The Lord’s Prayer (1)

After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father who art in heaven / Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:9-13).

The Lord’s prayer is extremely familiar to many people, profoundly simple in presentation, yet profoundly compelling in its substance.

Jesus, in the middle of what has been popularly deemed the Sermon on the Mount, condemned those forms of Israelite “religious” behavior, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, which is done to be seen by men; such people have received their reward, but it does not come from His Father (Matthew 6:1-17). In terms of prayer Jesus warned against both praying so as to be seen as holy by others and using vain repetitions presuming to be heard by uttering many words, the latter of which was a common practice among the Gentiles (Matthew 6:5-8). Jesus commended praying in secret, encouraging people to remember that God knows what they need before they ask Him (Matthew 6:6, 8). He then provided what has become known as the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 as a model prayer.

Jesus offered His prayer as a model prayer: He encouraged His disciples to pray “like” this, not necessarily this precisely (Matthew 6:9). There is no transgression in praying the Lord’s prayer as written or as liturgically set forth (as we will discuss below); but it is not required to pray the exact words of the Lord’s prayer. In many respects Jesus provided the types of things for which we are to pray as much as actual words to pray.

Jesus began His prayer by addressing the Father in heaven and the holiness of His name (Matthew 6:9). Jesus encouraged direct petition and appeal to God in the name, or by the authority, of Jesus Himself (John 16:23-24). He is our “Father in heaven,” not an earthly father, although the parallel account of the Lord’s prayer in Luke 11:2 makes no reference to heaven. To “hallow” is to make or declare something as holy; Christians do well to proclaim God’s name as holy, and to show appropriate reverence before Him (cf. 1 Peter 1:15-17). Prayer demands a balancing act: God would have us speak with Him as our Father, and thus in great intimacy in relationship, but also as the Holy One worthy of honor and reverence, thus not glibly or casually. To emphasize God’s holiness so that people are afraid to even address God in prayer warps what ought to be a strong relationship; to emphasize the intimacy in relationship so as to justify speaking or addressing God as if a good buddy disrespects the sanctity of the Name. In prayer we do well to thank God for all His blessings and provisions for us, and ground our expectations from Him in that light (cf. Colossians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Jesus asked for God’s Kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10). Matthew has Jesus speak of the “Kingdom of Heaven” throughout (cf. Matthew 4:17, 23); His words here indicate how “heaven” in such verses is a way of speaking about the God who dwells and reigns from heaven (cf. Mark 1:15, Luke 4:43). A kingdom is that over which a king reigns; the Kingdom of God, therefore, would involve the coming of the reign of God. What would it mean for God’s reign to come? As Jesus continued: that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Jesus would thus have Christians pray for God’s will and reign to be manifest on earth as fully as it is in heaven; as long as evil and sin reign on earth, this prayer proves necessary. Yes, the Kingdom was established in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension (Colossians 1:13, Revelation 5:9-10); and yet it does not take long to recognize that God’s will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven. Christians should pray for more people to hear the Gospel and obey it (Romans 1:16); we should pray for God to strengthen His people to better discern His purposes in Christ and to realize them (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Jesus asked for God to give us our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). “Daily” translates Greek epiousion; the term connotes the needful thing, being for today. In this way Jesus expects believers to give voice to ask God for the basic needs of life: food, drink, shelter, etc. Far too often people take these things for granted, or might presume that God is too busy or great to be bothered by such trifles. God is the Creator of all; everything we are and have ultimately came from God, and thus we are totally dependent on God for everything (James 1:17). We should ask God to provide for us the things needful for the day, being careful to delineate what proves needful from what proves superfluous.

