The First Petition: “Hallowed be Your Name”

 

Psalm 105:1-11 (text); Revelation 15:1-8; Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 47

March 3, 2013 Download this sermon (PDF)

 

Last Sunday, we studied the introduction to the model prayer that Jesus our Lord and Savior taught us, “Our Father who is in heaven.” We call on God who, though he is in heaven, is near us, and hears our prayers. He is a Father who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” In our call to worship, we heard all kinds of benefits he gives us: forgiveness of sin, healing from afflictions, redemption from the pit of sin and death, steadfast love and mercy, and all other good things (Psa 103:1-5). And he is able to fulfill all his promises because he is the Sovereign King of the Universe, who sits on his throne in heaven, full of majesty, power and glory!

The Agony in the Garden, Giovanni Bellini, 1459 (click to enlarge) “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

The Agony in the Garden, Giovanni Bellini, 1459 (click to enlarge) “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Since he is our merciful but powerful Father in heaven, we are now able to come to him in our time of need. The rest of the Lord’s Prayer are six petitions that we regularly ask of our Father: the coming of God’s kingdom, God’s will be done in our lives, material provisions, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation. Today, we come to the first petition, “Hallowed be your name.” But this is more than a petition; it is also a praise and adoration of our heavenly God the Father.

Our Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 122 reading tells us what is involved in “hallowing” God’s name. First, we are “to hallow, magnify, and praise” God in all his works that show his “power, goodness, justice, mercy, and truth shine forth.” Second, we are to “order our whole life, our thoughts, words, and deeds,” in order that God’s name “may not be blasphemed, but honored and praised on our account.”

And our text in Psalm 105:1-11 tells us these two ways in which we “hallow” God’s name. The psalmist tells God’s people to “give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name”; “sing praises to him”; and glory in his holy name” (vv 1-3). It also commands the people to “tell of all his wondrous works” [to] “a thousand generations” (v 8).

The summary of Psalm 105:1-11 can then be divided into two reasons why God’s people must “hallow” God’s name: first, That His People May Honor His Name; and second, That Through His People, Others May Honor His Name.

That His People May Honor His Name
We are all too familiar with these words, “Hallowed be your name,” but what does this really mean? This phrase is hard to translate, because we don’t normally speak in this way. If we wished that the rainy season would be over, we don’t say, “Finished be the rainy season.” This is why most traditional translations keep the wording similar to the King James translation. The closest we can come is, “May [or Let] your name be holy.”

The word “to hallow” comes from a Greek verb that means “to sanctify” or “to make holy.” In Scripture, “sanctification” or “holiness” usually conveys two meanings. The first is that of being “set apart for holy use.” So in the Lord’s Supper today, the bread and wine are common food which anyone can buy from most stores. But our Lord Jesus Christ consecrated their use in the holy sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, so that when the bread and wine are used in this sacrament, they are “set apart” as holy signs and seals of Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Therefore, the sacrament is also commonly called “Holy Supper” or “Holy Communion.”

The second meaning conveyed by the word “hallowed” is that of something that is to be treated and considered with great respect and honor. When it is applied to God, he is to be “hallowed” in the sense of being worshiped, praised and glorified as God.

So when we pray “hallowed be Your Name,” we are praying that God’s name be holy. We must note two things here.

First, in this petition, are we praying that God’s name be holy, implying that his name is not holy? Of course not! God’s name is holy in itself, so much so that Jews refuse to even say his name. God is holy for eternity; he has always been holy, and never has been not holy! What this petition means then, as the Catechism says, is that God will “grant us, rightly to know [him]” as the holy, heavenly God the Father. To know God is to know his attributes—which we are studying in our Sunday school—such as his nature. As the Belgic Confession says, God is “a simple and spiritual Being; He is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable [unchangeable], infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good” (Art 1).

