How do you know God really loves you? He's really your Father. Things are going swimmingly.
What are you going to say when things aren't going swimmingly, when things are going drowningly? We don't trust His heavenly Fatherhood because things are going swimmingly. The reason we trust His heavenly Fatherhood is because He gave us everything He has in His Son Jesus Christ and in the gift of His Holy Spirit. It's an incredible privilege, isn't it, that as Christians we have been reconciled with the Cosmic King, the Lord of Lords. But have you considered the great privilege it is that we get to call the King of Kings, Father? Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind. This week we are featuring messages from Ligonier Teaching Fellow Sinclair Ferguson from his series Sermon on the Mount. Although our earthly fathers don't always set the best example for us today, Sinclair Ferguson is going to consider the great privilege it is for us as Christians to call God our Father and also the practical implications for our Christian lives.
So here's Dr. Sinclair Ferguson now. Now we've come to this really interesting part of the Sermon on the Mount in the first half of Matthew chapter 6. And in our last study, we saw that from one point of view, what Jesus is doing here is holding up the Father's view of hypocrites to them.
And this is, I think, the explanation for these slightly cartoon-esque descriptions He gives. He wants us to know ourselves. That, of course, was a central element in the Greek philosophy, wasn't it? Know yourself. But what Jesus is teaching is really, you can never really know yourself until you know the heavenly Father and begin to see yourself the way the heavenly Father sees you. John Calvin opens his great Institutes of the Christian Religion by saying that all the wisdom we possess, that is to say true and sound wisdom, consists in this, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves.
And he goes on to say it isn't really possible to untangle these two dimensions of knowledge from one another. Once we come to know the Father, then we come to know ourselves better. And we cannot truly come to know ourselves because we were created for fellowship with the Father and knowledge of the Father. We can't truly come to know ourselves unless we also come to know the Father. And so we emphasized last time that the big word in Matthew chapter 6 is the word Father, fulfillment in chapter 5, Father in chapter 6.
And where all this, as it were, bubbles to the surface, where the quintessence of what it means to know God as Father manifests itself is, of course, in prayer. And this is the central section of chapter 6 verses 1 through 18. There's an interesting difference between the way in which Hebrew literature works and the way in which English literature works.
We tend to move in a kind of direct line to a climax. But often in Hebrew literature, it's what's embedded in the middle that is the really significant thing. There is a relationship, I think, between a Hebrew mindset and mathematics and the ordering of things numerically, isn't there?
I mean, we just notice that sociologically. And there is a love for this kind of pattern in the Bible. The Psalms, for example, often the essential element in a psalm is right there in the middle, sometimes even in what is numerically the middle verse. If I were writing this passage, I think I would have dealt with alms and discipline and then prayer. And so, I might wonder, why is it in the middle?
And the answer is, it's in the middle because it really is the central element. And you'll notice that what Jesus deals with then in chapter 6 and from verse 5 right through to verse 15 is the contrast between this hypocritical way of prayer and a true Jesus way of prayer. Remember how in Luke's Gospel, when we have Luke's account of the giving of the Lord's Prayer, it arises in this situation. Some of the disciples said to Jesus, Jesus, John taught his disciples a prayer. Will you also teach us to pray?
Now, why did they do that? Surely, the answer is obvious because they had heard Him pray and they had never heard anyone else pray like Him. If John 17, for example, which is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the Gospels, if John 17 is a reflection of how Jesus prayed to the Heavenly Father, it's hardly surprising that they came to Him and said, is there any way that you can teach us to pray like this? So here, this Lord's Prayer is set within this context that if we are the children of the Heavenly Father, if we are the inheriting sons of the Heavenly Father, it is because His Son has come in order to introduce us to His Father and to say, when you come to the Father, pray in my name.
That is to say, pray as a member of my family. And this is actually woven into the deep theology of the Gospels. What has happened to Jesus in His baptism? Remember how He had this discussion with John as to whether He would be baptized?
John was saying to Him, you don't need to be baptized. And Jesus is saying, you've just said, I'm the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. So John, what needs to happen here is this, if these sinners are going to be baptized into my name, which is how Matthew's Gospel ends, then here in Jordan symbolically and on the cross really, I need to be baptized into their name. I need to have their sins symbolically washing over me as I will have their sins placed upon me on the cross. And so this marvelous exchange takes place at the heart of the Gospel.
But what is key here is this. This marvelous exchange means that, as Jesus says about baptism, baptism is a family naming ceremony. And in that ceremony, the name of the Lord Jesus is spoken over our lives. That doesn't make any internal difference to me, does it? You know, my parents went through a naming ceremony, probably at the local registrar's office, and said, what's his name?
His name is Sinclair Buchanan Ferguson. That didn't do anything to me internally. Just as the water of baptism doesn't do anything to me internally, whether it's from the local tap or from the Jordan River, it makes no difference whatsoever. But it does do something to the whole of my life. It places a name upon me, and I can never get away from the name my parents gave to me. Actually, my mother was insistent I would have the first name Sinclair for family reasons, but also because she was sure nobody would abbreviate it in any way.
