The Lord’s Prayer
July 10, 2011
“Our Father who art in heaven” Matthew 6:9a
Our Father who art in heaven. What does this mean? God would by these words tenderly invite us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may with all boldness and confidence ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.
There are two good reasons to pray. God tells us to and he promises to hear us. We have his command and his promise. This is how we know that God wants us to pray. This is how we know that when we pray God will hear us and answer our prayers.
The word “pray” means to ask. We ask God. We pray to him. That’s what we do. We ask God. He’s the boss. We’re not. We don’t tell him what to do. We ask. We ask as those who are coming to him for a favor. The reason we ask him for his favor is because we know we can. We have permission. Without permission, we couldn’t speak. We have permission to ask God because Jesus has given it to us.
Jesus is the Son of God. We are children of God. But Jesus is not the Son of God in the same way that we are children of God. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. He has always been the Son of God. He was with the Father from eternity. The Father has never existed without his only begotten Son. We, on the other hand, did not exist until we were conceived in our mother’s womb. And when we were conceived and born we were not children of God. We were conceived and born in sin, as David writes in the Psalm, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) St. Paul writes that we were “by nature children of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3) Jesus is the only One who gives us the right to pray to God because Jesus is the only One who has taken away God’s wrath.
Today is the first in a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord Jesus taught us this prayer and he also gave us the right to pray. First Jesus comes. Jesus gives us the right to pray. First comes faith in Jesus. Then comes prayer. There is no prayer until there is faith.
We may not pray to God except by invitation. The Lord Jesus invites us. He invites us to ask God for his favor. The One who has come into this world to reveal God’s love is the One who gives us the right to pray. The origin of Christian prayer is not the Christian. It is Christ. It is his suffering and death on Calvary. Where the only begotten Son of the Father was forsaken in his suffering is where God’s favor for us is grounded. Where Jesus takes our place and suffers for us is where God does not reckon to us any sin or wrongdoing. It is where we are joined to holy union with our Father in heaven and so may call him, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
He is in heaven but that doesn’t mean he isn’t here. God is everywhere. Heaven isn’t a geographical location. Heaven is the holy and glorious presence of God. It is where no sinner can enter because it is a holy place that excludes sinners and all sin. God is in heaven and on earth at the same time. But we aren’t in heaven. And if God were to leave us in our sin, we could never get to heaven. We couldn’t pray to the God of heaven. He would be unapproachable. This is why when we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven” we are, by that very address, admitting that we cannot pray to him except with Christ as our heavenly Mediator.
Christ is at the right hand of God the Father Almighty and he is there to plead for us sinners here below. He is there granting us the right to call God, Father. When we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven” we are praying by the authority of Jesus. We are praying with confidence that God hears our prayers and wants to hear our prayers and wants to give us everything for which we ask. Why? Because Jesus is our Brother. Our dear Brother, Jesus, is also the only begotten Son of the Father. He points to his wounds that he suffered when he took away our sins. It is for the sake of that suffering in our place that our Father in heaven forgives us our sins, not just when we are baptized, but throughout our lives. Jesus pleads for every one of God’s children, because God names us all individually in Holy Baptism.
Faith is personal. Each individual believes for himself. One person cannot believe for another. The Church cannot believe for the members of the Church. Indeed, the Church is the Communion of Saints, that is, the fellowship of all Christian believers. Without individual Christians there is no Church. Faith, as well as prayer that flows out of faith, is always personal. The one who personally prays is the one who personally believes.
But it is never just personal. The very fact that we call God “Our Father” tells us that we are always praying with the Church. If God is our Father, the Church must be our mother. If Jesus wanted us to think of prayer as only personal and private – just between the individual Christian and God – then he would have taught us to pray, “My Father who art in heaven.” But my personal prayer is always joined to the church’s prayer because by the same baptism through which I am made a child of God I am also made a member of Christ’s holy body. I cannot be a Christian without being in fellowship with Christ’s holy Christian Church. The Lord’s Prayer is always a corporate prayer, even when we pray it all alone, all by ourselves, with nobody but God to hear what we are saying.
The Church prays. The Church teaches us to pray. We can look at the Church from two sides. The one side is the Church as she receives. The other side is the Church as she gives. The Church as she receives is the Communion of Saints who receives her holiness and righteousness as a gift from God. She receives this gift through faith and through faith alone. The Church is the faithful, that is, the believers in Christ who are born from above and forgiven of all their sins through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This Church is invisible because you cannot see faith.
The other side is the Church as she gives. The Church that is invisible is nevertheless identifiable. We cannot see faith, but we can see and hear and identify the means by which God engenders faith in our hearts. The Church has the gospel and the sacraments. We identify the true Church by identifying the true gospel and the rightly administered sacraments. This Church is our mother. Where we find these pure marks of the Church is where we pray with the Church. We believe and we pray together.
We pray to God alone. We don’t pray to saints who have died and gone to heaven. God has not commanded us to pray to the saints, nor has God promised that the saints can help us. If God told us to pray to the mother of our Lord Jesus to ask her for her help and if God promised that mother Mary would indeed hear our prayer and help us would we argue with God? Of course not! But God has not told us to pray to Mary or any other Christian who is in heaven and God has nowhere promised that Mary or any other Christian in heaven can even hear us, to say nothing of doing anything to help us. This is not to say that the saints in heaven don’t pray for us. Surely they don’t stop praying for the church on earth when they get to heaven. But we should not be praying to them. Prayer is an act of worship.
There are times when it appears that God doesn’t hear our prayers. There are times when it appears that God is bent on giving us exactly the opposite of what we ask. Prayer is then a burden. We keep on praying and we keep on being denied. We wonder if God really wants to answer our prayers. Our faith is challenged.
Prayer is an exercise of faith. Our sinful flesh does not trust in God. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Our sinful flesh cannot be regenerated; he can only be killed. That is a painful process and it is a wonderful work of God. God denies us only for a time. He does so in order to discipline us as a loving father disciplines his children. When our flesh cries out for foolish pleasures and empty riches that would keep us away from God, God knows the true prayer of his dear children. He must discipline us so that we may learn to pray correctly.
The correct posture of prayer is literally that of a beggar. When I beg, I offer nothing but my need. My true need is to hallow the name of my God. My true need is that his kingdom comes to me. My true need is that his will be done for me. This is why God must, if he loves me, refuse everything that I ask of him that doesn’t come from faith. In so doing, God gently corrects my erring faith and drives me back to his promises again and again. It is always my gracious Father who is doing this.
Even when it seems that he doesn’t care what my troubles are and I lose all hope he takes me precisely there in my hopelessness and he shows me his love. How can I learn to trust in my heavenly Father if I am trusting in myself? So what appears to me to be a cruel disregard for my needs is in actual fact a loving concern for my immortal soul. Only the one who has lost hope in himself and in the promises of this world can confidently call the invisible God “Father.” He who knows God in Christ also knows that contrary to all sight, hearing, feeling, or any other kind of sensing, God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth is his dear Father who governs everything in this world for the eternal benefit of his dear children. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
July 17, 2011
“Hallowed Be Thy Name” St. Matthew 6:9b
Hallowed be Thy name. What does this mean? God's name is indeed holy in itself; but we pray in this petition that it may be holy among us also. How is this done? When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead a holy life according to it. This grant us, dear Father in heaven. But he that teaches and lives otherwise than God's Word teaches, profanes the name of God among us. From this preserve us, Heavenly Father.
