May I call you Father?

Jesus teaches us to pray to God as ‘our Father in heaven’. This—if we understand what we are doing—is astonishing. It assumes we are his children, and in a position of security and privilege with the Creator of everything and everyone.

Prayer is not just something to do but a whole life of relating to God and to others as his children. This is why Jesus not only teaches us to pray but also teaches us to live—in what we call ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5—7). He uses this phrase ‘your Father’ eleven times in these three chapters. So what is it like to have God as Father?

First, if God is your Father, it will show! Other people will see you and recognise that God is being good to you. They will ‘give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (5:16).

Second, it will show in your being generous to friends and enemies alike—just like God does. You will be a son or daughter of your Father in heaven who sends his sun and rain on good and bad people alike (5:45).

Third, you won’t need to look for approval from others all the time because ‘your Father who sees in secret will reward you’. This comes up four times in the Sermon so it must be important (6:1, 4, 6, 18).

Fourth, you won’t need to be anxious about your needs, or long-winded in your prayers, because ‘your Father knows what you need before you ask him’ (6:8).

Fifth, you will be quick to forgive. You know ‘your Father will not forgive your sins’ if you forget how much he has forgiven you (6:15)!

Sixth, you will expect God to respond when you ask him for something. If we sinners know how to give good gifts to our children, ‘how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him’ (7:11)!

Now is it really possible to know ‘our Father’ like this? Are we generous, content, peaceful, able to live above our own faults and forgiving toward others? Are we confident of God’s approval so that we don’t constantly need the approval of others? Well, not really. Not without some help.

That’s why I’m glad this Sermon starts with a blessing for people who are ‘poor in spirit’, or mourning, or meek, or hungering for righteousness (5:3-6). We don’t come to God because we are fit to come. We come because we badly need what he can give.

And when we do receive what he can give, we have learned to be merciful, pure in heart, and even peacemakers. And because of this last quality, we are called ‘children of God’ (5:7-9). Prayer is a lowly business, but wonderful—because God is our Father!

I hope you can see that we need Jesus to teach us to pray. Coming to God as our Father remains a problem because of a burden we bear. Jesus addresses it later in this Gospel and connects it with him being the one who must bring us to the Father.

He says, ’…no-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:27-28). So what is the burden?

It could simply be the burden of not knowing the Father. If there is no Father in heaven—that is, above us—we are alone in the universe. There is no reason for anything, or no one to say what we are doing is good.

But in the setting of this Gospel, the burden we bear is probably the teaching in which people are being brought up. They have to do all the right things to be accepted. This is the line taken by the Pharisees—who were the main guides of what was politically correct (Matthew 23:4-7).

It is not very different from the world around us. We are taught that we get what we deserve, or that we should. We are hearing that word all the time. We are preoccupied with what we deserve. We are driven to do the things we think will make us deserving. This is the burden we bear.

Trying to keep the support and affirmation of others is tiring to say the least, and in the end, hopeless—opinions change, and vary. And it stops us knowing the Father. He isn’t approaching us to see if we deserve something, but to see if he can give us something!

It is no small thing Jesus has taken on when he says he will show us the Father. He knows how we are driven to be worthy of approval. And he knows why we seek to be worthy. Because we are unworthy.

We don’t necessarily deserve the good things that happen, and we certainly don’t deserve to call God ‘Our Father’. If the truth is known, we don’t even want him to be Father—certainly not one who is above us, in heaven. This is our secret shame, and our burden.

Jesus undertakes to bear this burden for us, to give us rest, and bring us to his Father. This is what he is doing when, just hours before he is arrested and crucified, he is praying about what he needs to do.

‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will’. He prays this three times (Matthew 26:39-44). The burden of us unworthy sinners, carried into God’s presence, is enormous, but he still wants what his Father wants. And his Father wants us—as his children!

Then Jesus is crucified. And towards the end of his sufferings, he cries out, ‘ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ (Matthew 27:46). Jesus can’t say ‘Father’. He has been abandoned. He has borne the burden that keeps us from the Father!

So this is what the Father wants—he abandons his Son so that we may not be abandoned. He wants us to be his children. In this way, Jesus has revealed God to us—as our Father. And then, Jesus is raised from the dead and says, ‘Peace be with you’. What wonderful words to hear!

We don’t call God Father because it feels warm and familiar but because he has given us the right to be called children of God (John 1:12). We come to him in Jesus’ name. Our unworthiness has been borne by God’s own Son. And the right he has to be in his Father’s presence is now shared by us. This is where we belong.

We now know that God is always being good to us, and people can see the difference this makes. We know now that God loves his enemies—because that’s what we were. We know we have his approval and are not angry when other people ignore us. We have discovered that he knows our needs before we do. We know he has forgiven us and so we have a reason and a power to forgive others. And we know he is waiting to hear what we ask.

Because God really is our Father, we know how to live, and we know how to pray.

Father, may your name be reverenced

We have learned to call God ‘Father’. This is astonishing and a huge kindness to us. So, when we begin to pray, our first request has to do with him—his name, or what he has revealed himself to be. We want him to be front and centre—for us and for everything around us.

‘Hallowed’ simply means ‘to make holy’. Clearly, we don’t make God holy but we do want him to be known as who he is. We could use the words sanctified, reverenced, or honoured.

The world doesn’t want God in its thinking at all. But if we know God as Father, his honour is what we want most. We will want everything to flow from him (Ephesians 3:14). Everything has been created to work in this way. We can see that persons, communities and the world suffer when they don’t know him.

So how is God’s name reverenced? Jesus says, ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). We sometimes speak about children bringing glory to their parents—or shame—by how they perform in education, sport or some other activity. We can bring glory to our Father by receiving his goodness and reflecting that in our life. So this is part of what we are asking for when we pray ‘Hallowed be your name’.

But sometimes, the church causes God’s name to be dishonoured. This can happen because we don’t live as God tells us to (Romans 2:23). The world becomes disgusted with our poor behaviour and wants nothing to do with our God and Father.

So knowing God and being reverent before him is not as simple as it sounds. Lots of things stand in the way. For a start, we would like to be front and centre in our own lives. This means we can’t pray for God to have that place because it is already occupied!

Then again, the world puts pressure on us to conform to their interests. A couple of examples make this clear. Peter tells us to ‘honour Christ the Lord as holy (1 Peter 3:15). And Isaiah says, ‘the Lord of Hosts, him shall you honour as holy (Isaiah 8:13). Both these commands are written to people who are being threatened. God is telling us to reverence him more than people who frighten us! Who we honour is contested territory!

Notice now, that this first request in the Lord’s prayer is not about something we are going to do. It is not a round-about way of suggesting to ourselves that we should be more spiritual. We are asking God to bring honour to his own name.

There’s a story in Ezekiel in which God says he will do just this (see chapter 36).

God’s name is dishonoured by Israel. The signs that God is among them and blessing them have been removed because of their unfaithfulness. They are captured by another nation and lose their land. But now, this conquering nation thinks their gods are stronger than the Lord. God’s name is being rubbed in the dust—or profaned rather than being reverenced.

