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Lebanon, Missouri
I am Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church (LC-MS) in Lebanon, MO for 12 years. I'm married to Cheryl and have been blessed with 5 children.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Lord's Prayer, Part III of VII

The Lord's Prayer

Learning the Heart and Mind of the Father

Part III of VII

When we go to prayer we should forget everything that is apart from our prayer. These were the sage words of Cyprian the Bishop of Carthage (John Behr, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen On The Lord’s Prayer, Popular Patrisitics Series, p.131).

We know how easy it is to let pressing duties and worrisome issues slip into our prayers first unnoticed and then as unwelcome intruders. There is an important attitude and preparation that we must exercise when we go to prayer. It should be as King David wrote, “To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Ps 123:1 NASB). And again he says, “To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul” (Ps 25:1 NASB).

And so, our minds are lifted up from the pressing matters all around us to look to God for all good things spiritual and material. In prayer we gaze up to heaven and magnify God for He alone is truly great. He alone is our Redeemer. His kingdom alone endures forever.

The second petition to the Lord’s Prayer is “Thy Kingdom come.” Take time to lift up your soul by contemplating this petition for in it you will discover the heart and mind of the Heavenly Father. Let’s focus in on this petition with three questions.

As to the first question, What is God’s Kingdom? In Judaism, God’s kingdom meant an earthly kingdom. Thus, in the first century, Rome became the arch enemy because they ruled the Mediterranean world. Caesar would not allow another king to rival his own empire after all.

There were false Messiahs and political uprisings aimed at overthrowing Rome and to build God’s kingdom in Judea. The outcome of this theology was tragic. At the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Jerusalem was torn by factions including the zealot party that had a definite religious bent.

Josephus writes about the tragedy of the Jewish War. There were so many Jews dying in Jerusalem that the rebels in the city, “ordered the bodies buried at public expense, finding the stench unbearable, but then flung them into the ravines when they became too numerous.” The Roman general Titus was greeted by, “these valleys choked with dead bodies oozing decay” (Paul L. Maier, Josephus: The Essential Works, p. 360). The mass suicide on the mountain top fortress of Masada noted the sad end of such erroneous, messianic, theocratic expectations.

Rome was no more the enemy to God’s kingdom than any other nation or any other sinner. Even in our day I have spoken to Christians who see the United States in terms of being God’s nation, God’s holy people who are subjugated by certain political parties, by pop culture icons who flaunt indecency, and those who champion the homosexual agenda. If only these forces could be curtailed by a resurgence of Christian political might, so it goes, then America would again reclaim her sacred status.

I hope wickedness will be hindered and civil righteousness will abound in our land, but it almost sounds to me as if the kingdom of God comes via the Christian nation of America (the new Israel). In this way, some Christians fall closer to the attitude of the Jews than they should.

Luther does a good job defining for us what this kingdom really is according to the Bible: The kingdom is, “Nothing other than what we learned in the Creed: God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the devil’s power” (Concordia, Readers Ed., Large Catechism, p. 440.51).

God’s kingdom consists of all those who fall under His unmerited favor through faith in Christ the Savior.
They are God’s good soil flourishing by the seed of the Gospel (Mark 4). They are those laborers whom God has chosen by grace (Matthew 20). They are the wise virgins filled with the Holy Spirit who lamps remain lit (Matthew 25), and they are also the living, enduring “City of God” (Revelation 21:10f and Augustine).

What a kingdom this is! The kingdom is the saintly, aged mother walking ever so slowly through the church doors; the little child who is way too energetic for her parents as she runs around the playground; the wealthy man driving his expensive pick-up; the poor family making life work pay check to pay check; the guy with the annoying habit of falling asleep during the service; the skinny, pimple faced teenager trying to find his/her own way in the world.

Behold the magnificent kingdom of God! Though unremarkable in their appearance, these citizens thereof have a greater dignity than the citizens of any earthly kingdom for they belong to God. They are the Kings people “warts and all” by the merit and work of Christ (Rev. Leroy Vogel).

As to the second question, how does God’s Kingdom Come? Tertullian said that this kingdom, “issues from words which bring salvation to those who hear them” (Behr, op.cit. p. 169). He is spot on!

God’s kingdom consists in those saved by grace. Thus God’s kingdom comes via words even simple words of the Gospel. They seem foolish to those who are perishing, but they are words of life because they bring to us the death and resurrection of Christ for our sins.

Since the kingdom comes via the Word of Grace, Luther is correct when he writes that, “His kingdom comes of itself, without our prayer” (McCain, op. cit. p.440.50).

We pray for it nonetheless because the promises of His kingdom do not “supersede” prayer but enliven and “encourage prayer” all the more (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Whole Bible, Hendrickson Pulishers). What God promises we pray for because the heart and mind of God has become our heart and mind by the work of the Holy Spirit.

The final question is this, “What does this mean?” God’s kingdom is the gathering of His people that issues from His Word and reaches its fulfillment at the second coming of Christ. What are the implications of this teaching?

First, we must, “stretch out toward the things ahead of us” (Behr, op.cit. p. 170). When we pray, “Thy kingdom come” we note that we are not looking for any earthly kingdom. Implicitly we are praying for an end to this present era. When God’s kingdom comes in its fullness the kingdoms of this earth will cease to be.

Second, it means that we must “labor in prayer…lest we should be excluded from the heavenly realm” (Ibid, p. 74). We pray “thy kingdom come” lest we ourselves should be lost to the Father. Is this not what has happened in large part to the Jewish nation?

The promises of the Lord were first given to them but so many missed out entirely on God’s kingdom. Are we so much better than they that we could not be lost to God’s kingdom? We must pray for ourselves, our family, and our church that God’s kingdom would always come to us.

Finally, it implies, that if we really mean to pray “thy kingdom come,” that we choose to expand that kingdom ourselves. We don’t do it by power politics. The kingdom does not come because we vote for God fearing, gun loving, pro-life candidates. I hope we do elect godly and wise leaders, but the kingdom does not come that way.

We expand the kingdom by supporting the preaching and teaching of the Gospel at our own church. We also do it by support missionaries and mission starts. If we really mean what Jesus says, then we ourselves proclaim the mercies of God in Christ. In this way we see that we aren’t actually doing the expanding. The Holy Spirit is expanding the kingdom as we proclaim Christ crucified.

Let me wrap this up. When I was at Fort Drum, New York, I normally performed memorial services for the Soldiers who died in combat rather than performing funerals. I was able to attend an actual funeral service on one occasion.

The ceremony went on like others I have performed elsewhere, but while the honor guard were folding the flag, the head of the detail spoke deliberately and slowly, “Duty, Honor, Country.” Never had those words meant so much to me as standing at the graveside of one of our Soldiers that day.

“Duty, honor, country” come at a high price. How much more has God’s country come at so costly a price? The son of God Himself, Creator of the universe, suffered upon the cross, groaned in pain, whose parched tongue clung to his pallet, and whose blood poured out upon the dust and rocks of Judea for our sins.

The glory that has followed is not the honored but occupied grave of a Soldier, but it was the empty tomb and the Kingdom of God flowing forth from Christ.

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