Prayer is an act of worship. Worship means to assign worth. God is worthy of praise. To pray is to give glory to God. We adore him. We glorify him. As the Church sings:
We praise Thee, O God;
We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship Thee,
The Father everlasting.
To Thee all angels cry aloud,
The heavens and all the powers therein;
To Thee cherubim and seraphim continually do cry.
It brings great joy to the Christian to pray to God. To sing praises to God is the most natural expression of faith. The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Hallowed be thy name.” Before we ask anything of God we ask him to keep his name holy among us. To honor and glorify God’s name is the greatest desire of faith, for the name of God is his very identity.
The first petition sets the tone for the petitions that follow. We pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” The name of God is holy because God is holy. We cannot make holy what is already holy. But we can be a part of the hallowing or sanctifying of God’s name. The name of God is not to be mixed together with the names of idols. The name of God is put upon us when we are born from above and become children of God. In Holy Baptism we hear the name of God: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” When we pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are confessing that there is no other god but the God in whose name we are baptized.
There is a close connection between the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer and the Second Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.” To call on God as our Father is how to use God’s name. It is a misuse of God’s name to use the name of God or of Christ as an expletive as if the name of God’s only begotten Son should be used along with dirty words as an expression of surprise or annoyance. When we pray, “Hallowed be thy name” we are promising that we will speak God’s name with reverence and that we will not misuse his name. We are promising to honor the Second Commandment every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
Prayer is not how we get God to do what he doesn’t want to do. Prayer is not a means of manipulating God to do this or that. Prayer is how we participate in the hallowing of the holy name of God. Prayer is far more precious than just a means to an end. I want this so I’ll say that. Prayer is laying claim to much more than good health, more money, or more satisfying relationships. Prayer is laying claim to God himself! “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” We can speak words and we can do deeds that come before the presence of the holy God and are pleasing to him. Just think of this! We, who were conceived and born in sin; we who cannot lift ourselves up to heaven no matter how we try; we who have failed to be what we must be in order to be pleasing to God; we may boldly call God “our Father” and presume to ask him to make his name holy among us.
When God justifies sinners he’s not pretending! God doesn’t just act as if he forgives us all of our sins for Christ’s sake. He actually takes our sins off of us and lays them on Jesus who suffers and dies for them to take them away. And he takes the obedience of Jesus who never failed to pray in perfect submission and purity and he reckons to us that obedience and clothes us with Christ’s righteousness. The Bible says this clearly. “By the obedience of the One, the many shall be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)
This is made clear by the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus invites us sinners to ask God to hallow his own name. That name is holy in and of itself with the pure sinless holiness that belongs to God alone. That we sinners can participate in this means that we are forgiven of our sins and have become saints. We must be holy if we can pray that God’s name be hallowed. Only the holy can expect anything to be hallowed. For those who are bound by sin, everything they touch becomes sinful and unclean. But we are invited to touch God because we have become holy through the blood of Jesus.
The word of God is what brings us to faith. That is, God brings us to faith through the preaching of his word. St. Paul writes, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) Without faith we remain in our sin. This is why the pure teaching of God’s word is necessary. Unless we have the right faith we cannot hallow God’s name. Those who teach false doctrine do the very opposite of hallowing God’s name. They profane it. To profane something is to take what is essentially holy and treat it as if it is not. To deny the truth of what God teaches us is to profane God’s name.
On this point there is much confusion in the church today. People hear the word “doctrine” or the word “teaching” and they immediately think of human beings who teach a certain doctrine. They don’t consider that God is our Teacher. It is God’s doctrine that the church has received. It isn’t the doctrine of men. Jesus is called Rabbi, or Teacher. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be one who is taught by Jesus. The pure doctrine doesn’t come from the church. It doesn’t come from clever theologians. It doesn’t come from seminary professors. It comes from God. And it is taught in the words of the Bible. You can know the pure teaching that God Himself teaches by reading the Bible. Concerning the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the body, Jesus said that they erred in their doctrine because they didn’t know the Bible.
To hallow God’s name is to teach according to the Bible. To profane God’s name is to teach in his name what is contrary to the teaching of the Bible. Pure doctrine comes from God. False doctrine comes from the father of lies. St. Paul warns about false doctrine repeatedly, especially in the Pastoral Epistles where he gives instructions to Timothy and Titus. In 1 Timothy 4:1 we read, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” Nowadays “doctrines of demons” are given equal rights with God’s word. Those who are unwilling to condemn the false doctrine cannot confess the true doctrine and they cannot hallow God’s name.
If I deny that a sinner is saved by grace alone, I profane God’s name. If I deny that God wants all sinners to be saved, I profane God’s name. If a man teaches that the Bible contains errors, that baptism doesn’t regenerate us by the power of the Holy Spirit, that the Lord’s Supper is not the true body and blood of Jesus, that women may be ordained as pastors in the church, that homosexuality is not a sin against God, this man profanes God’s name no matter how pious he may sound when he prays, “Hallowed be thy name.” God’s name is hallowed when his word is taught in its truth and purity, not when false doctrine is taught and tolerated and defended.
God’s name is hallowed when we who call ourselves Christians live holy lives. What is a holy life? It is a life lived by a holy person. You don’t become a holy person by living a holy life. First God makes you a saint and then you can live a holy life. God makes you a saint by forgiving you all your sins and he does this by his gospel that brings Christ to you and makes him your own. Then, a saint lives a holy life. This is what hallows God’s name.
When you respond to a cruel comment with friendly words, you hallow God’s name. When you do the job that is given you to do without complaint, you hallow God’s name. When you give to those who cannot repay you; when you keep your promises; when you listen with sympathy to the troubles of others; when you defend the reputation of someone being maligned; you hallow God’s name. The Christian who in baptism bears the name of the Holy Trinity hallows the name by which he was sanctified whenever he lives as God has called him to live. It may not look impressive. It may not seem as exciting as naming and claiming all sorts of material blessings from God. However, to know that your Christian deeds, sin-tainted as imperfect as they are, are used by the holy God to hallow his holy name is to know an honor that all the material blessings in the world cannot bestow. The privilege of praying, “Hallowed be thy name” and knowing that God sanctifies his name in our midst is pure joy.
So we ask God to keep his word taught purely among us and to keep us living holy lives. When false doctrine is taught, we ask God to uproot it and silence it. When we bring shame on God’s name by unholy living, we ask God to bring us to repentance, to forgive us our sins for Christ’s sake, and to lead us in the paths he has called us to live. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
July 24, 2011
“Thy kingdom come.” Matthew 6:10
Thy kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also. How is this done? When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life, here in time and hereafter in eternity.
Jesus taught us that the kingdom of God is hidden. It cannot be seen. He said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21) What is the kingdom of God? Here is the answer given in Luther’s Large Catechism:
What is the kingdom of God? Answer: Simply what we learned in the Creed, namely, that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil and to bring us to himself and rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death and an evil conscience. To this end he also gave his Holy Spirit to teach us this through his holy Word and to enlighten and strengthen us in faith by his power.
You cannot see Jesus, the Redeemer who shed his blood for us. You cannot see the devil who deceives people into false faith. You cannot see the righteousness and the life and the salvation that Jesus gives. The reality of the kingdom for which we pray is not something we can see in this life.