God is being dishonoured because he can’t go about his usual business of protecting and prospering them and the nations are joking about what a helpless God he is.

In our own time, if we Christians have gloried in our own status and deeds rather than in the Lord, and if he, our Father, has let us fall in a heap so that we are scorned by the world, and if the world boasts that their plans and values are superior to anything a so called ‘God’ has revealed, our Father’s name is being profaned. Then, well may we pray, ‘May your name be reverenced!’

And God answers that prayer. He will not stand by while all that he has revealed of himself—his name—is being dragged in the dust.

So how does God go about sanctifying his own name when we have brought shame on it? What can we expect God to do when the world has come to the conclusion that their achievements and values, their potential and passions—their ‘gods’—are stronger than the Father and his Son?

God says to Ezekiel, ‘I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes’ (36:23).

If we are going to truly make this first request in the Lord’s prayer, we need to see how God fulfils his promise.

God will restore his reputation among the nations by returning Israel to their land, and by turning their hearts away from idols and to himself. He will deliver them from their corruptions—give them a new heart and spirit, a heart of flesh instead of stone, a heart to love him. And then, he will restore their fortunes, and they will see how awful they have been (vv. 24-32). Now God’s name is sanctified or hallowed. God has shown himself to be God.

God does not just change his mind about how bad Israel is. And he doesn’t just bless them to put a lid over the stench of what they are doing. He will purify them and give them a heart to love him.

Jesus understands all this and knows he is the way God will cause his name to be reverenced. In his own life, he wants the honour of his Father’s name, so he is teaching us to pray the same things that he prays. And of course, his whole life can be summed up as sanctifying his Father’s name. People can see that God is with him—and that God is real and good.

But then, in two of his prayers, Jesus asks for God to glorify his name—similar to asking for God’s name to be sanctified (John 12:27-28; 17:1-5, 17-19). He asks the Father to glorify him, so he can bring glory to the Father. He is referring to his dying for our sins, and, in this way, to create people who love the Father like he does. He is going to do what God promised Ezekiel.

The world needs to see that the Father hates our independence and corruptions. He has no time for our hypocrisy. We can’t honour God as our Father and think that our sins don’t matter. He is holy!

Jesus will take all these abominations to himself—as though they were his and not ours, and the Father will show what he thinks of them. His curse falls on his own Son. And Jesus dies. He is where we deserve to be. And Jesus is willing to be there—because he wants his Father’s name to be known as holy—to be reverenced.

We may hear God himself say, ‘This is who I am. I am giving my Son up to this suffering so that you may not perish. This is my holiness.’ And he raises his Son from the dead to announce that what Jesus has done has revealed him perfectly.

The Father’s holiness has been revealed as love. Through this offering, God bring forgiveness to us, and brokenness, and gratefulness, and purity, and a heart of flesh that beats with love for Christ and the Father.

So when we pray, ‘Hallowed be your name!’ we are asking the Father to reveal himself to us, and to the church and to the world. We are asking for our arrogance to be dissolved in the purity of what God has done in Christ, and for our hearts to beat with genuine love for the Father.

Years ago, Isaiah prayed a prayer like this. His nation is in trouble because they have not been true worshippers. Isaiah says, ‘Look down from heaven and see. ….Where are your zeal and your might? Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us. But you are our Father…our Redeemer from of old is your name’ (Isaiah 63:15-16).

What then will God do if we are expecting him to ensure the reverencing of his name?

Can you picture a church service to which an unbeliever comes, and he sees that God is alive and doing something among the worshippers. Here is a community that has been purified by Christ’s offering. Amongst us, this visitor knows that God has looked right through him and he falls down in worship. He or she knows that God is alive and active (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). God’s name is being reverenced again.

If we want God to be God and not just something we imagine, if we want him to be the prime mover and not just a benevolent observer, if we want him to be reverenced, loved and worshipped, this is how God answers our prayer.

God does not merely push us back on ourselves to do better. He takes us to his Son and to this offering up of himself. He undoes all our puff and foolery so that we trust in what he has done. We cannot have an inflated view of ourselves and honour the Father at the same time. Fundamental to honouring the Father is knowing that he is the good one—not us.

Now, God’s name is being hallowed. And this is what we have been praying for.

May your kingdom come!

Jesus asks us to pray for the Father’s kingdom to come. This matter is important to him. He has been sent into the world to fulfil prophecies about God’s reign in the world. He wants it to be our desire too and says we should seek the kingdom above all else.

This prayer comes down to the question, ‘Whose world do I want to live in? The world I make, or the world God makes? If God’s kingdom ‘comes’, we have a world run according to his design, by his powerful presence and arriving at his goal. The alternative is for us to be at the centre of our own world, judging things by how convenient they are to our interests and hoping for a good outcome.

In one sense, the whole Bible is the story of the interplay between God providing for us to live in his creation and us trying to rearrange things to suit ourselves. There are stories of God’s powerful action that sets up a family or a kingdom where people can live with justice, peace and hope. And then, there are other stories where these same people choose to live in their own way and run into conflict with God himself.

In this setting, God promises that his kingdom will come. Some of the descriptions are stunning and can make your mouth water, and you’d like them to come tomorrow! For example, ‘… They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11:9). Peace at last! Because the Father is King.

This theme goes on into the New Testament. Jesus comes as the King appointed by God. He says he will send out angels at the end of history to ‘weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear’ (Matthew 13:41-43).

Imagine a world where everyone loves the Father and does what he asks. Everyone knows they are loved by God and don’t need to justify themselves. (This is what makes us such unpleasant people!) And they serve their neighbours with the same care they give to themselves. There is no more crying, sickness, pain or death (Revelation 21:3-5).

It really does demean God if we imagine that what we have in this world is all he can do. He called his creation ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31), but it’s not very good at the moment. There’s still so much around us—and in us—that’s not good: conflict, suffering, meanness, lies, injustice, and death.

The future he plans is going to be better than that. And it will need us to have a better body than the one we have at the moment. ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 15:50). Mortality must be replaced with immortality. Death isn’t God’s idea of a good future!

Impossible? Not at all! Not if God is God and means what he says. He makes it abundantly clear that he will have the world the way he made it to be.

We pray for this to come, not because it is in doubt but because we can’t help but long for it, and God is pleased to hear our prayers and give us, not just what he plans but what we have desired.

But there is another way in which his kingdom ‘comes’.

Jesus tells people who have seen his miracles or heard his teaching that the kingdom has ‘come to you’ or ‘is among you’ (Luke 11:20; 17:20-21). He is the King appointed by his Father and is exercising his authority.

If you are a leper and Jesus heals you, you will know God is in charge! If your life has been taken over by demons and Jesus delivers you, you know God is in charge! If you listen to Jesus teaching, you may be persuaded that God is in charge. And Jesus says at this time, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’ (Luke 10:18). So something is happening.

But none of this kindly demonstration of power and authority makes the kingdom come. Before long, the nation God prepared to receive his King conspires to have him executed—and succeeds. It doesn’t look as though he is in charge of anything!

