Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 28, 2013

Sermon on Luke 11:1-13

LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY

  1. Teach us what to pray
  2. Teach us how to pray

 Text: Luke 11:1-13

 Introduction

The cover of the latest issue of Christianity Today is interesting. The cover describes this issue’s main article: “Grappling with the God of the Two Testaments.” Sometimes people think that the way God is portrayed in the Old Testament, “pre-Jesus” part of the Bible is different than the way God is portrayed in the New Testament, “Jesus” and “post-Jesus” part of the Bible. And, to be fair, if you take certain sections of the Old and New Testament and consider them outside their context, you could easily come to that conclusion. The cover weaves together God’s words to the ancient Israelites in 1 Samuel 15:2-3 and Jesus’ words in Luke 6:27-31. Side by side, switching between sections back and forth, it sounds like two gods are being presented:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel do good to those who hate you, when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Bless those who curse you, Now go, attack the Amalekites pray for those who mistreat you. and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. Do not spare them; If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Put to death men and women, children and infants, Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. Do to others as you would have them to do you.’

There is an answer to this apparent contradiction, but our goal today is not to study the presumed differences between the Old and New Testament on the matter of dealing with one’s enemies. Our purpose today is to study what Jesus has to say in today’s Gospel on the matter of prayer. But here too, we come across an apparent contradiction between what Jesus says about prayer in today’s Gospel and what God had to say about prayer in one place in the Old Testament. Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” God says that the sinful condition that resides in our hearts and the way that condition rears its ugly head each day of our lives is more than enough reason for God to turn a deaf ear to us and ignore us now on earth and forever in hell—not a pretty picture! But in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us to speak to God as our “Father,” and to pray with complete confidence and boldness.

Despite what it may seem like at first glance, we’re not dealing with a contradiction here. The answer, as always, is found in Jesus. God didn’t ignore the barrier that we built between him and us by our sins. God sent his Son, Jesus, to destroy that barrier when he paid the penalty for our sins by his death on the cross. God sent his Son, Jesus to replace the sin that separated us from God with the perfect holiness that he lived on earth and that now counts for every person who trusts that Jesus did everything to make us right with God and ready for heaven. Through faith in Jesus, your guilt is gone, your eternal future is secured—and on top of it all, God’s throne room of prayer is open to all who trust in Jesus as their Savior from and solution for sin. Since God has turned a listening ear to us, we would do well to turn our listening ears to his Son, who teaches us about prayer in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus responds by teaching them—and us—what to pray, and how to pray.

I.

Jesus starts with what to pray: He gives his disciples a model of what they should pray with the Lord’s Prayer. Each phrase of this prayer deserves its own sermon; Luther virtually does that in his Large Catechism. There’s no way we can do justice to the Lord’s Prayer in a sermon that covers not only the Lord’s Prayer but several other thoughts from Jesus about prayer. What we will try to do is get a big picture, “30,000 foot” overview of the prayer Jesus taught. 

Jesus begins, “Father”—a term that addresses God in heaven as a family member, implying a close relationship to him. Five petitions follow. “Hallowed be your name”—Father, may you and your name and all that your name stands for be honored by a proper confession of your Word and by godly living. “Your kingdom come”—Father, may our faith increase, and may many more souls come to believe in you and your Son. “Give us each day our daily bread”—Father, as you have promised in your Word, provide us with whatever we need for each day of our existence. “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us”—Father, apply to our hearts the forgiveness that Jesus first won for us on the cross because without his forgiveness we would not be able to call you “Father” and because forgiveness is the essence of our faith in you and our relationship with each other. “And lead us not into temptation”—Father, keep us from anything and everything that would keep us away from you!

Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus responded with the model prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer—and it is just that, a model. Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer at another time in his ministry during his “Sermon on the Mount,” but the exact wording in that version is longer and slightly different than it is here in Luke. The Lord’s Prayer is a very fine model for prayer, but it’s not a rigid, legalistic form. At the same rate, there is nothing wrong with reciting Jesus’ model prayer. The Holy Spirit gave 150 other models of prayer in the book of Psalms, and we certainly wouldn’t want to suggest that any of these inspired, recorded prayers are any less valid or sincere than the spontaneous prayers that we pray to God at various times. We should also note the balance of this prayer. Only one phrase deals with physical matters: “Give us each day our daily bread.” Everything else pertains to spiritual matters: honoring God’s name, advancing his kingdom, forgiveness of sins and assistance to stay away from sin. And not once does the word “I” or “me” show up—not that we can’t or shouldn’t pray for ourselves, but in Jesus’ model prayer, he directs our thoughts to others and especially to the church.

