When You Pray, Say: "Thy Will Be Done"
Click here to listen to this sermon.
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. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. 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” (John 6:35-40).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
When you pray, say: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.
How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.
So far in our Lenten series on the Lord’s Prayer we have prayed that God’s name be honored by us and that His kingdom triumph among us. But now comes something that is just as important: we must firmly keep God’s honor and our salvation, and not allow ourselves to be torn from them. We must also pray that God’s will be done among us and by us.
It will not be easy for us to abide in God’s will. By faith we cling to God’s holy name and His holy kingdom. But evil opposes us and tries to snatch God’s kingdom from us. In this petition we pray that God will work His will among us and protect and keep us safe from our old sinful flesh and from all the evil in the world. We ask God to work His gracious will for us and to provide us with the strength we need.
Jesus prays precisely this way in Gethsemane: “Not My will, Father, but Yours be done.” And His Father’s will is to save a world teeming with sinners, through Jesus, His Son; and only by Jesus, by means of His Son’s agonizing suffering, death, and resurrection. It is the Father’s will to crush Him, to lay on Him the sin of the world, to put to Jesus’ lips the cup of His wrath and damnation. And that He would drink it completely—for you, for all, for your salvation.
The Father’s will is that Jesus be your Savior. But that doesn’t mean that God’s will is always easy. If you’ve tried to follow God’s will, even for a little while, you know this to be is true. And Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane shows that it wasn’t always easy for Him to follow God’s will either.
The anticipation of a painful ordeal is often more agonizing than the ordeal itself. That is one reason we are better off not knowing exactly what the future holds. As Jesus brought His disciples to the Garden, He knew what He would have to endure in the hours ahead. He was face-to-face with death. Before He could witness another sunset, His bruised and bloody body would be taken down from the cross and hastily placed in a borrowed tomb.
Jesus knew what was coming. The extreme agony of body and soul that He suffered in Gethsemane was even greater than the physical pain inflicted upon Him by His enemies. Only the agony of the Father’s wrath poured out for sin and the loneliness of being totally forsaken by the Father while He hung on the cross would be worse.
Jesus’ agony was intensified because He was not facing death as an ordinary man. We are born into this world with the taste of death in our mouths. Our lives are a gradual process of dying. Still, it is a fearful and terrible thing for a mortal man to die because we were created to live forever. The bond between body and soul was not intended to be broken. But when sin came into the world, that bond weakened. Sooner or later our souls will be separated from our bodies. It is part of the “natural” process in our fallen, cursed world. For the sinless Son of God, however, death was most unnatural, not ordinary at all.
The agony of anticipating death was so much greater for Jesus, not only because He was no ordinary man, but also because His was no ordinary death. We experience the natural consequences of our own sins when we die. But Jesus’ death was the unnatural consequence of the sins of others. The burden of the sins of all people was upon His shoulders. Just think of the terror that a guilty conscience can bring upon one sinner who is face-to-face with death. Then consider the fact that Jesus had voluntarily taken the guilt of the whole world upon Himself. It is no wonder that He said to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” We cannot begin to comprehend His anguish. We can only thank Him for what He endured for us.
Jesus’ agony of body and soul was increased by the fact that He was facing a lonely death. He knew that His disciples would soon be scattered. Satan would attempt to divide and conquer. In a sense, the disciples had already abandoned Him. Three times He returned to find Peter, James, and John fast asleep.
The disciples had good intentions. They sincerely meant what they had said about being willing to die with Jesus. When Jesus came back and woke them up the first time, they must have been embarrassed. Peter, the boldest in saying that he would never fall away was chastised for not being strong enough to pray with Jesus for even one hour. “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.”
That explains the disciples’ difficulties, but what about Jesus? Why did He struggle so? Since Jesus is the Son of God, it would seem that He would have been aware of the absolute necessity of His substitutionary suffering and death. After all, that was why He had come into the world in the first place. So how could He seem to forget it?
We can solve this mystery only by pointing to another one: the humiliation of Christ. Jesus took upon Himself our human nature, and without giving up any of His divine powers, He refrained from using them for His own benefit. Paul says that He “made Himself nothing,” literally, “He emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7). Rather than rely on His own divine power, the Son of Man availed Himself of the same source of power we have at our disposal—God’s Word and prayer.
Jesus illustrates the old saying that prayer changes things. Prayer does change things—but not in the way that most people might think. When we pray, prayer does not change God; prayer changes us.
As Jesus fell on His face (the only time in His whole life that we are told He assumed this common Old Testament prayer posture) His first prayer was a heart-wrenching plea: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me.” There is no question about the sincerity of His words. He had a genuine desire to be relieved of the agony He had just begun to endure. Although He knew of no alternative—and suggested none—He earnestly desired that there might be one.