Jesus exhorted people to pray for forgiveness as they have forgiven others (Matthew 6:12). Jesus spoke literally of debts (Greek opheilema), yet referred to trespass or transgression (cf. Matthew 6:13-15). Asking God for the forgiveness of sin is a crucial element of prayer: we continually fall short of God’s glory, we continually transgress or not do the right even as we grow in holiness and sanctification, and we remain dependent on God’s forgiveness (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8). God is faithful to forgive us if we truly and fully confess what we have done wrong and when we have not done what is good and right (1 John 1:9). Yet Jesus has also inserted a bit of a “poison pill” in how He framed forgiveness: to ask God for forgiveness of sin as we have forgiven others may prove problematic for us if we have not proven willing to forgive others of their sins against us. We might end up not really praying for forgiveness at all!

Jesus concluded His prayer with an appeal to not be led into temptation but to be delivered from the Evil One (Matthew 6:13). We should not imagine that Jesus suggested God Himself leads people into temptation: God tempts no one in such ways (James 1:13). The appeal instead is for God to not allow us to be led into temptation, to either intervene Himself for us against the forces of evil or to strengthen us to endure them. The traditional liturgical form of the Lord’s prayer asks to be delivered from evil; the presence of the definite article indicates that it is the Evil One, Satan or the Devil, under discussion, not evil in the abstract. In this way Jesus encourages Christians to pray to resist the temptations of sin and for strength to overcome the forces of evil (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13, Ephesians 6:10-18).

The liturgical form of the Lord’s prayer concludes with “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,” present in many manuscripts of Matthew, but not in the most ancient authorities. It is right and appropriate to give God such glory, as it is present in many doxologies throughout the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 3:20-21, 1 Timothy 6:16); but here it is a later addition, inserting into the text a doxology which would have been used when the Lord’s prayer was recited as part of the daily office.

Jesus’ words in the Lord’s prayer are few, but they say quite a lot. They provide a paradigm by which we may understand the types of things for which we ought to pray. May we continually pray to the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus in ways consistent with the Lord’s prayer, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Lord’s Prayer (2)

And it came to pass, as [Jesus] was praying in a certain place, that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, “Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples.”
And he said unto them, “When ye pray, say, Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation” (Luke 11:1-4).

The Lord’s Prayer has been a mainstay of much of “Christendom” for a long time; it is repeated constantly around the world at least on a weekly basis. It is known for being succinct and yet deep in meaning. It is a wonderful model prayer– a vehicle designed to get us to think more deeply about our petitions to God and how those petitions impact our lives.

As told in Luke the circumstance begins with Jesus praying. The disciples seek to learn how to pray from Him since they see Him in prayer so much (cf. Luke 5:16, etc.). He is the Model for us– He does not merely exhort us to pray (Luke 18:1-8) but lives a life of prayer. This left a deep impression on the disciples (cf. Acts 6:4).

Jesus was not disappointed in their request for guidance; He did not rebuke them for it. It was good to ask the Lord how to pray. He was more than happy to oblige and teach them how to pray.

And then we have the substance of the prayer. The version in Matthew (Matthew 6:9-13) is a bit more expansive (and was expanded upon more over time), but the sentiments are the same as in the Lukan version.

Jesus’ first statement involves the sanctification of God’s name. While God may be our Father through adoption, and we have been granted access to Him, we must always remember that He is holy and utterly greater than ourselves (cf. Romans 8:15, Hebrews 4:16, 1 Peter 1:16, Isaiah 55:8-9). Whether we communicate our reverence for God in words and attitude or just by attitude, it is important that it be communicated.

Jesus’ second directive involves the Kingdom. At the time Jesus speaks the Kingdom had not yet come; it would exist after Pentecost (cf. Colossians 1:13), but the full salvation and the ability to be with God forever has not yet arrived (1 Peter 1:3-9, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Regardless, it is good to promote the advancement of the Kingdom of God in prayer– the strengthening of the church, the proclamation of the Gospel around the world and for the welfare of those seeking to do so, and so on (Ephesians 4:11-16, Romans 1:16, Colossians 4:3).

Daily needs should be a part of prayer. God knows we need them, but that does not mean that we should not ask for them (cf. Matthew 6:23-34). God is not unapproachable or concerned only about the “big picture” so as to have no desire to hear our petitions regarding the daily issues of life. Instead, He wants us to cast our anxieties upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). Life is lived through daily concerns, and it is good for followers of God to obtain His counsel for them.