But Jesus has always been looking forward to his main task. If he cannot erase our guilt, he will never have willing subjects of the Father. Our basic position has been keeping God at a distance—or nonexistent. The shame and culpability of this is enormous—whether we recognise it or not. What will Jesus do to erase this, and so, to establish the kingdom of his Father?

One example may show what I mean. Two thieves are being crucified with Jesus. They throw insults at him. But something about these events brings a change to one of them. Does he hear Jesus say, ‘Father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing’? Does he come to the end of his own resistance?

Here is what he says, first to the other thief, and then, to Jesus. ‘Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence. We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong’.

And then he says, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus replies, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:40-43). He is dying, but his reign is about to launch.

Our aversion to God’s reign is real. Even if we sit in a church and do good deeds, it doesn’t come naturally to prefer God’s reign to our own. But if we can see a man who has done nothing wrong pray for our forgiveness, and if we can see through all the cultural confusion to recognise that Jesus is God’s reigning King, and especially, if we have come to the end of our resources, we will want to have his help as well! ‘Remember me too!’

You can’t have willing subjects if people are odds with the King and avoiding a showdown. Jesus, as God’s promised deliverer removes our guilt by bearing it himself.

And God authenticates this launching of his kingdom by raising Jesus from the dead. Being killed looks weak, but there is nothing weak about rising from the dead. He is ‘declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1:4).

In fact he has been taken into heaven, as the human being he is, to conduct all God’s affairs (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 1:4-6). He commands that his good news of restoration through his death be announced in all the world. This is the exercise of his power (Romans 1:16). This is why the kingdom is often called ‘the kingdom of Christ’ (Ephesians 5:5). He is going to reign until the end and then hand his completed handiwork to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

This reign of Christ—as the present phase of God’s reign—cannot be seen. We embrace it by faith. But it is far from insubstantial! When we confess that this man is God’s King and that God raised him from the dead, we are transferred out the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God’s love (Colossians 1:13).

Think about that! We were controlled by the world, our own passions, and, through these things, the devil himself. Now we feel and know the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5). Love lives, not because we are nice people but because Jesus has taken us into the kingdom where his Father’s love rules everything.

Christians around the world are persecuted because they believe in a gracious but absolute authority of the Christ appointed by the Father to rule. He is their truth, their justification, their delight. Human rulers want to claim this place and are jealous of a rival (Matthew 27:18).

The church responds as those who know they are in a kingdom of love. They pray like the early church did: ‘Sovereign Lord…you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. … Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. … Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness’ (from Acts 4:24-31). They are living in and experiencing the powers of the kingdom.

Our prayers are not a mere whimper but a sharing in the authority now given to Christ. We work and pray to ‘take every thought captive to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

If this is what has happened to us, this is what we will pray for when we say, ‘Your kingdom come!’ We are asking for others to share in the blessings of the kingdom now, and to be able to live in hope of its full display. When God’s Spirit reveals the grace of God to someone and they experience the joy of reconciliation with God, they have no trouble at all in knowing that they are, already, included in the kingdom of God’s loved and loving Son.

God’s kingdom will come—both now and finally because all authority has already been given to Christ. But knowing the certainty of the coming kingdom does not makes our prayers redundant. God gives us the pleasure of sharing with him in his kingdom’s coming. He responds to our prayers. So well may we say, ‘Bring it on!’

Your will be done, as in heaven

Jesus had priorities, and it shows up in the prayer he has given to us. Our first concerns, like his, need to be our Father’s holiness, his kingdom, and now, his will.

We’ve prayed for his kingdom to come—in other words we want a world where God is in charge. Now, we’re asking that we, and everyone, will follow his lead. ‘May your will be done here in the same way it is done in heaven—joyfully and straight away!’

What would we look like, and what would the world look like if everything was done as it is done in heaven? Jesus gives us some idea in his teaching just before this prayer. There would be no hatred. There would be no lustfulness. There would be no boasting—just simple speech. There would be love, even for enemies. There would be plenty of generosity. Astonishingly, Jesus says, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’. (See Matthew 5:21-48.)

There’s plenty of information in the Bible about what God want’s done and not done, but that is not the subject of this prayer. We are not asking what God’s will is but that it may be done!

We could say that this is a bit cheeky! He tells us what to do, and we ask him to make it happen! But then, anyone who is being honest will know how much they need this help. And Jesus is saying to ask.

This is one of the unique things about faith in Jesus Christ. Plenty of creeds and ethical systems can tell us what we should do, but have no power—other than manipulation, or force—to ensure that it happens. How does this work?

First, God has to dismantle a lot of our false confidence so that we will really listen to him. Sometimes, hard things have to happen. One writer explains: ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. … It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees’ (Psalm 119:67-68, 71).

Rules are OK but most of us learn the hard way. We want to try our ideas first, and then find that it doesn’t lead to prospering, either for us or for those around us. So, when we pray for God’s will be done on earth as in heaven, we may be asking for trouble! But it will be a good kind of trouble—leading to righteousness.

But then, in making this request, we are on very firm ground. God has already promised that he will do this.  At a time when his people are being afflicted (as above), God says he will cleanse them from all impurity. He will take away a ‘heart of stone’ and give them ‘a heart of flesh’. He says ‘I will cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey all my rules’ (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Jeremiah says much the same. God will write his law on hearts—not like the law carved in stone and given to Moses. This will happen when God forgives his people’s sins (Jeremiah 31:34).

It is this that Jesus has come to fulfill, so we may pray this prayer with much comfort and expectation! Jesus says, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled’ (Matthew 5:6)—filled with practical righteousness. This is a powerful prayer!

We need to understand how this works.

There are reasons why we find it easy to do wrong and hard to do good. One of them is we know we are already guilty, already condemned, already polluted. Deep down, we know we’re on the wrong side. We sense that God isn’t friendly, he’s against us.

Or, perhaps we are thinking that we get what we deserve, that we have to keep our good works ahead of our bad works to warrant a place in his favour. But doing good works like this isn’t doing them as they are done in heaven!

On the other hand, what if we understand what Christ has come to do? What if God says, ‘You are forgiven!’ Remember, God told Jeremiah that this is when he would write his law on our heart.

Think of the tax gatherer, Zacchaeus—the little man who climbs a tree to see Jesus. The Lord stops under the tree, looks up and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ for lunch  (Luke 19:1-9). When he realises that Jesus wants his company, he changes his behaviour—totally. His fraud is replaced with generosity and reparation. He isn’t just changed. He is saved. This is what we all need.

Then, just before his death, Jesus says that if we love him, we will keep his commandments (John 14:15). He is announcing how obedience works—not by coercion but by love.

Similarly, after Peter’s appalling betrayals, Jesus doesn’t ask him if he’s learned his lesson. He asks, ‘Do you love me?’ And this is a question Peter can answer (John 21:15-19). Doing God’s will as it is done in heaven is not a performance. It’s a relationship.