The Seventh Plague by John Martin, 1823 (click to enlarge)

The Seventh Plague by John Martin, 1823 (click to enlarge)

To know God is also to know his works. This is what Psalm 105 is all about. The psalmist traces God’s mighty works throughout the history of Israel from his sworn covenant promises to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; to Joseph who rescued his family from famine; to Moses who led them out of slavery in Egypt by sending ten plagues against Pharaoh and his people; to his providential care in the wilderness; and finally, to their entrance, conquest, and settlement of the Promised Land. These are wondrous works, miracles, and righteous judgments that only the Lord God can perform.

Knowing God’s holiness and wondrous works, the psalmist bursts into giving thanks, singing praises, and glorifying God’s holy name, and rejoicing in remembrance of his mighty deeds and goodness. It is in our response of glorifying and honoring God’s name, and worshipping him, that we “hallow God’s name.”

How would the psalmist have known all of God’s goodness to his chosen people Israel? It is through reading and studying the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. How do you know all of God’s faithfulness to the church in its beginnings in the first century A.D.? It is through reading and meditating the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles of the apostles. This is witnessed to in Hebrews 1:1, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

Second, praying that God’s name be “hallowed” means  that someone else has to make God’s name holy. Since the verb “hallowed” is passive, not active mood, it follows that someone else has to make God’s name holy. Who will “hallow” his name?

We know that it is impossible for any sinful human being to make God’s name holy. The only One who is holy is God himself, so he is the only One who is able to make his name holy. We see this in Ezekiel 36. Because of Israel’s idolatry and immorality, God sent the Babylonians to destroy their land and their holy temple. God scattered the people throughout the pagan nations, and in those nations, God said, “they profaned my holy name,” because they were God’s people but they were thrown out his land because of their disobedience.

But that was not the end of the story, because the Lord promised that he will restore his people to the land. Why? Because, he said, “I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.” He told the people that he was not restoring them because of anything they had done, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name” (Ezek 36:20-23). Our text also says that another reason why God will restore Israel is because he “remembers his covenant forever” with their forefathers (vv 8-11). So we may think of this petition also in this way, “Vindicate your holy name!”

The Lord GOD alone is able to make his own name holy among his own people, and among other people. What then are we praying for when we say, “Hallowed be Your name,” when we, in our sinfulness, cannot possibly do so? The answer is we are praying that God will enable us to honor, glorify and worship his name with “our whole life, our thoughts, words, and deeds” (HC 122).

How are we sinners able to do this? The Catechism again has the answer, telling us that we are to pray, and “without ceasing we diligently ask God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we be renewed more and more after the image of God” (HC 115). We are to ask that “God will give His grace and Holy Spirit” to us (HC 116). Then we can declare with Paul that only through the Spirit of Christ that “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

So it is God Himself who has to do the “hallowing” of his name by giving us a new heart and a new Spirit, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” This is how the Lord God will vindicate his holy name, “And I will … cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek 36:26). No more will you profane and blaspheme his holy name because of your ungodly lives among both believers and unbelievers. You will be transformed into those who heartily desire to walk in godliness. Through your godly lives, others who do not believe will “hallow” his name.

That Through His People, Others May Honor His Name
When we truly and rightly know God and his wondrous works, our response will be of wonder and amazement. We may then earnestly pray that his name be holy among his people and those who do not know and acknowledge him as Savior from sin and Lord of their lives. We respond by giving all the worship, glory, thanksgiving and praise to his holy name alone.

The last part of our Catechism reading says that in praying to God, “Hallowed be your name,” we are praying that his “name may not be blasphemed, but honored and praised on our account.” We hallow his name with all “our whole life, our thoughts, words, and deeds.” How do we blaspheme God’s holy name? And how do we honor his glorious name?

We do so first in our thoughts. But can anyone see or hear our thoughts? Besides God, it is only us who know our thoughts. However, the thoughts of our minds affect our behavior, what we say and what we do. Jesus, who knows man’s sinful mind and heart, warns us, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt 15:19). This is why the psalmist says that the antidote to our sinful thoughts is God’s Word, “I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Psa 77:12). Those who keep God’s word in their hearts by careful meditation and memorization are less inclined to sinning (Psa 119:11).