But to say that we cannot see the kingdom of God does not mean that we cannot know where it is. We can and we do know where God’s kingdom is. It is wherever the Holy Spirit teaches us God’s holy word in which Jesus Christ our Redeemer is revealed. Jesus was officially identified as the King of God’s kingdom when he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. It is necessary for us to see him as King in his suffering because it is in his suffering for us that he establishes his relationship to us as king. He governs or rules over us by suffering and dying for us.
Every other king gains power over us by coercion. The king says that if you won’t submit to him he will punish you. This is how governments must operate. Every kingdom of this world requires the use of force to keep peace. Anarchy is when there is no government at all. It becomes the very worst kind of tyranny because the stronger will bully the weaker into submission. That’s the way it works. No king or ruler can govern without instilling fear in the hearts of those who would be inclined to disobey. Peace on earth is established by making potential law-breakers afraid to disobey the law.
Imagine if you will an unarmed police force without patrol cars, without radar, and without anything but a frown to warn you away from speeding. Do you think that somebody racing down the highway at 100 miles an hour is going to be deterred by a policeman standing on the shoulder of the highway giving out dirty looks? I don’t think so.
Some people think that if everyone were a Christian we wouldn’t need any law enforced by men with guns. But that is a naïve denial of the clear biblical teaching that in us, that is, in our flesh no good thing dwells. Even Christians who are born from above into God’s eternal kingdom by the new birth of water and the Spirit need to be afraid of disobeying the kings and rulers of this world. And I’m not talking about speeding in our cars. There’s nothing inherently wrong in driving fast. I’m talking about crimes against God’s moral law: disobeying parents, killing, committing adultery, stealing, lying, and cheating people out of what is theirs. We need to be afraid of disobeying the king or the king cannot rule over us. Without the fear of potential criminals – and that includes everyone – no king can keep the peace.
This is why it is so difficult for people to understand that the kingdom of God is nothing like this. People assume that if God’s kingdom is God’s rule over us it must be a matter of God governing us by his law. This is how Herbert W. Armstrong used to argue. Armstrong was the founder of a cult known as the Worldwide Church of God which for years published The Plain Truth magazine. He insisted that when the prophet Isaiah said about Jesus, “the government shall be upon his shoulder” this was proof positive that the reign of Jesus on this earth had to be a political one. It couldn’t be a spiritual reign over the hearts of men because, in Armstrong’s opinion, a spiritual reign didn’t qualify as a government.
But the man was wrong. Those who argue that Christ’s real reign is yet to begin because the governments of this world aren’t yet under his control are arguing against the crucifixion. They are enemies of the cross. They don’t understand the first thing about the kingdom of God. The governments of this world cannot possibly govern the hearts of men. Oh, you will occasionally find a particularly skilled leader who with a display of personal character combined with eloquent speech can inspire people to sacrifice for their country. But no king of this world has ever been able to change the human heart. There is only one way to do that. That is to take away what corrupts it. There was only one way that could be done and only one Man who could do it. Jesus had to die. Jesus, the pure and holy God, who became a pure and holy man in the Virgin’s womb, had to bear the sin that corrupts and defiles every human heart.
And he did. There was no sin that didn’t corrupt our nature through and through. Sin isn’t just the doing or not doing of things. Sin is a condition of the soul, heart, and will of every man, woman, and child in this world. It is the love of self more than anyone else. It is the denial of God, God’s word, God’s name, and God’s will. Jesus confronted this mass of human corruption on the cross. He suffered for it by bearing it completely as if he were the one guilty of it. You and I think we know sin but we know it only as sinners who are constantly being beguiled and deluded by it. Only Jesus knew sin as the one who was innocent. He knew no sin yet became sin. All we can see is the outward manifestation of the sin. All we can feel is the hurt of the guilty conscience. Jesus saw the deepest corruption and he felt the wrath and just vengeance of God against all sinners and every sin. He took it all away on the cross. This was the only way he could remove it all from us.
This is why the kingdom of God comes only from the crucifixion of Jesus. The Holy Spirit calls us into this kingdom when he baptizes us and makes us God’s children. The Holy Spirit confirms for our faith the full forgiveness of all our sin by the words of Jesus, “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins,” even as we eat and we drink that precious body and blood by which this forgiveness was procured. And the Holy Spirit teaches us the heavenly doctrine that lifts us out of death into life by means of the gospel that we hear again and again and again. Every spiritual need we have is met when we meet the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.
We need to be governed. We need a king. But we need to be governed truly and eternally. The law that threatens us when we disobey cannot give us peace. It will threaten us as long as we are sinners and that will be as long as we live in this world. The law can govern our bodies, our appetites, our urges, and our old sinful flesh. But it cannot govern our hearts. Only the grace of God that flows from the wounds of Jesus can govern our hearts and make us love God from the heart. This is why Jesus is our king in his suffering for us. And this is why we seek God’s kingdom by seeking out where the pure gospel of Christ’s crucifixion for sinners is preached and where the true sacraments of Christ that join us to that crucifixion are administered.
When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying that God give us what he gives us in the Divine Service every Sunday morning. It is inconceivable that a Christian could sincerely pray that God’s kingdom come and refuse to attend the services of God’s house. These services are divine, not because we come here to serve God. We can do that at home, on the job, or at the lake. The Sunday services are divine because here it is that God comes to serve us. He could do it on a Wednesday or a Monday, that’s true. And he certainly doesn’t need this preacher to do the preaching. But one thing is sure. He will bring his kingdom to us and give to us forgiveness of our sins by means of the preaching of his gospel and the administration of his sacraments.
This is why the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer is so closely tied to the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and his word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” The kingdom of God comes to us whenever and wherever the gospel is preached and we hold it in our hearts as our dearest treasure. For it is in speaking to us of the suffering of Jesus to take away our sins that God governs our hearts. Only by forgiving the unforgivable can God govern them as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Only by removing as far as the East is from the West all our transgressions, can God assure us that we are his and he is ours and we have nothing to fear from him. Whereas the kings of this world require fear in our hearts so that we won’t disobey them, Jesus rules our hearts precisely by taking away all our fears and assuring us that our sins are forgiven by his blood.
Thy kingdom come. Not only to us, but also to the whole world for whom Jesus died. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying that it come to those who are even now being governed by lies and deception. We invite people to come to church, not because we want more folks in our religious club, but because we want the kingdom of God to come to them and we know his kingdom is here because his gospel and his sacraments are here. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying that the gospel by which Christ governs our hearts will yield the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. And whenever we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying for the return of Christ. He will return in answer to this prayer. He will return. It will not be to establish the mythical kingdom promised by the false prophets promoting one or another brand of Millennialism. Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” No, Jesus will return to bring us to heaven where the kingdom that is now hidden within our hearts and now identified only in the humble and despised means of grace is fully and beautifully revealed to all our senses. The wonder and the glory of that kingdom cannot be described by words. We must wait to see what eye has not seen nor ear heard nor what has entered into the heart of man. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
July 31, 2011
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” St. Matthew 6:10
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer; but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. How is this done? When God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let us hallow God's name nor let His kingdom come, such as the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh; but strengthens and preserves us steadfast in His Word and faith unto our end. This is His gracious and good will.
When we pray, “Thy will be done,” we are asking God to do what he wants to do. But God is going to do what he wants to do whether or not we pray to him. God is free. He is under no one else’s power. He is almighty. No one can oppose God’s will and get away with it. Why should we pray, “Thy will be done”? It’s going to be done without our prayer.
