I invite you to open your Bibles with me to the book of Matthew. Matthew is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew is about 2/3 of the way through the Bible, if you are in Zechariah or Malachi, go a little bit farther. Matthew, chapter 6, beginning in verse 9. As always, you are encourage to leave your Bibles open as we read and study God’s word together.
This fall, we are sitting at the feet of Jesus as he teaches us to pray. We heard first how pray is not about impressing anyone, whether God or the person next to you. Our prayers do not need to be long-winded, because God knows what we need even before we ask. Last week, we heard how, in the opening of the short prayer Jesus taught his disciples called the Lord’s Prayer, we are drawn into the heart of the gospel. When Jesus tells us to pray, “Our Father in Heaven” we are proclaiming the good news of our adoption through Jesus Christ. We have a Father in heaven who is able to do all things and eagerly desires to hear our prayers. This morning, we will listen to the first of six requests, also known as petitions, that are in this short prayer. It’s Matthew 6, beginning in verse 9. But before we hear God’s Word, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule,
Your Holy Spirit our teacher,
and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s Word. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:
Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven,
give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts
as we also have forgiven our debtors
and do not bring us to the time of trial
but rescue us from the evil one
(for yours is the kingdom
and the power and the glory forever. Amen)
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (You may be seated)
Hallowed be your name. The very first request that Jesus gives us to pray is to ask that God’s name would be hallowed. Hallowed is a long and somewhat church-y word and we will break it down and work to understand it in a minute, but before we do that, we should notice something.
BEGIN WITH GOD
We are taught to begin prayer with God. The prayer Jesus taught us to pray starts with a request about God, in fact three requests about God, before it ever gets to our needs. It will get there. In fact, the Lord’s prayer touches on the most central needs of our lives – bread, forgiveness, rescue. But it doesn’t start there. It begins with God and only after fixing our eyes on the Lord’s name, the Lord’s kingdom, the Lord’s will, are we able to then turn our attention to ourselves.
We are taking the time to notice this because this is not how we naturally pray. Left to ourselves, we would begin and end every prayer with ourselves. Prayer becomes a kind of check list, where we make sure to pray for Martha, Mary, John, Tim, Susan, and Justin.
Now, there is nothing wrong with praying a list of concerns from time to time. There is much to pray for.
There is also nothing wrong, in itself, with prayers that begin with our needs. When Jesus came to the disciples walking on water, Peter got out of the boat and walked to meet him. But as Peter saw the wind and waves, he became afraid and began to sink. Now, Peter did not start praying, “O Lord, I know who you are, you commanded the wind and the waves, you were there at creation hovering over the waters, you created the Leviathan…” No, he simply said, “Lord, save me.” And Jesus reached out his hand and pulled him up. Jesus answered Peter’s short, desperate prayer. He didn’t say, “You didn’t say the magic words, hope you know how to swim.” Sometimes, when we are in the pit, in the thick darkness, all we can manage is “Lord, save me.” God hears that prayer.
But through the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is teaching us that our regular pattern of prayer, the posture in which we come before the Lord in prayer most regularly, should begin with God. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name takes us outside of ourselves, our needs, our limited vision, and centers our lives in God. By praying this way, we are being taught to see things they way they truly are. The one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – lies at the beginning of all things, the center of all things, the end of all things – not us. We are not at the center. In the great drama of all ages, God is the central actor, we are bit players called to play our part. The Lord’s prayer moves us off center stage of our Christian lives and asserts that the stage belongs to the Lord. It is not our story and God is a part of it, but it is God’s story and we are called on stage to play our part in his great drama.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name reminds us, contrary to what many teach today, Christianity and Christian prayer does not begin with looking deep into our navels, our feelings, our experience or personal hopes, but by fixing our eyes on the God who has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Friends, this is good news. You are not at the center of the universe. This is good news. The LORD, whose name is holy, is at the center. Not only is not all about us, it is not all on our shoulders. Prayer is not fundamentally about finding a way to manage your life, but about getting in on God’s life that he has given us in the gospel. Prayer is not first and foremost something we do to try and fix what is broken, to right what is wrong, or to make whole what has fallen apart. Instead, in prayer we come before the Father through the Son by the Spirit. We come before the face of God.
It is only when we have God first, God at the center, God’s glory, God’s name at the center of life that we can then turn to look at our lives with a renewed vision for what God is doing. Once our eyes are fixed upon the Lord, then we can turn and look at our lives and our needs.
HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to begin all things with God. And he teaches us to pray, Hallowed be your name. But what does that mean?