Since we have the propensity for sin, we have need of forgiveness (cf. 1 John 1:8-9), yet this statement of Jesus is as much a challenge and a warning as it is a petition in prayer. Jesus encourages us to pray for the forgiveness of our sins on the basis of our own forgiveness of those who sin against us– a matter on which He elaborates further in Matthew 6:14-15 and Matthew 18:21-35. It is not and cannot be enough for us to just pray to God for the forgiveness of our sins. If we want to be forgiven we must be forgiving, and we cannot expect forgiveness if we do not grant forgiveness.

Jesus concludes in Luke with a petition to not be led into temptation. On the surface, this seems strange– is it not true that God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13)? We should not imagine that Jesus expects us to make sure in our prayers that we beg God not to personally direct us toward temptation, for God does not do such things. Instead, the petition is a request to be delivered from trial and to escape the temptations of the Evil One. We must acknowledge the spiritual war in which we are engaged, constantly maintaining contact with the Captain of our souls (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18). It is right and good for us to request God’s assistance in terms of our trials and temptations so that we may endure and overcome. We do not win by our own strength; we overcome through the strength that God supplies through Jesus Christ!

God’s holiness, advancement of His Kingdom, daily needs, forgiveness, endurance in trial and temptation– so much is said in so few words. Let us consider the Lord’s Prayer and remain in continual contact with our Lord and God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Chief of Sinners

Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Even though we may live in a society that vaunts the self-worth of the individual, attempting to “empower” people to understand how great they are, many people are constantly bedeviled by guilt and shame. They acutely feel that they are terribly sinful people. In their eyes there can be no rehabilitation for them. They have come to the conclusion that nothing can atone for their sins.

If this belief system had any truth or merit, Saul of Tarsus would have certainly been able to accept it. He had approved of the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:58), worked to lay waste to the church (Acts 8:3, 1 Timothy 1:13), and was heading to Damascus to do more damage (Acts 9:1-2). He then sees a great light, and we can only imagine how he must have felt when he heard that the “Lord” is the Jesus whom he has been persecuting (Acts 9:4-6). The guilt! The shame! How terribly wrong and misguided his work! He had believed that he was doing God’s work; instead, he now understands that he has opposed God’s work and even complicit in murder. Little wonder that he declares himself the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15)!

Did Saul head back for home, despondent and frustrated, assured of his own sinfulness, dejected and despised? Did he declare that his sin was so great that it could not be forgiven? Absolutely not! He was made to understand the will of the Lord– God’s enemy will now be used to champion God’s cause (Acts 9:15-16). The chief of sinners will be put to work in God’s Kingdom to warn others about their sins (cf. 1 Timothy 1:12-16). When he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and was immersed in water for the remission of his sins, he obtained that mercy and forgiveness that so many today feel that they cannot obtain (cf. Acts 22:14-16)!

Why is it that so many people believe that they cannot be forgiven of their sins? The problem is really threefold.

The first problem is that people have this innate sense that they must diligently work to atone for sin. They understand that they have done wrong and therefore seek to “make it right” somehow. Nevertheless, there is a recognition that all of this moral striving cannot really cover or atone for sin. The shame and guilt that have come as a result of sin are still there. Such people feel as if they cannot be forgiven, and in a sense they are right– they cannot be forgiven through their works. No one can be made righteous through the works of any law, and no one can atone for sin through their efforts (Galatians 3:11, Ephesians 2:8-9).

The second difficulty involves an implicit challenge to the power and sovereignty of God. For a person to believe that they have sinned so terribly that they cannot be forgiven means that they believe that God is somehow unable to forgive them, that Christ’s blood cannot atone for what they have done. Paul shows how this view is a lie, for few are the people today who have sinned as grievously (in human terms) as Saul of Tarsus, and yet Christ’s blood could cover his sin (1 Timothy 1:12-16). God is greater than our sin, and if we desire to be cleansed through Jesus, then we can be clean!