We pray, “Thy will be done” because Jesus tells us to. We are Christians. Christians do as Christ says to do. Jesus Christ is the Lord of his Church. He commands his Church to pray, “Thy will be done.” This is why we pray, “Thy will be done.”
We pray, “Thy will be done” because we want to agree with God’s will. We want to be in agreement with God. When we pray, “Thy will be done” we are saying that we want what God wants. We want our will to be conformed to God’s will. What does God want us to do? That’s what we want to do. What does God want us to believe? That’s what we want to believe. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are all opposed to the will of God. We pray that God would fight against this unholy trinity that would take us captive. We pray that God would oppose the will of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature and bring our will into conformity with his will. St. Paul writes in Romans 12:1,
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
We should distinguish between God’s revealed will and God’s hidden will. God’s revealed will is what God has revealed to us in the Bible. God’s law is his revealed will for our behavior. God wants us to live according to the Ten Commandments. He wants us to hold to him alone as our God and to reject all false gods as idols. He wants us to revere his holy name. He wants us to treasure his holy word. He wants us to honor our parents and all legitimate human authority. He wants us to befriend those in bodily need. He wants us to live chaste lives and avoid all sexual sins. He wants us to respect our neighbor’s property and reputation. He wants us to be content with what we have. All of this is clearly revealed in the Bible as God’s will for our behavior. When we pray, “Thy will be done” we are praying that God would guide and direct us in our thinking, speaking, and living that we would live lives in conformity with his commandments.
God’s gospel is his revealed will for our faith. The law accuses and condemns us all. We trust in the gospel to save us from the condemnation of the law. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law. In our place he has done what God told us all to do. As our substitute he has suffered the punishment that God’s justice required us to suffer. The gospel tells us that for the sake of Christ’s vicarious obedience God forgives us all our sins against his law. The gospel doesn’t tell us what God will want to do if we meet this or that condition. The gospel tells us what God’s will is for us right now. He wants to be gracious to us for Christ’s sake. He wants us to believe this gospel and through this faith to receive the forgiveness of sins. He wants to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts to establish in us a firm faith in the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. He wants to keep us steadfast in the true Christian faith in the face of all adversity and persecution. He wants to continue to feed our souls with his gracious and life-giving gospel throughout our lives. He wants to forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, and to deliver us from evil. He sincerely wants to do everything he has promised to do.
God’s revealed will is what he wants us to do and what he wants us to believe. We call it his revealed will because he has clearly revealed it to us. All we need to do is read the Bible and we can know what God wants us to do and what God wants us to believe. If our faith and our lives are to conform to God’s will we must listen to God’s holy word. We must believe what it says and do what it commands.
But not everything God wants is revealed in the Bible. In fact, God’s will is often hidden from us. We learn this especially at times of terrible loss and tragedy. The Catechism speaks of God’s “good and gracious will” but we often see nothing good or gracious about it. We lose the job and our income. The baby is born with a severe defect. The accident closes off a bright future. The fire or the flood destroy what we spend a lifetime acquiring. True love turns into betrayal. The one we loved most in this world dies an untimely death and leaves us alone. Our Father in heaven is almighty. He rules the wind and the waves. He clothes the fields with flowers. He feeds the birds of the air. He numbers the hairs on our heads. Where is he? What is he doing? Is he powerless to prevent these tragedies from occurring? If not, why does he not act in our best interest? Why does the almighty God want us to lose and suffer? As we attempt to understand what he wants for us we enter into a cloud of darkness and doubt. We cannot figure out the will of God. We can only suffer in ignorance of why a loving God would permit evil to fall upon those he loves.
What is God’s will for us when we are failing? Or when we are suffering? Or when we are losing what we worked so hard to get? Or when we lose those we love? What is the good and gracious will of our loving God when we experience evil, sin, and the cruelties of senseless suffering in our lives?
We don’t know. We can guess. We can speculate. We can seek out answers in a variety of places. But we must, in all humility, admit that we are ignorant. Why does God permit this suffering to take place? Is he preparing us for something? Is he using us to teach others? What is his aim, his purpose, his goal?
God withholds from us the specifics, but he does tell us all we need to know. St. Paul writes:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
How will God do it? He’s not saying. Does he need to prove himself to us? Listen again to St. Paul:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:31-32
We want answers. Remember Job? He wanted answers, too. God told Job that he wasn’t going to give him answers. His revealed will is all we need. To insist on understanding God’s hidden will is to go where we have no right to go. God’s will for us must be good and gracious because God is good and gracious and if we cannot figure out how this is so by considering what is happening in our lives perhaps it’s time for us to look outside of our own experiences and troubles and direct our attention to the source of our faith instead. That is where Jesus was crucified for us.
The will of God for us who look to Jesus in faith is that we have eternal life. It is that we will rise from the grave on the day of Christ’s return and inherit the kingdom that God prepared for us before time began. The will of God is that we repent of our sins every day and die to them, trusting alone in the blood and righteousness of Jesus, our Savior.
It is not ours to know the specifics of what God has in store for us here in this life. This doesn’t mean we are ignorant of God’s will. It means that God would direct us to where he wants to enlighten us. When we are puzzled, troubled, or deeply distressed about God’s will for us because of what we see and feel and experience in our lives, God would direct us to his revealed will, both law and gospel.
When we suffer for doing what is good and right we should not consider that suffering to be a sign of God’s disapproval. Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. To hold on to the standards of Christian love and decency that God has revealed to us in the Bible is not always the popular thing to do. But God approves. God’s will is what matters. His clearly revealed will is a solid rock on which to stand both for our lives and for our faith.
When God’s will is hidden from us we consider this account recorded by St. Luke:
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22, 41-42)
What was the cup of which Jesus prayed? Was it not the cup of all human sin and suffering, indeed the very cup of God’s wrath and eternal punishment of all sinners? So, tell me. What was the Father’s will concerning that cup? Who was to drink it? You? Me? Or Jesus? God’s will was that Jesus drink the cup. Why? So that we would not have to drink it. When Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done,” he entrusted our past, our present, and our future into the gracious hands of our loving Father. Then he proceeded to secure our eternal life by drinking the cup of divine judgment all the way to its bitter dregs.
When we pray, “Thy will be done” we are praying to the One whose will it was to require his beloved Son to suffer the damnation that we deserved instead of requiring us to suffer it. When we pray, “Thy will be done,” we are praying to the One who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. Do we need to know how our problems will be solved and how our suffering will end and how we will fare in this or that contingency of life? No. We need only know the One in whose almighty hands our future lies. Knowing him, we know also his good and gracious will. And if in this life we cannot always reconcile God’s love for us with the trials he sends us we know that now we see only through a glass dimly, but in heaven we will see face to face. Now we know only in part, but then we will know even as we have been known and we will see with perfect clarity that God’s will for us was always good and gracious. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
St. Matthew 6:11
August 7, 2011
“Give us this day our daily bread.” St. Matthew 6:11
Give us this day our daily bread. What does this mean? God gives daily bread indeed without our prayer, also to all the wicked; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. What is meant by daily bread? Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
The Lord’s Prayer is called the perfect prayer because it came to us from the Lord Jesus. It contains everything for which we should pray. Not only does it petition God for everything worthy of prayer, it is also perfectly constructed. It begins by addressing our Father in heaven and asking him to bring the treasures of heaven to earth. This is done when his name is hallowed among us, when his kingdom comes to us, and when his good and gracious will is done for us. Our Father in heaven is making his home with us here on earth. The last three petitions ask God for what will bring us from this earth to heaven. God will bring us from here to there by forgiving us our trespasses, by leading us not into temptation, and by delivering us from evil.