To Hallow something is to make something holy. Now, ‘holy’ in the Bible is the word for something that is set apart. If it was an object, it was something set apart for use by God, usually in the temple. If it was a person, they were set apart for service to the Lord. This was true of the people of Israel as a whole, but also of the priests, prophets, and kings in particular. But ‘holiness’ is first and foremost an attribute of God himself. God is not like us. God is set apart from us, wholly distinct from us. Analogies for this are hard, because everything else we know is like us because it has been created. Even slugs and worms, however different, are made of the same stuff as us, were made at some point, change and will die at some point. None of that is true of God. God is holy, wholly different, above and beyond us, because he is the Creator and we are his creations. But God is also ‘holy’ in an ethical sense – he is perfectly good, perfectly wise, perfectly just, perfectly loving.
When we pray Hallowed be your name, we are beginning our prayer to the LORD by acknowledging that he is holy. It is a humbling beginning. We are conditioned by our culture to think that when we come before God, we should say ‘Wow,’ but the holiness of God reminds us that we should also say ‘Woe is me, I am a sinner.’ This is why the Lord’s prayer will include the regular asking for forgiveness. The name of the Lord is holy.
But Hallowed be your name is more than just an acknowledgement, it is a request. We are asking that the Lord’s name – his identity, who he has revealed himself to be – would be made holy.
When we pray Hallowed be your name, we are asking that God would be known for who he is. That his identity, revealed in his name, would be held forth before the world. That all the ways that God is holy, different from us, set apart from us, would be known to the world.
In other words, Hallowed be your name is a way of saying we want the world to know the greatness, power, and holy goodness of our God. May your name be lifted up, may it be exalted, may it be known. May the Lord be known for who he is.
But this task is too big for us. So we don’t pray, ‘we make your name holy,’ but plead for God to do it. ‘Hallowed’ is a passive verb, which means that we pray this petition not with confidence in ourselves or with bold assertions of what we are doing to make the name of God great before the world. God’s name is holy, God’s name is great, we begin in prayer by asking God to show what we know through Jesus Christ by the Spirit before the whole world.
We cannot make God’s name holy, so we ask God to do it. And he has. God’s glory was made known when he broke the power of Pharaoh and brought us out of Egypt on dry ground into a land flowing with milk and honey. God’s name was known to be holy when he planted us in the promised land and gave us every good gift. God’s name was made holy when he cast us out of the land for our sin, but also when he brought us back. God’s name was made holy when God himself came as the man Jesus Christ and died on a cross and rose from the grave, breaking death itself and rescuing us from sin. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. God has made his name holy, because we cannot.
HALLOWING THE NAME
And yet. And yet, we, who belong to Christ, are called to live in such a way that God’s name is honored and not disgraced through us. We can all think of examples of people or situations where, because of the actions of a Christian, the name of God has been dishonored. 2018 has been a particularly disgraceful year. And yet, we who belong to Christ are called to live in such a way that Gods’ name is honored and not disgraced because of us. Because God has made his name holy, we can now set about living so that the world would see the holy name of God in us.
Because God has made his name great, we can live to show the world how great is our God.
I heard a story recently of a college student who is the first person in his family to go to college.
“When, recently, someone offered this student some illegal drugs saying, “Go ahead, try it. It’ll make you feel good,” the student replied, “No.”
“Don’t be so uptight,” said the drug dealer. “Nobody is going to know that you tried a little dope, got a little high.”
“That’s not the point,” said the student. “The point is that my mother cleaned houses and washed floors to sent me to this college. I am here because of her. I am here for her. I wouldn’t do anything that might demean her sacrifice for me.”
This young man lived in light of the sacrifice his mother had made for him. That comes close to how we are to react to the holy God. Christians live peculiar lives in the world, not to earn God’s favor or love, for, in Christ, we have already been made right with God. But instead, because this is true, we live in a way that honors his name.
Christians don’t steal, don’t cheat in their marriages, don’t murder, don’t gossip or slander, not because we think we are better than other people or to try and earn points with God. Instead, it is to honor the name of the Father, who made us and sent his Son to die for us, to honor the name of Jesus, who did more than clean houses and sweep floors, but descended into the depths of sin and death so that we might be raised up, to honor the name of the Spirit, who unites us to Christ and sends us out into the world filled with the presence of God.
Christians honor the name, in some small way ‘hallow’ the name of God, not only in what we say ‘no’ to, but in those peculiar practices of Christian faith. We do it when we love our enemies, knowing that loving them won’t always make them friends. We do it through forgiveness and longsuffering, particularly in the church, when it would be easier to walk away. We do it through humility in a world built on power, strength, and bravado. We do it by caring for the weak, the vulnerable, the abused, the unborn, those whose voices have been taken away. When we do, we honor the name of God.
This is not about perfection, but about following Jesus. When we pray hallowed be your name, we proclaim that God is the central actor in the drama of history and we take our parts in pointing to him. We move to the side and let our lives, in all their slowly redeemed brokenness, point to the greatness of our God. As Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp, puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, so it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.