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The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
WE come now to the next division of the Lord’s Prayer which is that which deals with our petitions. ‘Our Father which art in heaven’: that is the invocation. Then come the petitions: ‘hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ There has been much debating and disputing amongst the authorities as to whether you have there six or seven petitions. The answer turns on whether that last statement ‘deliver us from evil’ is to be regarded as a separate petition, or whether it is to be taken as part of the previous petition and to be read like this: ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’. It is one of those points (and there are others in connection with the Christian faith) which simply cannot be decided, and about which we cannot be dogmatic. Fortunately for us, it is not a vital point, and God forbid that any of us should become so absorbed by the mere mechanics of Scripture, and spend so much time with them, as to miss the spirit and that which is important. The vital matter is not to decide whether there are six or seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer but rather to notice the order in which the petitions come. The first three---‘Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’---have regard to God and His glory; the others have reference to ourselves. You will notice that the first three petitions contain the word ‘Thy’, and all have reference to God. It is only after that that the word ‘us’ comes in: ‘Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil.’ That is the vital point---the order of the petitions, not the number. The first three are concerned about and look only to God and His glory.
But let us observe something else which is of vital importance, the proportion in the petitions. Not only must our desires and petitions with regard to God come first, but we must notice, too, that half the petitions are devoted to God and His glory and only the remainder deal with our particular needs and problems. Of course if we are interested in biblical numerics---an interest which is perhaps not to be entirely discouraged, though it can become dangerous if and when we tend to become too fanciful---we shall see, in addition, that the first three petitions have reference to God, and that three is always the number of Deity and of God, suggesting the three blessed Persons in the Trinity. In the same way, four is always the number of earth and refers to everything that is human. There are four beasts in the heavens in the book of Revelation, and so on. Seven, which is a combination of three and four, always stands for that perfect number where we see God in His relationship to earth, and God in His dealing with men. That may be true of this prayer, our Lord may have specifically constructed it to bring out those wonderful points. We cannot prove it. But in any case the important thing to grasp is this: that it matters not what our conditions and circumstances may be, it matters not what our work may be, it matters not at all what our desires may be, we must never start with ourselves, we must never start with our own petitions.
That principle applies even when our petitions reach their highest level. Even our concern for the salvation of souls, even our concern for God’s blessing upon the preaching of the Word, even our concern that those who are near and dear to us may become truly Christian, even these things must never be given the first place, the first position. Still less must we ever start with our own circumstances and conditions.
It does not matter how desperate they may be, it does not matter how acute the tension, it does not matter whether it be physical illness, or war, or a calamity, or some terrible problem suddenly confronting us: whatever it may be, we must never fail to observe the order which is taught here by our blessed Lord and Saviour. Before we begin to think of ourselves and our own needs, even before our concern for others, we must start with this great concern about God and His honour and His glory. There is no principle in connection with the Christian life that exceeds this in importance. So often we err in the realm of principles. We tend to assume that we are quite sound and clear about principles, and that all we need is instruction about details. The actual truth, of course, is the exact reverse of that. If only we would always start in prayer with this true sense of the invocation; if only we were to recollect that we are in the presence of God, and that the eternal and almighty God is there, looking upon us as our Father, and more ready to bless and to surround us with His love than we are to receive His blessing, we should achieve more in that moment of recollection than all our prayers put together are likely to achieve without that realization. If only we all had this concern about God and His honour and glory!
Fortunately, our Lord knows our weakness, He realizes our need of instruction, so He has divided it up for us. He has not only announced the principle; He has divided it up for us into these three sections which we must proceed to consider. Let us look now at the first petition: ‘Hallowed be thy name’.
We realize now that we are in the presence of God, and that He is our Father. Therefore this, says Christ, should be our first desire, our first petition: ‘Hallowed be thy name’. What does that mean? Let us look very briefly at the words. The word ‘Hallowed’ means to sanctify, or to revere, or to make and keep holy. But why does He say ‘Hallowed be thy name’? What does this term ‘the Name’ stand for? We are familiar with the fact that it was the way in which the Jews at that time commonly referred to God Himself. Whatever we may say about the Jews in Old Testament times and however great their failures, there was one respect, at any rate, in which they were most commendable. I refer to their sense of the greatness and the majesty and the holiness of God. You remember that they had such a sense of this that it had become their custom not to use the name ‘Jehovah’. They felt that the very name, the very letters, as it were, were so holy and sacred, and they so small and unworthy, that they dare not mention it. They referred to God as ‘The Name’, in order to avoid the use of the actual term Jehovah. So that the ‘name’ here means God Himself and we see that the purpose of the petition is to express this desire that God Himself may be revered, may be sanctified, that the very name of God and all it denotes and represents may be honoured amongst men, may be holy throughout the entire world. But perhaps in the light of the Old Testament teaching it is good for us to enlarge on this just a little. The ‘name’, in other words, means all that is true of God, and all that has been revealed concerning God. It means God in all His attributes, God in all that He is in and of Himself, and God in all that He has done and all that He is doing.
