The theological key to understanding the sermon on the mount is Matthew’s emphasis on the Kingdom of heaven. This kingdom is no ordinary Kingdom. John the Baptist prophesies about it—that in it, people would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and more than that, the one who John prophesies about will bring judgment in this new kingdom. Therefore, when Jesus begins preaching, his message is “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).
But Jesus didn’t just preach about the kingdom. He actually went about establishing it on earth. He did this by casting out demons and healing the sick. And when Jesus did teach, he did so with authority—perfectly interpreting the law, thus he could say things like “You have heard it said, but I say to you,” because he had the authority to correct misunderstandings about the Old Testament. Jesus ultimately brings in the kingdom of heaven by going to the cross and conquering our two great enemies: sin and death by rising from the dead. He sealed his reign and rule at Pentecost, when as promised, he sends his Holy Spirit on the disciples to empower them to testify of this kingdom to the nations.
As I mentioned in my previous post, prayer in this new kingdom begins rather radically with the following words, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” This is radical because, speaking of God as Father was not common for Jews. In fact, they would have found it rather foreign given that such was not common in the Old Testament. But Jesus’ disciples must call upon God as Father, because in this new Kingdom Jesus seals their adoption with his own blood.
It is fitting that Jesus would command his disciples to pray, “Hallowed be your name.” God is holy, so we must not think of this as meaning that we are asking God to be holy. God never ceases to be holy (Lev. 11:44-45; Isa. 41:14; Ezek. 39:7). It is also fitting that the prayer would begin this way because Jesus’ kingdom teaching is so countercultural. Jesus tells his disciples to pray, not like the Pharisees, but to pray to the Father in secret. In other words, prayer really isn’t about us. For that reason, it’s fitting that Jesus reminds us that prayer is first and foremost communication directed to God almighty, whose name is holy. To pray in order to be seen by men denies the very purpose of prayer.
It should also be noted that the Lord’s prayer is communal. Jesus tells his disciples to pray to “our Father.” My good friend and mentor, Paul Roberts always says, “There are no lone-ranger Christians.” Jesus didn’t bring in the kingdom just so you could be tight with him. No, Jesus brings in the kingdom to gather to himself a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. He fulfills God’s promises made to Abraham, so when we pray to him, we pray to him as sons adopted into the new covenant people of God!
So if God is holy, what does it mean to pray, “Hallowed be your name?” I think it means that we ought to pray that God’s name would be regarded as holy. In other words, we ought to desire and to pray that God would reveal his holiness to the people around us, that God’s name would be made much of, that God would display his glory to us and to those who don’t know him.
When the Bible speaks of God’s name, it is not merely referring to a title. For instance, my name, Drew Dixon, doesn’t really say very much about me. You have to know me personally to know what I am like. When the Bible refers to God’s name, however, it almost always has his perfect, righteous, glorious character in mind. Let me give you a few examples from the Old Testament:
- In Exodus 9:16, God charges Moses to tell Pharaoh: “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” God’s purpose in bringing plagues on Egypt was to show his power and make known his name among the nations.
- In Isaiah 48:9-11, God tells the nation of Israel: “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. 10Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. 11For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
- In Ezekiel 36:22-27, God promises to cleanse his people and pour out his Spirit upon them and he promises to do it to for his own name, for his glory: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: 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. 23And 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. 24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanliness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
So, when we pray, we ought to long that God’s name would be regarded as holy among the nations. Our first priority in prayer is to pray that our great God would receive more glory, that we would see Him for the holy God that He is. Further, we should remember that it is only by faith in Jesus Christ that we can stand in this holy God’s presence and call this holy God “our Father.” Thus, we ought to pray that the nations would regard God’s name as holy through the shed blood of Christ his son!