Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 2

[This message was delivered on Easter Sunday, 2015]

Matthew 6:9-10.  Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Every Lord’s Day is a remembrance of our Lord’s death and resurrection.  He rose on the first day of the week, and it was this consideration that led the early church to set aside this day as the day to gather and to worship the crucified and resurrected and living and returning Christ.  But on this day, we give it special consideration, for it was at this time of the year that our Lord was crucified and raised from the dead.  And it is fitting that we do so, because apart from the resurrection of our Lord, our religion is meaningless.  The apostle Paul put it this way, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).  The reason is that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith if futile and you are still in your sins” (v. 17).  In fact, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v.19). 

Here is what the Christian religion teaches: it teaches that it is possible to have all one’s sins forgiven.  All of them!  And it teaches that on the basis of this forgiveness one can have eternal life, an increasing, never ending, life of joy, glory, and peace in the presence of the God of the universe.  But it also teaches that the only way forgiveness can happen and thus the only way we can have eternal life is through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.  Apart from him none of this is even remotely possible.  That’s why Paul said what he said to the Corinthians.  He would never have been able to imagine a Christianity without an atonement.  And he would never have been able to imagine a Christianity without an empty tomb.

Now what does this have to do with the Lord’s Prayer that we are considering this morning?  First of all, as we noted last week, this prayer is a God-centered missionary prayer.  It is not simply a prayer that in some abstract sense God’s name may be sanctified.  Nor is it just that God’s name may be hallowed in our own hearts, though that is certainly implied.  Rather, it is a prayer that God’s name may be hallowed among all the peoples of the earth.  In fact, you cannot want to sanctify God in your own heart apart from wanting him to be sanctified in all the nations.  David prayed the Lord’s Prayer a thousand years before when he wrote this Psalm:

May God be gracious to us and bless us

                And make his face to shine upon us,

That your way may be known on earth,

                Your saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praised you, O God!

                Let all the peoples praise you!  (Psalm 67:1-3, ESV)

But how can this happen?  It cannot happen apart from the supernatural work of the Spirit of the risen Christ.  It is in virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection that we die to sin and rise to newness of life (cf. Rom. 6:3-6).  And no one is going to hallow God’s name in their hearts until they have died to sin and risen to newness of life.  This prayer, like every other aspect of the Christian life, has its roots in the death and resurrection of our Jesus Christ.

Another link that this prayer has with Easter Sunday is its insistence that the Christian religion is inherently concerned with historical realities.  One of the things that led C. S. Lewis to embrace the Christian religion after so many years of atheism was ironically the very thing that led him away from it to begin with.  One of the things that caused Lewis to reject the faith of his parents was the presence of so many mythologies.   It seemed to him that Christianity was just another mythology.  But then he saw that there had to be something that made these myths plausible, and that behind these myths was a reality.  Lewis came to see that this reality ultimately is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  He wrote, “Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.”

You see the same thing in this prayer.  You see this connection between the supernatural and the historical.  Now this is anathema in our generation.  People are perfectly content to talk about the supernatural or the historical, but they never want to talk about them together.  But when we pray, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,” we are not praying something just to make us feel good.  We are praying that God’s kingdom will come in a very real and concrete way in this very real and concrete world of ours.  And this is not some vague expression of a desire that the United Nations get its act together and bring about world peace.  This prayer is rooted in the realistic and Biblical conviction that real world peace is only attainable when Christ returns and puts down all opposition to his rule.

We can sum it up like this.  The reason we can pray this prayer with any confidence is because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  He has gone to receive the kingdom, and he is coming again to establish it in its fullness.  But in the meantime, his kingdom is already spreading; he has sent the Spirit so that men and women will hear the gospel with new hearts and embrace Christ as Lord and Savior.  And when they do that, they will hallow his name, they will submit to his rule, and they will begin to follow his will as the rule of their lives rather than their own.  And all who have experienced this for themselves are going to want other to experience it as well, and thus this prayer is a true expression of one who has experienced the reality of Christ’s resurrection and wants others to experience it as well.

Let us then consider each of these petitions in more depth.  I am going to consider them together, because I believe that to pray for one is to pray for the others.  Or, one might argue that the second two petitions are implicit in the first.