God, you remember, had revealed Himself to the children of Israel under various names. He had used a term concerning Himself (El or Elohim) which means His ‘strength’ and His ‘power’; and when He used that particular name, He was giving the people a sense of His might, His dominion, and His power. Later He revealed Himself in that great and wonderful name Jehovah which really means ‘the self-existent One’, ‘I am that I am’, eternally self-existent. But there were other names in which God described Himself: ‘the Lord will provide’ (Jehovah-jireh), ‘the Lord that healeth’ (Jehovah-rapha), ‘the Lord our Banner’ (Jehovah-nissi), ‘the Lord our peace’ (Jehovah-Shalom), ‘the Lord our Shepherd’ (Jehooah-ra-ah), ‘the Lord our Righteousness’ (Jehovalz-tsidkenu), and another term which means, ‘the Lord is present’ (Jehovoiz-shammah). As you read the Old Testament you will find all these various terms used; and in giving these various names to Himself God was revealing Himself and something of His nature and being, His character and His attributes, to mankind. In a sense ‘thy name’ stands for all that. Our Lord is here teaching us to pray that the whole world may come to know God in this way, that the whole world may come to honour God like that. It is the expression of a burning and deep desire for the honour and glory of God.
You cannot read the four Gospels without seeing very dearly that that was the consuming passion of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It is found again perfectly in that great High Priestly prayer in John 17 when He says, ‘I have glorified thee on the earth’ and ‘I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me’. He was always concerned about the glory of His Father. He said, ‘I have not come to seek mine own glory but the glory of him that sent me.’ There is no real understanding of the earthly life of Christ except in these terms. He knew that glory which ever belongs to the Father, ‘the glory which I had with thee before the world was.’ He had seen that glory and He had shared it. He was filled with this sense of the glory of God, and His one desire was that mankind might come to know it.
What unworthy ideas and notions this world has of God! If you test your ideas of God by the teaching of the Scriptures you will see at a glance what I mean. We lack even a due sense of the greatness and the might and the majesty of God. Listen to men arguing about God, and notice how glibly they use the term. It is not that I would advocate a return to the practice of the ancient Jews; I think they went too far. But it is indeed almost alarming to observe the way in which we all tend to use the name of God. We obviously do not realize that we are talking about the ever blessed, eternal, and absolute, almighty God. There is a sense in which we should take our shoes off our feet whenever we use the name. And how little do we appreciate the goodness of God, the kindness and the providence of God. How the Psalmist delighted in celebrating God as our rock, God as our peace, God as our shepherd who leads us, God as our righteousness, and God as the ever present One who will never leave us nor forsake us.
This petition means just that. We should all have a consuming passion that the whole world might come to know God like that. There is an interesting expression used in the Old Testament with regard to this which must sometimes have astonished us. The Psalmist in Psalm 34 invites everybody to join him in ‘magnifying’ the Lord. What a strange idea! ‘0’, he says, ‘magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together’. At first sight that appears to be quite ridiculous. God is the Eternal, the self-existent One, absolute and perfect in all His qualities. How can feeble man ever magnify such a Being? How can we ever make God great or greater (which is what we mean by magnify)? How can we exalt the name that is highly exalted over all? It seems preposterous and quite ridiculous. And yet, of course, if we but realize the way in which the Psalmist uses it, we shall see exactly what he means. He does not mean that we can actually add to the greatness of God, for that is impossible; but he does mean that he is concerned that this greatness of God may appear to be greater amongst men. Thus it comes to pass that amongst ourselves in this world we can magnify the name of God. We can do so by words, and by our lives, by being reflectors of the greatness and the glory of God and of His glorious attributes.
