The Lord's Prayer is one of the more popular passages in all of the New Testamentbelievers and non-believers alike have even taken the time to memorize it. Such familiarity has probably fostered a bit of complacency, so it's always good to have someone come along to remind us of the complexity that emerges from underneath the prayer's presupposed simplicity. In this sermon Mike Bullmore pushes the listener to understand the depth of a simple request for bread. He does so by paying careful attention to the context of the request in Matthew's gospel. You cannot understand Matthew 6 without an initial understanding of Matthew 4, the account of Jesus' temptation in the desert.
I'd like you to have two scenes in your mind as we begin. Even though they are not separated by much time, they are remarkably different scenes. One of them is relatively peaceful; the other is a battle. One is occupied by a crowd of people; the other by only two persons.
The first scene is of Jesus having recently entered his public ministry. The disciples have joined him, and as Jesus has begun to teach and preach, his fame has spread quickly throughout the area and large crowds are gathering around him. People from Galilee, Syria, Judea, and even people from across the Jordan River are coming to hear him. On this particular occasion, when he sees these great crowds, he goes up a mountainside to find a place where he can sit and deliver an extended lesson to the people. In this extended time of teaching, Jesus teaches the people how to pray.
In this text, Jesus is not simply teaching us motions to go through or words to repeat. No; Jesus is seeking to train our hearts. He knows thatas with all speech, so also with prayerout of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. He's not giving us prayer ideas. He's not giving us nice phrases to incorporate into our prayers. He is instructing our hearts, so that out of that we might pray in a way that is appropriate to our relationship with God.
When Jesus says, "Pray, then, like this: Give us this day our daily bread," he is instructing our hearts. The question we have to answer is, "What is he instructing us in? What is he trying to get into our hearts?"
With those words from verse eleven in your minds, I want you to think of another scene. In this scene, Jesus is alone. He's not surrounded by crowds; his disciples are not there. He's alone in the dry, rugged wilderness near Jerusalem, where the Spirit has led him to face serious temptation from the Devil. After he has fasted for 40 days and nights and has become very hungry, the Tempter comes to him. I can imagine the Devil watching all those days, waiting and knowing that Jesus is craving food. With Jesus in that condition, the Tempter comes to him and says, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." Jesus responds with these words: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God."
It strikes me as odd that Jesus would claim so emphatically that man does not live by bread alone only to include an appeal for daily bread in his brief model prayerespecially after the other lofty things he includes in this prayer about God's glory, God's reign, and God's will. Why would he include a request for bread? Many early commentators simply could not believe that Jesus was talking about real bread. They thought it seemed too mundane and out of keeping with Jesus' priorities for him to say something about bread. They concluded that Jesus must be talking about the bread of God's Word. Others suggested that Jesus was foreshadowing the Lord's Supper. But I believe Jesus is talking about real breadreal food. With this request for daily bread, Jesus is trying to instill three lessons in our hearts.
We must be aware that we depend on God for everything.
First, Jesus teaches us to pray for daily bread, because he's training our hearts to be aware of our dependence on God for everythingall the way down to the most basic level. Jesus has deliberately chosen the most basic thing he can think of that would be easy for us to take for granted. In this way he says: I don't want there to be anything for which you fail to recognize your dependence on God. It is so easy for us Christians to make what I call the "big things/little things" mistake. We readily acknowledge our dependence on God when the big things come alonga job interview, a big test, or an important decision. But in order that we become aware of our dependence on God in everything, top to bottom, Jesus says: "Pray like this." Not, "Lord, give me this day a successful job interview." Not, "Lord, give me this day a positive outcome on this project." Acknowledge your dependence on God for everything. Say, "Lord, I'm trusting you for food today."
Notice Jesus teaches us to offer this prayer daily. Jesus wants to cultivate within us a day-to-day awareness of our day-to-day dependence on God. Perhaps you remember how the people of Israel complained in the wilderness about how they had a wide variety of food to eat in Egypt. God responded by sending manna for them to eat. He gave them clear instructions that they were to gather just enough each morning for that day's needs. Why did God do it that way? He wanted to cultivate within them an awareness of their day-to-day dependence on him. He wanted them to recognize that he is dependable day after day.
Jesus does the same thing in Matthew 6:11. He instructs us to pray in a way that will help us remember our dependence upon God, because it is possible to forget. God warned Israel about their tendency to forget in Deuteronomy 8:
Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.
Folks, the simple truth is this: We are dependent on God for all things. Job tells us that all our food and clothing comes from God's hand. Isaiah 42 reminds us that our very breath comes from him. It's all from God. He supplies the grain. He made the cotton. He owns the cattle. What do you have that you have not received from God?
The first reason Jesus instructs us to pray like this, then, is to cultivate an awareness of our daily dependence on God.