In the end, the challenge has less to do with God in Christ and more to do with the people themselves. We can see that there is no one who has sinned so terribly that they cannot be forgiven– instead, God really does want to save sinners, and therefore He wants people to be forgiven and saved (1 Timothy 1:15, 2:4). The problem is not even with shame and guilt, for such ought to exist when we have sinned (cf. Genesis 3:10, Isaiah 59:1-2). The challenge often is that even if God is willing to forgive people of their sins, they are not willing to forgive themselves. They cannot envision a time when they have released themselves from the burden of sin and death as God is willing to do for them in Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 8:1-11). They maintain a measure of control while holding onto that shame and guilt, whereas God calls us all to release that control and trust in Him (Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:7).

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). There is nothing we ourselves could ever do to atone for that (Ephesians 2:8-9). We all really deserve condemnation because we have sinned (Romans 6:23). These are all accurate statements of reality, no matter how difficult or challenging they are to swallow. There are too many more people who will not concede these realities than there are who are enslaved to them. Nevertheless, as assuredly as we have sinned and are worthy of condemnation, God has provided the means of reconciliation through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 5:5-11). We can obtain mercy and pardon through our obedient faith even though we can never deserve it (cf. 1 Timothy 1:12-16, Romans 6:16-23). Nevertheless, we must place our confidence in trust in God. If God is willing to be for us, we should not be against us (cf. Romans 8:31). If God will justify us, we ought not condemn ourselves (Romans 8:33-34). If God wishes to show His abundant love toward us, cleanse us of sin, and provide eternal life for us, why should we stand in the way (cf. Romans 8:35-39)?

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, no matter how sinful they are. Let us proclaim that truth, praise God for that truth, trust in God, and be willing to be cleansed and healed!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Taking Responsibility

And David said unto God, “Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? Even I it is that have sinned and done very wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let thy hand, I pray thee, O the LORD my God, be against me, and against my father’s house; but not against thy people, that they should be plagued” (1 Chronicles 21:17).

David had indeed acted wickedly. He was incited to number the men of Israel and Judah– an act that indicates an expectation of war. Joab protested, but to no avail; David would not be moved. Yet, when confronted with his sin, and when he sees its consequences, David takes responsibility and wishes for the consequences to fall upon him and his house and not the innocent.

This is not the first time David has been confronted with sin and took responsibility. The same was true when Nathan confronted David regarding his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 12). He took responsibility for his own sin; Psalm 51 eloquently shows as much.

Such is partly why David is indeed a man after God’s own heart. It is a natural human impulse to shift blame away from oneself. After all, when God confronted Adam about how he knew that he was naked in Genesis 3, Adam immediately shifted the blame to Eve, who in term shifted the blame to the serpent. We have all seen politicians and others impulsively deny claims made against them, only later to see them confess to the deed.

It is always easy to try to find some way to shift blame in regards to sin. One could blame the influence of others, one’s raising, one’s genes, one’s culture, government, society, other such thing, or even the influences of the spiritual powers of darkness. Nevertheless, we do best to take the blame for our own sin, since, in the end, none of us are ever forced to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). We should be upfront and take responsibility. By doing so, we minimize the damage done, and show that we are indeed different in how we act.

John promises in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous and will forgive us. To confess our sins means, literally, “to speak the same thing as,” or to directly and specifically take responsibility for what we have done. That is at least part of the way that David became a man after God’s own heart. We would do well if we did the same!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus’ Example of Forgiveness

“And Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
And parting his garments among them, they cast lots (Luke 23:34).

One of the beautiful things about Jesus is that He is not merely a great teacher, but the ultimate Teacher: God’s message in the flesh. Jesus, therefore, does not simply utter commandments or provide abstract concepts. His very life provides examples of God’s Word in action (John 1:1, 14, 18)!