This is why Paul talks about not being under the law of God (Romans 6:14). It’s not because God’s commandments are being thrown out. It’s because we use them to justify ourselves—falsely. We call it ‘virtue signaling’ today. Nobody ever gets into God’s favour by their performance. Righteousness is God’s gift, and then we have a reason to act appropriately.

Jesus knows who and what we are. Instead of vainly hoping we will improve, he bears our sin. And then, if we receive this good news, we are given his righteousness. This is a relationship!  And what a relationship! There’s no love like this anywhere else.

So, like Peter, we have no trouble saying, ‘Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you’. We have found a new law—the law of Christ, and it teaches us to live like Jesus himself (Galatians 6:2). And of course, this keeps all of God’s commands.

Later, Paul says, ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death, in order that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us…’ (Romans 8:4). We are no longer condemned but indwelt by God’s Spirit. Justifying ourselves by God’s law is now totally unnecessary, and precisely for that reason, we are ready to do what God wants.

Here is what God will do when we pray, ‘May your will be done as in heaven’. Forgiven people love (Luke 7:47). Love keeps Christ’s commands.

Trusting in such good news enables us to do good things, to learn God’s ways, to restrain bad habits, to persevere, to be godly and kind. In other words, to love (2 Peter 1:3-9). This is living like we are in heaven!

And if you are not doing these things, you have forgotten you were cleansed from your sins. You can’t be looking at what God has done for you and then be slack about God or mean to your neighbor.

So let’s pray ‘May your will be done as it is in heaven’. Let’s hunger and thirst for righteousness and expect God to fulfill our desire. Some of the tasks that love gives us may be hard, but loving God isn’t—not if we keep our eye on what he has done. For Jesus to die for our sins wasn’t easy, but he did say, ‘Not my will but yours be done’. He loved his Father, and that settled the matter. Let’s follow him, and pray this prayer

Give us daily bread

Give us daily bread

Jesus teaches us to ask for daily bread. Of course, in asking for ‘bread’, we can assume that all the things necessary for our earthly life are included. Jesus mentions some of these later in his teaching—everything from what we wear to how long we live (Matthew 6:25-27).

Our life is very physical. Our body ‘talks’ to us. ‘I need this or that’. Or even, ‘I must have this or that!’ And, of course, sometimes our physical needs are urgent, painful and pressing. There are worries and cares about getting something to work, keeping a job, making the food go around, keeping well. The list is endless.

So, we have every reason to bring our physical needs to our Father. And Jesus says, ‘Your Father knows that you need them all’ (Matthew 6:32)—that is, all the things needful for our life.

Well, what will our Father in heaven do if I pray this prayer? Jesus answers this clearly. ‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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 good gifts to those who ask him’ (Matthew 7:9-11)!

But why is this the only prayer for physical needs? We want his name reverenced, his kingdom to come and his will to be done. And after this, we pray for forgiveness and deliverance. But here in the middle, there’s just one prayer for all our physical needs.

It would be helpful to pray along these lines and see what happens! If you start your prayer thinking about the Father’s character, and authority, and his plan for your life, you’ve set the scene for your personal requests.

We don’t have a God who is dwarfed by our needs. Rather, we have needs that are dwarfed by who he is, how he rules and his choices for us. If our God is too ‘small’, our needs take centre-stage and we can never be confident that he can help, or that he cares to. And other things happen, more sinister—as we shall see.

So, what does it look like to ask our Father to meet our needs?

First, this prayer actually reads, ‘Today’s bread, give today!’ Some people do live with nothing more than what they earn or produce in a day, but many of us have reserves to rely on. Parents provide for us. We have savings or secure employment. The government has programmes we can access. Do we need God’s ‘bread’—every day

Of course, parents, governments and other authorities have responsibilities. And we are responsible to look after ourselves (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12), and to work hard enough to have something to share with others as well (Acts 20:34-35). There is great dignity and satisfaction in doing just this. But is everything just up to us?

The Bible has many warnings about trusting uncertain riches, or uncertain friends, uncertain governments, even uncertain health. Anything in this world can be ‘here today, gone tomorrow’. Rather, God wants us to trust in him ‘who gives us all things to richly enjoy’ (1 Timothy 6:17). It also takes issue with presuming that we know what will happen tomorrow (James 4:13-16).

So, Jesus says, ‘Ask your Father for daily bread’. Just enough for one day. He is not encouraging irresponsibility. He is preserving us from wrongful anxiety. He wants us to be free of all cares so we have head space for God, for those around us and for the joys of living in his creation. Confidence for tomorrow won’t come from our bank balance, our government, or robust health, but from our holy Father, his authority and his will.

Being anxious is a big issue for everyone and Jesus addresses the matter later in his teaching. He uses the word five times in just a few verses (Matthew 6:25-34). So, when we are agitated about something, what can we do?  It’s important to have some practical guidelines.

We can think about the fact that we are alive, and have a body. Jesus says, if God can make a body, can he also feed and clothe it? Good question!

Then, if God thinks about feeding birds and making flowers beautiful, and he is my Father, will he think about feeding and clothing me? Again, good question

Again, if you worry, will you live any longer? Probably shorter actually! Another good question.

And finally, every day will have problems—unless, of course, you’ve decided to escape all responsibility. And Jesus says there’s enough to deal with in one day without worrying about the next one. If you think about it, a lot of the things that cause us to worry are not actually happening at the moment.

Paul teaches us the same thing. ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but, in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6-7). Notice, it’s not just our bodies that need caring for. It’s our hearts and minds. And they can only be kept safe in Jesus.

Everything comes back to the question, ‘Do I have a Father in heaven? Is he holy—so as not to do anything wrong? Is he in charge? Am I working in his paddock or in mine? Notice, they are all God questions.

So, when we come to our ‘daily bread’, we are not in our territory at all but firmly in God’s territory. This world belongs to him. I belong to him. When I am talking about my needs, I am talking about his business—before it is mine. Perhaps we will discover that God is more interested in looking after us than we are in looking after ourselves.

On several occasions, Jesus says his disciples have very little faith (Matthew 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). He asks, ‘Where is your faith?’ (Luke 8:25). So, with us, our Lord’s concern is not just for our comfort but for our trust!

If we don’t trust God to look after us, who or what are we trusting? Typical alternatives are our governments, our medicos, or whoever ‘they’ is when we say, ‘They should do something about that.’

Here’s where Jesus becomes really personal (Matthew 6:19-24). He asks us to consider what our treasure is. More than this, he asks us who our master is. Who, or what, runs your life? If you don’t love your Father in heaven and trust what he’s promised to do, other things take his place. You have another ‘god’. It might be marrying a certain person, or riches and long life, or a successful career. An idol is anything that make you angry when you haven’t got it. The possibilities are endless—but usually, for each person, it comes down to one particular thing.

Jesus gives us a one sentence parable. If our eyes aren’t working, we’re in the dark. And if we are not ‘seeing’ that God is our Father, the light we think we walk by is, in fact, darkness. And how dark it is!

All manner of evil is let loose inside people who are not sure of God’s interest in and love for them. Discontent, bitterness, rivalry and anger boil away—with fateful consequences.

