September 1, 2019
God is a gracious father who gives us what we need.
I. Our father is able (Luke 11:1-4)
II. Our father is willing (Luke 11:5-8)
III. Our father is ready (Luke 11:9-13)
It’s good to be back in Luke. We started last Christmas, with the birth narratives, and in the spring we unfolded the ministry of the Messiah and his message of a kingdom. In June we walked through a key moment in Luke 9, when Jesus asked the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered “the Christ of God.” Then Jesus said for the first time that he must “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised,” After that great prophecy, he challenged his disciples “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Eight days later he was transfigured on the mountaintop and the Father himself said, “This is my Son, my chosen one.”
It’s in light of these central events that we now begin to follow Jesus, this fall, on his journey to Jerusalem. We first entered this middle section of Luke’s account at the end of chapter 9 “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Throughout the chapters we’ll look at this fall, he’s teaching and doing ministry toward that final climax, his death and resurrection. In fact he repeats the prophecy in greater detail, just before he finally gets to the city. But he also teaches and does many wonderful things along the way which we’ll explore this fall. We pick up in chapter 11, where he reveals more about the nature of his Father – and ours.
So let’s think about fatherhood. No earthly father is perfect. Some are very good, some are not good, none is perfect. If you’re a father you know you’re not perfect. If we think about our fathers, we realize none of them did a perfect job either. My own father, though a great father, didn’t do a perfect job. I grew up in the sixties. My father fit the stereotyped image of the time as a working dad. He commuted an hour and a half into downtown New York He worked long days, brought home a good paycheck but he just wasn't there too much.
Then when I was twelve or thirteen, my father had a major heart attack, with a long recovery. He had several more in the next years, and the experience changed him. He realized there was a whole lot more to life than just providing income. He began to take time to enjoy life. He started taking mom and the family on nice vacations. He had more time to talk, he had more time to play. Many of the best times I remember with my dad came during that time, and it was the attention he paid and the time with the family that that taught me that my father cared for me. I cherish those memories.
I'm sure there are a lot of you who have cherished memories of your father. Gail’s dad passed away about four weeks ago. When we gathered for his memorial service many cherished memories emerged, of a man who embodied the fruit of the Spirit. Photos especially brought those great memories back. Gail’s mom, who is here this morning is of course still grieving that loss, and the kids are still processing the homegoing of a good, good father.
But some in this room don’t have good memories of your father. Maybe you didn't grow up with a father at all. Or maybe your father didn’t express affection or love or caring. Or maybe he was caught up in a negative cycle of addiction or pain or anger or even violence. But the good news for all of us is we have, in God, a father who cares for us perfectly. He is a gracious father who gives us what we need. In our text today, Luke 11:1-13 the subject is prayer. Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray and then about prayer. But on another level, the subject is God the Father, the one to whom we pray. And what we see in this text is that God is a gracious father who gives us what we need.
Let's begin by looking at verses 1-4, where we see that God is able to give us what we need. Luke 11:1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread, 4and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
The disciples often see the Lord Jesus praying and have a natural desire to imitate him. They say “Lord, teach us to pray.” In response, Jesus gives this model prayer. He teaches what kinds of things to pray; how to do it. But he also teaches them about the person they are praying to, the Father. The first thing that strikes us is that this is almost but not quite the Lord's prayer in Matthew. Are these two separate incidents, or different records of the same prayer? The thing to remember is that Jesus was an itinerant preacher, moving from place to place and giving similar teaching to new groups of people. The Sermon on the Mount is one example. But when the disciples ask about prayer Jesus offers a model similar to the one in Matthew, but not word for word repetition.
That’s actually important, because I don’t believe Jesus intends us to always repeat a prayer word for word. These prayers are intended as guides for our prayer life, to model the kinds of topics and themes we can address in prayer. For example, most weeks in the men’s prayer meeting, if I end up being the one who closes, I’ll pray a reworded version of the Lord’s prayer intended to reflect the particular circumstances the men have just been praying about.
