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Prayer and Fasting: A Sermon on Matthew 6:9-18

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What does true prayer look like?  Let me give you a picture of true prayer.

I’ll read out from Luke chapter 11, you imagine the scene in your mind’s eye:

"One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray."

And Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.  Luke 11 is Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, but Luke gives us that extra detail.  It all begins’ with Jesus’ prayer life.

He is the Ultimate Pray-er.  From before the world began Jesus has been communing with the Father in the power of the Spirit.  Between Jesus and the Father there has always been a word-full, joy-full heart to heart.  And now Jesus has come into the world and has come INTO our human life.  And He carries on the conversation.  He’s still talking to God, but He’s talking to God as one of us.  Jesus has earthed the Prayer Life of God into our Human Existence.  And He carries on the conversation.

There He is praying on the mountaintop – God the Son who has become God our Brother – and He’s praying “My Father, My Father, My Father”.  In fact it’s more intimate than that.  We know from Mark chapter 14, verse 36 that He calls God, “Abba, Father.”  Last week Tony talked to you about the intimacy of the word Abba, meaning Father or Daddy.  It’s a beautiful term of intimacy and respect.  “Abba, Father”

God the Son comes into our humanity and as a Man – as our Brother – He continues calling God “Daddy.”

The disciples see it from a distance and they want in on it. “Lord teach us to pray.”

And, wonder of wonders, Jesus replies – let’s see it in our passage, Matthew 6, verse 9:

“This then is how you should pray “Our Father...”

Glory!  We get to call God Most High, what Jesus does.

Not because I’m good.  I’m wicked.  Not because I’m religious.  I’m not.  Not because I’m a prayer-warrior.  I’m anything but.

How do I get to call God Father?  God the Son became my Brother, He took me to Himself and brought me home.  Now I am IN on the eternal prayer-life of God.

And this revolutionizes our prayers.

So often we feel we have to yell our prayers up to a silent heaven.  Jesus says, “Come on in, Come in to the heart of heaven.  Come in my name.  In Me you are as close to God as I am.  You don’t have to yell up to heaven.  You can whisper in His ear and call Him ‘Father’”

Do you know God as Father?  Can you say from the heart “He is my Father, I am His child”?  If you can’t you aren’t a Christian.  Not yet you’re not.  Jesus has come from God, to invite us IN to the most intimate relationship imaginable.  Do you know what it is to belong to Jesus and to call God Father?  Keep asking and seeking and knocking until you know God as Father.

And if you DO know God as Father, does that affect your prayers?  Or better – does that affect YOU as you pray?  Christian prayer is prayer to our Father in the Name of Jesus.  If we race into our prayers feeling nothing of our union to Jesus our Brother, feeling nothing of our intimacy with God our Father, how are our prayers Christian?

The world is full of hypocritical pray-ers – you learnt about them last week from verse 5.  Do not be like them.  My advice is, DON’T continue with the rest of the Lord’s prayer until the first two words do something to your heart.  Until “our Father” moves you, don’t move on.

When I remember Matthew 18 verse 3 it always revolutionizes my prayer life.  Jesus says “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  So often I talk to God like I’m an employee and He’s my Line Manager.  Or I’m a soldier and He’s my Sergeant Major.  No, I am a little child and His is my Father.

And once I remind myself of that, I remind myself of where He is.  Verse 9:

Our Father in heaven.

The bible speaks of three heavens.  The first heaven is where the birds fly.  The second heaven is where Star Trek happens.  And the third heaven is paradise, where the Most High God is enthroned over the universe.

And Jesus says “Your Dad, sits on that throne.”  It’s nice to have friends in high places isn’t it?  Our Father rules the cosmos!

And again – if your heart doesn’t respond to these truths as you pray the Lord’s prayer.  Stop.  Don’t just race through to the end.  Know in your heart: You have come to Jesus in all your sinfulness and He has taken responsibility for you – ultimately He has died for your sins and has cleansed you forever, and He has brought you into the throne room of heaven, and now you come in Jesus’ name, as a little child to your Father who owns and rules the universe.

