Aldersgate United Methodist Church

Subtitle

 

DID THE FIRST CHRISTIANS PRAY TO JESUS?

 “PRAY THEN IN THIS WAY: OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN…”

MATTHEW 6:9

BRETT A. TODD

May 16, 2022

 

Worship in Bible times was quite different from what people experience in houses of worship today. It was a much more cultic veneration in the sense that worship was mysterious, awe-striking; a holy encounter centered around an unknowable transcendent God (Job 36:26) who once spoke on a mountain top through a burning bush.  

 

Today, this kind of worship would feel quite strange, disquieting, and archaic for most worshippers today.  Worship today is more about feeling comfortable and invited.  

 

This is also true when we talk about prayer.  During Bible times, praying to God was a mysterious, holy, and awe-striking encounter with God.  Behold, when you pray, you are in the presence of God. King David captured this sentiment when he said, “Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth (Psalm 96:9).

 

It is with this understanding of God and worship and prayer that I ask the question, “Did the early Christians pray to Jesus, or was it to the Father?  Be mindful that when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he didn’t say “pray to me”, but he did say, “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven…” words that without doubt belong to the historical Jesus (Matthew 6:9; *Luke 11:2).

 

In the New Testament, there are verses with prayers to Jesus and there are prayers to the Father.  We also have prayers that are to the Father in Jesus' name which seems to be John’s (John 14:13–14) and the Apostle Paul’s (Romans 1:8–10) practice.  Nevertheless, in either case, one thing is clear, when Jesus prayed, he prayed to the Father.

 

This brings about an interesting dilemma.  If Jesus taught his followers to pray to God the Father, then why does Luke record Stephen praying to Jesus? In this story, in the Book of Acts, Stephen is arrested and brought before the Jewish Council and questioned by the high priest concerning his belief in Jesus.  What follows is the longest sermon in the Book of Acts. The Jewish leaders are angered and begin to stone Stephen as he cries out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).  This by all accounts is a prayer to Jesus.

 

So did the early Christians pray to Jesus in the Bible? According to Luke, the author of Acts, it seems the answer would be yes. What happened? In this story, more than likely this was Luke’s way of telling the Jews that the one they had rejected, Jesus, was now exalted to a divine status and sitting at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55).  Note the parallel between Luke 23:46 and Acts 7:59.  However, and this is a big "however", when we look at our earliest accounts, such as the writings of the Apostle Paul, the four Gospels, and Q, prayer was always directed to God the Father.

 

In our next study, we will talk about whether or not Jesus believed in hell.  It should be interesting.

Pastor's Bible Study
THIS IS NOT SUNDAY SCHOOL

In this new online weekly Bible study, you will perhaps hear things you have never heard before.  In other words, this study is not for the faint-hearted, it will be an in-depth study of the Bible that will challenge many of your preconceived ideas about the Bible.  If you are interested, please sign up. I hope this new study will open up opportunities for in-person, video, or ZOOM discussion groups.

 

Most of our time will be spent in the New Testament of the Bible, although we will take a few detours to learn more about the Hebrew Scriptures and even the Dead Sea Scrolls. So, if you are interested in learning more about the Bible, please join us.  The study articles will be by email only to those who sign up.  You may opt to be included or dropped at any time during the series.

 

Pastor Brett Todd


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