Martin Luther once lamented that the Lord’s Prayer was the greatest martyr on earth, because so often it is prayed without careful thought. Certainly we would confess our sins in that respect. We can plow through it thoughtlessly rather than savoring each phrase thoughtfully. But as we listen to Jesus teach the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples, we see the tremendous comfort that is built into the prayer. We have the comfort of knowing that God has invited us to call him our “Father!” We have the comfort that Jesus would care about our souls enough to redirect our me-centered prayers into prayers for all of us and especially for the advance of God’s kingdom. We have the comfort of knowing that the One who went to the cross for our forgiveness, the One who teaches us to pray for forgiveness, is also the One who with his Father will gladly answer the very prayer that he invites us to pray.

II.

It is useful that Jesus gives us a comfort-filled model for prayer. But Jesus knew that his disciples needed to know more than what to pray. They also needed to know how to pray—and so do we. That’s what Jesus teaches in the second half of today’s Gospel.

Jesus continues with a story that teaches his disciples to pray boldly. “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”

The man in Jesus’ parable has a traveling friend who arrives late in the evening. He has nothing to give him to eat. There are no 24-hour Safeways open to buy food. So he goes to his neighbor-friend even though it’s in the middle of the night, hoping to get some food for his guest. Who wants to disturb a sleeping family at that hour of the night? But the man was bold, and that’s why his neighbor caved in and decided to help. “Because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” Some translations use the word “persistence.” Another uses the phrase “shameless audacity,” and that’s quite close to the idea. So Jesus gives us an argument from the lesser to the greater: If human beings would listen to someone’s persistent plea for help, how much more would our Father in heaven do the same!

The shortest verses in the Bible is, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). The second shortest verse in the Bible is, “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Praying continually or unceasingly is the next thought Jesus adds in this discussion about prayer. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Each of these short phrases is another way of encouraging us to pray continually. The form of the words Jesus uses here implies that this asking, seeking, and metaphorical knocking are continuous actions: “Keep on asking; keep on seeking; keep on knocking!”

The reason Jesus can encourage us to pray so boldly and so unceasingly is because we are not praying to some generic, nameless, faceless God, or to some incredibly harsh and unreasonable judge, but we are praying to the God that we can call, “Father.” Jesus says, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” Parents know how to give good gifts to their children. If a child has a legitimate need and request, a good parent answers that request. And we do that as parents even though by God’s standards we really aren’t “good.” Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” So if sinful human beings know how to best answer the requests of their children, won’t our heavenly Father do the same thing and even better?

That doesn’t mean God will always give his children a “yes” for an answer. If your kids request ice cream for supper, you still put vegetables on their plate. If we pray to God for “stuff, ” for personal wants, in his divine wisdom he may say, “No, that’s not what’s best for you.” But when we pray for the things that matter most, when we pray boldly and unceasingly for the true needs of our souls, we can know with confidence that God will answer that prayer in the way that best serves our souls and keeps our souls close to him now and forever.

What would happen if you tried to walk into the office of the CEO of a major company, unannounced, and tell him your ideas for his company’s products? You probably wouldn’t meet the CEO, but you would meet a security officer. What would happen if you tried to break through the gates around the White House and have a little chat with the president about the issues facing our country? The only chat you’d be having is with the Secret Service, if you even live to tell the tale.

So what happens when we dare to approach the God of heaven and earth, the One whom we have disobeyed by our sin, the One whose Word says we deserve his eternal punishment for our sin? We would expect him to send an angelic security officer to escort us away forever. Instead, God did the unexpected and sent his only Son to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross and to make us his sons and daughters through faith in his only Son, Jesus. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to destroy death and open the gates to everlasting life by his resurrection. And the Son of God who has opened the gates of heaven for us has also opened the throne room of prayer for us. So go to the throne room! Bring your hopes and your hurts, your daily needs and your spiritual concerns, your prayers for yourself and your family and your church and your world and whatever else is on your mind. Bring it all boldly and confidently to the One who invites you to call him, “Father.” And let your prayers be part of a conversation—a conversation that begins as you daily hear and read God’s Word to you, and that continues as you regularly respond to God in prayer.

Conclusion

We noted earlier that Luther called the Lord’s Prayer a martyr. Well, if the Lord’s Prayer is a martyr, so is the Prayer of the Day—that short little prayer near the start of worship, just before the three Scripture lessons we hear each week, a prayer that often has ancient roots and that often reflects and previews the main thought of our service. The Prayer of the Day is easily another “martyr,” but that little prayer often contains our main thought for the day neatly pressed into a few, short, well-crafted phrases. Today was a fine example of that. So as we end this sermon and begin the week with a new perspective on our prayer lives, let’s conclude our thoughts by revisiting and repraying today’s Prayer of the Day:

O Lord, your ears are always open to the prayers of your humble servants, who come to you in Jesus’ name. Teach us always to ask according to your will that we may never fail to obtain the blessings you have promised; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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