OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN
Matthew 6:1-18, Key Verse: 9
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’”
In the last passage, Matthew 5:17-48, we learned that Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, not by the written code but from the heart, through repentance and acceptance of his forgiveness, until we understand the heart of God who shines the sun not only on the righteous but also on the evil. Our end goal is to be perfect as God is perfect. Yet there is the foundation of obedience from our heart, that is living not before people but before God.
The sermon of Jesus continues in this passage, Matthew 6:1-18, teaching how we can live before God. There are two parts in this passage: reward from your Father in heaven and relationship with the Father in heaven.
I. Reward from your Father in Heaven
Look at verse 1. “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Jesus mentions three righteous actions people do in this passage. First, giving to the needy; second, prayer; and finally, fasting. When we do any of these in front of others, we do not have a reward from the Father in heaven.
Look at verse 2. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Based on this passage, let us question whether our ministry should announce what we have done with Christmas offerings, sending money to relief organizations. Here the motivation is important. If we are announcing it to be honored by other organizations, we are doing it with a wrong motivation. If we are announcing it for the sake of transparency, so members can know how their offerings were used, it is done with a right motivation.
This principle also applies to all other righteous actions, whether that is prayer or fasting. In verse 5, Jesus encouraged us not to pray in the synagogue and on the street corners to be seen by others. If we apply it literally, we should not pray in church during Sunday worship at all. In verses 16-18, however, Jesus clarified that when they fast they should put oil on their face, so that people may not recognize that they are fasting. Again, the principle is we should not do these righteous acts before people but before God.
Why should we do them not in front of people but before God? First, if we practice our righteous acts before people, we do not have a reward in heaven, because we already received our reward from people, their praise and honor. Since they did not seek God’s reward, there is nothing God would do.
Secondly, when we do our righteous acts before God in secret, we receive the reward from God the Father in heaven. What kinds of reward do we receive from God? There are many kinds of reward we receive from God, but I would mention the most important one: God himself is our very great reward. Genesis 15:1 says, “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’” When God said this, Abram was in fear of King Kedorlaomer whom he had defeated when he rescued the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, including Lot and his family. Abram refused to become the king of the region and went back to his normal shepherd life, giving up all the spoils of the war by faith in God who gave him the great victory. But the fact was he was expecting the revenge of King Kedorlaomer and his allies. In addition, Lot and his family, whom he rescued, did not live with him but went back to Sodom. Even though he risked everything, including his life and family and friends, for Lot, Lot did not even say “thank you” and left. When Abram fell into fear and a sense of loss, God appeared to him saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield and your very great reward.”
Even though we have everything on earth, we have nothing when we do not have God. When we have God, we have everything, for God is the maker of everything. Yet, it is not easy to grasp this in life because we are tempted to only see what we have in our hands like a little child. When my son was a 4 or 5 year-old boy, I took him to McDonalds and bought him ice cream but could not buy for myself because I was driving. He was very happy and excited, enjoying the ice cream cone. When I asked him for a bite, he refused, saying, “No.” Even though I told him that I would not buy him ice cream again if he did not let me have a bite, he was very reluctant to share it.
It does not mean that God will give us an ice-cream-like life whenever we want to, as many mass evangelists say that we should be successful when we truly believe in God. God never promised that we will always live fine and dandy, sunshine and successful life, as his reward, but promised to give us strength at the time of darkness. King David is a good example, who said, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.” For 13 years, he was running for his life though he did not do anything wrong. Through the darkest time, he learned to build the relationship with God as his good shepherd. He grew in the heart of God, and God raised him to be the good shepherd for the people of Israel, the king of Israel.
Moreover, we also have a reward not only on earth but also in heaven when we do our righteous acts before God. Our true hope is in heaven. When we live for the heavenly reward, we grow in the purity of Jesus, gaining true satisfaction in our hearts and saving up treasures in heaven. Verse 21 sums it up, saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” May God bless each one of us to do our righteous acts not before people but before God, so that we may have God as our reward and live with the hope of heavenly reward! Amen!
