The New Testament Gospels tell the story of Jesus Christ. Each Gospel provides distinct aspects of the story borne from the unique perspectives of each of the four authors. The pericope of the Lord’s Prayer exhibits these differences while reinforcing the unifying truth of Jesus.
As Jesus makes himself known to the world, his disciples first come to acknowledge his greatness by honoring him as “Rabbi” which means “Teacher.” Jesus is on the mountaintop telling the people how to live and a disciple approaches him and says:
“Jesus, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11.1)
The Gospel of Luke tells of this disciple who wants to know how to live, how to love, how to serve, and especially, how to pray. Luke was not an apostle so all of his knowledge about Jesus came from others. His writing reflects that disciple’s point of view and captures his yearning to know Jesus more.
Matthew was one of the twelve apostles. He wrote the Gospel for the people of the Jewish community so they could reconcile the truth of Jesus within the context of the Torah (“Torah” means “instruction.”) His writing provides explicit statements of “do’s and don’ts.” In the passages about the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives exact instructions on how to pray. First, he says what not to do in prayer:
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.” (Matthew 6:5)
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)
Then, Jesus proclaims the words of the Lord’s Prayer: (Matthew 6:9 – 13)This is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
The Gospel of Mark looks at this scene from a third perspective. Biblical historians believe that Mark’s Gospel was the transcription of the speeches of Peter. As such, Mark’s language is more familiar. In this Gospel, rather than reciting the formal words of the Lord’s Prayer, Mark writes of Jesus giving a general explanation of praying to God: (Mark 11:24, 25)
“Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
The Gospels of Luke, Matthew, and Mark show a progression of Jesus 1) being asked to teach us to pray; 2) then instructing us on the words of prayer; 3) and summarizing by explaining the way to pray. A single story of the Lord’s Prayer told from three different perspectives that together reveal the truth and beauty of Christ’s teaching.
What about the fourth Gospel from John? John was the Gospel author who was closest to Jesus. John is sitting next to Jesus at the Last Supper when Jesus offers his own prayer to the Lord (below are all taken from John 17:1 – 26):
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”
Jesus continues his prayer by recalling how he had taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer:
“For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them.”
Jesus then prays for the Divine protection of his believers:
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
Jesus goes on to pray for others who will come to believe in him through his disciples:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
Jesus prays for all people to receive his glory:
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”
Jesus ends his prayer with one all-encompassing, never-ending commitment:
“Father, I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Four stories of Christian prayer, one truth: through prayer—ours and His—Jesus unites us with God in eternal life.
Jesus, teach me to pray.
These Gospel stories are re-imagined in the book series:
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