So, it turns out that Jesus isn’t just being nice when he tells us to ask for our daily bread. He is seeking to secure us as children who know their Father. ‘Your treasure needs to be in heaven’, says Jesus. Our Father is there. God’s kingdom is established from there. That’s where his will is done properly.

So, here is what will happen when you ask for daily bread. He won’t just give you what you need. He will keep you as his own.

Forgive us our sins

Jesus says to ask for forgiveness. This is not a prayer of someone just becoming a Christian. It’s the prayer from within the Father’s family. Of course, it is the same prayer that someone who knows they are lost and wants salvation may pray, but here, it is a family prayer.

Jesus adds, ‘…as we forgive those who sin against us’. Asking the Father to forgive our sins is possible because Jesus lays down his life. If you are asking for love like that, you will know that is the way to treat everyone else. Jesus continues to talk about this after he finishes the prayer. He also tells a parable about it later (Matthew 18:23-35).

The request for forgiveness begins with an ‘and’—which is significant. We’ve asked our Father to provide for our physical needs, and in the same breath, ask him to release us from the guilt of offending. We don’t just have physical needs. We have spiritual needs—the need to be forgiven.

If we do anything wrong—anything that breaks God’s law, there are consequences. No-one can just ‘move on’ as though nothing happened. We are made in God’s image to reflect who he is and copy what he does. Think about software on a computer that automatically reports abuses of copyright. Action is being taken at higher levels. God is grieved over our sinning (Psalm 78:40; Mark 3:5). And, in this case, ‘lower levels’ are also involved. Satan knows our deeds. He can remind us of them. He’s not called ‘the accuser’ for nothing!

Guilt is a ‘killer’—not just because of where it takes us, but because of the false trails along the way. Our dignity is compromised when we do wrong. We have to make up for it, cover it up, blame others to show we are better by comparison. If no remedy is found, the waters continue to get muddied. Satan laughs while we think we are ‘handling’ our own crisis. Satan can manipulate guilty people. So can governments!

It is this crisis that only forgiveness from our Father can remedy.

But why do we need to go on asking for forgiveness? Isn’t it true that Christians ‘have redemption, through his blood, the forgiveness of sins’ (Ephesians 1:8). Doesn’t Paul say, ‘Blessed are those whose transgression are forgiven whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sins the Lord will never count against him’ (Romans 4:5-7).

There is something very remarkable about our relationship with God. It is actually a covenant in which God has bound himself to treat us in a certain way and has bound us to live in a certain way. Jesus establishes this new relationship by what he does on the cross. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matthew 26:28).

It’s not a casual relationship—one where we may be in favour one day and out of favour the next. Jesus has fulfilled God’s promise: ‘I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more’ (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:12; 10:14).

So how come we need to ask for forgiveness of sins if this is where we stand? Here are some pointers—first, from John, and then, from Jesus himself.

Have a look at 1 John 1:5—2:4.

Walking in the light of God—revealed in Jesus—doesn’t disable our capacity to sin. It exposes it. But then, the blood of Christ goes on cleansing us from these sins. So, if we acknowledge our sins, Christ is ‘faithful and just’ to forgive them. There’s no mention here of being thrown out of the family! But God reveals this to us so that we won’t sin—not so we are free to!

Perhaps, our Father regards our sinning as a ‘lovers’ quarrel’. That is, people who love each other become annoyed and begin to fight. In fact, their love is on the line. What is going to win—ego or love?

So here, we’ve wanted our will rather than God’s. While this is happening, we are being held in God’s love. Will we relent? Will we stay in the light of what has been revealed to us? If we do, our sins are not being remembered. They are buried in the ocean of his loving.

Whoever doesn’t relent, and rather, decides to walk in the darkness of their own ‘light’, shows they haven’t seen the light at all, and it is certainly not ‘in’ them.

So, how good it is that Jesus tells us to pray. ‘…and forgive us our sins! We don’t pray because the matter is in doubt but because we need to have it affirmed. So, we don’t need to be crushed by our failures. We are humbled—by our failure of course, but even more by the continued love of God for us. And we are kept alert by the fact that we are now walking in light. Everything is known!

There are further clues in John 13:1-17.

Here is our Lord, preparing his disciples, and all of us, for the life we will lead. He’s telling us that we are cleansed, and that we need to be cleansed.

Peter is embarrassed that Jesus does the dirty job of washing feet and tries to be noble by refusing the service. Notice, he’s justifying himself—avoiding the pain of being ‘wrong footed’.

Jesus uses the occasion as a parable and says their relationship depends totally on Peter sitting down and having his feet washed. A relationship with Jesus depends on him serving us—by laying down his life for us. There’s no other way.

With that matter settled, Peter wants his hands and head washed as well! And Jesus explains that this isn’t necessary. ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean…’ (verse 10)—they have been cleansed by the word Jesus has spoken (15:3).

Our cleanness is not the result of getting our life together. It is the result of hearing and believing the word of Jesus Christ. His work as our Saviour is so complete, that when he speaks it to us, we are clean. Really clean before God. Really clean in our conscience (Hebrews 9:14; 10:22). Really clean and wanting to keep it that way! And future failures cannot muddy that stream because it is a stream that is flowing from above, not from within us.

But we do need our feet washed—the part of us that gets soiled with the world. So, ‘Forgive us our sins!’ We are in a covenant where our sins will never determine the relationship. We are walking in the light. But we feel the offence of this or that deed, and the pain of ‘wearing’ it, and the risk of staying in it. We want to ‘clear the air’.

Jesus gives Peter an opportunity to do this after his miserable collapse at the time of Jesus’ trial (John 21:15). He asks if Peter really does love him more than the other disciples. The acknowledgement of his failure, and his complete misunderstanding of his strength is obvious, but he does confess what is important. ‘You know that I love you’.

So, let’s go on praying, ‘Forgive us our sins’. Let’s walk in the light and not slink in the shadows. Here is a need as pressing as any physical need we have. And Jesus tells us to ask.

Deliver us from evil

Jesus teaches us to ask that we may be delivered from evil. It is the last request in what we call ‘the Lord’s prayer’. But what are we asking?

The prayer is actually in two parts—‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’. In simple language, we are asking God to keep us as far from sinning as possible. It is turning into a prayer what Jesus taught a bit earlier in his Sermon on the Mount—‘If your hand causes you to offend, cut it off!’ Obviously, he doesn’t mean literally, but he does mean do you everything you need to do to avoid sinning! And now he is telling us to pray as well.

The words have been translated ‘keep us from the hour of trial and deliver us from the Evil One (Satan)’. This is talking about evil that happens to us, but the setting and wording makes it better to translate it as a reference to the evil we are tempted by and the evil we can become implicated in.

Clearly, God doesn’t try to get us to sin. He doesn’t do the tempting. But he does say ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come’ (Luke 17:1). What we are doing here is asking God to limit our exposure to temptation. In line with this, Paul says, ‘God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it’ (1 Corinthians 10:13).

