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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Jesus Teaches us to Pray Humbly to our Father in Heaven
Text:LD 46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's faithfulness
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-10-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hy 63:1,2                                                                                    

Hy 1

Reading – Psalm 103; Matthew 11:25-30

Ps 103:1,2,8,9

Sermon – Lord’s Day 46

Ps 103:4,5,7

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters, one of the most remarkable things that Jesus ever taught has to do with prayer. For He gave us permission to call God “our Father.” We’re very used to that, of course, and at times we even pray the Father’s name thoughtlessly. But this is what Jesus says in Matthew 11, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (v 27, NIV).

When we pray, and we take that name “Father” on our lips, we’re doing something incredibly bold, and immensely reassuring. That it’s such a gift is clear from what Jesus also says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (v 25). He’s saying that not everyone can do this. Not everyone can understand this. But through Christ, and by his Holy Spirit, we can pray to the Father in heaven.

For God wants us to have a child-like attitude toward Him, to look at God through the eyes of a child, one who trusts Him fully. Notice how the Catechism puts it: “Why has Christ commanded us to address God as our Father?” And the answer: “To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence and trust toward God which should be basic to our prayer” (Q&A 120).

That’s a good choice of words: “to awaken in us” that childlike attitude. For sometimes we forget how close our Father is. And we play down his blessings, and we sometimes treat God with an ingratitude that is shocking. So we need to be awakened to this truth, jolted with this wondrous reality: the living God has claimed you as his own child in Jesus. And this God wants you to be his humbly trusting son and daughter, in prayer and in all of life. I preach God’s Word summarized in LD 46,

Jesus teaches us to pray humbly to our Father in heaven:

  1. His majesty is heavenly
  2. His care is fatherly
  3. Our expectations are great

 

1) His majesty is heavenly: Probably not any of us have ever met the Queen. But if you do receive the opportunity, it’s not an event to be careless about. There’s quite a protocol involved when meeting her: you have make a bow or a curtsy, you always have to refer to her as “Your Majesty,” and don’t talk to her unless she addresses you first. And whatever you do, don’t touch her! Maybe it’s all a little over the top. Yet it highlights her high position. It’s impossible to be in her presence, and to forget that she’s the Queen!

That kind of reverence teaches us about approaching God in prayer. No, we don’t get hung up on outward ceremony when drawing near to the LORD. Since the one sacrifice of Jesus, we can approach God freely, “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:22). Yet there’s a danger here. One of the most dangerous things that we can do is to lower the LORD to our level, to make Him a little more human, and a little less God.

It’s hard to say how this happens exactly. But when we pray, do we stand in awe of who God is, as Creator of heaven and earth, as the Triune God, our Saviour and Lord? Or do we like to think of God in our own terms? Do we think of Him as little more than a super-powered friend? Is God someone like an all-knowing therapist, or a good-natured grandparent?

Such an attitude dishonours our God. The LORD God is fiercely jealous for his holiness. If we lower Him at all, we profane his Name! There’s a good reason that Christ commands us to address God, as our Father, yes—but as our Father in heaven. This is a powerful pointer to who God is, and the majesty He has. The God we pray to is a heavenly God!

In Scripture this truth is revealed often. Earlier we read from Psalm 103, one of David’s Psalms. And here his first instinct is to give God the glory. It practically jumps off the page in verse 1, it continues in verse 2, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,” and in every verse that follows. He comes back to it near the close of the Psalm, when he cries, “Bless the LORD, O my soul” (v 22). David can’t say it enough: Let God be praised!

Psalm 103 is about the great things God has done for his people, but more fundamentally, it’s about God’s greatness in Himself, it’s about the glory that He possesses as God. Like in verse 19, “The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.” David tells us to look up, for that’s where God is, and that’s where God reigns: in heaven above.