We must cultivate gratitude for the most basic of things.
Second, Jesus teaches us to pray this way because he wants us to cultivate real gratitude even for the most basic things. All of life is a privilege, and as we receive and enjoy life from God, the basic disposition of the Christian heart should be gratitude. Moreover, Jesus says that there should be nothing outside the range of our gratitude; it should go down all the way to the most basic things like bread.
One of my all-time favorite books on prayer is Matthew Henry's Directions for Daily Communion with God. It has only three chapters: How to start the day with God, How to spend the day with God, and How to end the day with God. Henry addresses the possibility that we will fail to remember all the things we have to be thankful for. He writes, "Some will say 'I don't have anything to say to God!' Have we not just slept, and is not sleep a gift from God? It is the morning of a new day. And is not each day a precious gift from God? Have we not clothes to put on this morning? Is there not food for us to eat?"
Henry's list reminds me of Psalm 103: "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all of his benefits." Our Lord does not want us to be thankless children, so he teaches us to pray like this: "Give us this day our daily bread." That way, when we receive it, we will remember from whence it came and give appropriate thanks. A request for bread should always be followed by a prayer of thanksgiving.
Let me speak a very specific word of application to fathers. Fathers, when you gather around your table as a family, pause before you eat and tell your family, "All this is from God, so let's thank him for this food." If you're alone, speak those words to yourself. God deserves our heartfelt gratitude for the daily bread that he gives us.
We must remember that bread alone will never satisfy.
Third, Jesus teaches us to pray in this way to help our hearts remember that bread alone will never satisfy. He's training our hearts to learn that we really live by something else.
Earlier I mentioned the account from Deuteronomy 8, in which God provides manna for his children in the wilderness. There's something very important in that passage that I want you to see. In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses says, "And he humbled you and let you hunger, and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone."
To paraphrase, God gave Israel manna so that they would have the daily experience of knowing that while the bread is good, it's not enough. This is so crucial to understanding Jesus' word in Matthew 6. God supplied daily bread for Israel for the express purpose of making them aware that the things of this world are not enough to satisfy the human soul.
In Matthew 4:4, Jesus is out in the wilderness. He responds to the temptation of the Devil by repeating those words from Deuteronomy 8: "Man does not live by bread alone, but he lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." As he speaks those words in Matthew 4, he has in his mind both the historical reality of Deuteronomy 8 and the purposes of God. He knows what is behind those words in Deuteronomy 8. I believe that Matthew records this in such a way that when we read Jesus' words on prayer in chapter 6, his words from chapter 4 are still fresh in our minds. When Jesus says, "Give us this day our daily bread," his words in Matthew 4"Man does not live by bread alone"are still ringing in our ears. Jesus wants us to pray for daily bread realizing that it's nice and necessary, but it's not enough. It satisfies us for now, but it only makes us aware of a greater need that food, clothes, cars, and electronic gadgets cannot satisfy.
What we really need is a different kind of breadthe words of life from God. God made us in such a way as to need spiritual food. In other words, God's got bread for you that does satisfy, and Jesus wants us to be aware of our need for that bread every day. In one of the most dramatic scenes in all of the Gospels, having just fed five thousand people with bread, Jesus says to the crowd, "Do not labor for the food that perishes but labor for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you." Later in John 6 he explains: "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
"Sir, give us this bread always," they replied. Jesus said to them, "I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst; for this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life. And I will raise him up on the last day. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."
When they heard that teaching, many in the crowd said: That's a hard teaching. He's talking about himself as bread, and we're supposed to eat that bread. John tells us that, at that point, many in the crowd began to go back home. As Jesus watches the crowds disperse, he turns to the disciples and asks them, "Are you going to go away too?" In a moment of Spirit-inspired brilliance, Peter answers: Where would we go? Because we've been with you long enough to know that you have the words of life. Peter didn't mean simply that Jesus had words about eternal life; he meant Jesus had words that are life.
Jesus teaches us to ask for daily bread to remind us that bread is not enough. We're dependent on it physically, and we should be grateful for it. But ultimately bread satisfies at only the most basic level. You were made for a relationship with God. So it is his Word that you live bythe Word. The Word made flesh is the Bread of Life. The question I want to leave you with is this: Have you found the bread that really satisfies? Have you found in Christ the Bread of Life? Can you say with the psalmist, "Whom have I in heaven but you, and having you I desire nothing on earth; yes, my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my life and my portion forever"?
In Matthew 6:11, Jesus wants to instruct our hearts toward an awareness of our daily dependence on God for everything. He is training our hearts to be grateful for all that we receive. But mostly he is training our hearts to turn us to the bread that really satisfies. The very one who is speaking these words of instruction about prayer is addressing our hearts, saying, "I am the Bread of Life. Come to me." Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever feeds on this bread will have eternal life.
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?