Posts Tagged ‘Matthew’

I live on Sand Mountain.  Some of you who read this will have no idea what I am talking about.  Sand Mountain is a sandstone plateau in Northeast Alabama on which a number of cities lie, including my own, Albertville, AL.  It is really not a mountain at all, at least not in my understanding of mountains having grown up further West where the Rocky Mountains were within driving distance.  There is nothing physically frightening about Sand Mountain, but it is, nonetheless, a dangerous place for a “Christian” to live.  Let me explain.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Despite what you have heard, it is not easy to follow Christ in Albertville, AL.  Sure, there are tons of churches here and thousands of people who claim to be Christians and even attend church, but it is not easy to follow Christ here.  No doubt it would be difficult to live as a Christian in Salt Lake City where the vast majority of people are Mormons or Seattle or Maine where the vast majority of people are secular.  However, I think we face a danger just as great and just as grievous as the false gospel of Mormonism or secularism—we here in the Bible-belt face the false gospel of religion or “churchianity” as some call it.

We are surrounded by churches, para-church ministries, Christian radio, prayer at football games, revivals services, ministry conferences, Bible studies, and on and on.  Living in such a church-saturated culture, there is a great danger to attach ourselves to these things such that our hope is in our connection to a church, a connection to a Bible study, or a connection to any other religious activity we participate in rather than our connection to the Lord Jesus Christ by grace alone through faith alone.

The opportunities to plug into religion in Marshall County are bountiful, but how many are genuinely plugging into a single-minded passionate pursuit of the Lord Jesus Christ?  I don’t know the answer to that, but I fear that many more are plugging into religion.  It is this fear that drove me back to the Bible-belt.  I grew up in Amarillo, TX which is very much a part of the Bible belt and I lived there until I went to seminary after graduating college.  I lived in Louisville, KY, a city that in my estimation is not part of the Bible-belt.  Living there was interesting and challenging.  The last two years that I lived there, I lived downtown near the University of Louisville—I could share many stories of how I tried to preach the gospel to very secular-driven people on the campus of U of L and how difficult it was and yet how much joy it brought me, but it seems the Lord has brought me back into the Bible-belt and yet the challenges seem equally great.

I fear that much like these people that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 7:21-23, that many in Marshall County will say on the day of the Lord, “did we not go to church and did we not pray at our football games and before meals and did we not attend revivals and prayer breakfasts and did we not join a church and attend on occasion and did we not go to Bible studies and give to missions?” and the Lord will say, “depart from me I never knew you.”  Let me be clear, the above list of activities are all good things and I wouldn’t condemn anyone for participating in them, but anyone, including myself who puts their hope in their connection to these things is in big trouble.

The connection that we must put our hope in is our connection to Christ who suffered “once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).  And this connection to Christ inevitably and powerfully changes us.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This is the community the Lord has called our church to, not just a connection to religion but a relationship with Christ that transforms us and invites us to a community that fosters real, biblical, Christ-like transformation.

New Covenant Baptist Church (the church the Lord has graced me to serve in) is the most wonderful church I have ever been a part of.  I am continually reminded of how blessed I am to work with the wonderful people here, but it is my prayer for our church that we fight the temptation to put our hope in our good works, our church membership, or our religious activities.  It is my prayer that we would progressively grow into a community of believers whose hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ  where we are learning to be transparent about sin, engaging in ministry in our workplaces, and fostering relationships that point people to Christ and not religion.  In short, my prayer is that we would be a church that seeks the substance and not the form.  My prayer is that we would seek Christ himself.  Will you pray with me?



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Words matter, especially in the Bible.  Every word has the potential to be of massive significance.  This is pretty clear all over the New Testament, and the very theologically-loaded Gospel accounts are no exception.

The Last Judgment - Michelangelo

"The Last Judgment" by Michelangelo

In Matthew 25, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου) who will come on the clouds (24:30), in his glory, with all his angels, and sit on his glorious throne (25:31).  The Son of Man language, in conjunction with the cloud imagery in 24:30, alludes to Dan 7:13.