My mother was a wise woman, and I don't know what beclouded her imagination. But that name that has never done anything to me internally has, in a sense, had a profound impact on my life. When I hear the name Sinclair Ferguson, I think there's only one other in the whole universe. I immediately respond, that's me. That's who I am.
I can't think about myself as though I were John Smith or Angus MacDonald. And in the same way, Jesus is beginning to show these disciples, and this gospel will end with Him teaching the disciples, that He's putting His family name on us. And if He has put His family name on us, then with that name we can go to the Heavenly Father, just as Jesus Himself went to the Heavenly Father and say, Abba, Father. And you'll notice when you read the letters of Paul interestingly in Romans chapter 8, Galatians chapter 4, it looks as though this was such a great thing to these early Christians that even if they lived in a Greek-speaking culture, they would often pray, Abba, dear Heavenly Father, not because they wanted to be Hebrews, but because they had been introduced to the Father by the Lord Jesus Christ. Now we're going to have two studies on the prayer in particular.
This study is just about some general considerations. This consideration influences two aspects of our prayer life. It influences our attitude in prayer, and it influences our approach in prayer. You notice that in the New Testament, when we are exhorted not to do something, there's always a replacement.
If we're told to put something off, we're always told, what will take that place? A great Scottish theologian and preacher of the nineteenth century, Thomas Chalmers, once preached a hugely famous sermon with this tremendous title, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. And that's how the gospel works. It isn't just that I'm left to try and deal with the old, for example, the old hypocrisy.
It is that something takes its place, that suffocates it out of existence. And you see this here. Jesus says, for example, don't pray like the hypocrites to be seen by others. Don't pray like the Gentiles, heaping up empty phrases.
If you do, you will be paid in full, but you will never enjoy the fruition of your prayer. A friend of mine, when he was a theological student, came to town, was looking for a church, went to a particular church, happened to be a Presbyterian church. He found it, went to the evening service. He said, as he sat there, the lights went down a little.
This was many years ago. The minister processed down the central aisle and then prostrated himself right at the front of the congregation. And he said, the sheer eloquence of this prayer just blew him out of the water. And he said, that's where I'm going to go.
If this man knows God this way, that's where I'm going to go. And he went the next Sunday night, and it was the same liturgy. It was the same prayer. And it was hugely disappointing for him because he realized at the end of the day, it was the man to whom his eyes had been directed and his eloquence in prayer, when true prayer would direct our eyes to the heavenly Father. They have their reward, at least the minister had his reward. The first Sunday, my friend, was there.
Impressive. I think I remember in a sermon, C. H. Spurgeon preached in 1880, he commented on the fact that he had read in a newspaper a description of a service in which the journalist said he thought that the Reverend so-and-so's prayer was the finest prayer ever offered to a Boston congregation, ever offered to a Boston congregation. And what's the litmus test here? The litmus test is, at the end of praying, are our eyes upon the Father. And if we lead others in prayer, are their eyes upon the Father too? Or as people used to say in Scotland to ministers sometimes after they prayed, that was a fine prayer you put up today. And you see, the focus was all on the words and on the minister and on what they liked in it, but their eyes not raised to the heavenly Father and given this glorious sense of access into His presence and this wonderful sense that with Him we are secure. So Jesus says, don't be doing it in public places.
Find a private place and when you have the private place, go into your closet and there pray and when you pray, say our Father who is in heaven. Now, sometimes people say, well, if we should pray in secret, why do we have these public prayer meetings? Jesus is not saying you should only pray when no one else can hear you.
He didn't keep that principle Himself, did He? He prayed regularly in public. He prayed when there were 5,000 people, hungry people there. He prayed when His disciples were there. No, what Jesus is really emphasizing is not that prayer should always be an isolated activity. Otherwise, we wouldn't customarily pray our Father. That gives us a sense we are with other people. No, Jesus is saying that the big thing here is not the physical location.
The big thing here is the location of the heart in relationship to the Father. It's a matter of our attitude. And if that's so, then we don't think it's a matter of the number of words we use or the eloquence of our words or how loudly we pray as though God were deaf or as though we needed to intimidate Him to hear and answer our prayers. Not at all, says Jesus. Don't heap up words.
Don't heap up words just for their own sake. Have your gaze upon the heavenly Father. Of course, Jesus says you can do that because your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him, verse 8. How many times have people said to you, well, if He knows what I need before I pray, why should I bother praying? Of course, the answer is that we don't pray to tell Him what we need. We don't pray to tell Him things He doesn't know. I know a man who's an elder in a congregation, and at the prayer meeting he began by saying, Lord, you would have read in the newspaper this morning, and he began to pray about it. He didn't really mean that theologically, I'm sure.