That’s nothing new for those brought up with the Bible. If you ask a child about heaven, she’ll probably point up to the clouds: “Sure, that’s where God lives: in heaven.” We smile at the simplicity of children, yet we struggle to understand what it means. Part of the problem is defining what or where this “heaven” is. For it’s not the same as you can say for Queen Elizabeth II: “Her home is at Buckingham Palace, London, England.” You could even find directions to her palace on Google Maps, and you could point, “That’s where she lives.” But with God and his throne, there’s no such exactness. Where is heaven?

This is something that’s often been misunderstood. The story is told about the first man sent up by rocket into outer space, a Russian cosmonaut back in the 1960s. Once he was up in orbit, he got on the radio and reported back to earth, “Well, I don’t see any God up here.” He was in “heaven,” but he wondered why he didn’t see the Lord!

To gain insight into heaven, we turn to the Scriptures. It teaches us that although God makes his dwelling “in heaven,” He’s not limited to that certain locale; it’s not as if He can only be there, and not anywhere else. Think of what Solomon prayed to the LORD, “The heavens, and the heaven of heavens, cannot contain you” (1 Kgs 8:27). God is greater than even the highest heights of creation—greater than the farthest reaches of the universe. The LORD is above all things, He rules all things, and all things are His to use.

That’s the resounding climax at the end of Psalm 103. There David calls on all creation to bow before God’s majesty. And he begins with heaven, for this is his invitation to those heavenly servants of the King, “Bless the LORD, you his angels, who excel in strength, who do his word, heeding the voice of his word” (v 20).

David pictures the heavenly throne room: God, surrounded by multitudes of his most powerful creatures. These are the mighty angels that worship Him endlessly. These are his heavenly servants who faithfully carry out his will on the earth: bringing messages, defending his chosen people, moving the nations and rulers of men. 

So, that God is “in heaven” isn’t about finding his precise location. Rather, this is revealing to us how majestic and powerful He really is. God is Father, for He’s as kind and gracious and loving as a faithful earthly father. Yet He is far greater than anything here on earth—He is exalted in his ability and strength. He is our Father who is in heaven. As the Catechism teaches, “These words teach us not to think of God’s heavenly majesty in an earthly manner” (Q&A 121). For from God’s high and glorious throne, He rules all of creation. He speaks, and the sky pours down rain. He speaks, and volcanoes erupt. He issues his commands, and his angels carry them out at once.

This is why some Christians will still cry out in times of trouble, “Heaven help us!” For there’s an awareness that “heaven” can help. We have faith that the One up in heaven above can really do all things.

And here a bit of that childlike simplicity can be good. For children just accept that heaven is there. Though they haven’t seen it, they know it. They know what God in heaven can do, and they don’t doubt it for a second. And when we pray, we must do so in that same childlike way: trusting, hoping, being sure of that God can take care of this, even if we have no idea how. We pray, knowing that He has unlimited resources to help us. We pray, being confident that the unseen God in heaven truly is our Father, and that his care is fatherly.

 

2) His care is fatherly: We should know that the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t some new invention of Jesus, but each petition of it echoes the prayers of the Old Testament saints. This is true also for the address of the Prayer, when Jesus teaches us to call on God as “Father.” For a long time the people of God have known something about his fatherly care.

For instance, we find this name for God in the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. There Moses asks the people, “Is God not your Father, who bought you? Has He not made you and established you?” (v 6). The way Moses that asks the question, of course, expects a positive answer: “Is God not your Father?” Of course He is! God is their Father, because He created them, and He saved them. By his own gracious doing, they had become his family.

What did it mean to Israel that God was their Father? It meant much the same as it does now. For the Israelites knew that within a household, the father has authority, called to rule in godliness. The father is the head of the family, and his children should honour and obey him in all good things. A father’s holy task is to lead and shape his children in a God-pleasing way. In these ways our heavenly God too, is Father for his people. Because He teaches, He nurtures, and He provides for his own.