II. Relationship with the Father in Heaven
The foundation of doing righteous acts before God is built on the relationship with God. The relationship with God is built through prayer. So Jesus taught people about prayer more extensively. In verse 7, Jesus gave an example of pagans who do not have any relationship with their gods. They babble in their prayer because they believe that their prayer will be answered when they repeat the same words over and over again. It sounds stupid, but innumerable Buddhists and Hindus down through generations have believed it and practiced it even today. It seems that these religious people believe in their own gods, but in fact they do not know what they are believing because they do not have a personal relationship with their gods, who are just stones or images. Some may claim that the Almighty God listens to their prayers through their small gods, but God never gave any other name to come to him except Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him. This is the reason why God promised to hear our prayer, when we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!
We Christians should not be like pagans, repeating the same words over again, but build a personal relationship with God through prayer. So Jesus taught us how to pray in verses 9-14, which is called the Lord’s prayer. Look at verse 9a, “This, then, how you should pray. ‘Our Father in heaven.’” Who are we praying to? It is the heavenly Father. To the Jews, it was revolutionary. They did not believe that they could have a personal relationship with God Almighty. So their obedience was not from their hearts but from their fear, which was necessary at that time. But perfect love drives out fear. Jesus came to show God’s perfect love, teaching them to have a relationship with God as their own father. Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” So we start our prayer, “Our Father in heaven,” as a little child calls his father “daddy”. A daddy has a special place in a child’s heart. There were two children bragging about their own daddy. One child bragged that his daddy could heal anyone because he was a doctor. Then, another child spoke louder, saying that his daddy could fix anything because he was an intern shepherd in Chicago UBF. Who is your heavenly daddy to you?
In the Lord’s prayer, there are fundamentally two parts, God-centered and human needs. There are three prayer topics in the first part. First, hallowed be your name. Look at verse 9. “This then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’” What does “Hallowed be your name” mean? To hallow means to make holy, greatly revere or respect. How can we make God’s name holy? God is holy! Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! Holy is his name, so we cannot make God more holy, but the Bible says to us, “Be holy for God is holy!” Even though we are privileged to call him Abba Father, we must revere him as God. God is the creator of the heavens and the earth, almighty, powerful, holy and righteous but also loving. We must call him with honor and respect. Like psalmists, we must glorify, honor and praise God’s name with all our hearts, with all our minds and with all our strength. Amen! In heaven, all the angels praise God with the elders, saying, “Praise and glory and wisdom and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
Without holiness, we cannot see God. Let us praise and glorify God’s name not only with our mouth but also with our actions. When we grow in the holiness of God, we can reveal God’s holiness. Practically speaking, we should be sanctified, struggling to obey the word of God every day, so that our lives and actions reflect Jesus’ holiness to the people of the world. Let us make God’s name glorified among the people through our actions. Amen!
Secondly, your kingdom come on earth. What is God’s kingdom? First of all, we need to think about God’s kingdom in heaven. How can I describe God’s kingdom in heaven where I have never been? But there is at least one who wrote about glimpses of heaven in the book of Revelation. God is on the throne with appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four elders with thrones and crowns of gold. There came flashes of lightening, rumblings and pearls of thunder, and seven lamps were blazing from the throne. All the angels, elders and living creatures were singing, praising, glorifying, honoring, and giving thanks for ever and ever. (Rev 4) When I read this, I still feel lacking a lot. John the Apostle tried to describe the beauty and majestic scene of God’s kingdom but it seems impossible to do so with human words. But we know it is where God rules with his almighty power and wisdom, glory and honor. Where God is the king, there is God’s kingdom.
God established a paradise on earth and gave it to man and woman with one command. But they lost it by listening to Satan. Since the Fall, it is God’s ultimate desire to restore paradise back to earth. For this reason, God came down to this world. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus’ first message was “The kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the good news!” (Mt 4:17) But God did not come to rule us by force but through the power of love.
How can God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven? When someone repents and accepts God’s love in Jesus, God’s kingdom comes in their hearts. God is their shepherd, Lord, and king. He rules with peace and love, full of grace and truth. And the kingdom of God is given to them. They taste the kingdom of God through the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. This is the restoration of God’s paradise in a person.