Second, we are to honor God’s holy name with our words. Psalm 105:2 instructs God’s people to “make known [God's] deeds among the peoples!” and “tell of all his wondrous works!” Psalm 107:22 says we are to “tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” This is what we do every Lord’s Day worship service. We read, sing, and pray together God’s wondrous deeds among us as one family. Together, we recount how he has answered our prayers: how he has blessed our families; how he healed us from our afflictions; how he rescued us from accidents; how he redeemed us from our sins. We “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; [and] give thanks to him and praise his name” (Psa 100:4).

In the next several months, we will have morning and evening services on the Lord’s Day. When that day finally arrives, we will be able to truly sing Psalm 92:1-2, “It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night.”

Not only are we to honor God’s name in our worship, but also equally in our doctrine. The Catechism says that we are to pray that God’s “truth [may] shine forth.” When we preach and teach sound doctrine, we hallow God’s name. The opposite is true: when we preach and teach false doctrines, such as the popular prosperity gospel, new revelations, and false prophecies, we blaspheme God’s name. The most recent false prophecy of the end of the world last year by a few Christians was a big target for scoffers and revilers. God’s name was blasphemed because of them.

The connection between pure preaching and teaching of God’s Word and hallowing God’s name is also seen in Isaiah 29. Here, Isaiah prophesies Jerusalem’s destruction because their hearts were far from God (v 13). But God also promised to restore his people, and in their restoration, “They will sanctify my name … And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding, and those who murmur will accept instruction” (Isa 29:23-24). Because they will accept instruction from God’s Word, they will come to understanding, and as a result, they will keep God’s name holy.

Lastly, we are to hallow God’s holy name with our deeds. The Bible has much to say about this. We already learned in Ezekiel 36 how Israel’s idolatry, immorality, injustice and other violations of God’s law had profaned God’s name among their pagan neighbors. Jesus was clear about how we are to live among unbelievers, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). He also says that his Father is glorified when “you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

The New Testament writers also have much to write about honoring God’s name by our good works. Paul tells Titus that Christian women’s godly behavior at home, in the church, and among their neighbors will prevent unbelievers from dishonoring God’s Word (Tit 2:5). Peter warns us, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet 2:12). Our desire is that others will be won to Christ through the preaching of the gospel and afterwards, through the good deeds that they see as the fruit of our salvation.

Jesus taught us a model prayer in which we first petition our Father, “Hallowed be your name.” On the night before he died on the cross to save us from sin and God’s wrath, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed that he had glorified his Father in heaven by accomplishing the mission that his Father sent him to do.

Jesus himself fulfilled this petition by his atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross. By his perfect obedience all the way to his death, and his resurrection from the grave, he has saved all those whom his Father had given him. You who believe are among these who had received forgiveness of sins. And because you believe in Christ, your Father has given you a new heart and put his Spirit within you. It is his Spirit who then enables you to change from sinfulness to godliness. It is his Word that informs you how you are to live in this valley of sin and death.

When we understand the undeserved grace and mercy that God has given you in Christ, how can you not hallow God’s holy name by honoring, glorifying and praising him with your thoughts, words and deeds? How can you not respond in thankful worship? How can you not pray, “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name”?

This is the first of six petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. All of the verbs our Lord uses in this prayer—hallowed, come, done, give, forgive, lead, deliver—are in a special Greek tense. This tense tells us that we are to pray that God will repeatedly and continuously do these things for us. When are we to cease from praying for these things? When Christ returns from heaven—or when we die—when he will accomplish all these things for us with finality. All the dishonoring of God’s name will come to an end because his kingdom will come in all its glory. Man’s violation of God’s laws will end. So will our lack of food on the table, our sinfulness, and all temptations from the evil one.

Therefore, at the end of our worship today, we will be singing with all faithful Old and New Testament prophets and saints, together with all the angelic host in heaven, and all believers today—and forever—in all the world:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! (Isa 6:3)

Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy (Rev 15:4).

 

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