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“Hallowed be Your Name”

23 April, 2008

It is significant that the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer flows directly out of the character of the one to whom it is addressed, the God of heaven and earth, our Father through Jesus Christ. As I said before, the first three petitions are directed toward our heavenly Father and the accomplishment of his purposes, so that he may be glorified in all things.

“Hallowed be your name” is obviously this kind of statement, and supremely so; as with “our Father in heaven”, I just want to unpack some of the meaning of this very tightly packed petition, especially focusing on the language of God’s holiness and his name.

The Holy One of Israel

I’m certainly not going to tackle a full orbed discussion of the holiness of God here, which is such a huge theme in the Bible. I only want to point out the holiness of God both in judgment and salvation, particularly with reference to his ‘name’.

We find a powerful example of the judgment God brings upon the failure to properly sanctify (regard as holy and not profane) his name in Nadab and Abihu. Here is Moses’ explanation to Aaron of why God consumed them with fire when they brought ‘strange’ fire before his altar: ‘This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified’ (Lev 10:3). Nadab and Abihu were worshipping in their zeal for God (albeit a somewhat intoxicated zeal, v. 9), but they were approaching him in an unauthorized way which did not regard him as holy. As the LORD warned Aaron, ‘You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean’ (v. 10).

Even in the midst of such judgment, however — which is seen throughout the Bible — we at the same time see the salvation of God shining through it, and this is just as much a part of the vindication and display of his own holiness. So in Isaiah 30, after God rebukes his people for their waywardness, he promises to redeem the children of Abraham despite their rebellion, saying,

Jacob shall no more be ashamed, no more shall his face grow pale. For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. (30:22-23)

This passage beautifully brings together the holiness of God and his name, and shows that the Lord not only protects his holiness by consuming the unholy, but according to his promises and his own faithfulness he also protects and magnifies his holiness by setting apart the unholy to be holy, and to sanctify the name of God. That’s what Jesus is calling his disciples to do and to pray for. They are part of fulfillment of the promised children of Jacob who will sanctify the Lord’s name, and so are we by faith in Christ.

This is even more striking in Ezekiel 36, just after God testifies to Ezekiel about how Israel had ‘profaned his holy name’ (v. 20), even after the severe judgment of exile. Yet God ‘had concern for his holy name’ (v. 21), and this is the basis for his powerful redeeming works on behalf of his rebellious people:

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, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes….And I will give you a new heart…And I will put my Spirit within you….It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. (vv. 22-32).

This is an amazing, encouraging and humbling passage. Through Ezekiel the Lord presses upon us both the reality of the depths of our sinfulness and the reality of the depths of his free mercy and transforming favor, for the sake of his own name. When we pray that God’s name should be hallowed, we’re also praying the best we can ask for ourselves!

The name of God

“Hallowed be your name”, then, has very much to do with God’s name, as it stands for who he is, his character, and how he is considered and esteemed among his people and among the nations. Again, his name will be honored both in judgment, when every knee will bow before the Son whether they want to or not, and in mercy. We can see the merciful aspect of the honor of God’s name in the example of his promises to David, that a King will sit on his throne forever (who the New Testament identifies as Jesus). David praises the free grace of God, saying, ‘Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?’ (v. 18). Well, the answer is that David is no one, but it is for the sake of God’s own glory and his own promises alone: ‘Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it’ (v. 22). This is so much of the unfathomable greatness and goodness of our God, that he is great and good for us, despite us, in his grace. And for this reason he brings honor and praise to himself, in showing himself great by upholding his promises on the strength of his own faithfulness alone, so that any goodness we enjoy is all in and from him (vv. 22-24): ‘And now, O LORD God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken. And your name will be magnified forever’ (vv. 25-26). There’s certainly a lot more that may be said about ‘the Name’, but I want to move on for the present.

Jesus the Holy One of God, and his Name

As I’ve been trying to show in these explorations of the Lord’s Prayer, we need to approach and understand this prayer as trinitarians. As someone has wisely quipped, we call this the Lord’s Prayer, but the Lord actually called it the disciples’ prayer. We cannot separate the Son and the Holy (!) Spirit from the ‘Hallowed be your name’ we pray to our heavenly Father. All our salvation is in the one God alone, from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit.

Does it sound like I’m reading the Athanasian Creed back into the Bible in a highly artificial way? Well, I hope not. I hope it’s very clear in light of the Old Testament passages we’ve been looking at, that Jesus himself is the fulfillment of all the promises of God to vindicate his name and uphold his holiness in both salvation and judgment. God does everything for the sake of his name, yet it is the name of Jesus (‘God with us’), the name above every name, before which all will lie prostrate in judgment (Phil 2:9), and in the name of Jesus alone that we must find salvation (Acts 4:12). God is the Holy One of Israel — he who will not share his glory with another (cf. Is 43-45)! — yet Jesus is the Holy One of God, who received the Father’s delighted approval and the Spirit’s annointing at his baptism (Matt 3:13-17), who sanctifies himself for our sakes, so that we may also be sanctified (John 17:19). When Jesus teaches to pray, “Hallowed be your name” to our heavenly Father, we are simultaneously called to believe in Jesus’ name alone for all our righteousness and holiness.

Further, God alone is the one who sets his people apart as holy because of his own holiness, as we saw in Isaiah 30; but we’re sanctified by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit prophesied in Ezekiel, through whom we’re enabled with the gift of new hearts to cry “Abba, Father!” as sons and heirs of God (Rom 8:15). He enables us by faith to cling to Christ for our holiness. He is the fulfillment of God the Holy One among and within us (Joel 2), who no longer keeps us at a distance to protect his holiness from us and us from his holiness, but whose Holy Spirit dwells intimately within us to redeem us and to vindicate his holiness before a watching world by fulfilling all his promises and purposes — among us, through us, and always despite us.

And finally, how does Matthew end? Remarkably, with Jesus once more speaking to his diciples of the name of God, the Triune God, with respect to his promises and their fulfillment among the nations throughout the present evil age:

All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (28:18-20)

May we more and more praise the holy name of our God, Father, Son and Spirit, for his character and his mighty deeds for us and for our salvation, and appeal to his own holiness for the fulfillment of all his promises to us, which are Yes and Amen in Christ, for his own name’s sake.

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