“Hallowed Be Thy Name” (The Lord’s Prayer)
For our midweek Lenten services this year we’re doing a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. I’m calling it “Lord, Teach Us to Pray,” because that was the request of the disciples to Jesus, as you heard in the reading from Luke 11. And Jesus responded by giving them the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Notice, by the way, that the request was “Lord, teach us to pray,” not just “Lord, teach us about prayer.” And notice that Jesus’ response starts out, “When you pray, say. . . .” Not “When you think about the concept of prayer, sit there and do nothing.” You see, the point of this teaching, and the point of this whole sermon series, is not just to fill our heads with information about prayer, but rather, that we would actually pray. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Last week we started out with the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus teaches us to address God as “Our Father who art in heaven.” We said that God is not some abstract “Higher Power” that we cannot reach, that we cannot know, and that we can’t be sure if he’s hearing our prayers and looking favorably upon us. No, in and through Christ, we have a much better relationship with God than that. Jesus has revealed God to us. We can know that God is our kind and loving heavenly Father. Jesus has opened the way to God for us. By his death and resurrection and his ascension into heaven for us, Jesus Christ has won forgiveness for our sins, has given us new life, and is seated at God’s right hand, interceding for us, so that now our prayers do have access to the throne of grace. God hears our prayers, and he has mercy on us, for Christ’s sake.
Now after the introduction, that is, the address to God as “Our Father in heaven,” we come to the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. The First Petition means the first thing we are asking for in this prayer. The petitions are the things we’re asking for or requesting. And the first one in the Lord’s Prayer is “Hallowed be thy name.” Notice, the first thing we’re asking for is not something like, “Lord, give me a new car,” or even, “Lord, help Aunt Tillie in the hospital.” We’ll get to Aunt Tillie, and maybe even to a new car, later in the prayer. But that’s not where Jesus would have us begin. See, Jesus has us start out with something about God himself, a request and a concern about God’s name, that it would be hallowed. Now of course this will be of the greatest benefit to us, but we don’t start out with a bunch of requests for our own immediate needs. God’s name comes first.
“Hallowed be thy name.” I guess we should explain those two words, what is meant by “hallowed” and what is meant by “name.” First, God’s “name.” Biblically speaking, God’s name is the sum total of everything we know about God, as he has revealed himself to us in his Word. God’s name is all of his attributes and all of his actions rolled into one, made known to us in Scripture, so that, through faith, we know God as he really is. Natural man does not know God, does not have the Spirit, and thus does not know the truth about who God is. But you, dear Christian, you do. You know God. You have faith in him. He has revealed himself to you in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. You have the Holy Spirit to lead you in all truth. You are baptized in the name of the triune God, the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You have received God’s name as a gift. It is your greatest treasure.
So then what does it mean that God’s name is to be “hallowed.” “Hallowed” is not a word that we use much anymore. It’s an old-Englishy type of word that means “to be made holy” or “to be kept holy.” Now certainly we cannot make God’s name holy. It is already holy in itself, because God himself is holy. As we just heard from the Catechism, “God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.”
So what we’re praying for in this petition is that God’s name would be kept holy, by us and among us. This means that’s God’s name would be set apart as holy, set apart for the special purpose for which God has revealed his name to us. And that is, so that we would know God as he really is, that we and others around us would know the truth about God, what he has done and who he is for us. God’s name is hallowed, or kept holy, in the way that we teach about God, that we teach the truth and not error, and also in the way that we live as God’s children who bear his name, that we bring honor to his name and not shame.
So both doctrine and life. What we teach and how we live. These are the ways in which God’s name is either hallowed or dishonored among us. And in this first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, this is what we’re praying for: First, that God’s name would be honored in the way that the church teaches, that we would preach and teach God’s Word in its truth and purity. And, conversely, that all error and false teaching would be opposed and overturned.
You and I need to pray earnestly and fervently for good, solid, Law-and-Gospel, Christ-centered preaching and teaching. This is not something we should take for granted, because this is not something that you can find everywhere. Not all churches that call themselves Christian and use the Bible get it right. Many churches interject error at some point or another. They introduce the idea of works as contributing toward your salvation. They would have you focus on “your decision for Jesus,” instead of on what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for you. They deny the truth about the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. They downplay the person and work of Christ, they downplay repentance and the forgiveness of sins, in favor of “how-to” sermons on how to live your best life now. All these errors can lead people astray. These things do not hallow God’s name as it ought to be hallowed. So we pray against these errors.
Now on the positive side, we pray that God’s name would be hallowed by faithful, biblical preaching and teaching. Sound doctrine is God-pleasing because it gives all the glory to God and it gives true comfort to troubled consciences. We pray that the church would be strengthened in the truth, that right doctrine would be faithfully proclaimed and taught and believed at every level. We pray for our seminaries, that men there would be built up in the faith, so that they can become faithful messengers of the good news and ambassadors for Christ. We pray for pastors, that they would be bold and courageous, in the face of all adversity and opposition, both from within and from without. These are prayers that are right in line with this petition, “Hallowed be thy name.”
So first, in our teaching, that is, in our doctrine, we pray that God’s name would be hallowed. And then, right along with it, we pray that in our life, in the way that we live as Christians, that we would bring honor to the name of God that we bear.
When Christians do not live according to God’s will, when they step outside the good boundaries of God’s commandments–when we do such things, and people see the disparity between our words and our deeds, then we are bringing dishonor to God’s name. People look and think, “If that’s what a Christian is like, I don’t want anything to do with it!”
But on the other hand, when we do live as the children of God that we are–not in a show-off manner, but in a humble, loving spirit–then people will notice that and be drawn to Christ and his church. It’s like in the early church, when outsiders would look at the Christian community and say, “See, how they love one another!” It’s like what Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine that men see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Yes, how we live as Christians can and does bring glory to our Father, and this, along with the church’s sound doctrine–this is how you and I can hallow God’s name and keep it holy among us.
Now if ever there was anyone who hallowed God the Father’s name, it was our Lord Jesus Christ himself. You heard it in the reading from John 17, Jesus’ so-called “High Priestly Prayer.” As he was about to go to the cross, Jesus prayed to the Father and said: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. . . . I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me. . . . I kept them in your name. . . . And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
Dear friends, Jesus Christ hallowed God’s name with his very life. He set himself apart for the task the Father gave him, which was to accomplish the salvation of the world by his death on the cross. This he did, completely. The purpose is that you and I and millions of others would know God as he really is and come into the eternal life that is found only in him.
Jesus is the one who truly and completely hallows God’s name, and you and I find our refuge and our identity in him. We know a kind and loving heavenly Father in and through Christ. As baptized disciples of Jesus, we pray along with him. Our minds and wills are shaped by Christ. Our prayer priorities are shaped by him. What Jesus would have us pray for, this is what we want to pray for. And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.
So God will always be calling us back to the Lord’s Prayer. These petitions will always be things that we can pray, every day, throughout our lives. And first among them is this petition we have heard today: “Hallowed be thy name.” Yes, Lord, teach us to pray this!