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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Show that God's Name is Great!
Text:LD 47 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-05-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 66:1,2                                                                                           

Ps 47:1,2,3  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Ezekiel 36:16-38; Titus 2

Ps 106:1,3,22,23

Sermon – Lord’s Day 47

Ps 97:1,3,5

Hy 77:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, blasphemy is something we take seriously. When we hear someone take God’s name in vain, it makes us cringe. And it’s good to be zealous for God’s name. We know the third commandment, summarized in Lord’s Day 36: “Is the blaspheming of God’s name by swearing and cursing such a grievous sin that God is angry also with those who do not prevent and forbid it as much as they can? Certainly, for no sin is greater or provokes God’s wrath more than the blaspheming of his name.” So we’re called to defend the honour and holiness of the LORD. That’s “our” God you’re talking about!

This is something the Lord Jesus also taught us to pray in the first petition, that God’s Name be hallowed. In all our life, we must be concerned for the reputation of the LORD. And this is where it gets personal. For while we might have little tolerance for the blasphemy spewed out by some, there’s a danger that we too—of all people—might bring dishonour to God. Perhaps not by filling our text messages with OMGs and the like, but by living in a way that denies our Lord!

How might this happen? Because we know God’s words and works, and because we’re connected with Christ’s name as a Christian church, and because we often speak about the Lord—it is inevitable that attention is put on us, to see if we’re really any different because of Christ. So will people mock the Lord because of how we live? Dismiss him because we’re complacent? Or will people praise God when they see our faithful conduct? And will they be attracted to the gospel when they experience our kindness? And so we pray in the first petition, “Father, hallowed be your name!”

Jesus teaches us to hallow God’s glorious name in all of life:

  1. by not blaspheming it ever
  2. but honouring it always

 

1) not blaspheming it ever: Let’s begin by remembering to read the first petition as a petition. It’s not just a statement of fact, a declaration that God’s name is holy and majestic. That’s true, of course. But Jesus teaches us to make a request, “Father, may your name become hallowed, even more! May it be praised not just by the angels and the heavenly lights, but praised by me, and every creature you made—increasingly praised, more and more exalted.”

In other words, we ought to pray that God would receive the glory that’s rightly his. Like Psalm 145 says, “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised” (v 3). We may ask for many other things in prayer, but our overriding concern in life must be for the fame of God’s name. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). This is our purpose: hallowing God’s name.

This is familiar territory, yet it’s good to review: in the Bible, a name isn’t just a name—it’s not just a way to refer to someone. A name has power. A name stands for a person’s reputation and ability and authority. This is true for human names, and it’s even more true for the name of God. As Nehemiah once prayed to the LORD, “You have made a name for yourself, which remains to this day” (9:10). God’s name stands for the entirety of his holy character and capacity; it’s what He does and desires.

And a direct consequence is that the glory of God doesn’t just reside in his spoken name, spoken properly—like it’s a magic spell that you have to pronounce just right. To hallow God’s name, you have to do much more than pray eloquently, or sing well, and more than witness to Christ in a conversation with your neighbour.

No, God’s name is hallowed in every corner of our life where we let his glory shine. Like through our faithful working in the office, and through our kindness on the school yard, through our spending at the shopping centre, and how we relax on Friday night, and what we do in a situation of conflict. In all these areas his name will be praised if we consciously submit to God’s good authority, and model ourselves after his holy character. Do we show that God is important to us, that He’s everything to us? If He is, often we don’t even have to say a word!

We’ll speak more about this later. But let’s first see how the opposite is also true. God can be praised by our “thoughts, words and actions,” but by them, the Catechism says, He might also be blasphemed. Even without a word, we might bring shame upon our God.

We see this in Ezekiel 36, that God’s name could be blasphemed in many ways beside what’s mentioned in relation to the third commandment. This chapter takes place when Ezekiel is ministering to God’s exiled people, recently deported to Babylon. They were in captivity for a good reason, for they had spurned the LORD in the worst way, ignoring his prophets and falling down before idols.

They completely deserved this heavy punishment of exile, so their suffering didn’t “need” to bother the LORD. It’d be like a judge today who has to sentence a murderer; he gives him 25 years in prison, and it’s painful, but the judge has nothing to apologize for. He can go to bed that night, and sleep well, for it’s the law, and it’s just. So for Israel’s punishment—it’s totally fair.

Yet the LORD is still thinking about how this situation reflects badly on him. He speaks about this in verse 20, “When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned my holy name…” God evicted Judah from the land, yet the result was blasphemy. And not through anything God’s people said—much more through what they had done.

As God explains: the nations saw the exiled Israelites and they gloated, “These are the people of the LORD, and yet they have gone out of his land” (v 20). Notice that that is how Israel was known, even among the nations: as the LORD’s people. For they’d always claimed to be his special possession; they had his holy law on stone tablets; his glorious temple was in their city. They weren’t perfect, but there was something different about the people of Israel and her God. The old stories of deliverance from Egypt, the miraculous victories in battle over the Canannites, the rich blessing on the land—all this was well known among the nations. They were a light in the darkness.