Right in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer is the single petition that deals specifically with what we need to live our physical lives here on earth: “Give us this day our daily bread.” God has hallowed his name among us by baptizing us into it and keeping us in the grace of our baptism. God has brought his kingdom to us by purchasing the kingdom on the cross and placing us into it by the preaching of the cross. God’s good and gracious will has been revealed to us to persuade us that our suffering in this life cannot rob us of our hope for joy in heaven. It is as God’s children that we are bold to ask God for our daily bread.
Who is going to give us our daily bread? It is our Father who has hallowed his name among us, brought his kingdom to us, and revealed to us his good and gracious will. We are not asking daily bread from an unknown god who doesn’t even know what we need. We are asking daily bread from the One who saw us in our deepest need before we were even born and met that need by giving us his only begotten Son. From whom are we asking our daily bread? We are asking from the One to whom the whole world belongs. And if we are his children, this means that whatever belongs to him is ours as well.
Children will call the house owned by their parents “our house.” Christians should regard the world that their Father has given them as “our world.” This world doesn’t belong to itself. It belongs to the One who made it and he is our Father. Therefore, it is our world. When God created everything out of nothing by the word of his mouth, he blessed Adam and Eve whom he had made in his own image. Then he said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) It is true that sin brought God’s curse on this world, but the world still belongs to God. And while sin distorted the image of God in mankind, we are still to have dominion “over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Just as God is our Lord and Father, we are to be lords over the world he has given us. As we govern the world at its lords God will provide every bodily need we have. He does so through this good earth on which he has placed us.
It is not as if God made the world and now ignores it, leaving it to its own devises to make it or break it according to certain laws of nature. No, God personally sees to it that the sun rises and sets, the rains and the snows fall, the crops grow, and the rivers flow. God governs this world. He not only directs natural events, he also directs human events. We pray for a pious spouse and children. We pray for pious and faithful rulers. We pray for good government. We pray for whatever is necessary in the day to day provision of our bodily needs. And we are praying to the One who governs this world.
Good governments that respect private property and laws that reward industry, thrift, and investment serve as God’s means of providing material abundance. Bad governments that ignore God’s law as that law is written in the conscience will bring poverty, scarcity, and even famine on the countries they rule.
Take the simple command of God, “Thou shalt not steal.” If the law cannot protect private property, people won’t work. Why work if what you are working for can be stolen from you without any legal recourse in getting it back? And if nobody works, who will plow, plant, and harvest? Who will teach, and build, and invest? God uses good government to provide us with daily bread. This is why we should pray for our rulers, even when we think they are corrupt or incompetent. The same God who determines the heat and the moisture of the atmosphere can change the hearts and behavior of even the most cynical people. Our Father in heaven runs this world. How else could we confidently call on him for our daily bread?
Our Father in heaven made this world for his children and he gave this world to his children. It is not ours to do with as we choose, but it is ours to care for as servants of God. God made Adam and Eve in his image. They were like him. They were capable of worship. They were endowed with a will that desired God above all things. When they lost the divine image by sinning, they didn’t lose their value as human beings. God redeemed us in order to restore the lost image. Through Christ we can once again know God and worship him. Jesus reveals or shows us his Father by humbly and dutifully laying down his life for us on the cross. There, in the suffering of Jesus, we see the glory of our heavenly Father. There his name is hallowed. There his kingdom is established. There his good and gracious will is revealed. There the forgiveness we need is obtained. There is the power to withstand all temptation. There we are delivered from evil. And there is also where we find the assurance that our Father will always provide us with our daily bread.
The attitude we have toward our material needs is strongly influenced by our attitude toward the One who provides them. Is he for us or is he against us? Does he love us or does he not? Is he really concerned with the specific details of our life or is his attention directed somewhere else? Jesus is the One who has revealed the Father’s love for us and Jesus is the One who invites us to pray to our Father for our daily bread. Jesus, who has purchased our redemption, both body and soul, assures us that our Father in heaven will never forget our bodily needs.
We should never value ourselves according to the standards of our world. Unborn children are aborted because their continued existence is inconvenient to others. The weak and the disabled are considered less valuable than the bright and able bodied. We live in a culture of selfishness that values human life by the standards of material gain. How much are you worth? We hear the question and think in terms of dollars. But that’s not what we are worth! We are worth the price that God himself has placed upon us when he chose to become poor so that through his poverty we might become rich. What is our worth? We are worth what our Lord Jesus paid for us. He placed upon us a value far above the value of all the money in the world. The value of a single life redeemed by the blood of Jesus is incalculable in monetary measurements. Not only does this world belong to us Christians, the wealth of heaven is ours as well. It is ours right now, even while we still live here on earth.
So we pray for our daily bread. Not a lifetime supply. We don’t need that much. We only need what we can use right now. Far from teaching us not to invest and plan and work for our future, Jesus’ command to pray for our daily bread teaches us that when we plan and work we let God do the worrying about where the planning and working will leave us. It’s not as if our daily bread depends on us. If it did, Jesus wouldn’t teach us to pray for it. Jesus teaches us to pray for daily bread because we need, more than our bread, to rely every day on our Father to provide it. We pray for our daily bread. I don’t pray for my daily bread while you pray for your daily bread. We pray together for our daily bread.
The Old Testament Church was formed during the forty years of wandering around the Sinai Peninsula as they ate a food called manna that God rained down from heaven. If they gathered more manna than they needed, it would turn rancid on the second day. So they learned to take only what they needed and to let God worry about their provision for the next day. When we begin to understand how nature works and how the economy works we may begin to assume that there is a perfectly natural explanation for how we get our daily bread. That would be a mistake. God is the One who provides us with our daily bread through the means of planting, harvesting, transporting, marketing, and providing a sound economy within which it can all happen for our good. Whether God works through such means or whether God rains manna from heaven in either case it is God who provides for our daily bread. This is why we must pray for it.
Albert Einstein was a brilliant man. He was once asked if he knew the answer to a specific scientific question. He confessed that he didn’t know. The questioner was rather surprised. He knew how smart Einstein was reputed to be. But the great scientist went on to explain that he knew where to look to find the answer. Why should he have to know the details?
And why should we? Do you know how you will make ends meet, how you will pay all your bills, how your daily bread will keep on coming in next month and next year? Maybe not. But in Christ you know the One who will give you your daily bread. Surely your Father in heaven who loved you enough to send his only Son to suffer and die to take away all your sins and make you his holy child also loves you enough to see you clothed and fed. Why would he grant you the greater gift and withhold from you the lesser gift? He who, for Christ’s sake, has given you eternal life will surely provide for all your bodily needs in this life. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
August 14, 2011
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Luke 11:4
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor on their account deny our prayer; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. So will we also heartily forgive, and readily do good to, those who sin against us.
The first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer address our Father in heaven who comes to earth and makes his home here on earth. He hallows his name among us. He brings his kingdom to us. His good and gracious will is done for us. He gives us the world in which we live as a fatherly gift of pure love. Even after we brought his curse upon this world by our sin, he still blesses us by governing this world for the benefit of his holy Christian Church on earth. Whenever we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” he answers by giving us everything we need to support our physical lives here in this world.