That is the meaning of this petition. It means a burning desire that the whole world may bow before God in adoration, in reverence, in praise, in worship, in honour and in thanksgiving. Is that our supreme desire? Is that the thing that is always uppermost in our minds whenever we pray to God? I would remind you again that it should be so whatever our circumstances. It is when we look at it in that way that we see how utterly valueless much of our praying must be. When you come to God, says our Lord, in effect, even though you may be in desperate conditions and circumstances, it may be with some great concern on your mind and in your heart; even then, He says, stop for a moment and just recollect and realize this, that your greatest desire of all should be that this wonderful God, who has become your Father in and through Me, should be honoured, should be worshipped, should be magnified amongst the people. ‘Hallowed be thy name.’ And as we have seen, it has always been so in the praying of every true saint of God that has ever lived on the face of the earth.
If therefore, we are anxious to know God’s blessing and are concerned that our prayers should be effectual and of value, we must follow this order. It is all put in a phrase repeated many times in the Old Testament: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. That is the conclusion reached by the Psalmist. That is the conclusion, likewise, of the wise man in his proverbs. If you want to know, he says, what true wisdom is, if you want to be blessed and prosperous, if you want to have peace and joy, if you want to be able to live and die in a worthy manner, if you want wisdom with regard to life in this world, here it is, ‘the fear of the Lord’. That does not mean craven fear; it means reverential awe. If, therefore, we want to know God and to be blessed of God, we must start by worshipping Him. We must say, ‘Hallowed be thy name’, and tell Him that, before mentioning any concern about ourselves, our one desire is that He shall be known. Let us approach God ‘with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire’. That is the first petition.
The second is ‘Thy kingdom come’. You notice that there is a logical order in these petitions. They follow one another by a kind of inevitable, divine necessity. We began by asking that the name of God may be hallowed amongst men. But the moment we pray that prayer we are reminded of the fact that His name is not hallowed thus. At once the question arises, Why do not all men bow before the sacred name? Why is not every man on this earth concerned about humbling himself now in the presence of God, and worshipping Him and using every moment in adoring Him and spreading forth His name? Why not? The answer is, of course, because of sin, because there is another kingdom, the kingdom of Satan, the kingdom of darkness. And there, at once, we are reminded of the very essence of the human problems and the human predicament. Our desire as Christian people is that God’s name shall be glorified. But the moment we start with that we realize that there is this opposition, and we are reminded of the whole biblical teaching about evil. There is another who is ‘the god of this world’; there is a kingdom of darkness, a kingdom of evil, and it is opposed to God and His glory and honour. But God has been graciously pleased to reveal from the very dawn of history that He is yet going to establish His kingdom in this world of time, that though Satan has entered in and conquered the world for the time being, and the whole of mankind is under his dominion, He is again going to assert Himself and turn this world and all its kingdoms into His own glorious kingdom. In other words, running right through the Old Testament, there are the promises and the prophecies concerning the coming of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. And, of course, at this particular, crucial point of world history, when our Lord Himself was here on earth, this matter was very much in the forefront of men’s minds. John the Baptist had been preaching his message, ‘Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. He called the people to be ready for it. And when our Lord began preaching, He said exactly the same thing; ‘Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ In this petition He obviously has that whole idea in His mind as He teaches His disciples to offer this particular prayer. At that immediate historical point He was teaching His disciples to pray that this kingdom of God should come increasingly and come quickly, but the prayer is equally true and equally right for us as Christian people in all ages until the end shall come.
We can summarize the teaching concerning the kingdom. The kingdom of God really means the reign of God; it means the law and the rule of God. When we look at it like that we can see that the kingdom can be regarded in three ways. In one sense the kingdom has already come. It came when the Lord Jesus Christ was here. He said, ‘If I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you’. He said in effect, ‘The kingdom of God is here now; I am exercising this power, this sovereignty, this majesty, this dominion; this is the kingdom of God’. So the kingdom of God in one sense had come then. The kingdom of God is also here at this moment in the hearts and lives of all who submit to Him, in all who believe in Him. The kingdom of God is present in the Church, in the heart of all those who are truly Christian. Christ reigns in such people. But the day is yet to come when His kingdom shall have been established here upon the earth. The day is yet to come when
‘Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run.’
That day is coming. The whole message of the Bible looks forward to that. Christ came down from heaven to earth to found, to establish, and to bring in this kingdom. He is still engaged upon that task and will be until the end, when it shall have been completed. Then He will, according to Paul, hand it back to God the Father, ‘that God may be all in all’.