What do you want to say to Him?  Here’s what Jesus leads us to pray:

hallowed be your name,

Hallowed’s a very old fashioned word isn’t it.  These days we only use Hallowed when describing sports grounds don’t we.  The hallowed turf of Lords or Anfield.  It’s hallowed because it is regarded as holy.  And verse 9 is praying, “Father, may Your Name be regarded as holy.”  Holy means special – more special than Lord’s to a cricket fan, more special than Anfield to a Liverpool supporter.  Father, May your name be hallowed.  May your gospel character be regarded as precious, special, holy.  May your name and nature be hallowed first in my heart and then in the world.

You see the prayer now branches out into all the world, verse 10:

10 your kingdom come,

God’s Kingdom is the place where God’s King Reigns.  Where-ever Jesus is known as Lord – there is the Kingdom.  He reigns in the lives of believers today, and one day He will come and physically establish His rule to the ends of the earth.

And we can’t wait.  So we pray “your kingdom come.  May the just and gentle rule of King Jesus extend to all my family, all my friends, all my work colleagues.  To the whole world.  “Your kingdom come.”

Notice how we relate to the kingdom.  We don’t build it.  We don’t establish it.  This is not like the tower of babel which began on earth and reached up into heaven.  It’s the exact opposite.  It’s God’s Kingdom and it’s always coming down to us as a gift.  WE can only pray for the Kingdom.  But that’s what we do.  We pray it down from heaven to earth:

your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Do you know what God is up to in the world?  Let me teach you a word:  God is ouranifying the earth.  Ouranos is the Greek word for heaven – it’s where we get the planet Uranus from.  Well God’s desire is to ouranify the earth.  You might say – to heavenize the world.

What does that mean?  Well in heaven, everyone unquestioningly and gladly honours Jesus as Lord.  And the Father’s will is for earth to be like that.

Jesus says that very thing in John 6:40

my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life

And we pray “Father, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!”

We want heaven to come to earth.  That’s the direction and it’s important to remember that today.  You know, this time last week there were a lot of disappointed followers of Harold Camping.  He taught that on May 21st Jesus would snatch up all the true believers from the earth and let the world go to hell.  That was his teaching.  Jesus would beam up the faithful and planet earth would be consigned to the flames.

Now of course Camping’s an idiot for predicting the date.  Of course he’s an idiot for misleading thousands of people.  But take his May 21st debacle out of the equation and he’s still an idiot.  Because his teaching is the reverse of Jesus here.  He encourages believers to want to get away from nasty planet earth and go and live in nice heaven, while the world goes to hell.  It’s incredibly unChristlike teaching.

Jesus did not say in Matthew 5:5 that the meek shall inherit heaven.  The meek shall inherit the earth.  The wicked won’t inherit the earth – believers will.  Because the Kingdom is coming to earth. That’s the direction of travel.

The Son of God has been EARTHED into our humanity for all time.  He was the advance party.  And Revelation 21 tells us one day heaven will come to earth and the Father and Son will set up home on a renewed earth.  That’s the direction of travel.  The Christian hope is not, ultimately, us going to heaven.  It’s heaven coming to earth.

And while we wait for that day, we pray for the ouranification, the heavenization of this place as more and more people find grace in the Kingdom of Christ.

These are big prayers that Jesus invites us to pray, aren’t they? We’re praying in the Kingdom!  We’re praying heaven to earth!  And then, v11

11 Give us today our daily bread.

From the mighty to the miniscule.

Is there anything our Father is not interested in?  He wants to hear it all – from cosmic concerns to daily bread.

And “daily bread” reminds us of Manna.  You remember the Israelites of the Old Testament – they too were waiting for the Kingdom to Come.  They had been delivered from Egypt – the Kingdom of Darkness – and were awaiting the fullness of their inheritance.  And what kept them going?  Daily Bread.  Every day God gave them one day’s worth of bread.

And Jesus says – you also are a wilderness people.  You also have been brought out of the old kingdom, you’re awaiting the full inheritance of the new kingdom, and every day you depend on your Father.  “Give us today our daily bread.”