In the final three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to pray for what will bring us from this world to heaven. We pray that God will forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil. This is how God will take us from this world that is filled with sin into heaven where no sin can enter. This world is not our eternal home. God will destroy it. But Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:3) When Thomas asked how to get to where Jesus was going Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the only way to the Father. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Jesus is the only way to the Father because Jesus alone is the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus is the only way to the Father because only Jesus has obeyed the law as the representative of the human race. He literally earned eternal life for everyone by doing what the law requires everyone to do. Jesus is the only way to the Father because only Jesus has suffered for the sin of the world. When Jesus then invites us to pray to our Father in heaven for the forgiveness of our sins we can be sure that for Jesus’ sake God will forgive us our sins. Those who have received the forgiveness of their sins have received heaven.
That’s not to say we are in heaven. We’re not. If we were, we wouldn’t have to pray the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. The fact that Jesus teaches us to pray for forgiveness tells us that Jesus knows we will need forgiveness. He knows ahead of time that we will sin. He who bore all our sin knows the nature of sin. It constitutes a debt that the sinner owes to God. In St. Matthew’s Gospel the Lord’s Prayer reads “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In St. Luke’s Gospel the Lord’s Prayer reads “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” A trespass or sin is a debt that is owed. Only he who paid the debt we owed to God fully understands the nature of that debt. Jesus experienced our sin when our sin was imputed to him in his suffering. When he cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried out as the greatest sinner who ever lived. What does guilt feel like? He felt it. How does it feel to be shamed? He felt it. What is it like to be forsaken by God? Jesus knows. When Jesus urges us to pray, “Forgive us our sins,” he urges us as one who understands what sin does to someone and why we need constantly to be asking for God’s forgiveness.
In Acts 2:42 St. Luke tells us that those who were baptized on Pentecost “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.” The breaking of bread is a reference to the Lord’s Supper. The prayers that were spoken in connection with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper always included the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Prayer go together. The forgiveness for which we pray in our need is given to us concretely as Christ’s body and blood are put into our mouths. There can be no doubt that God forgives us all our sin when we receive the same body and blood by which our debt of sin was fully paid. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we should think of how Jesus gave up his body and blood for us on the cross and how he graciously gives us to eat and to drink his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
Without the forgiveness of sins we would be poor, miserable, and lost. If God did not forgive us all our sins we would have to pay for them ourselves. They would constitute a debt far too great for us to pay. We would never have any peace. Our souls would never be at rest. We would be filled with dread every time we seriously considered our relationship with God. Since that would become intolerable, we would invent whatever religious fiction was necessary to bring us peace. St. Augustine was right to say to God in his famous prayer, “Our souls are restless until they find their rest in thee.” The reason that we find our rest and peace in Jesus and in his suffering for us is because it is only in Jesus’ suffering that we find forgiveness of sins. Sinners who don’t trust in the blood of Jesus will excuse their sin, blame it on others, or come up with some other way of getting rid of it. But only the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, can wash away our sins.
And it does. Forgiveness is a powerful thing. When God forgives us, he gives us power. We don’t have power over God because God is God. We remain under his authority, whether his legal authority to tell us what we must do or his evangelical authority to forgive us when we do wrong. But when God exercises the authority of the gospel upon you and tells you that you are forgiven of your sins, he gives you a power that you can find nowhere else. He gives you the power to forgive. And that is nothing to ignore. That is something to use!
Jesus gave to the church the pastoral office whose incumbents are to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. Through these means of grace God forgives sinners and gives to them the Holy Spirit who sanctifies them. Jesus also gave the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins to all Christians. You don’t have to be called and ordained to tell someone who is suffering under a burden of guilt that he has a Savior in Jesus. Since Jesus died for everyone, we can tell anyone who wants to listen that his or her sins are forgiven by God’s grace for Christ’s sake. Only those who admit their sins will trust in the forgiveness of sins. No one trusts in what he doesn’t need. The only way a sinner can learn to see his need for forgiveness is by hearing God’s law. This is why the church through her preachers must not neglect to preach God’s law in all its exacting severity. But God’s law is not his final word. The gospel is. The law condemns us so that we will be prepared to listen to the gospel and to trust in it. The gospel of the forgiveness of sins is a solid and unmovable truth of God’s holy word, a truth guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The very fact that Jesus – who bore everyone’s sins – rose from the dead proves that God forgives all sinners for Christ’s sake.
And so do we. We forgive those who sin against us. Throughout the Lord’s Prayer we promise God only this one thing. We promise that we will forgive. We don’t promise to forgive all people in general. We promise to forgive those people who do us wrong. We don’t promise to forgive those who deserve our forgiveness. We promise to forgive those who don’t deserve anyone’s forgiveness. We are not promising to forgive those whose love and affection and support are important to us. We are promising to forgive those whom we would rather have nothing to do with. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies. Love forgives. That’s what it does. And it doesn’t ask whether or not the sinner is sufficiently sorry for the wrong he’s done. Love forgives. It doesn’t even ask if the sinner wants to be forgiven. God didn’t ask if this world wanted a Savior. Had he waited for the world to ask, the Savior would never have been born and we would all be lost in our sin. Divine love takes the initiative and forgives even before the sin is confessed. When the Holy Spirit, through the gospel and sacraments, gives to us the forgiveness of our sins he also pours God’s love into our hearts. Not only does a Christian have the power to forgive those who do him wrong; he has the desire to forgive. He wants to do for others what God did for him. He wants to give to others what God gave to him.
The refusal to forgive those who sin against us is a deadly spiritual poison that can destroy us. Hatred parades itself as high principle. It disguises itself by lies and comes up with all sorts of reasons to hate. But we Christians know better. While our sinful flesh will want its pound of flesh and will insist on retribution the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God. When we feel hatred well up within us and attempt to take control over us we know we are facing a deadly enemy who needs to be confronted with no less a power than the gospel itself. We consider the one who has wronged us. We consider the wrong done. We consider the defiance, the impenitence, the arrogant unconcern, and instead of hating we look to the One who bore all the hatred of all the haters who ever lived. We look to Jesus whose love confronted hatred and conquered it. There all our sins against God were washed away before we were even aware of them. There we place the sins committed against us. We don’t wait for those who sin against us to repent or to confess. We forgive them and pray for their repentance.
Jesus isn’t teaching us to condone sin or excuse it. He is teaching us to forgive it. There’s a big difference. God didn’t condone our sin when he placed it upon his only begotten Son. He paid for it. We are forgiven on account of that holy sacrifice of divine love. And on account of that sacrifice we forgive.
The Jesus who bore our sins of hatred on the cross gives us his Holy Spirit who empowers us to love even the most unlovable. The same Holy Spirit who gives us the forgiveness of our sins enables us to forgive those who sin against us. When we confess our sins to God we include in that confession of sin our sinful refusal to forgive those who have sinned against us. We confess the bitterness within hearts. We confess it all. And God forgives it all because Jesus took it all away by his holy, innocent, bitter, suffering, and death. Only from being forgiven by God for Christ’s sake can we learn to forgive. And so we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
August 21, 2011
“Lead us not into temptation.”
And lead us not into temptation. What does this mean? God indeed tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and obtain the victory.
