By Angus Harley

The ‘Lord’s prayer’ (Matt.6:9-13) is written into Christian folklore. Unfortunately, Roman Catholics have abducted it, turning it into one of their sacramentalist mantras. Those of a theological background are familiar with Jesus’ prayer as the divine Son recorded in John 17. It is a source of great theological inspiration. But few remember, or write about, Jesus’ ‘other’ prayer, the ‘forgotten’ one, Matthew 11:25-27:

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Why is this prayer forgotten? The simplest answer is that it is not chic, for it has too many negative vibes in it that do not fit in with the modern evangelical ‘everything is unconditional love’ that is so crucial for hand-raising, hour long, ‘worship’. Another reason is that it is too ‘theologically’, too ‘doctriney’, and modern elders consider it a bit too ‘dense of a cake’ for them or others to eat. Jesus’ teaching here is uni-level theology; what we need is a basic level of teaching as in the Lord’s prayer. Another feature is that Jesus’ words simply do not fit the modern evangelical model of a prayer. Prayer is made for every ailment under the sun, every financial hardship, every family member who’s struggling; but prayer over actual, ‘for real’, spiritual, kingdom things is way, way, way down at the bottom of the shopping list. Spiritual prayer is an afterthought, an addendum, a nod to an ancient form of Christian piety that is no longer necessary. Another reason is the prayer is irrelevant: it’s Jesus’ personal prayer, and does not apply to us. The Lord’s prayer was for us. Simple! A final cause is that the prayer is just too radical even for the most conservative evangelical elder to utter in public. ‘We thank you, Father, that you do not reveal salvation to the stubborn’ is not going to come out of any elder’s mouth in the next century. You don’t win converts to the kingdom through such bleak, heavy words, and no saint is built up through dark thoughts.

All in all, the prayer is way too negative, way too deep, way too spiritual, way too irrelevant, and way too radical. Just saying!

The mind of Christ

We speak so highly of the mind of Christ, and our need to grow in our knowledge of Christ, yet, here is a very, very intimate prayer that opens up Jesus’ inner thoughts about the Father, and its content is ignored! How much more mind-of-Christ-ish can you get than John 17 and Matthew 11:25-27? How do we expect to think and act like Jesus if we ignore what he says, cherry-picking his words and prayers for what suites us? Why cut this prayer off from the assembly? Is this passage and prayer, the words of Jesus, now irrelevant for God’s flock? No living Christian will say that they have to replicate this prayer as if they were the Son speaking to the Father. So, can we stop using that excuse? We have to adapt it, just like we do the whole of Scripture. What happened to the ‘full counsel of the word of God’ belief? Please, elder, prove that you believe it, for I have not heard in regard to this prayer!

What Jesus says is good enough for me

I had a friend who said to me that, if the Scripture had said the Egyptians had drowned in a teaspoon of water, that would be good enough for him, for God’s word is enough.

Jesus says that he gives thanks, or praise, to the Father that he the Father hid his salvation from the wise and intelligent. To Jesus, the Father was well-pleased to do this. If Jesus said these things, it’s good enough for me, and I’m going to start bringing this language into my prayers and spiritual/theological vocab.

What’s wrong with negative?

Much is made of Jesus’ “I will give your rest” line of Matthew 11:28, but its immediate theological context is deemed irrelevant to Jesus’ claim. V28 is ‘soft’ and ‘cozy’, and brings hope and joy and solace. But by comparison, Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:26-27 are a complete downer. Quick, get the bottle of fluoxetine, I’m depressed! You do realize, elder, that the NT is riddled with ‘negative’ teaching? Have you by any chance happened upon the book of Revelation? Perhaps you stumbled over John 2 and Jesus’ whip-attack on the Jews of the temple. Jesus came to bring a sword, not peace (Matt.10:34)! Why, elder, are you not thanking God that he hides the purpose of Jesus’ ministry from those who are arrogant know-it-alls? Why is that which was “well-pleasing” to someone who happened to be Lord of heaven and earth obnoxious or irrelevant to you? I thank this Lord that evil people who pursue wickedness will not enter his kingdom. I have no intentions of ‘facilitating’ pigs who would trample the Gospel pearls, or dogs who hate the truth (Matt.7:6). Thank God that these arrogant, puffed-up, fools do not get to see the purpose of Jesus’ ministry! Aren’t you tired of evil in the land, elder? Does it not bother you that people attack the Gospel? Are you more concerned about numbers in the ‘church’, or proclaiming and praying God’s full counsel?

“Come to me”

It is impossible to understand Matthew 11:28-30 without its background of the rest of Matthew 11. The “weary and heavy-laden” are not ‘every single person who is not a Christian’. Only those who see the purpose of Jesus’ ministry will come to him. How can arrogant know-it-alls rest humbly in Christ? How can they learn from him? Those who are poor in spirit, broken, and aware of their need of Christ, will come to him, take up his yoke, and rest in him. Only these ones will learn from him.

                So, it is entirely alien to the text to say that Matthew 11:28-30 is a universal offer of the Gospel. It most definitely is not! There is no ‘offer’, here. There is, rather, a call to a certain group: the truly humble who see the purpose of Jesus’ ministry and who come to him will find rest in him, and he will teach them. This is the Gospel, according to Matthew 11.