A Submissive Prayer
Posted by Ash Carter, 23 Mar 2018
Ash Carter explores what it means to pray for God's will to be done in the next in our series of Lent blogposts.
“Your Will be Done, On Earth as in Heaven” (Matt 6:10)
At first glance, praying “Your will be done” seems to be somewhat self-contradictory. Some reading this will believe that God is absolutely sovereign, in which case everything that happens is God’s will. God’s will is always done, and that won’t be changed by prayer. On the other hand, some of us will struggle to believe that God is really sovereign at all. In which case, the prayer is more like telling God that we hope his will is done, rather than asking him to make it so.
In either case, the prayer can strike us as a little odd.
Jesus himself prays as though God is sovereign. In Matthew 26:39, he is in the garden at Gethsemene, and he submits his will to the will of the Father with these words: ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’
Jesus submits his future to the plan of God. But he does so knowing that God is willing and able to bring his plans to pass. Indeed, he acknowledges that his will is impossible if it is against God’s will. The Father’s plan to save a people through the cross will not be undone by Caiaphas or Pilate just because they don’t want to play their parts. Jesus submits to the sovereign plan of God.
Some of us will struggle with this idea, because it sounds as though God does everything, including evil things, so it is worth a comment on this in passing. There are a variety of occasions where the Bible speaks of one action with two intentions. A great example of this is the story of Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery, then wrongly imprisoned. Mistreated for years before being raised to a position where he could deliver God’s people from famine. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph shows his prophetic gift when he say, ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’ The same event, Joseph being sold into slavery, was intended to do great harm by his brothers, but God was doing something different. He was saving thousands of lives, including the critical line of promise, through Joseph’s pain.
A Dangerous Prayer
Posted by Ash Carter, 22 Mar 2018
We continue our Lent series of blogposts with the next section of the Lord's Prayer.
“Your Kingdom Come” (Matt 6:10; Luke 11:2)
In Matthew 6:33, Jesus goes on to command us to “seek first his kingdom”. As we have seen, the whole Sermon on the Mount is intended to teach us what being kingdom people means. So it should come as little surprise to us that Jesus, having rightly begun with the hallowing of God himself, should then turn his attention to what God is primarily doing in the world. He is bringing his kingdom.
A Kingdom needs a King
The word ‘kingdom’ is meaningless if there is no king. There are plenty of alternative political systems, and Jesus could have talked about God’s rule as a democracy if he had wanted to do so. But God is interested in establishing an absolute monarchy. Indeed, establishing his King in Zion is an act of aggression (Psalm 2:7). He places his King on his throne against the nations who conspire to break off God’s chains, to dismiss his rule (Psalm 2:1-3). In other words, the coming of the kingdom is going to, finally, bring an end to all rebellion, all sin.
At the same time, the King is the one through whom God has promised to fulfil all of his promises. When great King David’s greater Son arrived, he would establish a kingdom of blessing and glory forever (2 Samuel 7).
Where is the Kingdom?
We might well ask where, then, is the kingdom. After all, Jesus has come as the King but the nations of the earth still stand in opposition to Christ. This should not alarm us. Jesus declared that, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus came the first time, not to establish a political nation within this world, but to save a people from it for the Kingdom that is to come.
In other words, the fullness of the Kingdom, its greatest expression is still future, when the New Heavens and the New Earth come down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:2). We might call that the Glorified Kingdom, where it is seen in all its true beauty.
An Outrageous Prayer
Posted by Ash Carter, 21 Mar 2018
Ash Carter looks at the opening line of the Lord's Prayer for our series of Lent blogposts: Believing, Living, Praying. The whole series of posts is here.
“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your Name.” (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2)
An outrageous prayer
Last year I had the privilege of reading through Mark’s gospel with some of the children from church. When we got to Mark 3:6, where we are told that “the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus,” there was uproar: “They can’t do that!” The beauty of seeing them encounter that text for the first time reminded me that sometimes familiarity makes us too comfortable with the more outrageous aspects of the Gospels.
The opening line of the Lord’s Prayer is just one such outrage.
Consider for a moment how Roman Catholics are encouraged to pray. They call on the saints and on Mary to be their intercessors with God. They know that they are unworthy to call on the great God who dwells in heaven, so they look for a more lowly mediator. But Jesus commands his people to speak directly to God.
Yet the real outrage of the prayer is how we are to address God. We are to approach him as Father. Indeed, the word has the sense of more intimacy than this. Not quite ‘Daddy,’ but not far off.
This is the relationship that Jesus has had with his Father from all eternity. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us how to live to “glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:20), and reminds us to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In fact, we are to orientate our lives so that our rewards come from our Father in heaven, and not from men (Matthew 6:1). Jesus characterises the whole Christian life as a relationship with our Father in heaven, and so it is no surprise that we should address him as our Father.
We should not rush past this without considering what it cost. It cost Jesus his perfect life, in the place of our wicked ones, as our substitute to bring us back into that relationship with the Father, by adoption.