9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name. 
Jesus has made it clear in this 6th chapter of Matthew that the single most important influence on the way we live the Christian life is how we think about God. For Jesus, how we think about God determines how we live our lives. Particularly, Jesus emphasized it is crucial for us to think of God as Father, and to experience the intimacy of a Father-child relationship with him. In fact, we can summarize the whole of New Testament teaching by speaking of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the Holy Creator.
You may summarize the whole of New Testament religion by describing it as the knowledge of God as one’s infinitely gracious and loving Holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much they regard the thought of being God’s child, and having God as their infinitely patient and long-suffering Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls their worship and prayers and their whole outlook on life, it means they do not understand Christianity very well at all.
This is exactly what Jesus is trying to teach in Matthew 6 when he exposes the religion of the hypocrites and pagans for what it really is: ignorance of God. The way they speak in prayer underlines the fact that they do not know God as Father. The contrast between them and those of us who belong to the Kingdom of God is that we are to know the great King as our gracious, loving Father in heaven rather than as a mostly disinterested, occasionally disgusted slave master.
All this is at least somewhat familiar to us as Christians. Yet, as this prayer Jesus gives to his disciples shows, it is possible for us to merely assume it rather than experience it. Otherwise, our Christian lives would be more gracious, more joyful, more stable, and more caring. We would know better what it means to pray. Rather than hide from God in our hypocrisy (like the scribes and Pharisees) or mistrust him in our anxiety (as the pagans), we would cast all our cares on him, knowing that he cares for us (1st Pt. 5:7).
Even as Christians, we have an instinct to run from the Father, both because he is the Great King and because we are still sinners. Any human father knows that his children are sometimes ashamed of what they have done and realize they deserve to be punished, so they hide their secrets in fear. Also, life is uncertain and full of trials to distract us from our Father.
We are often anxious (because anxiety is our natural reaction to our inability to control circumstances). Until we are brought into the consummated, glorious Kingdom, experiences that evoke anxiety will be part of our lives. In this life, coming in prayer to the Father creates a strange conflict: the pain and shame of our failure will mix with the joy and relief of his unlimited and promiscuous grace.
Fellowship with God in prayer means sorrow for our sin, but joy in his forgiveness and grace. Prayer involves struggle, but the struggle is not that of persuading God. Instead, it is the struggle of being subdued by God, coming out of the dark and secret places in which we have been hiding the truth about ourselves, and laying the entire mess of our lives before him.
The Lord Jesus knew this and taught his disciples to pray by means of what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” It’s probably not the best title since Jesus would never have asked for his debts to be forgiven because he was without sin. Nevertheless, it is the title the church long ago assigned to it.
The prayer serves three purposes. First, it gives us a model prayer as an easily memorized outline to teach us how we are to pray. Second, it serves as an outline of the whole Christian life by giving us several points of concern for the family of God. Third, it reveals the kind of trusting intimacy the Son and the Father have with one another – an intimacy made possible for us only through the person and work of the Son.
This prayer underlines life’s priorities and helps us bring them into focus. It centers on five concepts: the worship of the Father; the Kingdom of the Father; the sustenance of the Father; grace of the Father; and the protection of the Father. Today, we will examine what it means to worship God as Father.
This prayer remains the greatest prayer of the church. Doctors of the church have consistently treated it this way and used it to preach thousands of sermons on prayer and basic Christian doctrine. Many of the early church fathers published sermons and commentaries on this prayer. Luther preached an entire volume of exposition on this prayer and the Westminster Catechism bases its last nine questions on this prayer.
The initial focus of this prayer is vertical, with its first three petitions dealing with God’s glory. The remaining three petitions are for our well-being. God first, man second; that is the ideal order of prayer. His glory before our wants. The prayer parallels the Ten Commandments, the first four of which have to do with God’s glory and the last six with man’s well-being. It’s sad to note that this prayer is more often mindlessly repeated than genuinely prayed.
That’s ironic since the context that introduces this prayer in verses 7-8 warns against meaningless repetition. It adds credence to the old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Many of us learned the Lord’s prayer as children in Sunday school. We couldn’t begin to number the times we have repeated it.
That makes it easy for this prayer to become a collection of beautiful words we say rather than pray. Living in a beautiful green Alpine valley would be my idea of amazing scenery. But if I lived there long enough, I would become dull to the beauty. I would need a visitor with fresh eyes to point out all of the things I daily take for granted. So, we need to look at the Lord’s prayer with an eye towards its detailed beauty to appreciate what we pray together on Sunday mornings.
Most of us are used to this prayer. So it does not seem extraordinary for Jesus to instruct us to call the creator of the universe “Father.” But this was a radical revolutionary thing for Jesus to say! Old Testament writers believed in the Fatherhood of God, but only in terms of a sovereign Creator. God is only referred to as Father 14 times in the 39 books of the Old Testament, and even then, impersonally.