This is significant, because in Ps 104:3 we are told that Yhwh “makes the clouds his chariot.”  Dan 7:13 says the same thing of this Son of Man, who is also given “dominion and glory and a kingdom,” one that “shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:13-14).  This picks up on 2 Sam 7, a passage where God is making his covenant with David.  God tells David that He will establish the kingdom of David’s offspring, and its throne will be established forever (2 Sam 7:13).  “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.  Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16).

Isaiah picked this up when he spoke of the child that would be born, whose named would be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” who would be “on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isa 9:6-7).  Interestingly, Matthew has already used Isa 9:1-2 in the fulfillment quotation of 4:12-16. Isaiah 9:1-2 says, “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations [ed: or “Gentiles”].  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”  In the original context, this passage “concerns a broken people who have suffered Assyrian attack and deportation (cf. 2 Kgs 15.29; 1 Chr 5.26); to them is promised deliverance: a son from the house of David will bring salvation (9.6-7)” (Davies and Allison, Matthew. ICC, 1:380).

Matthew paraphrases the original Hebrew with noticeable influence from its Greek translation (the Septuagint, or LXX), a typical move in 1st Century Jewish exegesis, in Matt 4:12-16, “Now when he [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.‘”

Canonically, the picture of Jesus building up to this point in Matthew,”The Christ, the Son of the Living God” (ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος – 16:16),”The Son of Man” (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου – 24:30; 25:31), “The Son of David” (τῷ υἱῷ Δαυίδ – 21:15), “The King” (ὁ βασιλεὺς – 25:34), is fairly clear (just go back and read the genealogy in Matt 1).  This is the Messianic Son of David, Yhwh himself, who will establish his kingdom forever.

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Mark 1:24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are- the Holy One of God.”

Matthew 8:29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

The two above verses are responses of demons to Jesus during his public ministry–in which he often cast out demons.  In Mark 1, there is just one demon possessed man and one demon making this interesting statement.  In Matthew, there were 2 demon possessed men possessed by many demons that apparently made these men strong and violent.  In both of these instances–the demons seem to know something about who Jesus is and where He has come from.

In my previous post, Jesus . . . what are you doing here? I discussed the fact that the only precident in the Old Testament that we have of someone saying “I have come” + a statement of purpose comes from angels (Daniel 9:22-23, 10:11-14; Numbers 22:32).  So when Jesus uses this formula a number of times in the gospels–he is communicating that he has come from the heavenly sphere to earth for particular purposes–all of which have far reaching eternal implications (i.e. “to cast fire on the earth” or “to seek and save the lost”).

In these two verses–the demons use a very similar formula to Jesus’ “I have come” statements.  They ask Jesus, “have you come . . . to destroy us/torment us before the appointed time?”  Thus it appears that these demons know that Jesus has come to earth from heaven.  They also seem to know something of who He is–“the Holy One of God” and “the Son of God” respectively.  “Holy One of God” is a title never used to describe prophetic figures or angels, rather it is used of the LORD (Jeremiah 50:29; Isaiah 30:11).  Thus “Holy One of God” highlights Jesus’ God-nature–for who is holy but God alone (1 Sam. 2:2).

In both instances, the demons fear Jesus.  In Mark 1:24, there is one demon asking Jesus, “have you come to destroy us?”  Why does this demon switch to the plural if he is only one demon?  This demon knows enough of who Jesus is as “the Holy One of God” to know that He has the power to destroy the entire demonic order–he seems to know that Jesus could destroy all demons (Gen. 3:15)!  In Mark 8:29, these demons know of a future appointed time when the demons would face torment (Jude 1:6; Rev. 20:6-10; 1 John 3:8)–they also understand Jesus to be the source of that torment–the understand Him to be the great eschatological judge (Rev. 19:15)!