This prayer starts with the word “Father.” The Greek word “Pater” may reflect the more intimate Aramaic word “Abba” which Jesus probably used, and which shows up untranslated, transliterated, in three places in the New Testament. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes a word carries over into another language in its original form, not translated. For example in Scripture the word “deacon” is sometimes left “deacon,” the original Greek word, and sometime translated “servant.” In English we use the phrase “déjà vu” to talk about that feeling of having been in the same circumstance before. But it’s an untranslated French phrase that literally means “already seen.” The Lion King movies brought the phrase "Hakuna-matata" into English, but it’s an untranslated Swahili phrase meaning "no trouble" or "no problems".
So three times the Biblical authors use the Aramaic word “Abba” to reveal both Jesus’ relationship with the Father and ours. At other times, as here, they have probably translated “Abba” into the Greek word “Pater.” But “Abba” is more intimate, a familiar form, a child’s form of the word “Father,” like our “Daddy” or “Papa” or even “Dada.” Up until this time in Jewish history, it was rare to talk to God with that intimacy. God was, rightly, seen as sovereign and holy. Only terms of formal respect were used to address him. But when Jesus talks to God he calls him “Abba.” This was a new realization of intimacy with God. And when Jesus teaches us to pray, he teaches us with that we too can have an intimate and loving relationship with God the Father.
Kay Arthur tells about a time when she was struggling, especially as a single parent. Her husband had died and she was raising two boys by herself. She says: “I suddenly saw in my mind's eye a little girl in pigtails flying down a marble corridor Tears flooded her eyes and overflowed, leaving white streaks on her dirty face. Blood trickled from her skinned leg, making a path in the dirt and gravel imbedded in her knee. She was calling her daddy, sobbing as she ran. It was a long corridor. At the end, two huge gold doors glistened in the sunlight, filtered through beveled cathedral windows. On either side stood guards, magnificently dressed, holding huge spears and blocking the entrance. Undaunted the little girl ran straight toward the doors, still crying "Abba."
As she neared the doors the guards flung them open and heralded her arrival: “The daughter of the King! The daughter of the King!” Court was in session. The cherubim and seraphim cried "Holy, holy, holy!" and the elders sat on their thrones, dressed in white. But none of this slowed down his daughter. Oblivious to everything, she ran up the steps to the throne, and catapulted herself into the king's arms. He reached up, and with one finger gently wiped away her tears. Then he tenderly examined her cut, and said "Now, now, tell your Father all about it." That's the kind of image in this word "Abba."
But Jesus does not for a moment think of this person as a limited earthly father. He wants the world to see him as holy and sovereign. “Hallowed be thy name.” God is holy, perfect, morally pure, without flaw, set apart and above all creation. The prayer asks that he his name would be recognized as holy, that he would be held in awe and honor among men. That he would be seen to be so great, so awesome, so wonderful, that men would feel shame to belittle his honor. Lord God, let your name be reverently set apart, Jesus prays. So do we.
“Let your Kingdom Come.” You are not only the holy God, but the sovereign God. When you choose to establish reign upon the earth, crushing your enemies, it will happen. You have the power and the right. We recognize that our Father is the one in charge of dates, times and events. He is the one who will bring the future kingdom. Furthermore, he’s able to build his kingdom now, on earth, in hearts and lives. So we are praying, in a sense, that we will be active stewards of the kingdom, used by God to bring the kingdom into the lives of our brothers and sisters, into the lives of hurting and lost people around us.
So we begin with this wonderful contrast where we see God as personal and intimate father, sovereign and holy Lord. What better motivation for prayer? He is a father who cares about us personally and one able to meet our needs. Having seen this, we turn to him and say “give us each day our daily bread.” Give us what we need to sustain us. This prayer is not for excess and prosperity, but that God would help us through one day at a time. Not just our food, but also the water that we drink, shelter over our heads, clothes for our bodies, our basic needs. In our culture, where most of us have what we need physically, it's good also to remember that He can supply our emotional and spiritual needs. He cares for us and can provide the love, the affirmation, the peace, the comfort, the guidance, the joy, that we need almost as much bread and water.