One such command is seen in Luke’s Gospel:

“But I say unto you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also” (Luke 6:27-29).

Love an enemy? Bless those who curse? Pray for those who hurt you? These are very difficult things indeed!

Jesus never denies that they are difficult. Instead, He shows you the way by demonstrating the command in Himself, in a circumstance you are rather unlikely to experience!

In the midst of His great suffering on the cross, He petitions His Father to do this very thing: forgive those who are despitefully using Him. As He suffers such great and terrible anguish– anguish that most of us can barely imagine– He still represents God’s Word. He still holds firm to God’s intentions for the Kingdom.

If Jesus is able to forgive those who nailed His body to the cross, can we not forgive our fellow man who may strike us?

If Jesus is able to forgive those who mock Him, can we not forgive our fellow man when he insults us?

If Jesus is able to forgive those who conspired to have Him killed, can we not forgive those who do not particularly like us or attempt to do evil toward us?

It is not easy. It is rather counter-intuitive. But it was just as counter-intuitive for Jesus. The whole experience of suffering for our sins was likely counter-intuitive, yet He accomplished it because He was obedient to God’s will (Hebrews 5:7-9).

Forgiveness is not an option; if we cannot forgive others, we cannot be forgiven (Matthew 18:35). Nevertheless, we are not left without example. Let us seek to forgive others as we have been forgiven in Christ Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus, Sinners, and Pharisees

And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he entered into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And behold, a woman who was in the city, a sinner; and when she knew that he was sitting at meat in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster cruse of ointment, and standing behind at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee that had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying,
“This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.”
And Jesus answering said unto him, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.”
And he saith, “Teacher, say on.”
“A certain lender had two debtors: the one owed five hundred shillings, and the other fifty. When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most?”
Simon answered and said, “He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most.”
And he said unto him, “Thou hast rightly judged.”
And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:36-47).

One of the difficulties with humanity involves perception. It is easy for people to look at a given person or circumstance through one particular set of lenses and to make confining judgments.

This story clearly illustrates this difficulty. Simon the Pharisee is not an evil man or an evil-willed man. We have no reason to doubt his sincerity and his passion for the Law of Moses. Nevertheless, he looks at both the woman and at Jesus through certain lenses, and does not consider any other alternatives.

The woman, according to Simon, is a sinner. To Simon, this makes her unclean, spiritually if not physically. On account of this “sin” condition of hers, she ought not even be present before himself and Jesus, at least in the eyes of Simon. It does not matter how she feels about her sin– she remains a sinner.

Likewise, if Jesus really was who He said He was, He would know these things. Simon is willing to doubt that Jesus is a prophet because He is not holding to Simon’s expectation of holiness: “surely” a prophet would withhold himself from such a sinner. He would have nothing to do with her!

It is easy to see how such narrow-mindedness leads to hardened hearts: Simon would not be alone in this. He has his own set of expectations based on his judgments. He may question other things, but those judgments are not as questioned.

Thankfully, Jesus breaks out from all such narrow-mindedness and myopia. Did Jesus know what type of woman this was? Most assuredly He did! But the woman was not some unrepentant sinner– she came and demonstrated her repentance by her actions. Jesus’ parable illustrates the reality of God’s Kingdom against the speculations of Simon: those who are forgiven more are more thankful. She loved more, therefore, her sins were forgiven!

It was a shocking statement in first century Judea indeed, but it was true– prostitutes and sinners would enter God’s Kingdom before the Law-loving Pharisees (cf. Matthew 21:31). At the close of this scene, the “sinner” woman, and not Simon the Pharisee, is forgiven, and reconciled to God.

We would do well to learn from this story and to maintain Jesus’ attitude. It may very well be that the “terrible sinners” enter the Kingdom before the “good, moral people.” The Kingdom might be full of people with whom we would not automatically choose associate. Let us not attempt to confine the work of God based upon our perspective. We might find ourselves in the wrong position before the Lord! Let us repent of our sin and mourn for it, and love the Lord Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry