How Christ’s death puts flesh onto the prayer he taught his disciples to pray.
(A special online message for Good Friday. Available in audio at Soundcloud here or Dropbox here.)
Many of us learned the Lord’s prayer as children, long before we understood much about Christ’s death. The disciples, too, learned this prayer from Jesus a long time before his death – perhaps as much as 3 years before (Matthew 6:9-13). They must have chewed on those lines throughout those years, wondering exactly how to pray them, wondering what they meant.
Then on Christ’s last night, and on the day of his death, lines from this prayer kept echoing. I don’t know if the disciples thought about it much right then. But it probably shaped the heart of their prayers forever afterwards. May these thoughts make our prayers clear and bold, like theirs.
When he prayed with them in the garden, he told them “pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mark 14:38). All around this, the disciples were trying to figure out what is going on, trying to find ways to help their Master. But instead he just wants them to pray against temptation. When we are in times of crisis, do we ever pray this? Have you prayed like this during the pandemic? May we learn to seek this from God more urgently.
There in the garden, he was struggling in prayer, saying “thy will be done” to his Father. Matthew 26:36-44 says that he prayed that prayer 3 times. Interesting that he fell with his face on the ground to pray this. Literally, his face was “on the earth” (Mark 14:35) as he prayed “thy will be done.” That is quite an image of how to pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” From heaven God can see the end from the beginning, can see how good the end result will be. With his face on the earth in agony, the Son of God could see just how hard the next step would be, could feel how hard it is to pray that the Father’s good will be done on that earth.
Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom Come.” When he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, people had images in their minds of King David’s kingdom being restored to Israel. But Jesus wanted us to learn to pray for something even better:(1) He would rule his Kingdom with the mighty power of God.When the chief priest asked him if he is the Christ (i.e., the messianic king), Jesus answered, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right and of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). And so they crucified him, thinking that it would stop him from becoming any kind of king. Instead it made him a king like no other. (2) He would establish his Kingdom by dying for sinners. Somehow, one of the criminals dying next to Jesus caught sight of this. Even though he knew Jesus would soon die, and even though he knew himself to be a sinner, he asked with faith, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). May Christ’s kingdom come to us even today as sinners call on him for a place in his kingdom.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I don’t think Jesus ate anything on his last day. He died on an empty stomach. The last taste of bread that he had was from the supper where he broke the loaf and gave it to his disciples, saying that it was his body, given for them (Luke 22:19).
There was another time that he went hungry. In John 4, when he was busy doing God’s work, he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Empty as his stomach may have been during his flogging and crucifixion, he must have also felt a wonderful fullness to know that he was doing what his Father wanted, and that he would soon be able to say “it is finished!” (John 19:30).
Jesus taught us to pray to “our Father.” This might not stand out as much as other parts of the Lord’s prayer in that dreadful crisis, but it is the most important. Of all the names of God, Christ could have addressed him as “the Almighty” or the “Judge of all the Earth” or any number of ominous sounding things, as doom approached. But in his struggle in the garden, Christ calls him the most intimate Abba Father (Mark 14:36). At the hour of his death, even when Christ is crying out to God about being abandoned by him (Mark 15:34), the darkness and weight of our sins upon him still did not stop him from addressing God as his Father, and entrusting his spirit into the Father’s hands (Luke 23:46). He had taught us to trust that the Father is good, and gives good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:9-11). He never stopped believing that, even when he was under all of God’s wrath.
Notice also that Jesus taught us to pray to “our Father,” not to “my Father.” To pray the Lord’s prayer is to pray with God’s family, whether we are apart or together. Jesus felt so terribly alone in the garden, longing for support and fellowship, as the disciples kept falling asleep. Yet in spite of their failings (and ours) he did what he did so that we could call God our father with him. He prays and longs for us to be with him and with the Father in heaven (John 17:24). And then one of the first things he says to a believer after the resurrection is, “I am returning to my Father and your Father” (John 20:17). What sweet satisfaction we hear in his voice there, that his Father is now so much more fully our Father.
Jesus also taught us to pray that the Father’s name be hallowed, that is, treated as holy. When we are in anguish, it is hard to address God as holy. But have you noticed that in all of his struggle, and in all of his heartbreak, Jesus did not express frustration toward God. I am haunted often by the story of Moses’ greatest failure in Numbers 20:12. Moses is frustrated with the people’s grumbling, so instead of doing exactly as God commands him, he grumbles back at the people and strikes the rock for water to come out, instead of speaking to it as God had instructed him. Many Christian leaders can understand Moses’ frustration. But God’s rebuke to Moses is, “You did not honor me as holy in their sight.” So Moses would not be allowed to enter the promised land. But Christ would honor his Father as completely holy, and would go ahead of his people into heaven and into the coming age.
Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our trespasses.” This part stands out for its silence. Christ never prays it. As much as Christ prays the other parts of the Lord’s prayer, he never prays for God to forgive him, because he never sinned. Sometimes that makes him seem distant from us. But there on the cross, when he bore our sins, he could have spoken about “our” trespasses, because what was ours became his (see 1 Peter 2:22-24). Yet, when he bore our sins, when they became his, even then he didn’t pray for them to be forgiven. Instead he received the full wrath of punishment for them. Whenever something is forgiven, the burden gets shifted and there is always someone who has to pay. That is how it is in human life, and the Bible teaches that is how it is with God too. On the cross, the payment was made. That is why we can pray, “Forgive us our trespasses.”
Jesus also taught us to pray, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” So even when he had endured brutality and mockery from the soldiers who crucified him, he prayed “Father, forgiven them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus taught us to pray that God would “deliver us from evil.” Here, too, Jesus is silent. He wants us to pray that we will be rescued from evil, but on Good Friday he knew that it was not for him to pray such a thing, because he knew that it was time for evil to take him (see John 12:27). The flood and waves of evil, hate and darkness swallowed him, and he was dead, he was gone.
And yet there is another sense in which evil did not get him, in how it did not get into him. On the cross he was surrounded by hate, but he didn’t hate back. With his disciples, he was surrounded by faithlessness, but he remained faithful to them. He even endured being abandoned by his God, but he did not “curse God and die” as Job was encouraged to do (Job 2:9). So, when Jesus saw the flood of evil coming for him, he said, “The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me,” or literally, “He has nothing in me” (John 14:30).
And so Christ overcame the evil of this world. So he purchased the souls of sinners for God. So he delivered us from evil. So when we pray for God to “deliver us from evil,” may we trust that Christ’s work on the cross has had and will have its full effect, to destroy the hold that evil has on our souls, and to present us spotless and righteous before God.
Maybe you’ve known the Lord’s prayer for many years. Maybe God has been letting it soak into your soul over those years, getting you ready for a time when you would more fully know the Lord who taught it to us. Maybe that day is today. May today be the day when you see just what it is that Jesus did for you on the cross. May today be the day when you trust him, when you experience total deliverance from sin and evil, and when Christ’s Holy Spirit and resurrection life come into you and makes you new. Amen.