It just happened to slip out, and he was a lawyer, and he probably thought that way. No, what we do in prayer is we come to the heavenly Father and we put His outstretched hands into our hands, and it's almost as old like children. We seek to move them in different directions, and we find there are occasions when His hands will not go in that direction, and we begin to discover as we pray that His hands are moving in a different direction. But He wants to catch us up into His purposes and use our prayers as the means by which His blessing is distributed to the world.
My wife Dorothy, who is, as we both know, a far better driver than I am, actually began to learn to drive, I think when she was seven, which is totally illegal, of course. And she was seated on her father's knees and could reach up to the steering wheel, and he would place his hands on the steering wheel, and together they would drive the car. And in a way, that's our privilege. God doesn't want to fulfill His purposes without catching us up into those purposes because, of course, He is a heavenly Father. So there is an attitude that we have in prayer because He is our Father, and there is an approach that we make in prayer. It's not only that because He's our Father we are able to bring our petitions to Him. It's because He is our Father that we come to Him in the very first instance. And when we do, we understand that we are coming to a Father who is a King, and that this is our privilege, that He is the Father of an infinite majesty. And so, what really creates a sense of delight in our lives as we approach Him?
It's not that we bring Him down to the chummy level and speak to Him the way that we might speak to some of our pals when we were in our final year in high school. No, the dawning of the privilege is related to the wonder of the fact that He is both of an infinite majesty and yet He is simultaneously our heavenly Father. It's the indescribable, humanly speaking, tension between these two things, the awesomeness of God and the tenderness of God. It's when we grasp these two things, or perhaps better the gesticulation would be when we grasp these two things, we begin to feel our muscles being stretched spiritually, and we feel something of the delight and the glory and the wonder of being able to come to Him and say to Him, O Abba, dear heavenly Father, I come to You. You have all power, all majesty, all resources, and yet here is what blows my mind.
You want to be known by me as the Father who is in heaven and for me to know You as my loving heavenly Father. And of course, for some people there's an issue here, isn't it? People have said to you, you know, I find this so difficult because I think about my Father. What do we say to ourselves if that's our situation? It's actually increasingly true for many people who are brought to faith from family backgrounds where there has been no grace whatsoever. And what we need to learn is this, that we don't extrapolate from anybody's fatherhood to God's fatherhood. We look, first of all, to God's fatherhood and ask ourselves the question, where do I see what God's fatherhood is really like? Many Christians I think make a misstep at that point.
They look to see whether there are good things in their lives. You know, when you're a child and Father doesn't give you something, then you say, you never give me anything. He's given you everything. He's wise and He's cared for you. But you begin to accuse Him in these ways, and you're not thinking rightly about Him. At that point, you're looking at what you're not getting and you're saying, He isn't really a loving Father. So actually, we can't take our confidence in God's fatherly care for us by our ability to read the providential circumstances of our lives.
Many Christians do that. How do you know God really loves you? He's really your Father. Things are going swimmingly.
What are you going to say when things aren't going swimmingly, when things are going drowningly? We don't trust His heavenly Fatherhood because things are going swimmingly. The reason we trust His heavenly Fatherhood is because He gave us everything He has in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the gift of His Holy Spirit. Remember how Paul puts it in Romans 8, 32? He's using gospel logic and he's saying, look, if the Father didn't spare His own Son but gave Him up to the cross for us all, we see the logical conclusion of that is that if He's done that for us, then He will stop short at nothing to bringing us the blessings He intends for us. It's actually the cross that ultimately persuades us of the love of the heavenly Father, and it's through the cross that we come in prayer and say, in the name of Jesus, our heavenly Father. That was Sinclair Ferguson helping us see the great privilege it is for Christians to be able to call God our Father.
I'm grateful you're joining us today for Renewing Your Mind. The Sermon on the Mount is beloved by Christians. It's perhaps the most well-known sermon, but it is so misunderstood, and so every day this week Sinclair Ferguson will be helping us understand the deep truths contained in this sermon and how it helps us to live as Christians, even today in the 21st century.
So I hope you'll join us all week. This series covers many topics, more than we'll be able to feature this week, including what does it mean to love our enemies, and what were the Beatitudes? What was Jesus trying to say there? If you respond today with your donation of any amount, we'll send you this DVD set, which includes all 12 messages, as well as giving you digital access to the study guide and all of the messages there. This would be a wonderful resource for your Bible study, and so perhaps as you're thinking about what's that next topic you will study, maybe it'll be Sinclair Ferguson and the Sermon on the Mount.
So give your gift today at renewingyourmind.org or by calling us at 800-435-4343. Many Christians are familiar with the Lord's Prayer. Perhaps you've had it explained to you as a pattern for how we should pray, but did you know it's not only that, it's also a pattern for how we're to live as Christians. So I hope you'll join us tomorrow with Sinclair Ferguson Explains, here on Renewing Your Mind. God bless you. God bless you.
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