We are the people who have tasted Jesus’ kingdom, so we should pray, “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” As you know well, the world is being ruled by the devil. But Jesus wants us to be ambassadors of God’s kingdom through sharing the message of our king, Jesus. May we also pray like the Saint Francis of Assisi, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is offense, let me bring pardon. Where there is discord, let me bring union. Where there is error, let me bring truth. Where there is doubt, let me bring faith. Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, let me bring your light. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy….” May his kingdom come in our hearts and in the hearts of people we meet!
Thirdly, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. There are two levels of God’s will, the global level and personal level. The global level is God’s salvation plan for the world. John 6:40 says, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” God wants to save everyone through his Son Jesus Christ because he loves the sinful world. This is the reason Jesus gave us the world mission command to go out to the whole world. God’s mission gives a person purpose of life and meaning of existence. It is one of important elements of keeping God’s paradise in the Garden of Eden. When a person accepts this global level of God’s will as his own, he or she lives with a true purpose in life.
And there is a personal level of God’s will. Many people think about his or her personal task when it comes to a personal level of God’s will, asking, “What does God want us to do?” But God’s will is beyond our talents and skills. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” What we do is important, but how we do it is more important. No matter what we do, we must do it all for the glory of God. We need to learn to rejoice even in the midst of sufferings, meditating on what God’s will is. We need to learn to give thanks in all circumstances, as we pray to know the will of God in that situation, whether good or bad.
Knowing God’s will on a personal level is important because without it we cannot fulfill the global level of God’s will. Yet, without accepting the global level of God’s will, there is no true growth on a personal level of spiritual life. I do not know which one should come first. According to Paul, grace and apostleship came together. As he followed God’s calling for the gentiles, he found God’s will for him to be Christ-like in the power of Jesus’ resurrection through the sufferings of life.
There are also three personal prayer topics as well. First, give us our daily bread. This reminds me of the time of Exodus in the wilderness. When the people of Israel grumbled that they had nothing to eat, God provided manna from heaven. In verse 5, Jesus said that God knows our needs already. Then why did Jesus ask us to pray for our needs? Without prayer, however, we do not know who provided for us even though God did it. Through prayer, God wants us to know that he is the true provider.
We should pray not only for ourselves but also others, saying, “Give us our daily bread.” Hebrew society is not individualistic but communal, just as the first church shared everything they had as a community. As a Christian, we should be merciful to those who are in need of daily bread. This is not just for our physical needs but also for spiritual needs because man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Spiritual bread is the life-giving word of God. Jesus is our true bread. God wants us to pray for both physical and spiritual food. With both, we are to keep living in paradise.
Secondly, forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors. Forgiveness comes from forgiving. God already forgave, but we cannot enjoy God’s forgiveness until we forgive others from our hearts. Jesus had more comments on our forgiveness: the importance of forgiving. Being unforgiving makes a person live in misery, self- and eternal condemnation. When we do not forgive others, we reveal the unhealed part of ourselves. When we forgive, we are free from self-condemnation and God’s condemnation.
Thirdly, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Temptation comes from the evil one through our weaknesses. We need God’s protection and salvation. We are weak, so we may fall into temptation and live under the power of the evil one. The devil is like a roaring lion, trying to find a Christian to devour because they were rescued from his hands. Without prayer, no one is safe. Without God’s help, no one can be saved from the devil. May God help us to overcome temptations due to our sinful nature. When we fall, help us to be delivered from the evil one. Amen!
Through today’s passage, we learned that we have a reward from the Father in heaven when we do righteous actions before the unseen God. God himself is our great reward, and we build our treasure in heaven. Yet the foundation of living before God is building the relationship with the Father through prayer. Through our life of prayer, may God help us to build a personal relationship with our heavenly Father deeper so that his kingdom may come into our hearts and we may live through receiving and giving the forgiveness of Jesus. Then, our prayer is not just personal but also communal, so that we may able to bring the kingdom of God in our community, thus glorifying God’s name and fulfilling God’s will for world salvation. Amen!