Treasure in Heaven / The Lord’s Prayer
- Main Text: Matthew 6:7-21 (25-34)
- Accompanying text: Psalm 20:7
What this passage means to us
How should we pray? This is the question that one of his disciples asked Jesus in Luke 11:1, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples”. Rabbis would give their pupils set prayers to recite throughout the course of a day. It was expected that the prayers would be committed to memory. John the Baptist had given his followers such a prayer, and so, did Jesus have one that they should memorize and repeat? The fuller version of what is now called the Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew.
The prayer Jesus gave us is rich in meaning for the Christian. Immediately it takes us into an intimacy with God the Father, and this was something new and revolutionary. The word “Father” had not been used as a title for God in the Old Testament. The idea of parenthood in relation to God had been used in similes (e.g. Psalm 103:13, Isaiah 66:13) and in metaphors (Isaiah 64:8), but the prayer “our father” is something different. It begins with the first person plural possessive pronoun “our”, meaning that the Father is “ours”. Not just yours or mine but ours together. The Father doesn’t belong to one individual but to all of us, and we belong to him. It brings us right into a community of believers who share the same spiritual Father. Matthew continues to refer to God as Father throughout his gospel account. Through Jesus we become the adopted children of the Father — “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). The Lord’s Prayer begins by acknowledging and celebrating that relationship. “The modern consensus among scholars is the Lord’s Prayer begins with the Aramaic word abba and therefore we can assume that Jesus taught his disciples in the Aramaic of daily communication rather than in the classical Hebrew of written texts” . This would also be a break from tradition. It would indicate that there is no sacred language and no sacred culture. God the Father is available to all, and each and every one of us can become his adopted child.
It may be that, from time to time, we go to pray and get stuck. We can’t find the words to say. We know the Spirit guides us and yet we don’t seem to progress. Why not use the Lord’s Prayer? It was meant to be used by Jesus’ followers both collectively and individually. It’s not just an historical reference or an interesting part of the Bible. It lives for us. Use it. Value the communion we have with our Father, whose name is hallowed and who is in heaven. Go through each section and apply it to your life. How it ends is beautiful. Some ancient manuscripts don’t contain what is called the doxology, which seems to be based loosely on 1 Chronicles 29:11-13. It works well, though, doesn’t it? “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13 NKJV).
Context and story-line
Matthew places the Lord’s Prayer within the Sermon on the Mount whereas Luke positions it after a visit to Bethany. Most scholars prefer Luke’s order of things to the other gospel accounts. Why then did Matthew record it where he did? There are various explanations suggested for this, ranging from perhaps Jesus gave the same instruction twice to the idea that Matthew wanted to give a comprehensive coverage of the teachings of Jesus and therefore packed as much as he could into Jesus’ sermon. What becomes clear, when we read all of Matthew 5 thru 7 in one reading, is how central the Lord’s prayer is. It’s as if the rest of the verses lead up to and away from it. All of the sermon demonstrates that what Jesus had to say was at variance with what the scribes and the teachers of the Law taught. Jesus had just explained that inner happiness and becoming perfect in God’s eyes did not flow from the Law and from the rules that the Pharisees and others had hedged around it. Time after time Jesus had proclaimed, “You have heard that it was said” followed by “But I tell you that…” (Matthew 5:27-28), comparing selected teachings from the Law to his own words. Jesus challenged the assumptions of the religious leaders, and he explained that his own sayings were superior to them and that his words were commandments for us (see Matthew 7:24-27). Not only that but the traditional approaches to almsgiving and to prayer should be re-visited. Psalm 20 is one of the many psalms that discuss worship, sacrifices and prayer. Could it be “an act of worship preparatory to battle” ? The religious leaders wanted a God who responded to their distress, who would send help in response to their rituals and liturgies, who would make their plans succeed and give them victory, as the psalm describes. They felt that their oppressors (the Romans) “trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7). Some popular Christian writers and preachers of today say similar things, and they see prayer as a kind of preparation for battle. Jesus addresses some of the mythology that had built up around this subject in the opening section of Matthew 6. With doing good deeds and with prayer, he explains, it’s not all about being seen by others. What’s more prayer is not just the public prayers that you see people make or that happen in church, but there’s also the joy of private prayer. In heathen practice we might think that the more often we repeat a phrase or chant it loudly (e.g. see Acts 19:34), the greater the likelihood is that God will respond favourably. But, Jesus explains, “when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7). Prayers don’t prevail according to their number or volume. In any case, God knows what we need before we ask for it! Prayer is not to inform God of something he doesn’t already know. Prayer, rather, is so that we, who are the adopted children of God, may have conscious communion with God, our Father. This is where Matthew introduces the Lord’s Prayer. It’s in contrast to the practices of the time, and for us it’s timeless and ever relevant. This Lord’s Prayer, this outline of communion with our Father, is one of the treasures we use, which we store up in heaven. Let’s value prayer and hold it close to our heart, for “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
- Luke 11:1-4
- Psalm 20
- Philippians 4:19
- John 14:13-14
Footnotes and references
- Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, (London, UK: SPCK, 2008). 95.
- Alec Motyer, Psalms by the Day, (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications Ltd, 2016). 53.