His Prayer, Our Prayer: Close To His Majesty
We call it “The Lord’s Prayer.”
It is, without any question, the most amazing prayer ever prayed. It’s just 68 words long, but in those 68 words, Jesus summarizes all that Christianity is and all that we as Christians believe. Every significant doctrine of our faith is reflected in its phrases and every pressing human need can be found in its petitions. The only thing wrong with the prayer is what we call it. Elton Trueblood suggests that the prayer has been misnamed through the centuries. Instead of calling it “The Lord’s Prayer,” we ought to call it “The Disciple’s Prayer,” because it was the prayer which Jesus gave to His disciples to pray. But for me there is a sense in which it is “The Lord’s Prayer”—it is His prayer—because it came from the lips of Jesus. But there is also a sense in which it is the disciples’ prayer—our prayer, because He gave it to us to pray. It is my hope, in these next weeks, that we can gain some fresh insight into those familiar phrases which most of us have prayed for most of our lives. And we shall begin in a moment, but first, let us pray…
Have you ever been lost? I have, but just once. Oh, there have been a number of times when I have made a wrong turn, or missed a road sign, or found myself somewhat disoriented in a new place, but in those instances, there was always a map, or a service station attendant, or a passerby who was willing to help. But there was one time, when I was a child, when I was lost—really lost. My family had just moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, and my parents were engaged in the process of unpacking. While they were busy with those tasks, my boyish curiosity led me to wander off down the street. It wasn’t very long before I was lost in this strange new city. I was young enough not to be able to think straightly and so I just simply kept walking, having no earthly idea where I was. I can remember, even to this day, the sudden grip of chilling fear when at last it dawned on me that I didn’ t know where I was and there was no one around who knew me, or who even cared. On the basis of that one terrifying experience, I say to you that maybe the worst experience we can have in this life is the experience of being lost, truly lost.
There is a wider sense in which that feeling of lostness seems to exist in the world around us. Wherever we turn these days, it seems to me that there are people who are disoriented, people who are lonely, people who are hoping to find some hand or some kind voice to help them find the way past danger, or to help them find the way to go home. And I would submit to you, because I love you enough to know you well, that there is something of that sense of lostness in all of us. To a greater or lesser degree, we come to a place like this, hoping upon hope that we are going to find some answer to that nagging sense of lostness that is way down deep inside. And, wonder of wonders, here there is a voice to be heard—a voice which echoes across 2000 years of history—it is the voice of Jesus Christ. This voice says, “Pray…Pray like this…’Our Father, who art in heaven…'” My beloved, I want us to rediscover the fantastic spiritual power contained in those few words. When we truly pray those words, not just repeat them mechanically as we have a tendency to do, but when we truly pray those words “Our Father, who art in heaven…” we discover that the way home is open to us and we shall be lost no more. Let me show you specifically what I mean.
First, this phrase from Jesus’ prayer, shows us the God who leaves His fingerprints in stardust.
Jesus says, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” In heaven? We look up to the heavens and what do we see? We see a God so vast and so powerful that with nothing other than a word of command, He has created out of absolutely nothing, everything that is. We scramble out to the edges of space with our intellectual toolkits and with plumbline and compass and measuring stick, we seek to chart the topography of God, but we fail. We fail simply because you cannot put deity into a Petri dish. You cannot wrap litmus paper around a limitless God. You cannot apply the principles of natural physics to a supernatural God. He is beyond our understanding, beyond our measurement, beyond our comprehension, and no exercise of our minds, however large, is sufficient to capture His vastness.
One day, not very long ago, I was sitting on the beach, stretched out in the sand watching the seagulls breaststroke the air while the sunlight buttered the beach accompanied by the crashing cymbals of breaking waves—a moment of quiet meditation in a lovely place. There came whispering on the wind the sound of an approaching storm. And as I watched the great thunderheads begin to mass, and I saw the lightning begin to razor its way through those black and boiling clouds, and suddenly the wind and waves together created a veritable cacophony of noise, and something down inside me led me to sing “Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. How great Thou art!”
I have always loved what Abraham Lincoln once said: “I do not see how anyone can study the majesty of the heavens and then deny the reality of God.” I have long been challenged by the words of Robert Jastrow, the great NASA scientist, who wrote:
“The motions of the galaxies, the laws of thermodynamics, and the life story of the stars lead to one inevitable conclusion: this universe had a beginning with a supernatural cause. What we as scientists are learning how, the theologians have known for centuries.” Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth!”
That’s the message that Jesus is delivering to us through the opening phrase of this prayer. He wants us to remember that behind the universe, behind the created world, behind everything that is, there is the God that called it all into being. He fashioned the vast expanses of space. He fashioned the environment around us. He even fashioned us and He labels us the very crown of His creation. The Psalmist puts it this way: “When I look at the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast established, what is man that Thou art mindful of him and the son of man that Thou doest care for him? Yet, Oh Lord, Thou hast created him little lower than God, and Thou dost crown him with honor and glory. Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth.”
I submit to you that when we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” we are affirming nothing less than that all of the spreading galaxies are nothing more than the sets in the rings on the fingers of God, and the vast array of glittering stars are nothing other than the priceless gems set in those rings. Pray “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Jesus is showing us the God who leaves His fingerprints in stardust. He is the Lord of the universe.
But His prayer also shows us a God who leaves His footprints in earth dust.
