-17).  It means that God loves you with the love a daddy has for his little daughter.  And such is his love for you that he will not allow anything to come between it and you.  You are his for keeps.  In Roman law, an adopted son could not be disinherited.  In some sense, an adopted son was in a stronger position than a natural born son.  Even so with God.  If you are an adopted son or daughter, there is no separating you from the love that God has for you.

Now think about what this means with respect to prayer.  There is a reason why Jesus told us to address God in prayer as Father.  I think one of the reasons he has done so is because when God brings us into his family, he not only puts on us the family name (adoption) he also puts in us the family likeness (regeneration), so that this is how we want to come to God.  This is how Paul puts it: “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).

However, sometimes we need to be reminded that this is exactly our relationship with God.  He is our Father.  We are his children.  If you don’t believe that, you are not really going to draw near to God in prayer.  How could you?  He is the King of the universe!  To come to God any other way would be ridiculous.  It is only because he is our Father that we can have any confidence that our puny prayers will be heard.  Let me illustrate what I mean: My daughter loves to pick weeds for her mother.  And you know what?  Anyone else would not appreciate them.  But my wife loves it when our daughter does it because she knows that her daughter is doing it to please her mother.  Even so, your prayers may be made up of weeds, but if you are a son or daughter of God, then I can assure you that God will collect your weedy prayers and put them on display in heaven.  No vial of prayer broken over the feet of Christ is wasted.

Therefore, it is imperative that we are in the family of God.  It is the only way to true prayer.  And the only way to be in the family of God is through Christ.  John tells us that those who received him were given the right to become children of God.  Now here is the amazing thing.  You may think that you are too far gone to receive such an invitation.  But it is precisely the sinner to whom Christ calls: “Come unto me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30).  So, with Jesus, with Paul, with John, I urge you to come to Christ, to look to Christ, to commit yourself to Christ (cf. Rom. 10:8-13)!  Those who truly do so are saved, adopted into the family of God, and heirs and eternal joy and glory.

II. But our Lord goes on to describe the Father with the words: “which art in heaven.”  Though it is so easy to just run over these words without thinking, they are full of meaning and importance for us.  (Here is an instance where we so often use the words of Scripture in prayer, as when we begin with “Heavenly Father…” without realizing just what we are saying.)  

Here’s what we must not do with these words: we must not think that they mean the Father is in heaven but not upon the earth.  They are certainly not intended to contradict the Scriptural teaching that God is omnipresent.  As Solomon put it in his prayer, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have built?” (1 Kings 8:27).  Or David: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there” (Ps. 139:7-8).  

What then is intended by this description?  In what sense is God the Father in heaven if he is present everywhere?  Here is what I think is meant: heaven is the place where God most fully manifests his glory to bless.[3]  It is in that sense that God is in heaven.  God is everywhere, but God is also invisible to human eyes, except where he manifests himself visibly in glory.  Nowhere is this more manifest than in heaven.  There have been glimpses of this on earth from time to time – as on Mount Sinai, or on the Mount of Transfiguration – but in heaven God’s glory is most fully and continually visibly revealed as it cannot be on earth in its present fallen state.

Thus, when we are directed to address God the Father as “in heaven,” our Lord is directing us to have our hearts and minds duly impressed with a sense of the greatness and majesty of God.  And you can see that this is the way the writers of Scripture intend us to take this phrase.  For example, Ps. 115:3, “But our God is in the heavens, he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.”  Or Ps. 2:1-4, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.  He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.”  Or 2 Chron. 20:6, “O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven?  And rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen?  And in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?”  Thus, I think John Stott is right when he comments, “The words ‘in the heavens’ denote not the place of his abode so much as the authority and power at his command as the creator and ruler of all things.  Thus he combines fatherly love with heavenly power, and what his love directs his power is able to perform.”[4]

Thus, when we address God as our Father, we are meant to have our hearts affected with our nearness to God and his concern for us and his love to us.  And when we go on to add, “which art in heaven,” we are meant to have our hearts affected with the transcendence of God and his power to help us.  His arm is not shortened that he cannot save.

[1] John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 146.

[2] Thomas Manton, Manton’s Complete Works, Vol. 1, p. 40.

[3] I believe that this is the way Wayne Grudem puts it in his Systematic Theology.

[4] Stott, p. 146.

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