But what would make us want to pray, ‘Deliver us from evil’? Perhaps we’ve become fed up with doing something wrong. It may be we are suffering some consequences of doing wrong. It may be we’ve seen how good it is to have God’s favour and it’s hurting to be without confidence of his approval.

Whatever the reason, we’ve come to God. That’s the important thing. And Jesus is saying ‘You can ask for help’. He’s not saying you should have known better, or to muscle up, or to punish yourself. Basically, you’ve been confronted with your weakness and are looking to God for help. That’s a good place to be.

Life has a way of teaching us that ‘crime doesn’t pay’. Avoiding what God asks us to do, or playing with what we know is not ours to have can make us sick—sick of ourselves, or sick of the consequences. I hope it does! If you are happily sinning and want things to stay the same, Jesus isn’t teaching you to pray. He’s showing you what you are missing out on.

What kind of evil can trap us up? Jesus has already talked about getting angry with a brother or looking lustfully at a woman (Matthew 5:21-30). It could be many things. We all have a sinful heart to deal with—what the Bible calls our flesh. We want things that are not ours to have. Then there’s the world—not just the world we see and appreciate, but rather, the ‘world’ that pretends there is nothing else and that it can provide all we need to keep us safe and happy. Then there’s the devil. He appeals to our flesh, glamourises the world and then put all sorts of ideas in our heads about what we should have and what things should look like. And off we go, led by the nose into trouble!

But there is help available. Jesus is telling us where to go. Trying harder or retreating from problems won’t fix things. We need help!

Peter the apostle can help us here—not by his teaching but by his experience. In the final hours before Jesus is arrested, Peter thinks he is totally reliable and faithful. But he is in for a surprise. Jesus says he will deny him three times before morning.

Look what Jesus does to lead him away from temptation and then, what he does to deliver him from evil.

First, at the point when he is going to be arrested, Jesus says to the soldiers, ‘Take me and let these men go’ (John 18:8). He knows they won’t be able to handle the pressure and gives them an escape route. As we noted earlier, God makes ‘a way out so that you can stand up under’ the temptation.

Peter is spared arrest but follows the soldiers anyway. Then, while Jesus is being questioned, Peter is identified, three times, as a disciple of Jesus. The weakness of his flesh is now on full display. The power of the world to get him to conform to its images and rules is overwhelming. It happens exactly as Jesus said it would—he denies his Lord three times. As Jesus said, Satan has desired to have him.

But now, there is a second move by Jesus—just a look (Luke 22:61-62; cf. Mark 10:21). It seems he is being led from one part of the building to another and looks at Peter in the act of his vigorous denials. And Peter goes out and weeps bitterly.

None of us needs to fail, but we do need what we learn from our failures. What Jesus could do for Peter was no use to him if he didn’t know he needed it. Now he knows.

Jesus has already told Peter, ‘I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail’ (Luke 22:32). Does Peter remember this as he weeps? What we do know is that his faith does not fail! The Father has heard the prayer of Jesus. So this is the second thing Jesus has done for Peter. Peter is not alone.

The third thing Jesus is doing he is doing for us all. He is going out to be crucified, and in this, he bears the sins of the world. Apart from this, anything Jesus did for Peter, or any of us, would be advice and friendship, not deliverance.

So when we ask to be delivered from evil, Jesus starts with his gospel—‘Believe that I have died for your sins!’ Our deliverance starts here. He has loved us and given himself up for us. We can see that there is no more debt to pay, nothing to make us squirm with guilt and shame. But we are being real—we know this deliverance is not from us but from him.

The fourth thing Jesus does for Peter happens after his resurrection. He asks if it is true that Peter loves him more than the other disciples—something he had claimed earlier (John 21:21:15-19). And he asks him three times. So, three times, Peter says, not that he will be better next time, but that he loves Christ. This is real deliverance.

Have you had enough of your failures? Do you know how weak you are? Then here is a prayer to pray. And the answer is not just comforting. It is powerful. And it works. Like King David sang so many years before, ‘He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake’ (Psalm 23). Real goodness does not arise from us. It is a path God maps out for us. It is the path we follow because Jesus is the shepherd who lays down his life for us (John 10:11). And it is not for the sake of our ego. It is for his name’s sake.

Two out of three of the personal requests in this prayer have been to do with our soul rather than with our body. Bread—covering all our bodily necessities; forgiveness and deliverance—covering all the needs of our souls. So, ask God for bread! And trust him with all your needs! But make sure you look after your soul too. Ask for forgiveness, and ask to be delivered from evil. ‘Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23).




The World Belongs to God

There is nothing more natural and right than for a human being to know and love God. He is the Creator, and everything in the universe—including us as human beings—beats out this fact. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork’ (Psa. 19:1). It is also a fact that many don’t ‘hear’ anything but this does not mean it is not happening.

Because God made the world, it belongs to him, and he doesn’t thrown it away like a broken toy when it goes wrong. We are the guests on his property, beneficiaries of his bounty and participators in his project. Better still, we are his heirs because he has created us as his sons and daughters and desires to have us as his family.

There is a difference of course between speculating about God existing and knowing him. Everyone who trusts in Christ is given the right to be called a child of God. Family members then understand the world quite differently to those who have confined themselves to calculating everything on the basis of what visible and measurable.

So what does the Bible creation story tell us about God creating the world? This account occupies the first two chapters of our Bible. Actually, there are two accounts here, the first that tells us the big picture, and the second (spilling over into chapter three) that fills out what is taught in the first one.

The narrative is not written to help us pass a biology exam! Its first readers did not have a degree in science but were surrounded by idol worshippers. The question of how long a ‘day’ is, for example, would not have entered their minds and doesn’t need to trouble us either as we try to understand the story.

Idol worshippers believed their idols had made the world and that they controlled it in various ways. But idols are human inventions and they reflect what humans do—they squabble, compete and use people to meet their needs. (I’ve put a couple of links below to articles that describe Ancient Near Eastern myths based on various idolatries.) Our Bible reveals something quite different.

It is good that the Bible’s account of creation deals with idolatry rather than science because science can’t answer our big questions. Everyone is built for something big, something more important than anything else. If then, we don’t worship the Creator, we give the importance he should have to some other part of the creation. We make it into and idol. Something must rise up to take the place of the true God. And then we squabble about what is most important! And this becomes a huge problem.

Here are some things we can learn from the Bible’s two creation stories. What I say here will make more sense if you’ve read them, or if you check them off as you go through the article, or read them afterwards.

First, before God, there is nothing. ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ Everything we have and can discover exists because God decides to make it. This rules out the idea that our universe is self-generated or eternal. However it happens, it happens because God makes choices, and speaks.

Second, a home is being created. On the first three days, ‘spaces’ are created and in the second three days, they are filled. God makes light to separate day from night (day one) and then makes the sun, moon and stars to do this job (day four). He makes the air space and the sea (day two) and then birds and fish to occupy them (day five). He separates the land from the sea (day three) and then makes land creatures, including us, to occupy this land (day six). Everything is moving towards creating a suitable place for us to live.