In the final three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer we ask our Father in heaven for what we need to go to heaven. God will bring us from this sinful world to himself in heaven by forgiving us our trespasses, by leading us not into temptation, and by delivering us from evil. Today we consider specifically the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.”
Would God actually lead us into temptation? The biblical answer is quite clear. Listen to the words of St. James as recorded in the first chapter of his Epistle:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
Here the Scriptures make it plain that God cannot tempt anyone to sin. God is incapable of sin. He is the source of all that is good. If it appears that God has given us evil things this is because appearances are deceiving. It has become fashionable to put God on trial. Especially in light of the horror inflicted on this world during the 20th Century by such devils as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Mao Tse Tung, some people have suggested that God himself is to blame for the evil in this world. But God is not the author of sin and evil. He cannot be. Luther’s Small Catechism says it rightly that there is a threefold source of all evil in this world: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. As we say in the Catechism, “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world and our own flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into misbelief, despair and other great shame and vice.”
The devil tempts us with false doctrine. The world tempts us with false promises. Our sinful flesh tempts us with a false faith.
The devil is the author of false doctrine. Of the false prophets, Jesus said: “By their fruits you shall know them. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” The devil lies. God tells us the truth. Jesus called the devil a liar and the father of lies. He called him a murderer. He murders people by lying to them. False teaching produces false faith and false faith cannot save. St. Paul warns Timothy of the “doctrines of demons.” All false teaching comes from the father of lies and the murderer of souls. God sanctifies us by his truth. False doctrine is a demonic assault on our faith.
When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are asking God to preserve us from false teaching. All false teaching is directed against the saving truth about Jesus. Not all false teaching is directly focused on Jesus. The devil is quite clever. Sometimes the indirect attack is as potent as the direct attack. The devil attacks Jesus by attacking something else that is closely tied to Jesus. Specifically, he attacks the Bible and the sacraments.
The devil has always attacked the Bible from outside of the Church. During the past two hundred years or so his attack has been taking place within the Church. Seminary professors who train the Church’s pastors question the reliability of the Bible’s historical accounts. If the devil can get people to question the truthfulness of the Bible, he has destroyed the source and the standard of Christian teaching. If the Bible can be mistaken, what shall be the judge of the church’s teaching? So the devil attacks the Bible. He attempts to debunk the historical accuracy of what the Bible presents as history. For example, he teaches that the biblical accounts of Creation, Adam and Eve, the Flood, the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, and many other historical events are not history but myth. He employs prestigious and respected theologians to cast doubt on the reliability of the Holy Scriptures.
The attack on the historical reliability of the Bible is an assault on various biblical teachings. In Genesis we learn about marriage between one man and one woman. But if this account isn’t literally true, perhaps the church could accommodate a teaching about men marrying men or women marrying women. In Genesis we learn of the historic fall into sin. If that never actually happened, the doctrine of original sin is also lost.
The attack on the Bible is an attack on Christ. When Christians lose confidence in the Bible as the inerrant written word of God it is only a matter of time before they lose the Christ of the Bible as the sinless incarnate Word who came to be our Savior. The attack on the Bible is the devil’s attack on Jesus.
The devil also directs his attacks on the sacraments. The Bible teaches us that Holy Baptism is how God washes away our sin. It is a gracious washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s doing, not ours. The minister is nothing but God’s instrument. The one who is baptized is receiving God’s favor, not doing God a favor. By turning Holy Baptism into a work that we do instead of a means of grace from God, the devil deprives us of the comfort baptism provides. He thus attacks our faith. He does the same thing with the Lord’s Supper. By persuading people that the sacramental elements are not really Christ’s body and blood but only bread and wine by which we remember a Jesus who is bodily absent from his church the devil robs Christians of Christ’s gracious presence. They no longer look to this sacrament as providing forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Since Christ comes to us in the word and sacraments the devil tries to discredit the Bible and the sacraments.
His real goal is to sever the Christian from Christ. He wants to destroy our faith. He doesn’t want us trusting in the blood that Jesus shed to forgive us our sins. He wants us trusting in what we do, not in what Christ has done for us. Only those who know that Jesus has taken away their sin can know that they stand righteous before God. This knowledge leads us from spiritual blindness to the new birth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life. It transports us to heaven. Only the preaching of the cross that is grounded in the Bible and joined to the sacraments can bring us true confidence to stand up against the devil’s temptations. As we sing:
To me the preaching of the cross is wisdom everlasting
Thy death alone redeems my loss, on thee my burden casting
I, in thy name, a refuge claim from sin and death and from all shame
Blest be thy name O Jesus!
This is the truth that the devil hates and every false teaching he has ever invented is designed to overthrow this precious gospel. The devil tempts us with false doctrine.
The world tempts us with false promises. It is easy for most people to see how pathetic the drug addict or the drunkard is. He runs after a pleasant feeling that is only temporary and he keeps on running after it even after it leaves him empty, unsatisfied, broke, out of work, with ruined relationships and broken marriage and no true friends. What does he then want to do? He wants to run right back to what caused him such misery to begin with. All the temptations of the world are like this, even the more respectable ones. Sex, power, money, or whatever other idols the world offers can never really satisfy because they cannot last. As the hymnist says, “They prove to be burdens that vex us and chafe us and true lasting happiness never vouchsafe us.” The temptations of the world offer a false hope that can never be delivered. They heap sin upon sin so that we will become so spiritually callused that repentance and forgiveness are no longer even considered. It’s not that God won’t forgive the sinner. He will. But the sinner will no longer care. The world tempts us to replace our eternal hope that we have in Christ with an empty hope.
Our sinful flesh tempts us with a false faith. The flesh isn’t just a reference to the desire to sin sexually. The flesh is simply what we in our sinful condition want. What is that? It’s the very opposite of what the Lord’s Prayer asks for! What does our sinful flesh want? Not to hallow God’s name, but to make a name for itself. Not for God’s kingdom to come, but to rule in God’s place. Not God’s will, but ours. Not daily bread, but vain riches. Not forgiveness of sins freely given by God’s grace, but rather the pride and the glory of works righteousness. The flesh, in short, loves the devil’s religions because the devil’s religions glorify sinful man and deny the grace of God in Christ.
And they leave us empty. False faith leads to despair, that is, to deny that God can do anything at all for us. Looking for God’s help apart from Jesus is to look in vain.
How does God enable us to overcome all temptation and gain the victory? He does so by directing us to Jesus. He is called, in the Epistles to the Hebrews, “The author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sate down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
He faced the temptations common to us all. He faced them as our Champion and he overcame. This means that in Christ temptation cannot destroy us. Even when we sin, he remains our Mediator. He remains our Champion. He intercedes. He leads us out of temptation into heaven.
I walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails me.
Within his wounds I find a stay when Satan’s power assails me.
And by his footsteps led by path I safely tread
In spite of ills that threaten may, I walk with Jesus all the way.
My walk is heavenward all the way; await my soul the morrow
When thou shalt find relief for aye from all life’s sin and sorrow
All worldly pomp be gone! To heaven I now press on.
For all the world I would not stay, my walk is heavenward all the way. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
August 28, 2011
“But deliver us from evil.” Matthew 6:13
But deliver us from evil. What does this mean? We pray in this petition, as the sum of all, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from every evil of body and soul, property and honor, and finally, when our last hour has come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven.