In the Old Testament, the term was always used with reference to Israel as a nation, not to individuals. You can search from Genesis to Malachi, and you will find not one individual speaking of God as his or her Father. By Jesus’ time, his contemporaries focused on the sovereignty and transcendence of God to the point where they would never repeat his covenant name, YHWH. Instead, they invented the word translated into English as Jehovah, a combination of two separate names of God. So, an individual referring to God as my “Father” was considered blasphemy because it suggested familiarity and equality with the One whose name should never be spoken.
Yet when Jesus appeared, he addressed God only as Father (with the exception of his quoting Ps. 22:1 – My God, my God – while on the cross). He never used any other term! In the four books of the New Testament gospel accounts, Jesus uses the term Father more than 60 times to refer to God. This is a striking difference between the Old and New Covenants. In the entire history of Israel, absolutely no one had ever spoken and prayed like Jesus. No one!
But the terminology is even more striking. The word Jesus used for “Father” was not a formal one. It was the common Aramaic word which a respectful child would use to address his earthly father, the word “Abba.” Some modern Bible teachers suggest that Abba means something like “Daddy.” While the word “Daddy” may approach the word “Abba” in sentiment, the best English rendering (and the most historic, linguistically speaking) would be “Dearest Father.”
Jesus answers his disciples’ question about how to pray by instructing them to begin calling God their Father, collectively and individually. He declares that the citizens of his Kingdom share in his sonship. He empowers them as his disciples to speak with their heavenly Father in such a familiar, trusting way as a child would with his or her earthly father.
In the third chapter of Matthew’s gospel, a crucial moment is recorded that touches upon our subject here. Jesus enters into the dirty bath water where John the Baptizer has been receiving penitent Israelites and performing baptisms of repentance in preparation for Messiah’s public ministry. Jesus enters into those waters, vile and cloudy with the sins of the people, and makes a public identification of his mission to take upon himself those sins. Matthew writes:
16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 
In this model prayer, Jesus is pronouncing upon us the right to approach God has Father in the same way he himself does. He is offering us his relationship with his Father. The Father is always gracious and well pleased with you who trust into Christ. The questions for us are, “Do we genuinely believe that? If so, how’s your prayer life going?” And, just in case we missed it in Matthew 3, the Father makes the same pronouncement of pleasure in his Son in Matthew 17 on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Jesus transferred the fatherhood of God from a theological doctrine into an intense, practical experience, and he instructed his disciples to pray with the same intimacy. “Our Father” — “Our Abba” — “Our Dearest Father” — this is to be the foundational awareness of all our prayers. Does it undergird your prayer life? Is a sense of God’s intimate Fatherhood profound and growing in your life? Do you genuinely believe the Father is ALWAYS well pleased with you because of Christ alone?
Addressing God as Dearest Father is not only a show of spiritual health but is also a mark of the authenticity of our faith. Paul wrote in Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”  The motivation to address God in this way is a sign of being God’s child. Paul writes in Romans 8:15-16, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
On some level, the realization that the Covenant Creator of the universe is our Father is part of every believer’s entrance into saving faith. It is one of the great and primary works of the Holy Spirit. He makes us realize with increasing certainty the meaning of our relationship with God in and through Christ. He grows within us this awareness of the “Spirit of adoption as sons.”
Do you know God as your Father? Do you think of him and address him as your “Dearest Father”? If you cannot do that, it might be that he is not your spiritual Father and that you need to hear the words of scripture and enter into his family by trusting into the person and work of Christ. As John began his gospel account, he wrote, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). “Father” is the Christian name for God.
The aged Apostle John will preach this to his beloved little congregation in Ephesus:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
That God is our “Father” is a truth we must beg the Holy Spirit to cultivate for the sake of our having a healthy soul. It brings wholeness to our spiritual life. First, it brings a sense of being loved purely out of grace and entirely without any merit of our own. Left in our inherited sin nature, most human beings have some idea of a grand creator, a universe, a life force. People love the idea of an impersonal and distant God. If such a theology is true, then we control our own lives and are able to live comfortably with our own rationalizations.
The very personal Fatherhood of God is utterly foreign to our unchanged souls. We prefer to live like orphans. We vaguely realize we may have had some kind of “parent” out there somewhere in the universe, but we are certain that we are left to our own human wisdom to survive life on the mean streets. That is our default mode. Even if you are a believer, you still boot up that way every morning. The Holy Spirit’s job is to drag us off the mean streets and pull us back into our Heavenly Father’s household.
Next, the sense of God’s Fatherhood reinforces the reality of our forgiveness. The first word the prodigal son spoke in Luke 15:21 was, “Father.” “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (Lk. 15:21). Those words were followed by the pronouncement of complete forgiveness. The father even covered his repentant son with a cloak, signifying his right to even more family inheritance. The larger our sense of God’s Fatherhood, the greater our sense of forgiveness, the greater our sense of wholeness that comes from being loved and being unconditionally forgiven.
