This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Exodus 3:13-17
Confessions: Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 47, Q & A 122
Sermon prepared by Rev. Carel Geleynse, Chilliwack, British Columbia
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
What a privilege it is from time to time to witness the sacrament of baptism! It is a very special event worth celebrating and worth witnessing. Parents will pick a Sunday and then prepare for the occasion, inviting others to come and witness the event. So it is that often couples will decide to have the baptism at a date and time when it works for members of the extended family to be present. Locally we can often notice it when there is a baptism elsewhere because many an empty spot can be found in the pews here. And when there is a baptism here the pews are noticeably fuller. Often some time is spent with a couple or an individual prior to baptism to talk about the event and the questions being asked.
But we must understand that baptism is not special because it somehow is a family event, nor is it even special because of what the parents of an infant or because of what a candidate for baptism may answer, rather it is special because of what God says and does. There are times when we play up the parental involvement or the child's involvement or the extended family’s involvement in baptism just a little too much. While we fuss over the one being baptized, over the baby or the parents, we ought to never forget that the most important player in the spiritual drama called “baptism” is the Lord. What God says to those being baptized, to each child and to his or her parents, and to all of us for that matter, is much more important than what someone says in response to a number of questions.
So, what does God say in the sacrament of baptism? Well, He declares that the one being baptized is one of His covenant children and that all the promises He has made to the parents are now also for the child. These promises include the washing away of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness in Christ, eternal life and so on. At baptism, we hear the Lord say; "you are mine, by grace." To a child He says in effect, "Before you even know anything, before you are even aware of very much, I confirm the relationship that I have with you, child, because of your parents' love for me." This being the case, maybe we ought to change what we say to the family or the one being baptized when we greet them after the service. Perhaps rather than saying 'congratulations' to mom and dad, or to the one who was baptized, maybe we ought to make some remark about the faithfulness or wonder of our God who has loved us so much, and who has such a special gracious relationship with us, and our children. You see, baptism is really more of a family-of-God thing, than it is a biological thing.
Now, that which is front and centre at a baptism illustrates precisely what Jesus teaches us in the first petition of the Lord's Prayer. As in the sacrament of baptism or in the sacrament of Lord's Supper, so in the whole of our lives the Lord is to be pre-eminent, after all He plays the biggest role. He is to come first. What Jesus teaches in the Lord's Prayer is that we must begin our prayers and end our prayers with the Lord, and not ourselves. Therefore, we ought not to begin our prayers with statements concerning ourselves. This is difficult for us to do by nature because we, since the fall into sin, have become self-centered. Yet, what we must learn, and what Jesus teaches in the first petition, is that God matters infinitely more than we do, and His Kingdom and His glory are infinitely more important than our kingdoms or our glory.
The fact that we are taught to begin our prayers with "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name," is more than merely a question of word order or protocol in our praying. This is a question of the priorities set in one's life. How we are to pray, as Jesus taught, is how the program of our life is to be set. God is the one who is to be acknowledged at the beginning of the program, through out, and at the end. John Calvin and those who noticed his teachings had the motto, "To God be the Glory". Living life from the perspective that "glory be to God alone" calls for a life not of self-promotion, but rather a life of praise to God. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory." Elsewhere, Jesus taught that we are to seek first the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:33) and we are to set our hearts on heavenly treasures and not earthly treasures that will rust and rot and eventually disappear. So we pray, "Hallowed be your name," after we have addressed God as 'Our Father in heaven'. In all things, therefore, such as in the sacraments of baptism and Lord's Supper, and in our prayers, "we must decrease, whereas He must increase," as the apostle John put it (John 3:30).
However, this is not our natural inclination, so we have to do this consciously. It does not seem to come naturally to us to talk about God's faithfulness and goodness at the time of a baptism, rather what seems to come more naturally is to talk about the awesome responsibility parents have in raising their children. We always pray that we may do everything to the glory of God, but we do not always understand what that means, and so often, we do not live out that prayer.
