Jesus' Parables for Disciples
James J. Tissot, 'The Lord's Prayer' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, 8.5 x 6.4 in., Brooklyn Museum, New York. (larger image)
"1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.' 2 He said to them, 'When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation."'"(Luke 11:1-4)
One of the lessons that Jesus' disciples saw displayed before their eyes day after day was Jesus praying. They followed him. And Jesus wasn't so tied to a schedule as he was to his Father. So part of what he did -- and his disciples learned to do by example -- was to pray, to spend time with the Father. Jesus praying has been a continual theme in Luke, more than any other of the Gospel writers.
"One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.'" (11:1b)
The disciples wait until Jesus has finished praying. I wonder how often they have to wait while Jesus prays? I wonder how many journeys are delayed because Jesus is off by himself praying? I wonder if the disciples are ever impatient with their Master's priorities?
But at the same time, they want Jesus to teach them all about prayer, even as John the Baptist and other famous rabbis have taught their disciples distinctive ways of praying, or insights into prayer.
Have you ever longed to learn to pray -- really pray -- as Jesus taught his first disciples? Do you long for a prayer relationship with the Father? I've found myself praying often, "Teach me to pray." Here are some of the secrets that Jesus taught -- teaches -- his disciples.
"He said to them, 'When you pray, say....'" (11:2a)
His prayer was intended as a guide, yes. But it was also intended to be said, to be spoken as it stands.
One of the first things that strikes modern readers is the difference between the Lord's Prayer in Luke from the one we're familiar with in Matthew 6:9-13.431
Many Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestants recite the Matthew version of the Lord's Prayer often, sometimes every week, and members are often encouraged to recite it every day or many times a day. We know it. We're familiar with it. Luke's version, by comparison, seems truncated, bare bones. In the table below you can see the differences in the NIV translation of each version of the Prayer: first from Luke, then from Matthew.
|Luke 11:2-4||Matthew 6:9-13|
|Father,||Our Father in heaven,|
|hallowed be your name.||hallowed be your name,|
|Your kingdom come||Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
|Give us each day our daily bread||Give us today our daily bread.|
|Forgive us our sins||Forgive us our debts|
|for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.||as we also have forgiven our debtors.|
|And lead us not into temptation||And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from the evil one
|[for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]|
Of course, the doxology, traditionally said by Protestants at the end of the Matthew version, is generally acknowledged not to be Jesus' original words, but an adaptation of the Prayer "for liturgical use in the early church."432 With that exception, however, you'll notice that all the same elements are found in each prayer. In Matthew's version they are fuller. The meaning isn't different, they're just fuller. Luke's version, however, seems spare.
Why the two versions? Scholars have spent much ink and paper debating which was the original. I think they've missed the point. I contend that both prayers are original, just given on different occasions. The Luke version may have been an earlier version that Jesus used the first few times he gave this teaching. Matthew's version may be the more mature version that he used in later teachings. Or perhaps it was the other way around.
But I'm not worried about any conflict. The meaning is the same.
"Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." (11:2b-d)
The prayer begins with the title, "Father." Jesus is teaching us to address God as our Father.
Certain elements of the Christian feminist movement are offended by the term "Father." They claim that the term "Father" is paternalistic. That God is genderless. That he could just as easily be considered a "she."
Many women have been hurt by their fathers. Some have been abused. Some women have had men hurt them again and again and pound them down to an emotional nothing. Men are the enemy, and if God is Father, they cannot relate.
Because of this offence with God as Father, some feminists even omit the Trinitarian formula Jesus' taught us "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Instead they sometimes substitute non-gender words, such as "Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit."
While it is true that certain forms of Christianity are way out of balance in emphasizing men's roles over women's in the church, to change the terminology of Scripture and to substitute one's own is dangerous. Yes, the Father is the Creator, but he is much more. Though the Bible includes several feminine images of God (Luke 15:8-10; Matthew 23:37; Deuteronomy 32:11), Jesus chose the image of the Father and the Prodigal Son to illustrate the loving, searching, longing quality of our Heavenly Father (Luke 15:11-32).
In Jesus' day, "father" included the concepts of care, love, responsibility, discipline, hopes and dreams for one's children, respect, authority, and blessing. In the West, fathers have nowhere near the life-long patriarchal authority that fathers have in the Middle East and Far East.
Bible scholars pretty much agree that behind the Greek word patēr, "father", is the word `abba in Jesus' native Aramaic.433 Rather than the formal word for "father," `abba is the family word, something like the affectionate "Dad" or "Daddy" that we use in English.
As you meditate on the Lord's Prayer, I encourage you to seek to reclaim for yourself the term "Father." Seek to find out in what ways he is a Father to you.
"Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." (11:2b-d)
"Hallowed" comes from the English word "holy." Why does Jesus include the concept of "hallowed" in the "stripped down" version of his prayer? Because without it, our understanding of "Father" can be distorted.
The word "hallowed" translates the Greek word hagiazō, "treat as holy, reverence."434 Our understanding of "Father" could become sentimental to the point of presuming upon and taking advantage of the Father's graciousness towards us. "Hallowed" reminds us that the Father is holy, set apart from sin. That he can be both the Father of sinners and set apart from sin requires Jesus' atonement to reconcile.
When Jesus tells us that the Father's "name" is holy, he means that the Father's whole Person is holy. "Name" can be used as a substitute for a person himself. To paraphrase, "Father, hallowed be your name," means, "Father, may you be treated with the respect and honor that your holiness demands."
It is common for Christians, particularly Christians who come to faith later in their lives, to have a rather profane vocabulary. To be in the habit of using God's name often, and sometimes almost as a swearword. When we use ejaculations when being surprised, such as, "Lord!" or "Christ!" or "Jesus!" or "God!" we are using God's holy name in a profane and common way. We are not reverencing his name, but debasing it. Disciples discipline their mouths and their hearts to reverence the Father's name.
Including "hallowed be your name" in our prayers means that we are to approach the Father, not with presumptive familiarity but with reverence and respect for his greatness and holiness. He is our "Dad" but he is also Holy. And as we are learning to pray, we must not forget this.
The next phrase Jesus uses in his model prayer is a petition to the Father: "your kingdom come."
"Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." (11:2b-d)
The idea of the Kingdom of God is complex. It goes far back into the Old Testament, at least to the book of Exodus, where God reveals himself as the Israel's King. He makes a covenant with them in the form of an ancient suzerain-vassal treaty, a treaty made between a great king and a subservient people (Exodus 19:3-6). The tabernacle in the wilderness is the throne room of a desert monarch. He leads them by day and night. Having no king but Yahweh is one of the unique marks of the Israelites, to the point that their clamoring for a king under Samuel's judgeship is considered a sin (1 Samuel 8). Israel's second king, David, born in Bethlehem, of the tribe of Judah, becomes the archetypical king, and he is promised that one of his sons will always sit upon the throne (2 Samuel 7), fulfilled ultimately in Jesus Christ.435
John comes proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:2), and Jesus takes up the same message (Matthew 4:17). He sends out his disciples with the authority to do miracles and proclaim to villages, "The kingdom of God is near you" (Luke 10:9, 11). The kingdom of God comes when Jesus proclaims God's reign, and demonstrates that reign by preaching good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind, release for the oppressed, and the Jubilee Day of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19). The kingdom is here in Jesus and his disciples -- and in you and me -- but it will come fully and completely when Jesus returns to earth to reign over all as King and Lord (Revelation 11:15).
When we pray, "Your kingdom come," we are asking God to manifest the power and glory of his kingdom in us, and throughout our world. What a prayer! We are praying that Christ might reign over all. We are also asking the Father to hasten the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. Amen!
"Give us each day our daily bread." (11:3)
The first petition for our own needs is, "Give us each day our daily bread." Though the words used in this phrase are very rare words in Greek, we think they mean, "Give us each day our bread for today." This is a prayer asking God to meet our everyday needs: for food, but also for all our other needs.
It's strange, but we long to break free from the necessity of praying this prayer. We would like to store up enough money so that we don't have to worry -- or pray -- about where our next meal will come from. We would like to be "comfortably" well off, if not rich. We don't want to have to pray for our next meal.
I don't think that Jesus wants us poverty-stricken, though that may happen to us, and he is able to meet our needs. But he does want us to get in the habit of relying upon the Father. For everything. Should we thank God for our food if we have earned the money for it by our own labor? Of course!
"You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today." (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
Since it is God who gives us the ability to earn a living, then in a real sense, it is he who "gives" us our daily bread. He strengthens us, and provides through us. So often, when we have our health, we take this ability for granted. Jesus is teaching us to look to the Father for every provision.
Sometimes you hear the teaching that we should pray for others' needs, but never for our own, that God will provide without us even asking. Though that teaching sounds pious and faith-filled, it goes directly counter to Jesus' own teaching. We are to ask God for our daily needs. He is interested in our jobs. He cares about your school. He is concerned about the health of your business. He cares about your marriage, and children, and relationships. Your church matters to him.
Jesus teaches us, "Give us today our daily bread." How is it that we so often confuse such a simple concept?
"Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us." (11:4a-b)
Some people would have you believe that sin and guilt and temptation were invented by the Catholic Church. Not so; Jesus taught about it. Sin describes a broken relationship, a breach of trust, an ugly deed, a selfish value system. To pretend that we have no problems is the height of denial. But many people around us live in that fantasy world, at least until reality catches up with their living.