Jesus says to us: “Pray ‘Our Father…'” The word Jesus uses for “Father,” is the Aramaic word “Abba”—a word of deepest endearment. Do you know how it is best translated into English? “Daddy.” Isn’t that incredible? “Our Father”—”Our Daddy” who art in heaven. Jesus is trying to say to us that this great, vast, powerful, majestic God is so close to us on this earth, so close to us physically and spiritually, that He is every bit as close to us as a parent.
I want you to understand that this was a brand new and revolutionary idea which Jesus introduced into the world. There was nothing like it before and there has been nothing like it since. There is no room for this concept of a loving Father God in the harsh austerity of Hinduism or Buddhism. The Muslims, in their holy book the Koran, have 99 different names for God, but the word “Father” is not one of them. When Jesus dared to call God “Our Father, Our Abba,” it was the boldest, most audacious theological statement ever made. This great vast, powerful God—the God who created the world and cast the nebulae out in space—this God whose majesty can be beheld from the highest mountaintop and who dwells in the bejeweled depths of the deepest sea, this same God is so close to us that He is like our parent. This God is our Father, our Daddy. This God, who by His hand has carved the towering redwood trees and placed the tiny seed of sand for the pearls in every oyster, this God who has imprisoned incredible energy in coal and whispered the theory of relativity into the ear of Albert Einstein, this same God is so close to us that He cares for us intimately and profoundly. This God, this great vast, majestic God, this God who sets the seas to rolling and carves the crescent beaches on distant islands, this God who blessed the world with a gift of language and then confounded it with many tongues, this God who as a daily habit paints incredible sunsets on the western horizon and emblazons the earth with flowers dressed in riotous colors; this great, majestic God loves you and loves me so much that he said: “Call me Father.” If that doesn’t begin to send shivers up and down your spine, then you haven’t really grasped it yet, and its reality hasn’t grasped you yet. The great, majestic God is so close that we can call Him “Father.”
But how do we know that is true? We know that it is true because Jesus said pray “Our Father”, “Our Abba.” And Jesus is nothing other than God Himself wrapped in human flesh. That’s not so surprising, is it? This great God who is so big and so powerful that He could create everything that is out of absolutely nothing—that kind of God would be so powerful that He could make Himself small enough to live in a man called Jesus. This Jesus was real. This Jesus is real, so real that He was born not as a vague theological theory, but as a cuddly little baby, on a cold, starlit night, cradled in the moist warmth of a cave stable—so real that He could put His fingers into the running sores of lepers and dry them up; so real that with His own hands He could brush away the scales of blindness from the eyes of those who could not see; so real that with a word of command He could make twisted hands useful again and with the touch of His hand He could raise to new life those who had been dead; so real that when at last they strung Him up to die, His flesh was cut and His blood flowed and his pain exploded; so real that when at last He was dead, they hauled Him down and buried Him tight in a borrowed grave. That’ s how real Jesus is, dead and buried, and He rose again. And, my beloved, if there is anything real in this world, that is real. You see, if this great, vast, transcendent, powerful God could come to this earth and wander the world where we wander, could experience the darkness that we know, could suffer all the agony of lostness that the cross was, so that He knows every hurt our hearts are called upon to endure, if that great, majestic God could die as we die and could rise again and with His rising again give us the promise of rising again, then that means that God is not only in control of the universe, He is in control of your life and of mine. Therefore, we do not need to be afraid of anything in this life—not now, not ever!
The story is told of the great Roman emperor Tiberius who returned from a victorious military campaign abroad. He was leading a victory parade through the streets of Rome. Thousands upon thousands of people were lining the streets and the air was punctuated with shouts of celebration. In front of the Imperial Palace, seated on the dais there, was the emperor’s wife and in her lap there sat their son—their little son. When the emperor’s great golden chariot passed by, he waved at the little boy. And with that the little boy jumped down from his mother’s lap and he began to push his way through the people and out into the street. At that point, a great, big, burly Legionnaire grabbed him up and snapped at him: “Son, you can’t go out there, that man is the emperor.” And the little boy immediately replied: “He may be your emperor, but he’s my father.”
That’s the great truth that Jesus is giving to us here. Jesus is saying to us: “The great, majestic God who created everything that is, is my Father and if you will simply put your life into My hands, then He will be your Father, too.” When we pray those words “Our Father, who art in heaven,” it is as if we are looking at God through both ends of the telescope at the same time. We see Him as the vast, powerful, majestic creator of everything that is, and we also see Him as one who is so close to us that he reaches out to us and He says: “My daughter, my son, take my hand and I will show you the way to go home.”
Here in His prayer, Jesus shows us the God who leaves his fingerprints in stardust, and He also shows us the God who leaves His footprints in earth dust. He is the Lord of the universe, yes, but He is also the Lord of your life and mine.
Just the other day, I sat at the bedside of a wonderfully faithful man. He was in intense pain. Death was near and he knew it. Under those circumstances so many people would be filled with fear and anxiety, but not him. He said: “Isn’t it incredible to think that the God who made the heavens and the earth is right here in this hospital room with us?” For so many people , that room and those circumstances would have been hell. Not for this man. For him…well, after that visit I went back to my office and I wrote some words on a sheet of paper and tucked it away for safekeeping. This is what I wrote: “It is true to say that wherever heaven is, there is God; but it is equally true to say that wherever God is, there is heaven.”
I mean by that that here in this life, even when we encounter lostness and loneliness, danger and difficulty, we can know that God is still in control and that heaven is ours. For wherever God is, there is heaven. Of course that is what we mean when we pray “Our Father, who art in heaven,”