Another example from the Old Testament is in Isaiah, who compares God’s fatherly shaping to the way that a potter will control his clay. A potter begins with a lump of raw material on his wheel or his table. As it sits there, that clay is formless—useless, even, without a purpose or beauty. But the potter has an idea of the finished product, and the clay is his to shape. So he sets to work. He bends and smooths and takes away until the clay begins to resemble a jar or plate some other vessel. That’s the way God the Father works on his people.

Isaiah confesses, “Now, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter, and we are all the work of your hand” (64:8). He speaks of the total freedom that God has as Creator and Lord, how the Father is free to do with us what He pleases.

Beloved, isn’t that good to know? Even today God is molding you according to a design. He is shaping you so that you’ll have a purpose and a beauty in his eyes. If you’re listening, He is teaching you through his Holy Spirit. If you’re reading, He’s guiding you through his Word.  If you’re paying attention, the Father is forming you through the care of our fellow believers, and through the experiences of life. For He wants you to grow.

How else does God shape us? Think of the Father’s discipline. “Do not despise the chastening of the LORD,” Proverbs says, “for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (3:12). It’s because He cares so much, that God is willing to rebuke us when we stray. God gives his loving correction, to see us grow. It comes through the hardships we endure. It comes through those prayers that seem unanswered, through the trials at home, and the struggles in health. This isn’t punishment, it’s the Father’s forming.

Then there’s that beautiful text in Psalm 103, “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him” (v 13). David has a keen sense of God as Father, because David sees what God does every day. God is the kind of Father “who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies” (vv 3-4).

That’s so needed. For if God is a loving Father, then we are children: strong-willed, stubborn, ungrateful. Like children often do, we live in the moment, even if it means bad results for ourselves and others. We reject the Father’s guidance, though it means hurting the one who cares the most. Yet our Father shows compassion, He pities those who fear Him!

David knew all about it. He says: “Bless the LORD… who forgives all your iniquities” (v 3). Yes, David had been there. He sang it in Psalm 32, and again in 51. Man of God as he was, David broke the laws of the LORD, terribly and shamefully at times. He’d experienced the misery of guilt, as it wore away at his mind and body. This righteous man knew what it was to feel apart from God, but then he also knew the forgiving power of the LORD. He knew the immense relief when the Father shows grace to his child.

“Bless the LORD… who redeems your life from destruction” (v 4). Yes, David had been there too. He sang of it in Psalm 56 and 57, again and again. His life was in danger from others, while he fled and hid, and lived in fear. Often, David was as good as dead, sunk in the pit of despair. Yet every time, the Father reached out the hand, pulled him up, and gave him new hope. He “crowned him with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (v 4).

Not one bit of this goodness and kindness had David earned. He sings, “God has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities” (v 10). It was all a gift of the LORD’s grace. Our God is like a father, who has boundless compassion on his children.

David sang his hymn of praise because he knew God’s rich love. So do we. In fact, we know God’s grace more deeply and truly than he did. For we know about the cross of Jesus! This is how much the Father loves us, that He’d give his only Son to die for sinners. David sang because he was safe in God’s love—we’re safe too. But we know how much this safety costs.

Says Paul, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son… that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). Christ, the true Son of God, lived in full obedience to his Father. He was faithful, even unto death. And God was well-pleased with Him—so pleased that God now adopts us and welcomes all believers into his household, and He gives us permission to call Him “Father.” Now, says the Catechism, “God has become our Father through Christ” (Q&A 120).

Jesus showed the kind of heavenly Father we have, that He is dependable and gracious and mighty. For Jesus loved his Father, and trusted his Father. That’s why even as He suffered in the Garden, desperate in his longing for support and help, Jesus turned to God with these words: He prayed “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you” (Mark 14:36). In his hour of need, He knew where to look.

