“The Lord’s Prayer in the Lord’s Passion” is the theme of the Lenten devotion that Steadfast Lutherans has put together this year. The following sermon addresses the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. For further reflection, read The Large Catechism, III. 30-32 (Introduction to Prayer), III. 59-70 (Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus has taught us to pray to our Father in heaven, “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” And we specify Thy name, Thy kingdom, Thy will because there are other names that people want to be hallowed, other kingdoms that people want to come, and other wills that people want to be done. Tonight we focus on this Third Petition, “Thy will be done.” It’s important to realize that when we ask that the Father’s will be done, we’re praying against three other wills that compete with his: the will of the devil, the will of the world, and the will of the sinful nature.
God “wills that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth,” as it says in 1 Timothy 2:4. The devil’s will is opposed to this will of God. Jesus describes the devil in Luke 8:12, the Parable of the Sower, “then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” It says in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord… is patient toward you, not wanting that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” And contrary to this, the devil wills that all should perish and that none should reach repentance.
The devil would gladly kill every faithful pastor, rip up every Bible, torch every church building, and wipe all memory of God’s Word from our minds. The devil would make the whole world one big waterless place so that there could never be another Baptism, so that neither grain nor grape would grow to give us the elements for the Lord’s Supper, so that man’s tongue would stick to the roof of his mouth and the Absolution would no more be heard on earth. And against the devil’s will, we pray to our Father in heaven, “Thy will be done,”
The world’s will is likewise opposed to God’s will. It says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” And then there’s the world, whose will is to indulge in all manner of sexual immorality. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Yet the world never wills to give thanks. Its will is to boast always in itself, and it refuses to see anything as a gift that’s been received from God.
What’s more, the devil has enlisted the world in his service, because the world’s will nicely complements his will. The devil doesn’t want you to believe and be saved; the world doesn’t want you to acknowledge that there is any God to believe in. It’s a match made in hell. And against the world’s will we again pray to our Father in heaven, “Thy will be done.”
But there aren’t just competing wills out there. Within your very chest is a will that is opposed to God’s will. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:3 that among the sons of disobedience “we all formerly conducted ourselves in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the wills of the flesh and the mind.” Now that Christ has saved us, we no longer conduct ourselves according to our passions nor carry out the wills of flesh and mind. Nevertheless, those passions and wills have not disappeared. Our own flesh has a will that wants what is contrary to God’s will, with the result that there is a war of wills within us, as it says in Galatians 5:17, “the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.”
This war of wills within us can negatively influence our prayers. Jesus asks us, as he asked the blind beggar several weeks ago, “What do you will that I should do for you?” And the sinful flesh has all sorts of things to request, prayers that are actually quite sinful and godless. If we pray according to God’s will, then we can have certainty in our prayers, as it says in 1 John 5:4, “This is the confidence we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” And to be clear, when the apostle refers to God’s will he does not mean some secret, unknown will of God that leaves us guessing. Rather, the apostle refers to the will of God as God has made known his will in the Scriptures. When we pray according to God’s revealed will, we can say “Amen” with confidence at the end of our prayers. But if our prayers proceed from the will of the flesh instead of the Scriptures, then as it says in James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Because of the war of wills within us, the Third Petition is perhaps the hardest petition to pray, because not only do we pray it against the devil and the world: we also pray it against ourselves. There are times you know what needs to happen in your life (or so you suppose), and you pray as if God were at a loss about what to do and were awaiting your counsel. On such occasions, your will has a great deal to say. But are you willing to pray the Third Petition, “Thy will be done”? Are you willing to pray against yourself?
By nature – by which I mean our corrupted nature – we are uncomfortable with being at the mercy of someone else’s will. But this discomfort is unfounded when we consider the will of God. Listen to how Jesus and his apostles speak of God’s will, and you’ll see that being at the mercy of God’s will is truly a mercy.
Jesus says in John 6:39-40, “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.” The will of your Father in heaven is that you should have eternal life and resurrection. This is a good and gracious will.
Paul writes in Galatians 1:4 that the Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins to bring us out from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” God’s will was that Jesus die for our sins to deliver us from evil. The Father’s will is a good and gracious will.
Or again, in Hebrews 10 the author quotes the words of Jesus to the Father, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb. 10:7, quoting Ps. 40:8). And then the author of Hebrews comments, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10). Again, and always and forever: the Father’s will is a good and gracious will.
So what do we have to lose in praying the Third Petition? When we do so the devil trips, and the world falters, and the sinful nature dies a little more. When we pray “Thy will be done,” our Father strengthens and keeps us firm in his Word and faith. And therefore, as we sing in the hymn, “The will of God is always best / And shall be done forever; / And they who trust in Him are blest, / He will forsake them never. / He helps indeed / In time of need, / He chastens with forbearing; / They who depend / On God their friend, / Shall not be left despairing.” Amen.