Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | August 9, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 6:9a and 7:7-11

This is the first in a series of catechetical sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, following the outline of Dr. Martin Luther from his Small Catechism.

Jesus Teaches Us to Pray Properly

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  Amen.

Matthew 6:9a, 7:7-11: “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven….”

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Dear Sons and Daughters of God:

Martin Luther penned these words about the Lord’s Prayer:  Our Father in heaven. What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true Father and that we are his true children, so that we may pray to him as boldly and confidently as dear children ask their dear father. In those words we find everything we need to know about prayer.  We learn to whom we are to pray – our true Father in heaven.  We learn why we pray to Him – because we are the children He loves more than anything else in the world.  We learn how to pray to Him – as children ask parents for things.  We learn that prayer is something that cannot be done by those who reject the true God.  We learn that prayer is not something done to curry favor with God or to satisfy Him.  In short, today JESUS TEACHES US TO PRAY PROPERLY. We pray BECAUSE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE FATHER.  WE PRAY BECAUSE OF THE PROMISES HE GIVES.

Jesus teaches us this prayer as a rejection of the worthless babbling that passes for prayer among so many.  He says:  Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Notice, Jesus doesn’t eliminate prayer.  He eliminates the prayer that’s done so that others can see what a pious, wonderful, godly person you are.  He eliminates the prayer that is done to gain favor with God, the prayers that go on mindlessly for hours and days because if God sees the lengths to which I go, He must certainly reward me with an answer.  So as to leave us without a doubt as to what God-pleasing prayer is, Jesus says, This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven….

Proper prayer is based on the relationship that exists between you and God.  God is your Father.  Jesus says, “You can call Him that. You can appeal to Him on that basis, as a child to a Father.” This is so straight-forward.  When you need something or want to tell someone something, you go to that person and say, “Mom,” “Dad,” or whoever.  God says, “Call me Father.”  But not because you’re so good, righteous, holy, and pure.  You know that’s not the case.  You know that of all people, you are the least worthy to go up to God, tug on His sleeve, and say, “Dad, can I have…”  Yet, here He stands, saying, “Go ahead, ask.”  This is only because of Christ, who has made this relationship not just possible, but real.  We heard Paul say today:  those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Likewise, the apostle elaborates in Galatians:  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ….If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.  What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.  So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,  to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son. Christ came and died and rose to make us His brothers and sisters, to make us children of His Father, to restore the familial relationship that Adam and Eve threw away in the Garden and that we despise with our lives of sin.  But now, having been brought near through the blood of Christ, we’re not foreigners, we’re not outsiders, we’re not enemies, we’re not slaves.  We are His children.  We are loved by Him.  We are listened to by Him.  That led Jacob to pray: O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord. He prayed to the LORD based on the relationship the LORD created between them.

But He also prayed based on God’s promises.  Hear the rest of Jacob’s prayer:  [You] said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau…. But you have said, “I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.” Jacob leaned not on his own goodness and mercy, but on God’s goodness and mercy.  He leaned upon the promises of the LORD who spoke those promises to Abraham and Isaac.  And to us.

When you read the Sermon on the Mount, you’ll notice that a key section between the verses that serve as our sermon text today.  Between 6:9 and 7:7-11 we find the great description of the concern our Father has for us.  Jesus says that our Father loves us so much that He can say to you, Do not worry.  At all.  Here’s why.  Ask…and it will be given.  Seek…and you will find.  Knock…and the door will be opened.  The Father will answer.  The Father will provide.  And then Jesus repeats it again, only this time He goes from using future tenses (that is, hypothetical situations), to present tenses, that is, real, concrete situations.  Jesus says, “Here’s the deal, ‘Ask, and you will receive.’  Let me show you how it’s come true.”  It’s kind of like weight-loss infomercials which tout what their drug or program or machine can do and then shows you some of those who did it.

But just in case it isn’t clear, Jesus says, “Let’s put it this way.”  Perhaps He does this because the promise seems too good to be true.  Maybe you can’t handle it (though it’s true).  Here’s one you can handle:  “You’re parents.  If your son asks for food, will give him a stone?  If he asks for a fish, would you give him a snake?”  What parent would?

Now Jesus makes His point:  “So, if you guys, who are admittedly sinful, give good things to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father [who isn’t sinful] give good things to His?”  After all, when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, to make us sons!  The Heavenly Father, to whom we address our prayers, is, in every way, superior to our earthly fathers.  How can we not go to this Father?  How can we not lay every request on His lap?  How can we fail to believe that He will give when He says, “I will,” and when He’s shown us the length, width, and breadth of His love at the cross and the empty tomb?  How can we begrudge time in prayer, or relegate it to those last sleepy minutes of the night, or those rushed moments of the morning?  How can we be so hungry that we can’t thank our Father who provided the food?  How can we be so ungrateful for all He’s done that we grumble over prayers for the sick, the dying, and the rejoicing because it makes the prayer of the Church long?

How can we?  Because clinging to us still is that unbeliever who is not God’s son or daughter.  Which is why we need to hear Jesus say, “You can call Him Father.”  I need to hear that every day, because then and only then am I reminded that from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. Jesus has made the Father known to you.  He has made you God’s children and He tells you that you are.  As Luther says in his Large Catechism:  For by this commandment God lets us plainly understand that He will not cast us away from Him or chase us away. This is true even though we are sinners. But instead He draws us to Himself, so that we might humble ourselves before Him, bewail this misery and plight of ours, and pray for grace and help. Which means that your prayers, which would amount to nothing on your own, are heard.  By a Father.  By Your Father.  The Father who says, “I give good gifts to those who ask!”  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.


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