The next creation story (in chapter two) speaks of this as God planting his garden and putting Adam there, and then Eve. Everything here is orderly and purposive and excludes the idea that our universe is the result of random events.

Third, a difference is made between God creating the heavens and the earth, and then animal life and then human life because the word to ‘create’ is used for these three developments rather than the word to ‘form’. God creates the entire inanimate universe (verse 1), and then creates the animal world (verse 20), and then creates human beings (verse 27). In fact God makes us ‘in his image’—that is, like himself, so that we can relate to him and be fitting custodians of his creation. This excludes the idea that we are no more than highly evolved animals. We are a separate act of creation.

Fourth, at each stage, God calls his creation ‘good’. The word means ‘functionally good’—that is, everything has its place in the universe and is needed for everything to work properly. There is nothing that is essentially bad or to be rejected in what God has made.

Then, when he makes us and gives us authority over all that he has made, he calls it ‘very good’. God’s idea of a perfect world is not one we have left alone but one we look after. This excludes the idea that the best parts of the world are the bits we don’t touch. God has made the world to be explored, researched, farmed, engineered, harnessed and enjoyed. But all of this is to be done for God and according to his commands—which includes looking after our neighbour. He is the gracious God who cares about everything and everyone he has made. This excludes the idea that we can ‘rape’ the earth as though profits or convenience or ourselves were all that mattered.

God has no ‘plan B’. He still thinks his creation is good and that it is ‘very good’ for it to be cared for by human beings. This is why his own Son becomes a human being, to do what we are unwilling and unable to do. All authority is given to Jesus Christ to lead humanity back to God and back to what it means to live in God’s creation as his curators.

Fifth, God makes us ‘male and female’. This is linked to our being made in the image of God. And this is made more explicit in the next story (chapter two). Adam is created first and told to cultivate and guard God’s ‘garden’. But being alone is not ‘good’. Adam can’t accomplish his task without the creation of woman as helper.

We will never understand what it means to be human if we blur this distinction between a man and a woman. And we need to see how men and women complement each other when they work together to raise a family, create a true society and take responsibility for everything that needs to be done.

Sixth, everything leads up to the final day—the seventh, when God finishes his creation. And what does he make on that day? Nothing. He rests. It is a kind of goal to which everything is leading.

The Bible makes a lot of the fact that Israel was to keep a day of rest—a sabbath, one day off in seven. We don’t just need a day off. We need to know that the creation does not come into being or continue to its goal by our ceaseless activity, but be realizing that God is our Creator, and that he is still in charge. We all need to do what God gives us to do. No more, but no less.

The seventh day also points to the goal God has in making everything—when the whole creation will be fully developed and glorious, and ruled over by Christ and all his followers (one example of this is in Matthew 19:28).

We will never be able to find something great enough to replace God. Above us, there is a power mightier than anything we can manage, an authority superior to anything we choose and a need to answer to someone whose plan we are part of. Those who ‘hear’ what God is telling us through his creation, and through the Son he sent to make everything clear, are grateful to know there is a Father over this world. They are glad there is a plan that is being worked out even though it doesn’t always appear to be that way. And they trust there is a finished creation for which they are destined.


The Bible is What God Says

When you hold a Bible in your hand, what do you really have? We know it is now printed, sold and read by people around the world, taught in churches and appealed to as an authority. But what is it?

It is really a library of books written over a number of centuries—including history, teaching, songs, promises, encouragements and warnings. It concludes with reports of Jesus’ coming and the apostle’s announcing of his message.

What makes the Bible one book is that each part got written because God spoke to someone. There is no way to prove this but it is what the various writers say happened. ‘In many and various ways God spoke in times past by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The fact is, God has always been speaking. He made the world by speaking: ‘Let there be light, and it was so’ (Genesis 1:3). When he made us in his own image and likeness, something like himself—to be his family, he spoke to us so we would know how to understand and to live in the world and what to expect.

The world was never meant to make sense without some information from outside the creation. We can discover much and use it to good purpose of course, and should do so, but nothing we find out through enquiry will tell us all we need to know.

For example, God told Adam in the Garden of Eden to enjoy every part of the Garden except the tree that would give them independent knowledge of good and evil. They decided otherwise, and the Bible recounts the outcome.

We see this at work when we say about someone that ‘they are trying to be God’. They are exaggerating what they know and can do, and they may be trying to force this onto others.  But we know that there isn’t anyone who knows everything about good and evil. There needs to be a voice greater than all our varying opinions—someone who actually isGod.

The Bible story continues, and God speaks to Abraham. We have no idea what this looked or sounded like. Abraham simply reports God saying that he would bless him and his family, and the narrative tells us how this works out.

But something very interesting is happening. Abraham knows his genealogy. He knows what has been said to his ancestors. They have been keeping a record—either oral or written—because they needed to remember what God said. It is their hope.

Then God speaks to Moses, and this time, he addresses a whole people—the descendants of Abraham. He wants to show the world that he is able to establish them as a nation no matter what other nations do to stop it.

God establishes this nation of Israel to show the world his power, and especially, what it is like for a people to hear his word and to be loved by him. He sends them prophets—people who are raised up to bring his word to his people.

For much of the time this is happening, God’s people don’t heed what he says. This is not surprising. None of us really want to listen to the word that comes from God—from outside the world of things we can examine or choose for ourselves.

But God goes right on telling Israel the next part of the plan—through his prophets. And from quite early in the piece, it becomes clear that there is going to be one person, a Messiah, who will bring the whole story together and accomplish God’s purpose in the creation. It will be his Son. He is also called ‘the Word’ because God speaks to the world fully through his Son. He will not only make God known but also bring about what God wants to do.

So, the Son of God enters the world—as a baby. ‘The Word was made flesh and lived among us’ (John 1:14). This is the apex of all that God has been saying to our world.

When Jesus begins his teaching and healing, he is displaying God’s love and wisdom and power and he becomes popular. But he has a bigger agenda. God’s Son, his Word, is among us to ‘bear away the sins of the world’.

When it becomes clear that his word is different from the word we want to hear, his own people kill him. Here is the truth about us. We don’t want God to speak to us.

Here is the greatest surprise in what God says. This killing of Jesus is precisely the way he takes away the sin of the world. Ignoring God’s word is a capital offence, but Jesus dies instead of us. Then God raises him from the dead and the first words he says are, ‘Peace be with you!’

This is the word we need to hear. Only God can truly say ‘Peace!’ because it is with him that we’ve been fighting. Peace with God is one way of describing what the Bible is all about.

When Jesus is about to leave this world, he says the Holy Spirit will enable the chosen apostles (‘sent ones’) to remember and understand all that he has said and done. So the Spirit comes and the apostles announce to the world what God has said through his Son.

They, or their fellow workers, write down what Jesus has done, how his good news spreads and what this Word of God means for our lives, now and into the age to come.

Jesus and the apostles call this coming and all that follows it ‘the last days’. The final revelation has been made so nothing needs to be added to what we have.

Think about what it means that God has spoken to our world.