Imagine a world into which evil had not entered. It would be a place without suffering or pain. There would be no guilt or regret. There would be no sorrow. There would be no death. These would all be absent because a world into which evil had not entered would be a world without sin. St. Paul reminds us, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” In order for God to answer the petition to deliver us from evil, he must create for us a world into which evil cannot enter.
A few generations ago American theologians who wanted to relate better to people where they lived came up with what they called the social gospel. They criticized traditional Christianity which they said promoted an “other worldly” and therefore irrelevant Christianity that they called “pie in the sky, by and by, when you die.”
Proponents of the so-called social gospel insisted that instead of promising a better life to Christians after they leave this world the church should be striving to make this a better world. Rejecting the traditional Christian teaching on heaven, churchmen began to teach that the main purpose of Christ’s church here on earth was to create a more just society here on earth. What usually happened, however, is that church leaders began to parrot the popular political philosophies of their day, often dressing them up in religious clothing. Naïve theologians and church leaders became pawns of politicians more interested in political power than in the spiritual well being of the poor and dispossessed. Whenever the church marries the reigning political powers of her day she quickly finds herself a widow as one political solution follows upon another. In fact, there is nothing quite as pathetic as Christians who forsake the eternal truth of the gospel in favor of the passing enthusiasms of this world. To put it plainly: only our Father in heaven can and will deliver us from the evil of this world. And before he will do so, he must deliver us from the evil within us.
Evil came into this world when Satan laid claim to an authority from below that belonged only to God above. In their innocence, Adam and Eve hallowed God’s name. They confessed day in and day out that the tree in the middle of the Garden was not theirs to touch or to eat. That tree taught them that God’s holy name, God’s eternal reign, and God’s holy will are to be honored first and always. We may not question God, for he is God. When he says that we may not eat of the tree, this means that we may not eat of the tree – period. There is no more to be said because God has spoken. When the evil one raised the question, “Did God really say?” he attacked the holy name and identity of God. He declared war against God’s kingdom. He set himself up against God’s will. His battle was against the world God created and ruled. By leading our first parents into sin, he led the whole world into death and rendered the human race helpless against him. The devil, as you know, uses the fear of death as his greatest weapon against humanity.
The final petition summarizes the Lord’s Prayer. We pray that our Father in heaven would deliver us from that evil which would profane God’s name, set itself up against God’s kingdom, oppose God’s will, and deprive us all of the blessings of the good earth God has given to us. We pray that God would deliver us from the evil that would falsify the gospel and rob us of the forgiveness of our sins, preventing us from forgiving those who sin against us. We pray that God would protect us from temptation. We pray against the devil. The original Greek of this petition may be translated either as “deliver us from evil” or as “deliver us from the evil one.” The Catechism sums it up correctly by saying,
We pray in this petition, as the sum of all, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from every evil of body and soul, property and honor; and at last, when the hour of death shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.
But is this world a veil of tears or valley of sorrow? Isn’t it also the only joy that we have known? Where else have you lived? We haven’t been to heaven yet. We haven’t yet lived where evil has not entered in. We have not lived where there is no sin in us and in everyone around us. We haven’t experienced that time or place when God’s name is perfectly hallowed, his kingdom fully revealed, and his good and gracious will done in such a way that we can understand what is good and gracious about it. When we pray this petition, therefore, we are praying that God will change us on the inside out, so that we may learn to repent of the evil within us. We need to learn that our greatest troubles in life aren’t out there in an unjust and cruel world but in here, that is, inside of us. The God who forgives us our sins and protects us from temptation is the God who thereby also delivers us from evil.
But there is no forgiveness without repentance. God forgives sinners. You must first be a sinner before you can receive forgiveness. But we don’t want to be regarded as sinners. We don’t by nature want to repent. Therefore we are the greatest obstacle to being delivered from evil. We don’t want to be delivered from our own sin. We want to embrace as a friend what will always be our greatest enemy.
Watch the children and listen to what they say. When little Johnny has a fight with little Billy, does he run to Mom to complain about his own sin against Billy and to ask her to correct him for it? Of course not. He runs to Mom to complain about little Billy. Not only does he view Billy as the problem; he wants to view Billy as the problem. So we pray, “Deliver us from evil.” Then we point to the evil outside of us and ask God to deliver us from it. Well, there’s no denying that there’s a lot of evil out there and that we face it every day.
But where is the deepest and most dangerous evil from which we must be delivered? It is in our own sinful flesh. It is in what we want. It is in what we in our sinful condition think is good and right. Consider what God’s word condemns and how sinful flesh redefines everything according to its own desires. Adultery is defended as true love that cannot be denied. Fornication is seen as an expression of affection with a committed partner. Idolatry is simply worshipping God in a fresh new way. Hatred is being true to your inner child. Contentions are standing up for principle. Jealousies are courageous acts of self- defense. Outbursts of wrath are therapy. Selfish ambitions are self-esteem. Heresies are just another perspective. Murders are the protection of a legal right to privacy. Drunkenness is a disease. Revelries are just having a good time. And in the face of our sinful flesh’s desire to call evil good and good evil is the command of our Lord Jesus Christ to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” In other words, we are praying that God put us through a bit of pain. It is hard to admit that you are wrong when you thought you were so right.
But repentance is good for you. There is little joy in this world apart from it. Repentance is a change that God works within us that destroys the idols our flesh constructs. God replaces the false promises of idolatry with the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. Repentance is how God delivers us from evil. He shows us that we are all wrong and that he is all right. More than that, he shows us that all our wrong was laid on him. Jesus, who hallowed the name of this Father in heaven by every word he said and every deed he did, also inaugurated the kingdom promised by his Father by suffering on the cross. There the good and gracious will of God was done. You can see that Jesus fulfilled the Lord’s Prayer for us. He fed the five thousand, proving that those who trust in him will never want for daily bread. He prayed for the forgiveness that he won for us all. He withstood temptation as our representative. We who are filled with evil find God’s deliverance in Jesus who is pure good. When we know Jesus we are delivered from every evil of body and soul.
How do we know that God will deliver us from evil? Because he taught us to pray that he would and he wouldn’t teach us to ask for anything that God won’t give. If we are God’s children, we can expect God to be our Father and to do whatever the Lord’s Prayer requests of him. This is why we pray, “Amen.” Amen is a word that comes from the Hebrew word for faithful or true. God is faithful to be true to His word. He cannot lie. He must hear us when he invites us to pray. He must. So we say, “Amen” with confidence that we will receive what Jesus told us to request.
Prayer comes from faith and faith comes from God’s word. Faith doesn’t come from seeing. Faith remains blind to what the eyes see and pays attention only to what God says. Faith refuses to entertain the notion that God will neglect to deliver us from evil. When we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” faith looks to Jesus to see this petition answered. In Jesus, you can actually see evil overcome. In Jesus you can see that every bad thing that has ever come out of you against another or has ever come from another to hurt you is now swallowed up and destroyed. Look at Jesus and see his pure and holy and almighty love. See him bear in both body and soul all the evil of all humanity. See him do it without complaint and without ever giving in to it. See in his death the victory of God’s love over our hatred. God’s love isn’t locked up where you cannot have it. It is with you whenever you hear the preaching of the cross, whenever you claim what God promises to you in your baptism. And it remains with you as the Holy Spirit makes his home in you.
Meanwhile, Jesus keeps on inviting us to pray this perfect prayer. There is no doubt that God answers and gives us what we ask. So we pray “Amen, that is, yes, yes, it shall be so.” Amen