As Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord’s prayer is the first item on His agenda. As this prayer unfolds, God is introduced as a father figure. It is imperative Jesus’ disciples begin to picture God as a loving parent. Jesus cherishes this concept of God and bequeaths it to His followers. Lending honor to earthly fatherhood is the idea of God as a benevolent Father. The best human men are fallible, but God the Father is infallible.
The title Father is the one Jesus uses most frequently when referring to God. The spirit of true prayer involves viewing God in this light. Our Heavenly Father is more gracious and generous than any human father. By acknowledging Him as our Father in heaven, we acknowledge His position in the universe. We are told to respect His name: Father. Jesus does not tell us to pray to a concept, an ideal, a power, or some impersonal force, but to a Person. Although this Being is also the Creator, He is also a loving paternal figure. As the prodigal’s love for his father drew him homeward, so disciples of Christ should long to be with their Father in heaven (Lk. 15:18).
Jesus has just warned his disciples about empty, repetitive prayers (v. 7). The model for intercession Jesus now supplies is comprehensive, clear, and complete in itself. It illustrates that all prayer should follow these timeless principles. It is “after this manner” we are to pray. While Jesus provides His followers with this simple pattern of prayer, He introduces a radical new concept: God can be addressed with intense familiarity.
This prayer outlines the way to pray to the Father, but we are never told to say these words verbatim. Jesus does not infer we are to offer rote prayers. There is no proof His disciples ever recite this prayer word for word. God desires personal, spontaneous conversation and wants us to commune with Him personally. This strongly suggests that the formal, dry, impersonal, lofty platitudes offered to God by the ecclesiasticals seldom reach heaven.
Because all countries on earth have moms, dads and children, the entire human race can relate to the concept of God as a Father. The Lord’s Prayer depicts Him as accessible and available. Jesus informs us our Father is always ready to listen to us. This prayer sets forth the proper framework on which to build our prayers. Only the Son of God could have provided this formula. It depicts the proper attitude we must have when approaching God. Jesus gives us this single example and no other. Prayer is intended to be a dialogue rather than a monologue (I Thess. 5:17).
There are three basic biblical concepts concerning the fatherhood of God:
1. God is the Father of the world
As Creator, God is the Father of all things. In this sense, He has given birth to the universe and “fathered” everything that exists. “We have one Father who has created us all” (Mal. 2:10). In His benevolence, He formed the worlds and created the human race. However, this concept of parental oversight does not allow human beings to know Him on a personal level.
2. God is the Father of Israel
The formulation of Israel into a nation was “created” by the Father. But the concept of God as an intimate Father is never used in the Old Testament. Under the former dispensation, God is never formally addressed as “Father.” However, God is like a father and has parental attributes (Isa. 63:16 & 64:8). “As a Father loves His children, so the Lord loves those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:13). Although the Lord is viewed as a Father to the fatherless, a personal relationship with Him during this era is not possible (Ps. 68:5).
Because Jewish family life is paternal, the nation of Israel could readily comprehend God as a father figure. He instills into His people the need to revere one’s earthly father. Within the Ten Commandments is the mandate to respect one’s parents (Ex. 20:12). The authority of a father is sanctioned and protected by Levitical law. But the spirit of Judaism is fear and respect rather than paternal closeness. As a natural father “brings up children in the admonition of the Lord,” so God desired to mature Israel and conform them to His ways (Eph. 6:4). Although God is the Father of the nation of Israel, His people are not yet ready for personal familiarity with Him. Only after the incarnation of Christ could God be revealed as Father.
3. God is the Father of Christians
Other religions may view God as Creator or as a king, but never as a dad. Of all the world’s religious systems, the concept of knowing God as a heavenly Father is unique to Christianity. The teachings of Jesus depict God, not as an avenging Judge, but as a loving parent. Normative fatherhood on earth means affection, trust, care, and provision. The human race is created in order that every person may know God intimately. Being related to God as children bespeaks privilege rather than entitlement.
It is impossible to come to know God except as a relative. Jesus explains that the Father loves us because we love His Son (Jn. 16:27).Through the Son’s vicarious sacrifice we come to know His Father. One becomes a child of God not by natural birth but by rebirth (Jn. 3:3). Except a man be born again he cannot enter the Father’s kingdom (Jn. 1:12). “Father” is a definitive term of endearment. Knowing God as Father is designed to draw our affection, respect, reverence, confidence, obedience, and child-like trust. This allows God to display His omnipotence as well as His personal affection for those who love Him. It suggests approachability, relationship, protection, and inheritance. Our Father is busy running the universe, but He has time for the individual requests of His children
Jesus does not tell us to pray to the Father, for that is impersonal. We are not told to pray to my Father, for this could imply possessiveness. Neither are we instructed to pray to your Father, for this might suggest only the Son of God can communicate with Him. But to say our Father indicates we understand our position before Him as a child.