There is no way we can discover the origins or purpose of our world unless God speaks to us. There is no way we can fathom out why the world is the shape it is unless God tells us he is our Father. We can try to act like a family and make out we are all here for others, but it doesn’t work—not for long anyway.

There is no way we can fathom the falseness of our own life unless we hear God telling us what is normal and what he is doing to mend us and our world. Without the sound of this ‘voice’, we begin to act like orphans and the big driver of our human enterprise becomes trying to appear good. We call it ‘virtue signalling’ these days. And this is not making us a better people or a better world. What brings us together is not our ‘virtues’ but our need, and God speaks to us in our need.

And there is no way we will trust him unless he sends his Son—the big Word—to save us.

And now, we have a Bible, and the same Holy Spirit who brought it together, is given to every person who hears and believes the message of Christ. God’s Spirit brings what is written to life so that we know that God is speaking to us.

Bible books were first written to other people living in another time and God spoke to them in a way they could understand. But we need to understand what theyheard, and to ‘hear’ it again. This is not such a strange thing to have to do. When we read the Bible or hear it explained, we are listening to our family story. We are listening to our Father God, and his Son Jesus Christ. The Bible is not just what God said. It is what he is saying.

The Child Shall Be Called…’Mighty God’

When Christians talk about Jesus, they understand that the man who lived in our first century, who taught and worked miracles, who died and rose again, is in fact, God.

This belief may seem natural if we have been brought up to believe it is true but it was not so for those who first watched and listened to Jesus in person. It is good that we have the four Gospels to give us some detail about how this belief came about. Here are a few pointers showing why we rightly believe that Jesus is God. (I’ve included Bible references so various points can be checked if that would be helpful.)

First, Jesus was born into the nation of Israel that had a long history of God being among them. This didn’t mean he was among them as a visible person but that he spoke to them by prophets, saved them from their enemies, heard their prayers and promised them a future. One of their greatest prophets, Moses, recognised that the only thing that made Israel distinct from other nations was that God was among them (Exodus 33:16).

This was not always welcomed. Like us today, Israelites didn’t necessarily like the idea of God being among them. But God promised the nation that a child would be born and be called ‘God with us’ (‘Emmanuel’ in Hebrew; Isaiah 7:14). The prophet Isaiah also said that this child would come to Israel, as their King, to save them from the distress into which they had fallen. His name would be, ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of peace’ (Isaiah 9:6-7). These are all titles appropriate to God, and the Gospels make it clear that Jesus is fulfilling these prophecies (Matthew 1:21-23).

Second, when Jesus begins to teach and to mend lives broken by sickness and wrongdoing, he doesn’t want people to announce that he is Israel’s anointed king, that is, their Messiah. He does this, not because he isn’t but because people have mistaken views of what a Messiah will do. Before Jesus can be properly identified, he has to show what manner of God has sent him and what this God wants to do (e.g. John 6:15, 27).

For example, he says pleasing God is not just keeping rules but loving God and one’s neighbour. He says freedom is not being stronger than one’s enemies but being a child of God who is free from sin (John 8:33-38).

He does things God wants to get done to show what it looks like when God is among them. He heals rather than condemns, welcomes the poor in spirit rather than the proud. He protests the abuses of religion by forcibly evicting profiteers from the temple—what he calls ‘my Father’s house’.  He uses attraction rather than coercion, persuasion rather than force.

Third, Jesus speaks and acts as God. When he says that a crippled man’s sins are forgiven, authorities rightly point out that only God can forgive sin (Mark 2:1-12). When he calls God his Father, Jews understand him to be making himself equal with God—and Jesus doesn’t contradict them (John 5:18). In fact he says people should honour him just as they honour the Father because the Father has given him power of life or death over humanity (John 5:22-23). When he is asked if he is greater than their forefather Abraham, he says ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:53-59). Jews know what this means—he is claiming eternity of being, claiming to be God—and they attempt to stone him on the spot.

Perhaps, as offensive to human pride as anything else, Jesus claims to be the light of the world (John 9:5), the shepherd of the sheep (John 10:7-16), the resurrection and the life (John 11:25) and much besides. Our entire enlightenment, welfare and future are in his hands. These things are not a role for one human being over the rest of humanity. They are tasks only God can perform—we are his creatures, not a self-sustaining humanity. Human ‘messiahs’ cannot fix what God has made.

Fourth, Jesus announces that the judgement of the world is about to happen, and then, speaks about his own death (John 12:31-33). The big decision for everyone is whether they see their God coming to them in Jesus Christ. This is the point on which humanity is judged.

But also, John the Baptist has said Jesus will ‘take away the sins of the world’ (John 1:29) and this is what Jesus is about to do. Judgement is about to happen, and Jesus knows we can’t live under the pain and shame of our failure and guilt. He voluntarily stands in the place where the judgement on our sin will fall so that he can give us back our true humanity. Only God would think to do this, and only our God could do this.

Then, Jesus is hung on a cross to die. While dying, he asks his Father to forgive us who kill him. Then, he rises from the dead and says, ‘Peace be with you’.

When Thomas, one of the disciples, sees that Jesus is really alive, he says to him, ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:26-28). Perhaps involuntarily, he blurts out the truth. This man is God, and man, at the same time. Only God has been able to speak to our need and bring us to himself as true human beings.

Some years after the resurrection, Jesus comes to the person we now know as the apostle Paul. He sees a bright light and hears a commanding voice that he recognises as his ‘Lord’ (Acts 9:1-8). Confronted by the ‘Lord’ he thinks he is serving, he asks who this ‘Lord’ is. ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting’ is the reply. He discovers that Jesus has been given the name above every name—that is, Jesus is Lord, or God (Philippians 2:9-11).

Later on, her reflects on this encounter and says, ‘For God, who said, ”Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6).

Perhaps the reason we don’t want God in our lives is because we have a false view of who he is. The whole Bible, the story of Jesus and the proclamation of his good news are here for us to know our God—and his face is the face of Jesus.

I looked up all the New Testament references to the name ‘Jesus’ after Jesus rises from the dead. There are over 300 of them. Most of them have an addition—that is, ‘Jesus Christ’, ‘Lord Jesus’ or ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’.

Anyone may like or even love the man Jesus, but we do not truly know him until we call him Lord and God. To know that Jesus is the Christ requires a revelation (Matt. 16:16-17). And to be and do all that Christ must be and do is for him to be our God, not just another human being.

Today, we need the help of the Holy Spirit to call Christ ‘Lord’ (1 Cor. 12:3). It is not a merely logical or intuitive decision. If you look at the revelation God has given us in the Bible and say ‘Jesus is Lord’, God has come to you.

We get some idea what Paul means by ‘Lord’ when he says, ‘For us, there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist’ (1 Cor. 8:6). To call Jesus ‘Lord’ is to acknowledge him, with Thomas, as your Lord and your God.

You have to be God to reveal God, and this is what Jesus has done. ‘No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known’ (John 1:18). We should not minimize the Son of God by easy familiarity with the warmth of his human name. He islove itself, and we have no comfort apart from him. But he is God. And if he were not God, he could not help us.