Jesus cast out demons becuase he came “to seek and save the lost” and to reclaim the world from its false ruler!  In casting out demons he shows that He is the messiah promised in Gen. 3:15 come to crush the head of serpent.  Furthermore in going to the cross He would “disarm” the entire demonic order (Col. 2:15) making them powerless over the children of His kingdom. Though this world has fallen, Jesus came to redeem it and defeat its false rulers!  Indeed Jesus came to show His love for sinners by dieing on the cross for them but more than that, He established His kingdom in the hearts of believers by paying the penalty for all who would believe.  In trusting in Him, we become a part of this new kingdom and will reign with Him for ever!

What the demons say about Jesus ought to cause us to check our own hearts because apparently you can know a great deal about Jesus and still hate Him.  To know who Jesus is and hate Him is demonic.  If you know who Jesus is and have put your trust in Him, you will love Him and work to spread His kingdom!

Interestingly enough, Jesus lets the demons in Matthew 8:28 go into a herd of pigs–this results in a mass suicide of pigs as they run off a cliff.  The pig herders then go and gather a mob together to run Jesus out of town!  Why did Jesus allow these demons to go into the herd of pigs?  We could make a number of logical guesses–Jesus is Lord of creation and can do whatever He wants with the pigs and with the demons.  But perhaps, Jesus, as He so often does, wanted to reveal the true hearts of these pig herders and towns people.  The pig herders apparently loved financial gain/worldly possessions more than the work of God–they witnessed a profound miracle in which Jesus shows his power over evil and yet they want Him gone.  Jesus freed these men from demonic oppression and in so doing opens the doors wide for entrance into the Kingdom of God, and the pig herders want nothing to do with Him because they lost their pigs.  Following Jesus is costly, and if you love money or anything else more than Him, you have no place in His Kingdom.

Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?  If you do, you will love His work?  Is the advance of His Kingdom your fervent desire?  Its not enough to know who Jesus is–even the demons know that and shudder (James 2:19)–you must love and promote His Kingdom and His kingdom works.

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What better question to pose to Immanuel than “What are you doing here?”  As Christians we speak a lot about who we believe Jesus to be and we should.  But why has Jesus come from heaven to earth?  In a series of posts, I am going to seek to simply let Jesus answer this question for himself.  Most people with a little Bible knowledge are aware of the “I am” statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel, statements which display to us who Jesus is, but it seems most people are far less familiar with Jesus’ “I have come statements” in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (these three Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels–this is simply because of their similarities) which display to us why Jesus came to earth.

It is important that we understand both who Jesus is and why He came to earth.  In fact, even in calling Jesus Immanuel at the begging of this post, I was making a statement about who I believe Jesus to be.  “Immanuel” means “God with us”–meaning that Jesus is God with us (Isa. 7:14; 8:8; Matt. 1:25).  Though reigning in heaven above, God has in some sense come down to us, to be with us, to dwell with us, speak to us, live for us, and finally die and rise again for us. However, I believe that all of these acts were not ultimately for us.  I believe that Jesus came to earth, lived, walked, died, and rose again ultimately for the glory of God. Similarly, you and I were created to glorify God–to know Him, love Him, enjoy Him, and worship Him.  However, we have utterly failed to live up to the purpose for which we were created.  Jesus has not failed–He alone has lived up to the purpose for which He came to earth.

In anticipation of the cross, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Now is my soul troubled.  And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I have come into this hour.  Father, glorify your name” (John 12:27-28).  I think the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation, his taking on of human flesh, was ultimatly to glorify God.

It is important that we speak of Jesus “having come” to earth rather than “becoming” or “having been created.”  He was not created, but there was a point in time in which He took on human flesh.  Before He took on human flesh, He was with the Father for all eternity.  He is the great “I Am” of Exodus 3:14 (John 8:58).  Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30; 17:11).  In fact, Jesus actively created the World alongside the Father and everything “was created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16).

In fact, Jesus’ “I have come” statements imply a prior existence in heaven.  These statements refer to having come from the heavenly sphere to earth.  In each of Jesus’ “I have come” statements, we see the formula of “I have come” + a purpose statement, i.e. “in order to seek and save the lost” or “not to abolish the law or the prophets but to fulfill them” (Luke 19:10; Matt. 5:17).