When we place God first and try to give Him the glory, then our prayers and our way of living will be affected and may be different from what it is now. One commentator trying to drive home this point used the example of a prisoner sitting in prison during a war. (Reference Unknown) The prisoner did not know what was going to happen to him. Maybe hard labor or a concentration camp was awaiting him, or perhaps it was a firing squad. If the latter were the case, it meant that he would never see his beloved wife or children again. Imagine his anxiety every time he heard the jingling of keys outside his cell door. We hear him pray - which we would think natural, and which we may pray in our illness or financial difficulty or whatever - "Merciful Father, you are so good and so mighty. Release me from my prison cell; return me to my family. You only have to speak one word, and I know it is possible. Lord release me from my torment. Lord, help!" That is how human nature would lead us to pray, and we can easily identify with that way of praying. When we become the centre of the universe, than we will also pray prayers of self-preservation, self-centered prayers, which we expect the Lord answer that is, if He is at all who He says He is.
But Jesus said, "When you pray, say, 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." The prayer of those who know the Lord ought to be different. It may be something like this: (now we are thinking again of the prisoner) "Merciful Father in heaven, I pray that you will release me and allow me to return to my family, however, if your name is hallowed by my imprisonment, than leave me here in this cell, where you are as well. If it is to your honour, that because of my witness to you, I must be put to death, then grant me the grace necessary to be true to you, and grant me the strength to face death. Lord, you come first, you must always come first, and I must follow. What happens to me is of secondary importance, but what happens to you and to your name is of primary importance. May your name be honored and praised by me, and through what may happen to me. In Jesus name, Amen.
I trust you noted the difference between the two prayers. The latter prayer is much more difficult for us, by nature to pray, and yet this is precisely what Jesus teaches in the first, second and third petitions, for that matter, of the Lord's Prayer. This is the type of prayer prayed by many of the martyrs for the faith. It is hard; it is actually almost impossible for someone who does not know the Lord at all to pray this prayer. The Lord's Prayer is a prayer for the children of the heavenly Father.
"Hallowed be your Name." What does that mean? The word "hallowed" is not exactly a word that we commonly use in our vocabulary from day to day. Yet we talk about Halloween, so it is not foreign to us. The word 'hallow' comes from the root that means 'to make holy'. Therefore, if we think about the day of Halloween, then it means 'hallow' or 'holy evening'. To "hallow” something is to acknowledge, to know, to honour something as being holy. To be holy is to be sacred, to be set aside; it is to be perfect, to be "separated to" as John 17:11 states. The word "holy" refers to all that makes God different from us, in particular his awesome power and purity. All those who have been saved by the shed blood of Jesus are now considered "holy", because they have been cleansed, washed clean of all sin, and because the Holy Spirit of God lives in them, and they are a part of the living stones that make up the dwelling of God. God has called His people out from among the nations and placed them into a body called the church - the holy Catholic Church, we confess in the Apostles' Creed. The holiness that you and I have is not at all complete, because we are not recreated fully yet, and it in no way matches that of the Lord, and yet the Bible calls us 'holy' or 'saints' because of Jesus.
When we pray we are to say, "Hallowed or holy be, not our name, but your name." As our prayer begins, we ask something of God, namely that His name be made holy. We don't mean thereby that His name is not yet holy, but we ask that He be recognized, not only by ourselves, but also by all people, as being holy. As we begin our prayer, we are asking for worldwide name recognition. Not our own name, but rather the name of the Lord. Moreover, the Bible reveals the name of the Lord. Moses, after being commissioned to go to Egypt and bring Israel out, asked the Lord, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" (Ex.3: 13) In verse 14, we get God's answer, "I AM WHO I AM." "I AM has sent me to you." And in verse 15 the Lord added, "Say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob - has sent me to you. This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation."
The God who spoke was the Almighty, the eternal Creator. The God who spoke was the God who had established a special covenant with His people, a covenant we see confirmed every time we witness the sacrament of baptism. The One who spoke was the God who loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, who died for our sins. God's name speaks of who and what God is. When we speak of the name of the Lord, we actually speak about the Lord himself. So, when David sang in Psalm 145, "I will praise your name forever and ever; let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever,” he was really speaking about praising and honoring the name of the Lord. The third commandment of the law, about misusing the name of the Lord, is the counterpart to the first petition of the Lord's Prayer. When we use the Lord's name in a curse or when we speak lightly of the name of the Lord, we misuse the Lord Himself and that is something, you discover when studying the third commandment, the Lord does not tolerate. The pot ought never to speak disparagingly of the potter. God is the potter and we are the clay. The Master must be known by His work.
When we pray 'Hallowed be your name' we are essentially saying two things, says the catechism.