Next, “and forgive us our sins.” God is able to meet that deep need as well. In fact he’s the only one who can. You see, in his holiness, in the holiness of his name, our sins are a stain. They are an insult to his perfection, his character, and the perfection of his moral law. Every time we sin we shake our fists in the face of God. Yet, through Jesus Christ, God forgives our sins. The Psalm we read from this morning said: “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. He removes our transgression from us, like a compassionate father. But the truth not said here is that he lays that transgression on Jesus. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. God is able to forgive us our sins because of the death of Jesus Christ. It is when we trust in Jesus that God becomes for us this loving and forgiving Father.
Let’s say you committed a crime, stole a family’s entire fortune and squandered it. Your guilt is clear, your penalty a life sentence. But then the Son in that family agrees with the father and the others that he will go to prison in your place so that you can become part of the family. That’s the remarkable forgiveness that the Trinity achieved on our behalf. That’s the backstory of “forgive our sins.”
We go on to pray that we forgive others. If God has forgiven us, then the right and hopefully inevitable response is that we would forgive what others do to us. Jesus illustrated this with a parable in Matthew 18. A man owes an incredible debt. 10,000 talents is an impossibly high number, like 200,000 years wages. And it’s forgiven. Just gone. Then this servant refuses to forgive a debt he is owed, a debt of 100 denarii, three months wages, a tiny fraction of what he’d been forgiven. That hard-heart unforgiveness is unthinkable, unreasonable. Jesus always links our receiving of forgiveness to our forgiving others. Father, forgive our sins and in grateful response we will forgive the sins of others.
Finally, “lead us not into temptation.” If we recognize that God is sovereign and that he is able to forgive sins, we also know he’s able to keep us from situations of temptation or testing. Though we know he sometimes allows testing and temptation, it is totally appropriate that we should pray to the Father to be spared. We know we are weak. We depend on the Spirit alone to help us grow in purity, peace, steadfastness and devotion. So we pray “Lord God, if it’s your will, keep me from situations where you know I would succumb.”
This is a great model prayer. We should pray like this. It also shows us that God is a loving father, and he is able to meet our needs. He is also willing to meet our needs. Verses 5-8: And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
This is considered a hard parable, but it becomes clear if we recognize it as a contrast, an argument from a lesser situation to a greater, from the negative example of these two men to the positive example of God. Notice that the parable is tied to the context. We have just prayed that God would give us our daily bread. We ask “is God willing to do this?” The parable says “people may not be willing, but God is.” The next passage says that this willingness comes from God’s role as a Father. Verse 13 “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give.”
The parable itself is a bit less strange, if you know the cultures of the Middle East. One of the highest values is hospitality, governed by an elaborate code of customs. And hospitality is rarely the responsibility of a single householder. The whole village is involved and the reputation of the village is at stake. So if a guest comes, even at night, it’s not a surprise that a man would turn to his friend to gather the provisions for serving the guest. He’s only asking the most basic thing, bread. Most Mid-east meals are eaten by dipping bread into the dish. It’s not only the staple of their diet, but it is also their spoon. Furthermore there were no convenience stores to go out and pick something up at midnight. On the other hand you would, likely, be aware of who’d baked bread that day.
So would not have been an extreme request in that culture. It is a natural request for basic needs, daily bread. It’s the homeowner who is unreasonable. It would not have been that much disturbance to open the door and hand out a couple of loaves. He was just being selfish. But, Jesus says, even this unfriendly person can be motivated. Verse 8, “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.” The man is not motivated by friendship, but by honor. It would be a disgrace if his fellow villagers learned that he had not supplied these basic needs. So he gets up, and rather than lose honor, rather than lose face, he supplies his neighbor with what he needs.
But how does this apply to God, whom we have just called Father? He’s the contrast to the reluctant friend, neither inconvenienced, nor unfriendly In fact, He is more than a friend, he is a father. Clearly the implication is that God will be more than willing to give to those who ask him. This neighbor was unwilling, yet he gave anyway. God who is very willing, will supply all your needs.