Knowing God as Father brings confidence, security, and wholeness into our lives. I lived over four decades of my Christian life conceiving of God the Father as someone who was constantly disappointed in my lack of ability to roll up my sleeves and improve myself morally, physically, economically, and spiritually. I was sure my Heavenly Father would occasionally turn his head to the right and address the Lord Jesus sitting next to him and say something like this: “Oh, that Keith! I love him but how I wish he would become more disciplined and work so much harder to excel so I could be truly proud of him.”
There is a VAST qualitative difference between the perfect love of our Heavenly Father and the sin-fractured human love of our earthly parents! Our Heavenly Father never stops singing over us in perfect delight. He is not shocked or disappointed by our sin or our failures. He looks at us who are trusting into Christ and sees his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.
Christ’s perfect law-keeping life provides all the righteousness you need to stand with assurance before your Heavenly Father. In his sacrificial, blood-shedding death upon a cross he suffered completely, infinitely, and perfectly as payment for all of your sins – past, present, and future. There is no sin you have committed or can commit, if you are trusting into Christ, that he does not know far more intimately than you can know it. You cannot shock him. You cannot disappoint him. He knows what’s coming WAY before you do.
Jesus has experienced all the horror of all your sin and taken away all the shame the world, the flesh, and the devil are so desperate to heap upon you. There is no need for you to do penance to impress God. You can never make up the great debt you owe to him. You do not need to. That debt has been stamped “Paid in full!” That is the height and breadth and depth of the Father’s inexhaustible and eternal love for you!
The idea that God is our Father, our Abba, is not only a sign of our spiritual health and the authenticity of our faith, but also one of the most healing doctrines in all of scripture. Whatever our experience with our earthly fathers (if any), the Creator of the universe wants to provide a perfect family relationship for us. At any given point in our Christian lives, we need to bow before God and simply say, “Abba, Father” and find the wholeness and healing he freely offers.
As we have noted, Christ’s use of the words “Father” and “Abba” to personally address God was revolutionary because Jewish theology of his day stressed God’s transcendence and sovereignty. The problem in certain evangelical Christian circles today is exactly the opposite. They have sentimentalized God’s fatherhood so much that they have truly little concept of his transcendence and holiness.
God as Father has led many to see him as a Being who simply wants me to be happy as I define my own happiness. Therefore, I am free to do as I please and seek everything I desire. And if I charm him, flatter him, and pester him enough, Heavenly “Daddy” will give me my desires for health and wealth and the pursuit of happiness.
Messiah Jesus provides the remedy to both errors with his opening words of this model prayer, “Our Father in heaven.” The prepositional phrase “in heaven” stresses his transcendence. The word “Father” stresses his imminence, his intimate involvement in every area of our lives. God sovereignly rules absolutely everything. He surpasses all that is merely human. He is both our Father and our King. He is to be addressed with both affection and a deep sense of wonder and reverence.
As our Heavenly Father, he exceeds our earthly parents in every way because he is “our Father in heaven.” He always understands. He always cares for and loves us. He never forgets us. And he always provides only what is best for us. Just like the child who is convinced his earthly father can beat up all the other dads in the neighborhood, there is no doubt our Heavenly Father is the strongest. He exceeds all our earthly fathers’ virtues a trillion times over. What a tenderness and power these opening lines of the Lord’s prayer evoke.
Our model prayer begins with the collective possessive, “our.” Is not inviting us into a mere “me, my Bible, and Jesus” relationship. He has given us his fatherhood and Jesus’ brotherhood. But he has also placed us into his family drawn from every epoch, tribe, language, and nation. When we pray this prayer, we are affirming that all of us who trust into the person and work of Christ are brothers and sisters. It follows, then, that we will love one another.
There is no place in God’s family for the much-glorified American individualism that loves to imagine it needs no one else and that no one else needs me. “Our Father” calls us not only into a vertical family relationship with him, but also an outward, horizontal host of relationships through which we minister to our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Fatherhood of God enriches life in both directions.
The seven words (in the original Greek) – Our Father, the One in the heavens – tell us first we are to approach God with confidence. It is our Heavenly Father’s delight to do anything for us within reason. He delights in answering our prayers. He sings over us in perfect unconditional love. We can be confident when we come to him. No uncancelled sin stands in our way!
Second, we are free to pray with complete simplicity. Christ worked for us in miraculous and mysterious complication so that we may approach the Father through Jesus the Son just as we are – without any spiritual makeup, flowery words, or even the best outfit in our wardrobes. He does not demand our eloquence. He seeks simple, direct, heartfelt conversation. We honor him with our simplicity, we are simple because we trust in who he is rather than in who we are.
Finally, we ought to pray with love. The words “Dearest Father,” “Abba” are words of love and devotion, and our prayers ought to overflow with it: “Our Dearest Father in heaven, we love you only because you have first loved us.”
Jesus, speaking of this eternal, saving family relationship, will preach later in this great sermon:
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 6:9.
 Ferguson, 119; quoting J.I. Packer.
 Id., 119-120.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 3:16–17.
 Hughes, R. Kent. The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Preaching the Word). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 4:6–7.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:15–16.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:1.
 Hughes, op. cit.