The word our in the Lord’s Prayer means there are others who also know Him as “Father.” Jesus envisions a scene of close, personal communication between a father and child. He teaches a loving father only gives to His children things that are beneficial (Luke 11:11). If his son asks for bread does he give him a stone? If he asks for fish does he give him a snake? If he asks for an egg does he give him a scorpion? In marked contrast to the obvious rhetorical answers, “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”
Nothing in the Lord’s Prayer permits sibling rivalry. Our Father must be shared with others for He has millions of children. He is our Father because we join hands with myriads of Believers who are all equal in His sight. This thought should eliminate much of the envy, strife and quarrels within Christianity. His children must not be demanding or manipulative. “Through Jesus we have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18). We cannot begin to pray honestly and earnestly until we know God as our Father. We cannot know God as Father until we know His Son as our Lord.
Jesus’ Father and Our Father
Although both Jesus and Believers pray to the same Father, there is a distinction between Jesus calling God His Father and a Believer doing so. Jesus distinguishes between His relationship with the Father and that of His disciples. Jesus tells Mary Magdalene He is ascending to “your God and to my God; to your Father and my Father” (Jn. 20:17). There is a definitive reason for this. Jesus is the natural Son of God, whereas Believers are not. God has only one begotten Son. Jesus does not become the Son of God when He incarnates. God and Jesus have always existed as Father and Son (Mk. 1:11). He alone has a full knowledge of the Father and knows the Father’s heart completely.
Jesus never speaks of the Father as our Father, but either as my Father, the Father, or your Father (Jn. 20:17).
“If any man will serve me, him will my Father honor” (12:26).
“He that loves Me will be loved by my Father” (14:21).
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (15:9).
“No man comes to the Father but through Me” (14:6).
“Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Mt. 6:8).
It is noteworthy that the Lord’s Prayer is not actually prayed by Jesus Himself. Although He tells His followers to pray in this manner, He does not include Himself with us in this prayer. While we are God’s children, Jesus alone is God’s only Son. When Jesus tells us to pray to our Father, He is making us aware of a special relationship. This is the highest privilege Jesus can bestow, for we are now related to His Father.
God has but one natural Son and all His other children are adopted. The fullness of the Father’s love can only be felt by those who are adopted. The term adoption means “to place as a son or daughter” (Eph.1:5-6). Its a legal term that describes the process whereby one is brought into a family and given the full status of a son. The concept of adoption is inseparably linked with grace and mercy, for the one who adopts a child is under no obligation to do so.
God is our Heavenly Father because of His great mercy. No one can lay claim to His grace. The specific goal of His plan of salvation is our adoption as sons and daughters. But adoption into His family circle is reserved for those who put faith in His Son. Through regeneration we become members of God’s Kingdom. By adoption we become members of His family. Christ’s atonement introduces a Believer to a new life while the Spirit of adoption makes him conscious of an incredible new relationship.
Earthly parents who adopt a child are powerless to infuse their own nature into him. However, every Believer inherits Christ’s character as well. Adoption is the highest honor God can bestow. Intimacy with Him allows us to enjoy the love and tender care of our Heavenly Father. John exclaims, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God” (I Jn. 3:1). Only through the Holy Spirit can we fully appreciate God’s paternal role and cry “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6).
Our Father is in Heaven
“My heavenly Father” is a phrase Jesus uses frequently throughout His ministry. Our Father is in heaven, yet He is omnipresent. We are to give God the same place in our hearts He holds in the universe. He must rule in our spirits as well as in the cosmos. The Father cannot be confined, but the kingdom of heaven is His base of operations. He is pictured as far above the world, rather than earthbound like His children.
His location in heaven emphasizes our temporary physical separation from our Father. Although we will be with Him one day, for now we must be content to pray to Him there. By addressing our Father in heaven, Jesus infers the Father sees us and knows us. A new relationship is now established. Even though heaven is God’s throne and the earth is His footstool, the distance between heaven and earth is bridged through prayer (Isa. 66:1).
The Father’s Name Must Be Held Sacred
Our faith in prayer depends upon our concept of God. If He is regarded as a severe and harsh dictator, who would dare approach Him? But as our Father, He encourages us to have confidence and faith as we dialogue with Him. Jesus instructs us to pray to our Father only with the greatest veneration. The child of God is not to ask for daily bread or anything unless their attitude concerning prayer is correct. To “hallow” (hagiazo) is to acknowledge something as sacred. It means to set an object apart for a sacred purpose. The root word means to revere something or someone as holy; to esteem; venerate; prize, or adore. To “hallow” an individual is to respect, to revere, appreciate, or honor. To “hallow” the Father’s name means we are to come to Him with the utmost respect and honor.
To pray “hallowed be thy name” does not infer we should ask God to make His name more holy, for this is impossible. We are to pray others will recognize His perfect holiness. We ask that His name will be revered so that others will understand our Father is worthy of their worship. When we pray for His name to be hallowed, we pray for God to be central in our lives and in the lives of others. His holy name is best honored by holy living. When we come to God respectfully in prayer, our foundational desire should be that others will come to honor the Father by accepting the atonement for sin His Son has graciously provided.