But what came of it? The LORD’s holy city had fallen, his temple had been burned to the ground, and his people dragged into exile. The nations didn’t understand things like God’s justice or covenant wrath. So the Gentiles came to disturbing conclusions—conclusions that were blasphemous.

Conclusion #1: Israel’s God is just one god among many. By always making idols, the Israelites showed that the LORD isn’t really worthy of exclusive worship and trust. He’s in the same class as dozen others: Baal and Molech and whoever else. Israel’s God is no one special.

Blasphemous Conclusion #2: This God of Israel isn’t really so great and mighty as He claimed, because He failed to protect his people from the mighty Babylonian army. They’d just come in and demolished the place. Israel’s God is weak.

Conclusion #3: This God of Israel couldn’t really be trusted. He’d always promised the world to them, but his words fell flat. Here was Judah, homeless and hopeless. “There went ‘the LORD’s own people,’” their neighbours said. “Exiled. Defeated. Miserable. That whole ‘covenant’ thing of his wasn’t such a good deal, after all.” Israel’s God is unreliable.

You see, it all comes back to God and his honour. Israel’s pollution had contaminated even him! Without saying a word, they had profaned his great name and besmirched his honour. Without even opening their mouths, they blasphemed the holy God.

Beloved, maybe you can already anticipate how this relates to us. The New Testament calls the church of Christ “the new Israel,” we’re the new covenant people of God. In this world, we’re known as the Father’s children, as believers in Jesus—and we’re known as those called to live by his standard. Being in the company of someone great always puts you under the scrutiny of other people.

Paul encourages this awareness in his letter to Titus. He tells his fellow-servant, “Speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (2:1). And what follows is not “sound doctrine” the way we’d think of it—a published collection of official teachings. Rather, he gives examples of “doctrine-in-practice,” how the Christian faith is worked out through a Christian life. You always have to be concerned about how you project yourself as a child of God. What message are you sending?

In this passage it’s clear that Paul is sensitive to how others perceive us. For example, hear his words to the young women of the congregation, in verse 5: “Be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to [your] own husbands”—and then it comes, the real reason for our faithful conduct—“that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” Don’t bring discredit to the gospel by the way you live!

That verse is still relevant today, isn’t it? In an age of militant feminists and dysfunctional families, a godly home is something special. A family with a strong and faithful husband, and a wife who happily fulfills her duties at home caring for children, and children who respectfully obey, is a powerful display of God’s wisdom and goodness—the rightness of his will.

On the other hand, if our neighbors see nothing different about our homes, God’s name is dragged through the mud. “What’s their pious confession really worth?” the question will be asked, “What does Jesus really have to do with their lives, if in the end, they’re just like us?” Each one of us is a kind of ambassador, carrying with us the name of God. For as Christians, as covenant children, we’ve been sealed with the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

So be concerned about this: What do others say about us? What’s our reputation with outsiders? What are they saying about us as disciples of Christ? Do they notice that we put our doctrine into practice? For even if our neighbors don’t really care what a Christian believes, they do want to see how a Christian lives.

Even if we’ve said only a passing word about our faith, or happened to mention once going to church on Sunday, people will associate us with God. Co-workers, neighbours, clients—they’ve “put” us in God’s camp. So our conduct reflects on him. Is it obvious that this God had an impact on your life and character? That He has changed your priorities? Do we speak and live in a way that hallows his name?

This places on us a serious responsibility. God said about his people in Ezekiel’s day, “Wherever they went, they profaned my holy name.” They caused him shame. They damaged his reputation. Might we do the same? Might we blaspheme?

I’ve done anonymous surveys in my Catechism classes, asking the students to write down any sins that they struggle with. And you can be sure that the sins they mention run across the whole spectrum, Commandment 1 to 10: idolatry is on there, and anger, and disrespect, lustful thoughts, greed, cruelty, pride, stealing, laziness. Some students mentioned that they sometimes swear, or use dirty language, but I can’t remember one student who has ever mentioned blasphemy.

We said earlier that this is something that we’ll rarely do: blaspheme out-rightly. The authors of the Catechism, writing for students who were largely Christian, probably made the same assumption. There’s likely not many committed blasphemers in the church.

All this makes the second last line of Lord’s Day 47 so surprising. There the Catechism is speaking of how the prayer, “Hallowed be your Name,” must be combined with action,  “Grant us also that we may so direct our whole life—our thoughts, words, and actions…” And then it suddenly injects the loaded language of blasphemy: “[Grant this so] that your name is not blasphemed because of us but always honoured and praised.”

It’s because practically everyone knows the core requirements for followers of Jesus. For instance, even non-believers know that Christians must live in love. So what does it say about our Saviour when we don’t—when a church is divided into little groups and factions, or when we’re unwelcoming of strangers, or when we’re indifferent to the suffering?

Non-churchgoing people also know that Christians bow to Christ as Lord, that we must be devoted to him. But what are people to think of this commitment, when we seem to worship a dozen things beside him: whether our sport or our possessions or our work or video games? Doesn’t seem like Christ is so precious to you—not as precious as your image or your fine home.