So our petition really amounts to this. We should have a great longing and desire that the kingdom of God and of Christ may come in the hearts of men. It should be our desire that this kingdom should be extended in our own hearts; for it is to the extent that we worship Him, and surrender our lives to Him, and are led by Him, that His kingdom comes in our hearts. We should also be anxious to see this kingdom extending in the lives and hearts of other men and women. So that when we pray, ‘Thy kingdom come’, we are praying for the success of the gospel, its sway and power; we are praying for the conversion of men and women; we are praying that the kingdom of God may come today in Britain, in Europe, in America, in Australia, everywhere in the world. ‘Thy kingdom come’ is an all-inclusive missionary prayer.
But it goes even further than that. It is a prayer which indicates that we are ‘Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God’ (2 Peter 3:12). It means that we should be anticipating the day when all sin and evil and wrong and everything that is opposed to God shall finally have been routed. It means that we should have longings in our hearts for the time when the Lord will come back again, when all that is opposed to Him shall be cast into the lake of burning, and the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.
‘Thy kingdom come, 0 God;
Thy rule, 0 Christ, begin;
Break with mine iron rod
The tyrannies of sin.’
That is the petition. Indeed its meaning is expressed perfectly at the very end of the book of Revelation. ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’. ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come’. Our Lord is just emphasizing here that before we begin to think of our own personal needs and desires, we should have this burning desire within us for the coming of His kingdom, that the name of God may be glorified and magnified over all.
The third petition, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’ needs no explanation. It is a kind of logical consequence and conclusion from the second, as that was a logical conclusion from the first. The result of the coming of the kingdom of God amongst men will be that the will of God will be done amongst men. In heaven the will of God is always being done perfectly. We have only some dim and faint figures of it in the Scriptures, but we have sufficient to know that what is characteristic of heaven is that everyone and everything is waiting upon God and anxious to glorify and magnify His name. The angels, as it were, are on the wing all ready and waiting to fly at His bidding. The supreme desire of all in heaven is to do the will of God, and thereby to praise and worship Him. And it should be the desire of every true Christian, says our Lord here, that all on earth should be the same. Here, again, we are looking forward to the coming of the kingdom, because this petition will never be fulfilled and granted until the kingdom of God shall indeed be established here on earth amongst men. Then the will of God will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. There will be ‘new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness’. Heaven and earth will become one, the world will be changed, evil will be burned out of it, and the glory of God will shine over all.
In these words, then, we are taught how we begin to pray. Those are the petitions with which we must always start. We can summarize them again in this way. Our innermost and greatest desire should be the desire for God’s honour and glory. At the risk of being misunderstood I suggest that our desire for this should be even greater than our desire for the salvation of souls. Before we even begin to pray for souls, before we even begin to pray for the extension and the spread of God’s kingdom, there should be that over-ruling desire for the manifestation of the glory of God and that all might humble themselves in His presence. We can put it like this. What is it that troubles and worries our minds? Is it the manifestation of sin that we see in the world, or is it the fact that men do not worship and glorify God as they ought to do? Our Lord felt it so much that He put it like this in John 17:25; ‘0 righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these (referring to the disciples) have known that thou hast sent me.’ ‘Righteous Father,’ He said in effect, ‘here is the tragedy, here is the thing that perplexes Me, and saddens Me, that the world has not known Thee. It thinks of Thee as a tyrant, it thinks of Thee as a harsh Law-giver, it thinks of Thee as Someone who is opposed to it and always tyrannizing over it. Holy Father, the world has not known Thee. If it had but known Thee it could never think of Thee like that.’ And that should be our attitude, that should be our burning desire and longing. We should so know God that our one longing and desire should be that the whole world should come to know Him too.
What a wonderful prayer this is. 0 the folly of people who say that such a prayer is not meant for Christians, but that it was meant only for the disciples then and for the Jews in some coming age. Does it not make us feel in a sense that we have never prayed at all? This is prayer. ‘Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name’. Have we arrived at that yet, I wonder? Have we really prayed that prayer, that petition, ‘Hallowed be thy name’? If only we are right about that, the rest will follow. ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’. We need not turn to Him and ask Him, ‘Lord, teach us how to pray’. He has done so already. We have but to put into practice the principles He has taught us so plainly in this model prayer. (373-382)
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