May 6, 2018
"Our Father who art 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 with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father." So, writes Martin Luther in the explanation to the introduction of the Lord's Prayer, which you all learned in your Small Catechism. And these beautiful words are not the wishful thinking of an optimist. Jesus himself teaches us that these words are true when he says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give to you.", and "In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God."
The Father himself loves you! That's what Jesus says. And so, we Christians should have the confidence to ask God as dear children ask their dear Father. But how can we, poor miserable sinners, mere mortals, who like the grass are here today and gone tomorrow, presume to make requests to the holy, eternal, almighty God? Jesus says, "Because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God."
To love and believe in Christ is the same thing as to ask in Jesus' name. Jesus is teaching us to pray in faith. It is because of our faith in Christ that God answers our prayers. Not because our faith is some marvelous work that impresses God and earns satisfaction for our sins. If that were the case, we would never pray in confidence, because we would always question whether our faith were good and sincere enough. But Jesus doesn't tell us to wait until we feel worthy before we pray and make our requests to God. Instead, Jesus invites us to pray in his name, trusting that Christ has made everything right between us and our heavenly Father.
Faith receives what Christ has done for us. We believe that Jesus came from God. Well, why did he come? He didn't take a vacation from heaven. Neither did he establish an earthly kingdom. No, Jesus came to live under the law in your place and love and serve in every way you've failed to love and serve, even while battling temptation in every way you have and more and remaining sinless to go to the cross and suffer the punishment God had built up for all sinners. That was Christ's purpose in coming from the Father. When Jesus departed from the Father and became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the only path back to his Father was through pain and suffering on our behalf. Jesus came from the Father and returned back to the Father in order that you might also go to the Father through faith in him.
To pray in Jesus' name, and in so doing, to pray as a dear child to his dear Father, does not involve any merit on your behalf. Rather, to pray in Jesus' name is to acknowledge that you are an unworthy sinner and to ask God to answer your prayers solely for the sake of Christ's holy obedience and bitter suffering and death. Christ Jesus departed from the Father to endure the shame of the cross out of obedience and love for God the Father, who sent him to save you, and out of affectionate love for you his dear lambs. Nothing in the history of time and beyond time pleases our heavenly Father more than the fragrant offering and sacrifice, which Christ offered upon his cross to God the Father. Because it is this sacrifice, which gives us the right to call upon God as his dear children. Jesus did this willingly for your sake. And he gives you the benefits of this sacrifice freely to be received by faith. It pleases God greatly to hear his children pray for the sake of his Son Jesus and what he did on the cross for them.
Through faith in Christ you are a dear child of God, as St. Paul writes in Galatians chapter 3, "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Notice how St. Paul moves seamlessly from faith to Baptism. You can't separate faith from Baptism. Jesus says, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." (Mark 16:16) And St. Peter preaches, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." (Acts 2:38) In Baptism God connects all of the benefits that faith receives, the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation to all who believe. Babies too should be baptized, because they are sinners and need salvation.
Some argue that babies shouldn't be baptized, because they can't have faith. Well, it's quite presumptuous to assume that babies can't have faith while adults can. In fact, it is impossible for anyone to have faith except it be given as a gift by the Holy Spirit. And in Baptism, the Holy Spirit is given, as Scripture says. Everyone who is baptized, including little babies like little Kendrick, receive the Holy Spirit and put on Christ.
Kendrick has received Christ by grace in Baptism. He is a child of God, because of what God has done to him in Baptism. Kendrick's Baptism has joined him to Christ's death and resurrection, which is so pleasing to our Father in heaven. And Kendrick has the right and distinguished honor of asking the almighty God as a dear child asks his dear father. As St. Paul again writes in Galatians chapter 4, "And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"
And this is a great lesson to all us parents. What is greater, heaven or earth? Who is more important, us sinners or the almighty God? And so, we must recognize that our children are not our own. We are at best earthly parents. Yet, our baptized children have a heavenly Father, who is far greater than us. And it is our God-given duty to teach our children to call upon this heavenly Father.
Kendra and all Christian mothers brings her children to church, because Scripture tells us that the Church is our heavenly mother (Galatians 4:26). And although earthly mothers provide essential nurture, it pales in importance when compared to the nurture provided by the Christian Church, which feeds her children the forgiveness of sins, increased faith, eternal salvation, even the true body and blood of Christ with all the benefits of the cross.
Charles and all Christian fathers must also bring their children to know their heavenly Father, who knows his children more intimately and loves them far greater than Charles or any of us fathers could ever dream to love our own children. And our weak minds are able to see this feebly when we ponder God's love in the passion of Christ. And so, all you fathers need to teach your children to bow their heads and pray to their heavenly Father and to go and listen to his word. Do it by example as well by praying to him and hearing his word, for he is your heavenly Father too.
Jesus says, "Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." This is a perplexing statement from Christ. I know I've asked for things that I have not received, at least not in the way I expected. Yet, even if I were to get everything my heart desired, could I actually say that these things would make my joy full? Can any of us say that if we receive what we ask for, then we would be complete? And so, we learn that we have a lot to learn about what we should ask for.
I should call my father more often than I do. For one, because I love him and he loves me. For another reason, he is a lot wiser than I am. He's 35 years older than I am. He's been married 38 years longer than I have been. And he's been a pastor for 36 years longer than I have. He has a lot more experience than I do. And because he has so much more experience and knowledge, when I talk to him, I should spend a whole lot more time listening than I do talking, so that I learn. Well, how much more does that apply when conversing with the eternal, all-knowing God!
Prayer is when we speak to God. Does God speak back to us? You bet he does! And if we are going to learn to ask for things that will complete our joy, we need to listen when God speaks, so that we know what to ask for. God teaches us what to pray for in no more succinct and comprehensive way than when Christ teaches us the Lord's Prayer. Here we learn that God want us to ask for great things.
Hallowed be thy name. Here God would give us the very Gospel, to teach us of Jesus and how to love him and to protect us from all false teachers. We pray that the very name of God would be holy among us! There is nothing greater than God's name. Thy kingdom come. Here we pray that the forever reigning kingdom of God would be established in our very hearts! That the Holy Spirit would come upon us, so that we can believe his Word and live in his kingdom in this life and the next. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Here we pray that God would break the teeth of Satan, to protect us from the temptation of this world and the weakness of our fallen flesh. These three things are the greatest things we could ask for. And the more we learn from our Lord, the more we marvel how God invites us to pray for such great things and that he promises to give them to us!
Your joy can be filled! But it won't be fulfilled with a new car or a nice retirement home on a spacious acreage. It won't even be fulfilled by your wife and children. Your joy is filled when God makes his holy name to dwell among his church, when his kingdom expands and you are in it, and when Satan is placed beneath your feet by the blood of Christ.
The Lord's Prayer also invites you to pray for everything you need in this life, which gives you confidence that God cares for your body as well as your soul. God invites you to pray for forgiveness with the promise that he will forgive your sins as often as you repent. He invites you to pray for protection from temptation, with the promise for the way of escape from every temptation. He invites you to pray for deliverance from all evil, including an evil death that leads to hell.
God invites you to pray for great things, if you will listen. He invites you to pray for things that only a great, powerful, and loving Father could invite you to pray for. And he is ready to give you all these things even before you ask him, even as he sent his Son to die for our sins long before we could ever ask him to.
There is nothing too great for you to ask God. He has given you his own Son. And so, so he will graciously give you all things. You can call him Father despite all your sins, because Christ has earned that right for you. And so, we rejoice with the Psalmist and say, "Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me! Amen.