First, "help us to really know you, to bless, worship and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your mighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy and truth." The Psalmist knew what this meant. Everywhere, in the work of creation and in the events of history, he observed not the hands of fate or of Mother Nature, but instead he observed the hand of a faithful covenant God. When the writer looked back at the history of the people of Israel, he saw the work of the God of his fathers as they were protected from their enemies. He saw God as a righteous God, punishing evil, yet not deserting his people, but walking with them even through the valley of the shadow of death. The Lord is the Creator and the Redeemer. To hallow His name means to acknowledge all these things about the Lord as being true, and to make them not only head knowledge but also heart knowledge. When we come to know the Lord in such a way then we will respond with worship and praise and we will be eager to tell others about it, so that they can also join in the praise of God. This first petition is also then, in a sense, a call to missions, a call to God to make others recognize His creative and redemptive power.
Therefore, when one marvels at the beauty, the splendor, and the majesty of creation and sees it as the handiwork of the creator God and then sings, "How Great Thou Art", then he hallows God's name. The opposite is also true, if we ignore the Lord and the fact that He created all things and that this world belongs to God, we do not hallow, or advance, or make God's name holy. If someone picks up the Bible and marvels at the great story of salvation, the great story of Jesus and his love, and responds to it by believing and thanking the Lord, and then urges others to respond, he hallows God's name. The opposite is also true, if we ignore the Word and keep our Bibles closed, and if our prayer is non-existent and if we do not want much to do with the Lord and His people, we do not make God's name holy.
We see, then, that praying 'hallowed be your name' is not only a prayer that we may know the Lord and praise him accordingly, but, secondly, it is also a call to personal Christian living. It is a call to reflect God's glory in our thoughts, words and deeds. The Catechism puts it this way, "Help us to direct all our living - what we think, say and do - so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and adored." (A.122) Note how the third commandment is reflected there. Paul tells us that we must be 'living letters' written by the Spirit of God, so that when people look at us and talk to us they will know whose image we bear, they will know that we are Christians.
One commentary on the Catechism gave an expanded version of the first petition so that we can catch the full meaning: "Dear Father, take over our lives, take full control. Rule us completely. Make us holy by helping us to hallow Your name, so that others through us may do so too. We pray this in Christ's name. For He led the way in honoring your name. Amen." (Never on Your Own, pg. 188-189) This is indeed true for the Lord hallowed his name most fully in the sending of His Son. Now we hallow it best by listening to Christ's call to obedient living.
Hallowed be your name. "In other words, write your name legibly in my life, Father, so that others can read and heed. May this day, this hour, my writing, my sermon, my sickness, my health, my going out and staying home, my money spending and money saving, everything and all of me, bring glory, Father, to your name." (Andrew Kuyvenhoven, Comfort and Joy, pg. 282). This is to be our prayer, members of the church of Christ. Now we often struggle with priorities in life and we must confess that there are many times when we fail to glorify His name. If we would be honest with ourselves then we must confess there are times when we would be downright embarrassed concerning our behavior. Yet, through the sacrifice of Jesus and through the working of the Holy Spirit, one day our voices will be added to the great chorus singing, "Lord our Lord in all the earth how excellent is your name." Then, indeed, God will get all the glory and the praise he deserves.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Amen.
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
- Welcome and call to worship
- * Song: #461 “Beautiful Savior”
- * Greeting of the Lord: “Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, through the working of the Holy Spirit.” Amen
- Song: #186 “I Will Exalt My God, My King”
CONFESSION OF SIN AND ASSURANCE OF PARDON
- Prayer of Confession
- Assurance of Pardon: John 3:16
- Song: #160 “In the Presence of Your People”
- God’s Will for His People: Ephesians 5:1-20
- Song: #247 “All Glory Be to God on High”
GOD SHAPES US THROUGH THE WORD
- Prayer for Illumination
- Scripture Reading: Exodus 3:13-17
- Confessional Reading: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 47, Q. & A. 122
- Sermon: “Hallowed Be Your Name”
WE RESPOND TO GOD’S WORD
- Prayer – (use the words of Q. & A. 122 leaving out “And it means”)
- Song: #249 “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty”
- Congregational Prayer
GOD’S PARTING BLESSING
- Benediction: “May the Lord bless us and keep us. May He make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. May He turn His face towards us and grant us His peace. Amen.”
- Song: #634 “Father, We Love You”