Theology in 3D

Our Father, Who Is In Heaven

Layton Talbert | January 22, 2018
New Testament, Theology

In Matthew 6:9, when Jesus taught people to pray, out of all the possible names or titles for God he could have chosen, he instructed us to address God this way: Our Father.

In his first recorded sermon (Matt 5-7), the title by which Jesus identifies, preaches, teaches, and applies truth about God, more than any other title, is this one: Father (17 times). In fact, Father is Jesus’ characteristic designation for God throughout Matthew (44x)—not just when speaking to him but even when talking about him. (This is a distinctive of Matthew among the Synoptic Gospels; the title appears in Mark only 5x and in Luke, the longest of all the Gospels, only 17x.)

As I mentioned in my previous post, Jesus is not introducing a radically new concept here by teaching us to think of God in such warm familial terms. Describing God as a Father, thinking of God as Father, and even directly addressing God in prayer as Father, was hardly a theological novelty (cf. Psa 89:26Isa 63:1664:8). But this dimension of God’s character has never been so accentuated as it is by Jesus, particularly in Matthew.

Two really remarkable things stand out in this passage, and specifically this text (Matt 6:9ff.).

  1. This is the first time in the Bible that anyone ever teaches anyone else how to pray. Moses never teaches anyone how to pray. None of the kings of Israel ever gives instruction on how to pray. Neither the psalmists nor the prophets ever say, “Pray this way. Here’s what you should say. Here’s the way you should address God in prayer.” There are lots of great examples of prayer all through the OT. But never before does Scripture record anyone instructing how and what to pray, until now. I’m not saying that no one ever did that. Later the disciples will refer to the fact that John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray. But there is no actual instruction in the Bible on what and how to pray … until the Son of God comes, and teaches us to pray, Our Father in heaven.
  2. The second remarkable fact about this passage is that the overarching theme of Jesus’ sermon is the Kingdom of God. According to Matthew 4:23, what Jesus taught and preached was “the gospel of the kingdom.” What did that sound like? Matthew 5-7 is the first example. The sermon begins (Matt 5:3) and ends (Matt 7:21) with the kingdom. And of course, one of the references to the kingdom is wedged right into this prayer in the middle of this sermon: thy kingdom come (Matt 6:10).

What title(s) for deity would you expect Jesus to emphasize in a sermon about the kingdom? King appears only once (Matt 5:35). Lord? Only five times. Even God shows up only half a dozen times. The title by which Jesus identifies, preaches, teaches, and applies the truth about God and His kingdom, more than any other title, is this one: Father.Elsewhere, Jesus mingles three metaphors when he says, Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).

At the heart of this sermon—not just metaphorically, but at the structural center of the sermon—is Jesus’ instruction on prayer. If you zoom in on his section about prayer, you discover that Jesus keeps sharpening the focus. He starts with where to pray and where not to (and why): privately, not ostentatiously (Matt 6:5-6). He teaches how to pray and how not to (and why): thoughtfully, not mindlessly (Matt 6:7-8). Finally, he teaches what to pray (and why) in Matt 6:9-15. And what he begins with is not just how we address God, but how we approach and view God—not with an air of remote royalty, or even the servile genuflections of a servant to a Master, but with a familial simplicity and familiarity: Our Father who is in heaven.

God. Lord. Master. Almighty. King. Sovereign, even Despot (Acts 4:24) or Potentate (1 Tim 6:15) all have their place in addressing God. And yet in his sermon focusing on the kingdom, Jesus taught us to approach the Almighty Monarch of that kingdom by none of these titles. Because we are the King’s children. Think on that, my friend, and then tell me, what is it that keeps us from our Father’s throne.

But there’s one more image I want to share with you, next time.

One response to “Our Father, Who Is In Heaven”

  1. Ken Casillas says:

    I appreciate your bringing out that the OT did have some teaching on God as Father. Sometimes the discontinuity is overstated. But clearly Jesus’ teaching is much more detailed and emphatic and therefore makes the truth of God’s Fatherhood so much more precious!

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