First of all, let’s consider the first request: “hallowed be thy name.”  What does it mean to hallow God’s name?  The word used here is often translated by the verb “to sanctify.”  For example, it is used in a similar fashion in 1 Pet. 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” [ESV, “honor the Lord God as holy”].  To sanctify something or someone meant to set them apart for a holy purpose.  With respect to God, it means to recognize God’s holiness, his supremacy above all created things, and to see that he is worthy of our worship, our obedience, and our trust. 

When we pray that God hallow his name, we are simply asking that God himself will be seen to be holy.  In Biblical language, God’s name stands for all that he is.  This is more than just the expression of a desire that people not blaspheme.  It is much more than that.  It is asking that people will see God’s glory and transcendence and supremacy above everything else.  This is more than a prayer for pure lips; it is a prayer for a pure heart with respect to God.

I’m going to take the next two petitions together.  They are: “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”  What many people think when they speak of God’s kingdom is some future, earthly millennial reign of Christ.  And though I do believe that God’s kingdom is ultimately future, there is no reason to believe that it is only future.  For example, when Jesus spoke about the kingdom to the Pharisees, he said this: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).  Though there are different ways to interpret the meaning of “within,” it at least means that the kingdom of God was a present reality even during the earthly ministry of Jesus.  There is both a present and a future aspect to the kingdom.

You can see this also in that the gospel is called the gospel of the kingdom (cf. Acts 28:31).  The gospel is not a message primarily about some future millennial reign; it is the message that Jesus is Lord and Savior.  It is not about one who is going to be a king sometime in the future; it is about Jesus who is king even now.  “The Son of David holds his throne, and sits in judgement there.” 

Thus, when we pray “thy kingdom come,” we are not just praying for Christ’s return.  We are praying for that; but we are praying for more than that.  God’s kingdom is God himself ruling over his own people in Christ.  So this prayer is a prayer first of all that God would establish his rule in people’s hearts worldwide, and then a prayer that this rule would find its ultimate consummation in the return of Christ. 

And thus, when we also pray “thy will be done,” we are essentially praying for the same thing as when we pray for God’s kingdom to come.  We do his will as we bow to his authority and sovereignty in our hearts.

Whereas the first petition has reference primarily to the holiness of God and his transcendence and supremacy, these last two petitions have reference primarily to the sovereignty of God and his right to rule over us.  In the first petition we are praying that God would overcome our blindness and help us to see his glory; in these, we are praying that God would overcome our rebellion and help us to submit to his rule. 

But they also complement one another because you will never submit to the Lordship of one whose glory you do not see.  There is the story of Alfred the Great, that, due to certain reverses of fortune, he had to go incognito for a while, and so he went about as a commoner.  At one point, as he was resting in the home of some peasants, the lady of the house treated him as she would any other servant.  She of course did so because she didn’t recognize that it was her king in her midst!  In the same way, until we recognize the glory of God in Christ, we will never truly submit our hearts to his lordship and seek his will for our lives. 

But this also goes the other way.  We cannot say that we have truly seen the greatness of our God if we treat him with contempt; if we do not love him and keep his commandments.  Here is the great test.  Is our theology real or is it something we hold only in an intellectual sense?  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” said our Lord (Jn. 14).  To love God for who he is, as he is revealed in Scripture, this is the proof that we have seen his glory.  But the proof that we really love him lies in our obedience.  An unholy man has no idea of the holiness of God.  If he did, he would repent and turn from his sin.

This prayer is fitting because we and everything else exists to glorify God.  We were created to give glory to God: “Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west . . . even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (Isa. 43:5, 7).  We were redeemed to give glory to God.  The refrain of Paul in Ephesians 1 is “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (ver. 6, 12, 14).  Thus, when we pray this prayer we are praying that God would put things right, that things be as they ought to be.  To pray this prayer is more fundamental, more important, than praying for food on the table, or even air to breath.  It is a prayer that we be what we would have been in an unbroken, sinless world, and that we will be through grace, in the world to come.