We don’t pray “Give us today, tomorrow’s bread.”  Tomorrow we’ll pray for tomorrow’s bread.  We pray today for today’s bread.  We trust daily in our Father’s provision.

But we also pray for our Father’s pardon...

12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

As we approach our Heavenly Father we KNOW His love and acceptance.  We are His children.  But we are His sinful children.  And at some point in our prayers we acknowledge that.  We acknowledge our debts.  Through our sins we owe God and we could NEVER pay off our debts.  We are in over our heads in debt.  But Christ Himself has paid them off.  That’s the meaning of redemption – the paying of a debt.  And through the cross, Christ has paid off our debts.  Therefore we should write off the debts of others.

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Jesus’ words here remind us of the parable He tells in chapter 18.  A man owes a king BILLIONS of pounds.  The king forgives the debt and lets him go.  Wonderful news, but incredibly this man then sees a friend who owes him £5000.  He throttles him and says “Pay back the £5000.”  And we say how ridiculous.  Well yes, how ridiculous – but that’s every one of us if we don’t forgive our brothers and sisters.  We have been forgiven BILLIONS, therefore we can forgive others the £5000 can’t we?  We must.

We MUST.  If we don’t forgive others their debts we can’t have ever appreciated the billion pound forgiveness.  But if we have received God’s forgiveness we can do no other than pass it on.  That’s what verses 14 and 15 say, let’s study them now:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Heavy words.  Let me tell you what Jesus is not saying.  He’s not saying that any old person will be saved simply through their own acts of forgiveness.  We’re not saved by forgiveness.  We’re saved by Jesus.  But the person who has truly received Jesus WILL be a person who forgives others.  If a person is not a forgiver we have every reason to doubt their relationship with Jesus.  If a person cannot forgive the £5000, have they really received the Billion pound forgiveness?

To be forgiven must mean you forgive.  If you do not forgive, how can you have really been forgiven?

The link is very strong.  Which is why Jesus gets us to pray it into our daily routine.  We are to daily bring the billion pounds to mind and say “Father forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

And then the final petition of the prayer,

13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

In Matthew 4, Jesus was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one.  He succeeded: He refused daily bread, He never sinned and so He resisted the devil’s temptations.  Christ had victory in His wilderness time.

Now He turns to us and says that we too are in a wilderness time.  But we are not Jesus.  Instead we DEPEND on Jesus because we cannot do what He did.  We need the provision of daily bread.  We need pardon for daily sins.  And we also need protection from the temptations of the evil one.  So we pray for Christ to encamp around us to deliver us (Psalm 34:7).  We say “Father, I am so weak, I can’t make it through the wilderness on my own, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, keep Him at bay, I’m a sucker for temptation just clear it away.”  As little children, resting in Christ we ask our Father for daily provision, daily pardon and daily protection.

So here is the Lord’s Prayer.  I come to the Father, through Jesus my Brother and in His name, as a little child, I pray for His Kingdom to come and, as I wait, I ask for daily provision, pardon and protection.

This then is how you should pray.

Is that how you pray?  CS Lewis said the Lord’s prayer is like a Christmas tree.  The lines of the prayer are like the boughs and our own personal prayers are like the decorations that we hang.  When you pray, why not use it like that, at each line pause, add your own prayer, decorate the Christmas tree.  Doesn’t have to be flashy, doesn’t have to be long.  In fact, make sure it’s not like the hypocrites’ prayers of of v5.  Just enjoy your union with Jesus and the Fatherhood of God, put words to it.  That’s praying to your Father who is unseen.

What about fasting?  Fasting is the third of three “acts of righteousness” that Jesus addresses in Matthew 6.  From verse 2, we read about giving. From verse 5 we read about praying, now from verse 16 we read about fasting.  What does Jesus have to say about it?  Here’s the first thing to notice, verse 16:

    16 “When you fast,

Not if, when!

We’re very good as evangelicals of looking at chapter 6 verse 2 and saying “WHEN you give to the needy” and then we read verse 5 we say, “And WHEN you pray.”  But then we get to verse 16 we say “And IF you fast, not that anyone would these days, but IF you do...”