So God is able to supply our needs, willing to supply, and also ready to supply. Verses 9-13 I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Jesus says “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find knock and the door will be opened to you.” God is ready to respond if we are ready to ask. We do have a role to play in this process, and the role we play is to pray. The Father loves to be asked, he loves to be sought, he longs to have you knock. Since God is our father, he desires a child-like confidence from us.
One of the marks of a child is that they will ask you for anything They know you may say no, but they’re not afraid to ask. One of my favorite video clips ever is from the church campout. My daughter Abbie’s first-born, Ellie, was just learning to walk. When she fell, she tried to get up, tried to get up, and then did what any young child, but few of the rest of us, would do. She put her hand up for help. That’s what God wants from us. Jesus isn’t teaching us to ask for things which we know to be outside the father's plan, but he is telling us to ask confidently for those things that may be the father's blessing.
Verse 10 emphasizes the Father's response We ask, but he’s the one who causes us to receive We seek, but he is the one who allows us to find We knock, but he opens the door. The Father is ready to respond when you seek him. He provides for our needs and often for our desires. So often in thirty years people have said to me “this is the Lord's provision.” Gail and I took the little camper on a 3000 mile journey in August. It was great, and we pointed to it over and over. “This is the Lord’s provision,” out of undeserved love for his children.
On the other hand, the Father is unwilling to give us what we don’t truly need. Verse 11: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” Jesus compares an earthly father to the heavenly Father. No father, even a relatively poor one would give their child something to harm them, even if they asked for it. That would destroy their child’s trust. Horrible or abusive fathers do that, but not most fathers. Even evil people desire to give good gifts. I'm sure you've heard stories of Mafia hoods or national dictators, who are cruel on an epic scale and yet at the same time outrageously generous to their children.
Verse 13 “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Again, this is an argument from the lesser, the imperfect human father, to the great, the heavenly Father. If human fathers give good gifts, how much more the heavenly one. And God does not just give good gifts, he gives the best gift, the Holy Spirit. This ending of the sentence may sound a bit jarring at first, but it’s evident that, as Hallmark Cards used to say, he cared enough to send the very best. He sent Jesus to save, and now he has given us the Holy Spirit to sanctify. He is God with us, that we may grow in holiness.
All the good stuff that happens to believers happens because of the Holy Spirit. Do you grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? It is because of the Holy Spirit. Have you shared Christ and your testimony with others. It is because of the Holy Spirit, in your life? Do you comfort someone else? It is because of the comforter inside you.
The Holy Spirit is the best gift the Father can give you, because the Holy Spirit is God Himself dwelling with you. When God the Father allows God the Holy Spirit to dwell with us, He gives us himself He gives us his time, he gives us his attention, he gives us his fellowship, Through the Holy Spirit we are with the father, and that is the best gift of all, that is what we really need.
Let's summarize what we have learned in three practical suggestions for your prayer life and for mine. Suggestion 1: When you pray, remember who God is. He is the sovereign and Holy Lord, creator of the universe, able to do anything he chooses to do, natural or supernatural. He is also your father, your Abba, who loves you deeply and intends only ultimate good for you.
Suggestion 2: Don't be afraid to ask for good things. In the model prayer we say “give us this day our daily bread.” We need to not be so spiritual in our prayers for ourselves and others that we stop asking God to supply specific daily needs. It is right for us to make petition on our own behalf and on behalf of others. But pray also that God would give the better gifts through the Holy Spirit: Gifts of love and joy and peace and patience. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Suggestion 3: Don't always pray for the natural outcome. God is frequently pleased to answer our prayers supernaturally. I find myself more and more asking God to simply give gifts of love to his people and to make himself known through those gifts. He really does love you and wants to give you gentle reassurances of his love through his supernatural provision for your daily circumstances. He makes himself known by doing this in ways that are unexpectedly wonderful. Don't be afraid to give him the opportunity to do so. He’s already given the best. Don’t miss the rest.