Christianity 201

August 10, 2015

The True Lord’s Prayers — Part Three

This is the third of a three-part original series for C201.

In the healing of Lazarus in John 11, we see a brief admission on the part of Jesus that some of his prayers — while directed to the Father — were said in the presence of witnesses for their (and our) benefit.

Jesus prays,

“Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”  (NLT)

It’s a teaching moment inasmuch as we are meant to eavesdrop on this prayer. So does Jesus pray, ‘Father, please raise Lazarus from the dead?’ No, there is no such request at this point. The IVP Bible Commentary notes:

We do not hear an actual petition but rather Jesus’ thanksgiving that the Father heard him (v. 41). The communication between the Father and the Son regarding Lazarus had taken place much earlier, since he already announced what would take place when the messengers arrived with the news (v. 4). We here see the Son as subordinate to the Father, bringing a request to the Father. But far more is involved, for he goes on to say, I knew that you always hear me (v. 42). The clear teaching of the Old Testament is that God listens to the righteous, not the unrighteous, except for prayers of repentance (see note on 9:31). Thus, Jesus is claiming to be righteous before God and in unbroken fellowship with him. He knows he is heard; he has utter confidence in this relationship. “Jesus lives in constant prayer and communication with his Father. When he engages in vocal prayer, he is not entering, as we do, from a state of non-praying into prayer. He is only giving overt expression to what is the ground and base of his life all along. He emerges from non-vocal to vocal prayer here in order to show that the power he needs . . . for the raising of Lazarus . . . depends on the gift of God. It is through that prayer and communion and constant obedience to his Father’s will that he is the channel of the Father’s saving action. That is why the prayer is a thanksgiving rather than a petition” (Fuller 1963:107).

He vocalizes his prayer for the sake of the crowd: I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me (v. 42). In other words, it is not enough for people to be impressed with Jesus. They must believe in him as the one sent from God. It is precisely because Jesus is sent from God and does as God directs him that he is heard by God. The Father as the sender is primary. Jesus is not a wonder-worker who is able to get God to do what he wants him to do. He is the obedient Son sent by the Father to do the Father’s will. The Father’s will and the Son’s petition coincide exactly. Later Jesus will say that his followers are to share in this same relationship through their union with him, and thereby they will also be heard by the Father…

…In saying the purpose of this prayer is that they might believe, Jesus is again acting with divine graciousness and mercy. Such belief brings eternal life. Thus, this miracle is not just for the sake of Lazarus and his sisters, who already do have such faith and the life it brings, but for others that they may have life. The miracle reveals Jesus as the life-giver sent from the Father, and one receives life from him as one has faith in him. We see the grace of God evident in several ways in this story. This last miraculous sign continues to reveal the glory of God as have all the others.

After the prayer comes the deed: Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Please don’t make the mistake of reading through this commentary too quickly. There are a number of dynamics going on in this prayer. Read the full text of the Lazarus story, then focus on the prayer again, and note the key elements.

The cry from the cross

There is one more example I want to leave with you of a prayer clearly meant to be overheard, though not everyone will agree with this interpretation.

This is the fourth of the “seven last words of Christ” or what is sometimes called the “cries of Christ from the cross.”

KJV Matt 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

This is a direct quotation from Psalm 22, which is a Messianic Psalm. Author Warren Weirsbe writes:

David is the author, but we have a difficult time finding an occasion in his life that would call forth this kind of psalm. According to the record, the Lord never deserted him in his hour of need but always provided friends to help him and deliverance from his enemies. The intense suffering described here isn’t that of a sick man in bed or a soldier in battle. It’s the description of a criminal being executed! Numerous quotations from the psalm in the four gospels, as well as Hebrews 2:10-12, indicate that this is a messianic psalm. We may not know how this psalm related to the author’s personal experience, but we do know that David was a prophet (Acts 2:30), and in this psalm he wrote about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first part (vv. 1-21) focuses on prayer and suffering and takes us to the cross, while the second part (vv. 22-31) announces the resurrection and expresses praise to the glory of God. An understanding of Messiah’s suffering and glory is basic to grasping the message of the Bible (Luke 24:25-27; 1 Peter 1:11).

For that reason, in addition to everything else happening here — and I don’t want to minimize the whole theme of Jesus “abandonment” by the Father — some feel that an acceptable interpretation of this is like a giant, flashing neon billboard which says, “READ PSALM 22!” In other words, ‘If you’re wondering what is truly happening here, take a moment to read where everything you are seeing this day was written prophetically by David.’

The prayer is truly meant to be overheard.

Should we adopt this prayer methodology? There may be times or occasions when it’s helpful for a son or daughter to hear the loving prayer of a father or mother on their behalf. Or a prayer by a pastor which draws those who overhear into a particular text. Perhaps you can think of other examples. As with so many things, it is also easy for us to mis-apply this. Wisdom and discernment are needed.

The IVP Bible Commentary and Warren Weirsbe Bible Study are a number of resources at   Select a single verse and click on “study tools.”

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