But this prayer is needful because sinful men and women do not glorify God (cf. Rom. 1:21-25), do not submit to his rule and will.  Now if we do not see the glory of God it is not because God is not glorious.  It is because we have become blind to God’s real beauty (cf. 2 Cor. 4:3-6).  Sin is destructive.  It blinds us.  It is like a disease that takes away one’s ability to taste good food.  So sin takes away our appetite for God.  It is a spiritual leprosy that takes away our ability to feel the pain that sin is causing in our life, so that we keep on with our destructive habits unaware of the fact that our bad habits and attitudes and desires and thoughts are slowly eating away at our true self and turning us more and more into a disfigured monster, and finally into a dead one.  So when we pray this, we’re praying that God would help us to see more and more of his glory and to take away the sin that prevents us from seeing it; and to pray for the lost that God would no longer allow their eyes to remain blinded by the master of this world.

And so this petition is hope-filling.  The very best thing that could ever happen to us is to hallow God’s name, to see and to savor his supremacy, and to bow to his authority. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

This is not a prayer that we glorify God’s name as Pharaoh did – through his sin and therefore through his destruction (cf. Rom. 9).  There are two ways God’s name will be hallowed in us: God will either be glorified in our destruction, if we do not see his glory, or he will be glorified in our salvation, if we know the true God and his Son (Jn. 17:3).  But you don’t pray this prayer if you have not seen the majesty of God.  God is either your ruler or he is your rival.  You don’t root for your enemy.  If you want God’s name to be hallowed it must be that through the mercy of God your blindness has been taken away and through grace you have come to see the worth of Christ.  This is the prayer of someone who has been saved.

The fact that our Lord puts this prayer in our lips means that grace has come into the world to save, to take away blindness and to give us hearts that have the unspeakable privilege to see the glory of God – not second hand, like someone looking at a photo of an Alp, but like someone who is actually standing on the top of an Alp and experiencing it in person.

When we pray this, we are praying that God would make us more and more into the kind of person who does hallow God’s name.  This is not just a prayer that God do something objective to us.  This is especially a prayer that God do something in us.  And so we are thus praying that God would take away those attitudes and habits that cause us to enjoy this world above God, and especially that we would not embrace anything that is in opposition to the enjoyment of God in the soul. 

And then we are praying that God would do this to others around us.  Like the apostle John, we pray that the fellowship we have with the Triune God may be shared by our friends (1 Jn. 1:3). 

I think praying this prayer with any reality will have at least two effects upon our lives.  First of all, it will orient us away from ourselves and our petty interests to see our present lives in light of God’s purposes.  It will kill the worldliness that is so apt to drain our affections from kingdom work and its priorities.  The main thing at home, or in the office, with our family or friend, is to glorify God.  We need this prayer to remind us of this, because there are a thousand things, pressures, distractions, that will turn our lives into a godless affair.  Why do we miss opportunities to share God’s word?  Is it not often because we do not have the mindset, “Thy kingdom come”?  Why do we allow work to consume us to the point of squeezing prayer and Bible study out of our lives?  Is it not because we do not hallow God’s name as we ought?

In particular, it is not our name that we need to be so concerned about.  It is not what needs defending.  And it is not our little kingdoms and causes that should have the main allegiance of our heart, but rather the kingdom of Christ and its mission in our time.  And finally, it is not our will that is so necessary, though often we think that if everyone just did what we thought was best, everything would turn out alright.  We need to have our hearts thrilled rather with God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will.

And then I think the second thing this will do is to orient us away from the merely present and to cast our eyes to the future.  God’s kingdom is here, but it is primarily future.  And when we pray for God’s will to be done in earth as it is in heaven, though this does not exclude an earnest desire for this reality to take place in the here and now, yet we cannot pray this without also praying for the time when this world will be rid once for all of sin.  And this is one of the most needful things.  We need to be looking for the return of Christ.  When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it is not only with an eye to the past for what our Lord has done for us, but also with an eye to the future, “till the Lord come.”  We need to be looking to the future, because that is where our reward is.  It is not now, and if we look for it now, we will become discouraged.  In this world we will have tribulation.  But we can be of good cheer, because Christ has overcome the world – not in the sense that he will save us from the tribulation now, but in the sense that he will bring us through the tribulation to eternal life.

And we need to remind ourselves that of all else that will happen, we can be assured that God’s name will be hallowed, his kingdom will come, and there is coming a day when his will shall be perfectly followed in every corner of a renewed heavens and earth.  Thus, this is not only a prayer that God will do something in us and others, but also a reminder of God’s promise that he will complete what he has begun in us.  It therefore ought to greatly encourage us and fill us with hope and joy when we pray this prayer in faith.

 

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