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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name (Acts 17.16-34)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 28, 2015
Text: Acts 17:16-34; John 17;11-12; Revelation 15:1-4; Psalm 115

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Song of Praise: "God of Wonders" (Byrd, Hidalong)
Song of Praise: "I See the Lord" (Falson)
Offering of Music: "Thank You, Lord" (Baloche)
The Lord's Prayer: "Our Father in Heaven" (Wyse)
Hymn of Sending: "Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above" (MIT FREUDEN ZART)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf

:: Affirmation of Faith ::
from the Westminster Longer Catechism
Q.190 – What do we pray for in the first petition, ‘Hallowed be thy name?’1

ALL: Acknowledging the utter inability and indisposition that is in ourselves and all men to honor God aright2, we pray, that God would by his grace enable and incline us and others to know, to acknowledge, and highly to esteem him3, his titles4, attributes5, ordinances, word6, works, and whatsoever he is pleased to make himself known by7; and to glorify him in thought, word8, and deed9: that he would prevent and remove atheism10, ignorance11, idolatry12, profaneness13, and whatsoever is dishonorable to him14; and, by his over-ruling providence, direct and dispose of all things to his own glory.15

1Matt. 6:9; 22 Cor. 3:5, Ps. 51:15; 3Ps. 67:2–3; 4Ps. 83:18; 5Ps. 86:10–13,15; 62 Thess. 3:1, Ps. 147:19–20, Ps. 138:1–3, 2 Cor. 2:14–15; 7Ps. 145, Ps. 8; 8Ps. 103:1, Ps. 19:14; 9Phil. 1:9,11; 10Ps. 67:1–4; 11Eph. 1:17–18; 12Ps. 97:7; 13Ps. 74:18,22–23; 142 Kings 19:15–16; 152 Chron. 20:6,10–12, Ps. 83, Ps. 140:4,8

:: Video - "Lord's Prayer Series"

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today we continue our summer study on the Lord’s Prayer and turn to two phrases: who art in Heaven and hallowed be thy name. We will look at each in turn, but see that they are related and move us from describing God’s infinite power and “God-ness” to engaging in worship of the infinite, holy, and yet relational God described in the opening section of the prayer.

God Made Us (not the other way around) (Acts 17)

Rather than look at the Lord’s Prayer text in Matthew each week, we are looking at scriptures that “unpack” each of the phrases that Jesus taught in that prayer. Today we are looking at Acts 17:22-34. There the Apostle Paul is in Athens, in the cultural and religious heart of the Greco-Roman world. The early verses set up the scene: Paul saw that Athens was a “city full of idols” and was engaging with monotheistic folks (Jews and God-fearing Gentiles) in the synagogue and the market. We read in v. 18 that he was sharing the message of Jesus and the resurrection with them. But he was also being overheard by some of the Greek philosophers, who took him to the Areopagus (aka “Mars’ Hill”; literally “rock of Ares,” the war god), which was a Greek forum for debating new philosophical and religious ideas.

So, Paul finds himself in the middle of the Areopagus with an opportunity to share Jesus with a group of cultural elites who were decidedly NOT Jews or God-fearers. What follows is some of the best cross-cultural evangelism recorded in scripture. Our focus this morning is not on his technique, but I do want to take a moment to note it for you before turning to the content of his message, which highlights our Lord’s Prayer focus this morning.

Paul didn’t just blast into his audience for holding a different view, though we know he was burdened by all the idolatry and pagan worship in Athens. Rather, he starts with something in THEIR experience… one of the many altars around the city. There was one inscribed, “to an unknown God.” Paul used this opening – the willingness of the Athenians to consider and even worship something they did not yet know or understand – to tell them about a different God.

Paul goes on to speak of “the God who made the world and all things in it.” (v. 24a) And since this God is “Lord of heaven and earth, [He] does not dwell in temples made with hands.” (v. 24b) Paul also quotes some of the popular philosophers of the day when he says “in Him we live and move and exist” and “we also are His children.” He uses ideas that his audience understands and embraces, but he connects it to God’s story and goes from there to testify to a Creator God who has drawn near in a miraculous way. Paul makes clear that God makes and comes to us, not the other way around. Some dismiss and make fun of him; but some are intrigued and say, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” (v. 32) And some even believed and joined up with him. (v. 34)

This difference between gods made by human hands and a God who made us is just what is in view in the phrase, “Who art in Heaven.” Jesus was teaching us to pray to God who exists apart from us, larger than us. Otherwise, we’d just be praying to ourselves or something we had made. The main idea of God being “in Heaven” is that He is the creator and God and bigger and beyond the stuff of this earth and our human lives. (Yet hold that together with the personal, relational gift of calling God ‘Father’ that we learned about last week!)