We could go on. But it’s enough to say that we need this petition, because for us the activity of praising and hallowing doesn’t come easy. So let’s go on, to learn how we must honour the LORD’s name.

 

2) but honouring it always: If you’re a parent, you want your child to have a good purpose in life, you want them to do something worthwhile. So for God our Father: He wants us his children to fix our desires on something that’ll satisfy. Which is what He sets before us in the first petition: the glory of his name!

Here we can go back to the third commandment, and the Catechism’s lesson in on it in Lord’s Day 36. After saying what not to do—“we are not to blaspheme or abuse the name of the God by cursing, perjury, or unnecessary oaths, nor to share in such horrible sins by being silent bystanders”—the Catechism speaks of what we are to do: “Rather, we must use the holy name of God only with fear and reverence, so that we may rightly confess him, call upon him, and praise him in all our words and works.”

Underline that last phrase: “Praise him in all our words and works.” That’s the point of the first petition as well, and it’s the thrust of a passage like Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Do it all “in his name,” says Paul.

Maybe you wonder how an unholy people can be in the business of hallowing. How can natural-born idolaters bring praise to the true God? This is impossible, apart some divine help. But that’s what we have!

Consider again the Israelites in exile, shaming God’s name just by being there. It was going to be a chorus of blasphemy for seventy long years. So God couldn’t let it go, stand by while the nations mocked. So He’ll save his people! And it won’t be for their own merit, as if they were worthy of redemption. God says that He’ll do it “for my holy name’s sake…” (v 22). Because of his own reputation! If no one else was going to sanctify his name, then God will!

How? Says the LORD, “I will take you from among the nations… and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you” (vv 24-26). God will restore his people, and enable them to do the very thing He always commanded: to walk in his statutes, and keep his laws.

And the result is that Israel’s life and land will thrive once again! “So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations… shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate” (vv 35-36).

That’s a refrain in this chapter, and it’s a refrain throughout Ezekiel: “Then they shall know that I am the LORD” (v 37). He wants even the Gentile nations to know about him! And this is how they will: when they see God’s glory in Israel, God’s glory reflected in their obedience, God’s glory seen in their blessing and worship. Then the nations will again marvel at God’s mercy, and again be awed by his power.

That was then—God saved his people with the express purpose of glorifying his name. And now God has done it again! He has shown himself to be great by redeeming and renewing us through Jesus Christ, by raising up a holy people for himself.

Consider Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” Draw a line between the two parts of that text: because we’ve been saved by grace, this is how we should live: soberly, righteously, and godly.

You can’t hide such a life. If your faith in Christ is genuine, it’ll be out in the open, plain and obvious. And seeing us, people will draw their conclusions, not just about us, but about the God we worship. That this God is great and holy. This God is gracious and merciful. This God must be living, because He has a real impact on the lives of his believers.

Paul has already said that we must not bring shame to God by our conduct. Now, more positively: like in verse 7, speaking to Titus personally, “In all things [show] yourself to be a pattern of good works.” Show yourself to have integrity. Make it obvious, even to those who speak against you or criticize you.

It’s also in verse 9-10, when the Spirit speaks of how a Christian slave is to live, “Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.”

When He speaks there of “adorning” doctrine, the Spirit uses a word which describes the setting of a jewel. I don’t know a lot about jewelry, but when a jeweler has a precious stone he wants to make into a ring, he’ll set it in such a way as to accent its full beauty. He puts the precious stone in the centre of the ring, complemented by lesser jewels and ornament.

Likewise, the teaching about God and Christ must be placed in the right setting—and the right setting is our own lives. The gospel must never be left at home, up on the shelf beside our Bible, or in the closet with our Sunday clothes, but it must be taken out and displayed. Accompanied by our godly lifestyle, the good news about the LORD should be shown in all its beauty. Adorn it—“make the gospel attractive”—so that people can see the majesty of our God.

There’s many today who say the gospel is ugly, and that it makes for ugly Christians. Many like to think of Christians as intolerant, joyless, and unloving people—but by our lives we can show them the truth.

And it should lead our neighbours to do more than admit: “You know, I’ve got nothing bad to say about those Christians. They’re not bad people, after all.” But it must be positive, where they say, “There’s something special about that Christian’s life: the joy he has, the contentment, the kindness. There’s something amazing about how that church worships, and how they love one another. I want to have what they have, to know the God they know!”

If we’re going to adorn the gospel with our lives, we must also tell about the gospel with our mouths. If we always try to be a good neighbour, or set a good example at work, but we don’t speak of what makes the difference, the ring will be missing its most important part. People will look, but won’t see the true centre-piece, the gospel of Christ. Let us confess what we believe, give the reason we have hope, and be ready to explain who has transformed us.

With the first petition, Jesus taught what should always be our first concern: How can I bring glory to my God? And how can I do so better? How can I use my gifts, and my opportunities, and my time, my heart and soul and mind and strength—how can I, more and more, bring glory to God? How can I be an ambassador for my great King and Saviour? For that is my heart’s desire: to hallow his name!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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