No we mustn’t do that.  Jesus expects us to fast.  Doesn’t say what times to do it, how long for, how often?  But He does assume we’ll be doing it.  What’s that all about?  Well come to Matthew 9 verse 15 with me, I think this is a helpful verse on fasting.

The Pharisees ask Jesus why His disciples weren’t fasting.  And Jesus does NOT say “Fasting?  Why would they fast, that’s done away with.”  No Jesus says

Matthew 9:15 "How can the guests of the Bridegroom mourn while He is with them? The time will come when the Bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

Jesus is saying, I am the Bridegroom.  And while the Bridegroom is with His people – it’s inappropriate to fast.  It’d be like going to a wedding reception and saying “No food for me, I’m not in a celebrating mood.”  How rude!  No when the Bridegroom’s here you FEAST.  But when He’s taken away, you fast.  And you fast because you miss your Bridegroom!

Jesus has been taken away.  We are not at the feast right now.  We look forward to His Almighty wedding banquet at the end of history, but right now we miss Him.  And the Christian life is a mixture of feasting and fasting.

SOMETIMES, we anticipate the heavenly banquet, and we feast on the Lord’s Supper or we “Break bread in our homes with glad and sincere hearts” as Acts 2 puts it.  We anticipate Christ’s physical presence and we feast.

But sometimes we enter into the experience of absence.  We are not at the feast.  And sometimes it’s right to feel hungry.  Because we are hungry.  We’re hungry for the physical presence of Christ.  We’re hungry for His future feast.  And so there’s a time for entering into that hunger and experiencing it.

And so there is a time to FAST.

Jesus doesn’t say how often or how much.  But He does say “WHEN you fast.”  And He does say “don’t do it like the Pharisees.”  Back in Matthew 6, verse 16:

do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Here’s why a lot of people object to fasting, it can be a form of spiritual boasting.  And in Jesus’ day there were hypocrites who actually disfigured their faces when they fasted.  Isn’t that incredible?

And it works too.  They look for human praise, and they get it.  They receive the reward of human praise as people applaud their spirituality.  But the Father is not impressed.

Here’s the kind of fasting He loves:

 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

A hidden Father loves hidden acts of devotion.  And when you do these hidden acts of devotion there’s reward.  What reward?  Well when you take your eyes off the approval of others and when you fix them instead on Jesus, you are brought into the very life and heart of God.  You are wrapped up in Jesus, you have the love and attention of my heavenly Father.  And you can give, cos it’s great to share in His kind of generous life.  And you can pray, cos it’s great to share in His kind of communicative life.  And you can fast, cos it’s great to share in that experience of my dependence on Jesus.

When you fast...  not like the hypocrites, but when you fast, there’s great reward.  It’s not the reward of the hypocrite, seeking the praise of men.  It’s an entering into your experience of dependence on Jesus and the Fatherhood of God.

Jesus invites us to unseen prayer and unseen fasting because our unseen Father wants to clear away the crowds and clear away the earning mentality, and give us a sense of His own doting Fatherhood.

If your earthly father was a millionaire that would be nice, wouldn’t it?  You get in trouble, and you say Daddy.  If he was a powerful king, that would bring a lot of privileges.  Through Jesus, our Father is the Emporer of the Universe and He invites us to call Him Daddy.

4 thoughts on “Prayer and Fasting: A Sermon on Matthew 6:9-18

  1. Emma Bail

    Really Nice post!! prayer is the powerful way to connect to the Jesus.It has all the ability to change the world.i am really very impressed your way of explaining.Jesus come in to this world to connect us to the God and clear all our sin.His only aim is to spread the love in this entire world.I very much like this sentence Jesus says, “Come on in, Come in to the heart of heaven. Come in my name. In Me you are as close to God as I am. You don’t have to yell up to heaven. You can whisper in His ear and call Him ‘Father’”.If one can able to realize the meaning in this sentence then we are on the correct way to reach the God.

    Love and blessings.....

  2. Glen

    Thank you Emma. Yes "Jesus came into this world to connect us to God." Now that I am connected prayer puts words to that connection. It's a wonderful privilege.

    Welcome to the blog!

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