Now we can call on God in the same way Jesus does, with the same closeness and the same dependence as the Son of God Himself! He gives you permission to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven—Father, all things are possible for you.” And when you pray like this, God will show mercy. He’ll show mercy, because the Father understands how frail and weak you are, and He’s promised to treat you with tender care. Remember Psalm 103: “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him, for He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (vv 13-14). The Father knows our lowly state. The Father understands what we need. He pities us. He cares for us. He wants to makes things better—and He will.

Now think again of what David does in answer to all the LORD’s goodness: he praises Him! He will hallow the Father’s Name, just like Jesus taught. He sings, “Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (v 1). And in that verse, you can hear how praise must not be a superficial thing. It’s not something we’re done with quickly, before we get on to something more productive. For we call on our soul, our inmost being, to celebrate the goodness of our Father. Which means everything we are; everything that we have; everything that we will be—all of it must ring out with tribute for God.

If we’ve acknowledged our weaknesses, then we’ll worship our God with joy. If we’ve paid attention to the good news, we’ll thank Him for it. If you’re hungry and thirsty for grace, then you’ll adore the Father for what He gives daily. You’ll bring words of praise in your heart, and with all your heart.

And after that? Once Sunday is done, are we done with praise for another week? Can we keep our hearts busy with something else for the next six days? No, remember what David said, “All my inmost being, praise his holy name.” Because if it starts there, it’ll flow into all our life. It’s the praise we give to God as we study at school, the praise we offer as we draw up another design, praise through showing diligence in the home, praise through teaching another class or wiring another home. Our praise for the Father can be at many times, and in many forms. God demands it. God deserves it. God loves it.

You’ll probably have to remind yourself to do it. You’ll need to exhort yourself—preach to yourself—like David does, “My soul, praise him!” Call yourself often to the activity of praise, so that not a day goes by without it, “My soul, the Father has been good to you, so bless his Name. My soul, forget not all his benefits! But give him the glory.”

 

3) Our expectations are great: I want to acknowledge that some believers have a hard time looking to God as Father. It’s hard because of what their earthly fathers were like. No father is perfect, yet some have suffered much from an un-loving father, an un-godly father, even an abusive father. Even in Scripture some of the holiest men stumbled badly in this role. Think of Noah, Abraham, and David. They set poor examples, they showed favoritism, they were lax in discipline. Such fatherly failures are seen in Scripture, and in the church today.

So how can we look with trust to God as Father? “God is my Father?” some weary soul might ask, “That means He won’t greet me with kindness. That means He’ll only teach me his bad habits. That means this Father might even fail me in that time when I need him the most."

Yes, all of us could think of our earthly fathers and point out their failings. But this doesn’t allow us to think any less of God the Father. For then we have it backwards: our earthly fathers aren’t examples of God the Father in heaven, but God the Father must be an example for them! This is at once the high standard for every father today: As God the Father is, so you must be: merciful, just, faithful, and wise.

And this is also the rich comfort of our faith in God. In the words of David in Psalm 27, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me” (v 10). There might come a time in anyone’s life when they feel utterly alone, when all earthly securities fall away, and all personal supports prove to be unreliable. Even then, David says, our heavenly Father will always take care of us: in love, in kindness, in perfect understanding. For in Christ He is our Father, and He’s in heaven.

With the address of his prayer, it’s remarkable what Christ teaches us with just a few words, words that are loaded with meaning: Our Father who is in heaven. “These words teach us… to expect from his almighty power all things we need for body and soul” (Q&A 121). Those are great expectations! David knows that it’s true: “The mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him” (103:17).

For as long as we need it, for times that are everlasting, the Father will love you as as his very own! As you lay your life before Him, be awakened again to this reality: the almighty and heavenly God is your Father in Christ. The Father has eyes to see you, ears to hear you, a voice to teach, and hands to help. Our Father is very near, and He is strong to save. He wants to hear your childlike prayers each day, however small or simple they are. And in Christ, God the Father has promised to hear and answer, whenever you call on his Name!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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