Some scholars have argued that these “I have come” statements simply state where Jesus physically traveled from, i.e. from Galilee to Samaria or some such location.  There are two major problems with such an interpretation.

First, it would be absolutely absurd to say something like “I have come from Galilee to seek and save the lost” or better yet “I have come from Samaria to cast fire on the earth and would that it were already kindled” (I made up thes locations, the latter is taken from Luke 12:49).  Jesus’ “I have come” statements all have far-reaching implications–cosmic, world transforming, paradigm shifting implications like “casting fire on the earth” and fulfilling the whole of the law and prophets!

Secondly, there is no human Old Testament figure or early Jewish figure who spoke with the forumula of “I have come” + a statement of purpose in the cosmic way that Jesus does.  None of the Old Testament prophets started their prophetic ministry by proclaiming to Israel, “I have come in order to . . .”  Where we do find this “I have come” + purpose formula is proceeding from the mouths of angels (Daniel 9:22-23; 11:2; Numbers 22:32).  Each of these angels, Gabriel in Daniel and the Angel of the Lord’s Host in Numbers are speaking of having come from heaven in order to inform/help Daniel and Joshua respectively.  This “I have come” + purpose formula is also found in some early Jewish literature and each time it is used by angelic beings but  never by humans.

So when Matthew, Mark, and Luke cite Jesus’ “I have come” statements, they are implying that Jesus, like these angels, has come from a prior existence in heaven to earth in order to do certain things.  So each of these statements will reveal to us the many interrelated reasons why God the Son took on human flesh and left His heavenly abode to dwell with us for a time.

I want to look at 10 such statements in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt., Mark, and Luke).  In two of the statements Jesus says, “The Son of Man came to . . . ” rather than “I have come to . . . .”  “Son of Man” is a significant designation that Jesus gives to himself with important Old Testament precedent. In my next post, I will look at two questions asked by demons of Jesus, which also utilize a very similar formula to the “I have come” + purpose formula.  In fact what the demons fear that Jesus has come to do, has far reaching implications and reveal some of the cosmic implications of Christ’s coming.

These posts are going to be theological in nature and they are going to stretch what you think about Jesus and why He came.  They may be tough to understand, so feel free to ask questions–I am not an expert in the feild of gospel studies by any means, but I will do my best to answer any questions you might have.

Finally I should mention that the idea for this series of posts came from Dr. Simon Gathercole’s book, The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  You can also download or stream lectures by Dr. Gathercole on Jesus’ preexistence at Southern Seminary’s website, just scroll down to the 2004 Gheen’s Lectures–if you want to download them, just click on the link and select “save target as” or “save link as.”

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Belief comes from hearing the living Word of God preached concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 10:17). I think that is agreeable. In a related way, the careful exposition of the Word of God is desparately needed in the Church today. These are things we should not neglect. So, how should we read the living Word of God? Should we follow the storyline on its terms?

The following exerpts are from Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels. In the two sections, Dr. Strauss helps us see how we should go about reading and expositing the four Gospels.

Reading “Vertically”: Following the Storyline

The four Gospels record seven sayings of Jesus from the cross. Many sermons have been preached on these seven “words” of Jesus. While insight can be gained from this approach, the danger is that we will miss each writer’s unique contribution. No Gospel records more than three of these sayings, and each has its own perspective on the crucifixion. In Mark, for example, Jesus says only one thing from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forksaken me?” The crucifixion is a dark and foreboding scene. The narrator intentionally draws the reader into Jesus’ experience of isolation and dispair. Introducing Luke’s reassuring, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” or John’s traiumphant “It is finished” misses Mark’s point.

