This is an outline of the notes that I use to teach my Wednesday evening class on the sayings and the life of Jesus.
At the Heart of the Lesson: Jesus teaches about prayer, emphasizing persistence, trust, and the importance of prayer.
Today’s Term: Father – which is central to his understanding of prayer, which is an act of personal communion with our heavenly Father.
Strictly for Show (Matthew 6:5-8)
- Devout Jews made it a habit to pray several times a day (generally at 9am, 12pm, and 3pm) no matter what they were doing or in what position.
- At the heart, a good idea to pause and reflect on our relationship with God.
- But Jesus saw their true motivation and prayer had ceased to be important; and more showy for those who could hear and see them praying.
- The private room or prayer closet, between you and God.
- Meaningless repetition or babble (like with Baal in 1 Kings 18:26), characteristic of the pagans, or even Catholics or Muslims today.
- A prayer does not need to be recited, like one is in a trance.
- The Jews did not babble like the pagans but they had their empty forms, even reciting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) each morning and evening.
- Jesus makes it clear that God knows what you need before you ask him, so length of prayer, the number of people praying, or eloquence of speech is not a factor.
A Better Way to Pray (Matthew 6:9-13)
- Typically called the Lord’s Prayer, this is better called the Model Prayer. I see the Lord’s Prayer being in John 17:1-26, where the Lord is actually praying for his mission, disciples, those who come after them, namely all followers of Jesus down through the ages.
- Jesus’ use of the term Father, is much different than the tradition lofty address of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” or “Creator of the World” or “Merciful One” or “Divine Presence.” For Jesus, “Father” was enough because piling on titles are not important. Titles don’t express a relationship.
- “Father” then and now: back in the day, father’s commanded respect and authority unlike the way fathers are portrayed in American culture today.
- When we call God “Father” we are acknowledging we are his children. An earthly father knows what his children need even when they ask for a bunch of crazy stuff.
- The Prayer itself…
- “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9, see also Luke 11:2)
- “In heaven” – he is still transcendent, holier than us, greater than us. “Our Father in Heaven” is a balance between love and power.
- “Hallowed” – meaning holy or separate or distinct. We are giving his respect to his unique character.
- “Your kingdom come” and “Your will be done” is an example of parallelism, the second phrase is a restating of the first. Living in his kingdom mean living in harmony with God’s will. This is not resigning to God’s will (like it’s fate or done with resentment) but an embracing of God’s will, since God knows best.
- “Give us our daily bread” which likely means simply give us what we need today. (Jesus is the Bread of Life, John 6:35, 48, and God provided manna in the wilderness, Exodus 16:13-18, 31).
- “Forgive us our debts” – reminds us that we are all sinners. The word here is not hamartia, meaning to miss the mark, but rather opheilema, meaning literally debts, things that are due. Perhaps these are things we should have done but fail to do them, or failed to give God or our neighbors what we owed them.
- “Forgiving others” – God forgiving us is contingent on our forgiving others. We cannot pay our debt by fasting or praying or giving to the poor, but through forgiving others.
- “Deliver us from the evil one” – this is more than just delivering us from generic evil.
- Is this a magic prayer to be repeated word for word or more of a model prayer? This is not the words to memorize but to be used as a template or framework.
Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7-11)
- One important key is that God is a generous Father. The verbs here are the imperfect tense, meaning, keep on asking, seeking, knocking. Don’t give up.
- Do we get all for which we ask? No. Jesus says the Father give good gifts to those who ask (Matthew 7:11). He already covered our request for God’s will to be done (Matthew 6:10).
- Asking for wisdom (James 1:5-6) and confidence that God hears us (1 John 5:14) when we ask according to his will.
- Did Jesus call us evil (Matthew 7:11)? Total depravity (Jeremiah 17:9).
The Pesky, Inconsiderate Friend (Luke 11:5-8)
- The custom of hospitality in Bible times, so this is a familiar story. The late-night friend’s boldness is what gets the man out of bed. He was actually shameless in his persistence to ask. He did not give what was asked out of love for his neighbor but because the neighbor was a nuisance to get rid of.
- This parable appears to be a contrast between our own goodness and God’s. God’s generosity requires much less cajoling, he does not need to be awakened, since he already knows our needs.
- The point is that one should continuing making his request rather than giving up too soon. In this story, the man was begging for something he needed (daily bread), it was not for something unnecessary.
The Pesky Plaintiff (Luke 18:1-8)
- Here is the parable of the unjust judge. The assumption is that this judge did not let the fear of God (or fear of public opinion) affect his decisions (Luke 18:4, also Exodus 22:22-24). These are often condemned in the Old Testament, judges who expected bribes.
- This woman had to plead her own case, the ultimate in victim-hood, a widow.
- This judge is exhausted and she has worn him out with continual complaining (Luke 18:5). We are not told why the judge would not hear her case, he could ignore her and get away with it.
- Her request is simply for justice; this was not unreasonable. Do that which you are paid to do, dispense justice (check out Psalm 9:12, 146:9).
- While a humorous story, it is dead serious; it is about trusting God to make things right.
- Jesus challenges us to pray and not grow weary. When unanswered, will we continue in prayer? Will Jesus find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)?
The Amazing Holy Man (Luke 18:9-14)
- This following story continues the theme of prayer but moves from persistence to attitude.
- The presence of Pharisees in the culture, devout men who took religion seriously, where the common man could not. Pharisee meant “separated ones” – these would look down on others who were not so holy and boast in their devout practices of public prayer and public fasting and public giving. This guy was not real;y praying, he was admiring himself in a mirror.
- The prayer starts out right, thanking God, but goes down hill after that.
- He didn’t need God since he was doing things right by himself (self-righteousness).
- He focuses on his merits.
- He compares himself to others.
- The tax collector – the despised people of the day, working for the Romans and Herod, notoriously corrupt. This “scum” should not have even been near the temple.
- He focuses on his sinfulness and unworthiness.
- He knows his need and chases after God. He is not “a” sinner, but “the” sinner. The definite article is in the Greek.
- He does not compare himself to others.
- Many people tend to behave more like the Pharisee than the publican. Have you heard this one, “There but for the grace of God go I”? Are we not comparing ourselves masked in the language to God’s grace? Paul’s response, “What a wretched man I am” (Romans 7:24).
In Jesus’ Name, Amen (John 14:14)
- How often do we see this phrase as a magic bullet in our prayer arsenal?
- This is to ask in the spirit of Jesus, according to his revealed will. Let’s not misrepresent of Lord by asking for things not according to his will (for healing? for health? for someone’s salvation? for God’s will to be done? but to win the lottery?).
- Going through the pit with Jesus changes what we ask for. The prosperity gospel is only believed by baby Christians in the western world. It is an insult to God and the sacrifice of our Savior to believe that we should receive better treatment that the cross, or the destiny of the disciples (John 15:18-20, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 4:12).