There are also some really significant implications and applications of God’s bigness and ‘otherness’ for our lives.

Implications of God-in-Heaven (John 17; Revelation 15)

GOD AS JUDGE: One of those implications Paul mentions is that God is judge. The ancient Greeks were generally afraid of their gods, but built the temples and idols in order to lay claim to and plead for the gods’ intervention. Paul turns that around though: If God made us, then God has a claim on us, not the other way around. God has the claim on us and, in Paul’s words, “is now declaring that all people everywhere should turn to Him (repent).” (v. 30) That’s because the God who created us will also judge us.

GOD AS GUARDIAN: Jesus also spoke of God’s heavenly authority over his creations. In his prayer in the Garden in John 17 Jesus spoke of ‘keeping’ or ‘guarding’ his followers in God’s holy name. When things are beyond our power and strength, when the stakes are life and death, it is significant that the God to whom we pray is not something we created out of our own limitations and weakness, but the very God of Heaven. So Jesus prays in John 17, “Holy Father, keep [my followers] in Your name.” (John 17:11)

GOD AS HOLY: That Paul’s teaching also points to God as Holy should be evident. That’s what we call the infinite, powerful, beyond-us God who created us with a word. So Jesus speaks of God’s holy name guarding his followers. Jesus teaches us to pray not only “who art in Heaven” but also “hallowed be (or ‘holy is’) your name.” That holiness – the infinite, powerful, otherness of God – is nowhere as on display as in some of the scenes described in Revelation. Listen to this:
1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. 2 And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. 3 And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 4 “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:1–4)
The only appropriate response to God’s holiness is what is described there: WORSHIP. And that’s really what Paul is working toward in his exchange in Athens. Because nothing gets in the way of worship so much as idolatry. That’s why the Ten Commandments focuses so on that topic.

So Paul, convicted that the Athenians were plagued by idolatry spoke in terms they could understand to lead them to truth about a Holy Creator God whose existence explained human existence and called them to turn around in repentance and worship in reverence.

Application: Worship

Paul taught these truths, but Jesus did more. He put the words on our lips that would set the actions before our hearts. What does it mean to pray to God “who art in Heaven, holy be your name?”

Well, we can just speak the words unthinkingly and by rote. But if we take them to heart and mean them and follow after them as we speak them, we will be challenged in the same ways Paul challenged the Athenians.

JUDGE --> REPENTANCE: Are their idols in our lives? Of course not; I don’t have a single statue to Ares or Athena or Aphrodite in my house! But the application is much broader, right? Paul was speaking of people, things, ideas, and goals WE create and put in place of God. We need not have a statue to Ares to chase after power and control. We need not have a statue to Athena to hold up human knowledge as supreme. We don’t need a statue to Aphrodite to worship passion, gratification, or all that poses as ‘love.’ Praying to “God… who art in Heaven, holy be your name” calls us to repent, to turn from those false gods and turn to the true Holy God.

GUARDIAN --> PEACE: This spring we talked about needing Good News in a world full of bad news. We need no more present and tangible reminder of this than the tragic murders in Charleston a week and a half ago. And over and above the incomprehensible loss of life are the multitude of issues like systemic racism that leave so many feeling and experiencing everything from fear to hopelessness to anger. Is there ANY good or hopeful word to be spoken? Our prayer to “God… who art in Heaven, holy be your name” addresses the One – and the only One – who is bigger, stronger, and more enduring than the violence, hatred, evil, and sorrow of this world. And that same God guards and keeps you; is that the One to whom you pray?

HOLY --> WORSHIP: Finally, the Lord’s Prayer not only points us toward the holiness of God, but actually invites us to put those words of worship on our lips. We don’t say “hallowed or holy IS your name” but “holy BE your name.” We are declaring it as an act of worship, instructed and enabled by Christ himself, who taught us to pray in this way. To pray these words in truth is to yield ourselves to God in worship. It is no wonder that the phrases that come next ask for God’s Kingdom and will to be accomplished. Remember Paul’s words? We don’t make a claim on a god we made; instead God who has made us has an implicit claim on us. THAT is the God to whom we pray and worship.

I invite and challenge you: next time you pray to “God… who art in Heaven, holy be your name,” turn away from substitute gods; trust the God who can and does guard, keep, and save you; and yield yourself to Him in worship. That is Jesus’ invitation to you and to me. Amen.

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