Similarly, throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus offers God’s love and forgiveness to sinners. Jesus’prayer life and intimacy with the Father is also a frequent theme. It is a fitting climax, therefore, that in Luke, Jesus continues to offer forgiveness to sinners from the cross (“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”; “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”) and expresses his trust in and dependence on the Father (“Father, into your hand I commit my spirit”). To introduce Mark’s statement of isolation and despair risks distorting Luke’s portrait of Jesus. Each Gospel has a story to tell. By reading vertically, we hear that story on its own terms.

Reading “Horizontally”: Comparing Their Accounts

While there is a danger in harmonistically reading one Gospel’s presentation into another, thare are also benefits in comparing their accounts using a “synopsis,” which places the Gospels in parallel columns. By comparing the Gospels, we can identify each writer’s themes and theology. For example, by comparing Luke with Matthew and Mark, we see that Luke often introduces statements about Jesus’ prayer life, revealing his interest in Jesus’ intimacy with the Father. We may call this reading horizontally–comparing the Gospels to discern each Evangelist’s unique theological perspective. 

When is a harmony legitimate? While harmonistically reading the Gospels risks missing each Gospel’s narrative and theological themes, a harmony is beneficial when asking historical questions. The Gospels claim to be historical narratives, and so it is legitimate to investigate them from the perspective of what actually happened. 

Jesus’ trial scene, for example, takes on different contours in each of the four Gospels. While a narrative may ask about the themes of each Gospel writer, the historian asks basic historical questions: What role did the Jewish and Roman authoritites play in the arrest of Jesus? Before whom was he tried. What accusations were made against him? Why was he crucified? The historian’s task is to examine and critique all of the available evidence in order to piece together a credible historical account. Here a harmonistic study is necessary and helpful in order to glean as much information as possible from the available sources. 

Though the Gospels were written at a specific time, in a specific place, and with specific purposes, they are of timeless benefit for the church. The unique unity and diversity of the four Gospels provide the church of all ages with an authoritative and inspired portrait of Jesus Christ.

Mark L. Strauss (Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels, 32-35).

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How seriously do you take Christ’s commands: love your enemies (Matt. 5:44; Lk. 6:27), pray for those who abuse you (Matt. 5:44b, Lk. 6:28b), to one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also (Matt. 5:39, cf. 40-42; Lk. 6:29, cf. 30-36)?

Think about how radical these commands are: love your enemies, do not resist the one who is evil, pray for those who persecute you, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. In nearly every application of these commands, we categorically default to saying: we can pray for them. However, Jesus is demanding more than that.

The beginning of this section of the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (5:43-45a). For the people of Israel listening to Jesus, this is startling. It says to them: pray for the foreign rulers occupying your land, love the man who stole your tunic, let the man who slapped you slap you again. Reading these commands should make you wonder: how can anyone keep them, even today?

It is in this context that Jesus commands, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), a command that is given both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Then, Luke also records, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:35-36). It is only by God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit and the hope of the gospel that we can love those who hate us.

It is important to also see that keeping these radical commands glorifies God. Exodus 34:5-8 tells us about the character of God:

“The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped” (cf. Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 2:12).

In view of that, when we love our enemies, we are reflecting the character of God. By God’s grace, we are being slow to anger and rich in love. We are keeping in mind that the Lord who forgives sins will also “by no means clear the guilty” who do not repent. We are praying for them. We are telling them the gospel. We are offering to help them even if they do not thank us. Why? We do it for the glory of God and the joy that is set before us (see Lk. 6:35). That is why the Apostles willingly faced abuse, imprisonment, and even death to proclaim the gospel and be obedient to Christ’s commands. Yes, it is radical.

5 commands in Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36:

  1. Do not resist the one who is evil (Matt. 5:39-42; Lk. 6:29-31).
  2. Love your enemies (Matt. 5:44a; Lk. 6:27a, 35).
  3. Pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44b; Lk. 6:28b).
  4. Do good to those who hate you (Lk. 6:27b).
  5. Bless those who curse you (Lk. 6:28a).

PS: I am getting married on Saturday! So, I will not be blogging for a while. But after things settle down, I hope to post about how every wedding ceremony should be Christ-centered and grounded in the gospel.

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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!

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