Jesus’ second prayer was slightly different from His first one. Instead of saying “if it is possible,” Jesus said, “If it is not possible.” His vision was beginning to clear. It is as though before His first prayer the crushing load of sin that He was bearing and the furious assaults of Satan had combined to cloud His vision. So very recently He had explained to His disciples that it was necessary for Him to suffer all these things. But once He was alone in Gethsemane, the burden seemed too great to carry… until He took it to His Father in prayer.
Not only do we notice a difference between his first and second prayers, but we also see that after His second prayer Jesus does not bother to rouse Peter, James, and John again. The feeling of desperation is fading. A grim determination is growing in His heart. After His third prayer, He is able to say, “Rise, let us be going; see My betrayer is at hand.” Yes, prayer does change things.
It is also worth noting that even Jesus did not always get what He asked for when He prayed. There certainly was no sin in asking for something that His Father chose not to give Him. But when we say prayer changes things, that does not mean all you have to do is pray long enough and hard enough, and God will give you what you want. Jesus prayed so hard, He sweat drops of blood, and He still didn’t get what He was asking for.
Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane demonstrate what this means: “Lord, bring My will into perfect harmony with Your good and gracious will.”
The arrest in Gethsemane, the kangaroo court before Pilate, and the bitter suffering and crucifixion of Good Friday—this is all God’s good and gracious will. For without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Jesus is more than willing to do just that. And He did it. His sacrificial blood that is spilled all over the altar of the cross, sprinkled on your body, and poured into your mouth—purifies you from all sin.
Jesus was always about doing the Father’s will. That was His whole life. “My food,” He confessed in John 4:34, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” In our text, Jesus proclaims: “For I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).
“It is finished,” Jesus cried from the cross. God’s will is done, by Jesus, without your prayer. “The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer,” the Catechism correctly teaches. God is, after all, sovereign.
God created everything and you without consulting you. He didn’t ask the world or you if you wanted to be redeemed. He sends His Son Jesus without your prayer. God doesn’t wet His index finger and stick it in the air to see where the latest opinion poll winds are blowing. God did not need your permission in order to save you. He didn’t ask: “Now, would you like to be saved?” Truly, truly I say to you: where God causes His name to be hallowed—where God causes the reign of Jesus’ death to come, to be manifested, and bestowed—there His will is done!
In heaven God’s will is unopposed. But here on earth it’s a different story. And so Jesus teaches you to pray “Thy will be done” so that the good and gracious will of God be done among you.
That God’s will be done among you. That’s what you’re praying for! And when you pray this way you’d better buckle up. Strap yourself in tight. You’re in for a rough ride. The battle is on. Your bitter enemies—Satan, the world, and your sinful nature—won’t stand for all this hallowing of God’s name. They don’t want Christ’s reign of forgiveness be lorded over you or God’s will to be done among you. They will go on the offensive; attacking you from all sorts of angles. Satan is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. This evil trinity blasphemes God’s Name and assaults God’s kingdom. So that His good and gracious will might not be done among you.
So Christ leads you and carries you in fighting back. Against your old Adams and Eves. Against the world and against Satan. With His very own words! When you pray, say: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” With these words we’re not trying to change God’s will. Instead, He would change and align our will to His. That His name be hallowed among us. That His will be done among us. And this means that our stubborn and wicked wills must be crushed! Our sinful wills must be drowned and put to death! Everything in us that will not hallow God’s name nor let His reign come must come to an end.
What is it in your life that refuses to hallow God’s name? Or let Christ’s reign of redemption have its way with you? Whatever it is, it is time to pray: “Not My will be done Father; but Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Praying this way with Jesus and with His own words puts to death all that would prevent, hinder, or block the hallowing of God’s name and His gracious kingdom among us.
“Thy will be done” in our families, homes, marriages, bedrooms, boardrooms, and congregations! “Thy will be done” in our sicknesses, sufferings, and service to others! “Thy will be done” in our doubts, despair, and most especially in the hour of our dying!
What is God’s will? The rite of private confession and absolution in the Small Catechism explains it this way: “Dear pastor, please hear my confession and pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will.” Did you hear that? “Pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will.” Isn’t that incredible! Forgiveness for Christ’s sake is God’s will for you!
That’s precisely why God gathers you into the Church so that you can hear this forgiveness in the Word of the Gospel, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. In these means of grace, your prayer is answered. God’s good and gracious will is done among you in the forgiveness of your sins.
Jesus promises: “This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I shall lose none of all that He has given Me but raise them up on the last day. For My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day.”
In Christ’s, God’s will is done. God’s name is hallowed. His kingdom reigns. You have eternal life. You have salvation. You are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Adapted from a sermon series presented by Brent Kuhlman at a pre-Lenten Preaching Seminar on Luther’s Small Catechism the 3rd chief part—The Our Father.