This petition of the Lord's Prayer requires a recognition of the need for forgiveness. Not just forgiveness once in our lives, but continual forgiveness. Yes, as we follow Jesus, sin's hold over us loosens. But there still is sin we need to take seriously. The Apostle John said,
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 1:8-2:2)
But forgiveness is not only for disciples to receive, but also to be offered. Jesus teaches us to pray "Forgive us ... because we also forgive." Is our forgiveness dependent upon us forgiving? When you read Jesus' explanation of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:14-15 you'd certainly think so:
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15)
But, having said that, there is no way that we can earn forgiveness by amassing "forgiveness points" by forgiving others. Forgiveness is by God's grace through Jesus' atonement for our sins, not by any merit we have. Yet, unforgiveness can block God's blessing.
Though the NIV translates both words in 11:4a-b as "sins," there are actually two Greek words used. "Forgive us our sins" uses the common Greek noun hamartia, "sin, miss the mark." In the next phrase, "for we also forgive everyone who sins against us," the word "sin" translates the Greek verb opheilō, "owe, be indebted."436 You've met people who feel that everyone "owes" them something; those who hold a grudge are something like that. They nurse a hurt, a slight, a sin until it separates them from the person -- and from God himself.
In my career as a pastor, I have counseled with many, many people who wonder why they aren't experiencing God's fullness. At the bottom of many of their lives is a root of bitterness, unforgiveness toward someone who has hurt them deeply.437
Two simple lessons we disciples learn from this petition: (1) we must ask for forgiveness time and time again, and (2) unforgiveness blocks God's blessing.
"And lead us not into temptation." (11:4c)
The final phrase can seem confusing. Does God tempt us? No. Jesus' brother, the Apostle James, teaches us:
"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:13-15)
But we do believe that God guides our steps. This is a prayer that God would protect us against temptation. In Matthew's version of this prayer, Jesus adds the explanatory phrase, "deliver us from evil" or "deliver us from the evil one." Jesus is teaching us to be dependent upon God to help us in times of temptation, when the tempter seems especially strong. Don't lead us into places where we can be tempted, we pray, but lead us in places where you are, and where we can be free.
Sometimes we disciples flirt with temptation. We don't exactly seek temptation, but we are attracted to sinful things. And so we sort of wink at them. Our resistance is low; we are being "dragged away and enticed" by our "own evil desire," as James put it. This prayer, "and lead us not into temptation," helps teach us how important it is for us to stop flirting with sin, but to actively flee and resist it. That is to be part of the content of our prayers.
Some of you are saying, "But if God knew what I really thought about, or wanted to do, he wouldn't have anything to do with me." Some of you are ashamed of your secret sins, but afraid to open them up to God himself. My dear friends, there is nothing we have done or said or thought that can surprise our Father. The miracle of the cross is that he cares about us in spite of our rebelliousness. This part of the Lord's Prayer reminds us to call upon the Father for strength when we are tempted. We are not to fight a secret war against sin; the Father wants to be our continual partner. He knows your weakness and mine. And wants to free us and make us whole. What a wonderful Father! What wonderful grace.
The Lord's Prayer is deceptively simple. We may pray it often, and by rote. We may take its words for granted. But this week -- especially this week -- let the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray fill your thoughts and meditations. And may its vocabulary become yours.
Father, I know so much. And yet I realize that I hardly know you at all. Bring me back to a simplicity of relationship with you, my Father. Forgive me for my prayerlessness. Forgive me for my pat prayer formulas. Help me to learn from Jesus how to really pray. I know that is your desire, too. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
"He said to them, 'When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation."'" (Luke 11:2-4)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- What concepts about a father are we to attribute to God? Which ones don't fit him very well? What is so astounding about the fact that Jesus tells us to pray to God as Father?
- What about our lives and words "hallows" the name of our Father? What desecrates and besmirches it? How should we "hallow" the Father when we begin to pray?
- In what sense are we asking that the Father's kingdom should come? How should this prayer affect our living?
- Why do we seek to be independent of asking anyone for help? Why do we seek to be independent of God? Why should we ask God to "give" us daily bread so long as we can earn a living for ourselves?
- Why should we continually ask forgiveness? Does the Father really forgive the sins we've asked forgiveness for? Must the same sins be forgiven again later?
- How can unforgiveness on our part block God's blessing? How can unforgiveness block God's forgiveness? Doesn't the fact that our forgiveness requires our forgiving others really a subtle form of "works righteousness"?
- Why should we bring God into the fact of our tempting circumstances? Can't we expect God to deliver us from sins automatically?
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.
 Metzger, pp. 16-17.
 Gotlob Schrenk, pater, ktl., TDNT 5:984-985.
 Hagiazō, BAGD 8-9.
 Opheilō, BAGD 598-599.
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