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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 IV of VII

The Lord's Prayer

Learning the Heart and Mind of the Father

Part IV of VII

The second Commandment tells us that we should not take the name of the Lord in vain, but the command isn’t fulfilled simply by avoiding the improper use of His name. God invites us to call upon Him in prayer and in this way use His name properly. You see here that we have a good and kind heavenly Father who welcomes His children. And because of the name of Jesus we can call upon the Father without fear of wrath (Paul McCain, Concordia, Readers Ed., Large Catechism, p. 434.5).

Have you had the occasion where you have thought, “What’s the use?” Perhaps you have doubted everything you have tried to do including prayer. What’s the use? Why pray when God will do what He wants. Does He even hear me? What’s the sense?

And yet think of a child saying to his Father: “What good is it if I obey, whether I do or whether I don’t it makes no difference. What parent would accept that attitude? (Ibid, p. 435.8-9).

We should remember that our Father in heaven invites us to pray out of His goodness and mercy. Yet, there is more, He also commands us to pray (I Thessalonians 5:17, Matthew 5:44). Ironically this command is somewhat freeing. We need not fret our doubt asking, “what use is it” so as to determine whether to pray or not. As obedient children, we simply heed our Father. We pray, trust, and reach up to Him as He first reached down to us and brought us into the one Holy Christian Church through faith in Christ.

It is accord with the will of God that we pray in confidence and faith. It is this will that we plead might be accomplished in us when we pray the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.” As to the will of God, many Christians have asked, “What is the will of God?” “What does God want me to do?” “What path should I take in getting a degree, what job should I take.”

When we speak about God’s will we should keep in mind that God’s will falls into two categories. There is the revealed will of God and His hidden will. Luther mentions that we cannot take a peek up into heaven and there understand all things that are hidden.

Now that would be nice. How wonderful it would be if each step we took only happened after we climbed up to heaven first but then there would be little room for walking in trust and faith. No, we cannot reveal the secret things of God’s council (Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther’s Works, vol 1, p. 14).

God’s revealed will is no mystery. Rather than chasing what we can’t know we need to be focused on what God has shown to us. His will is made known in the Ten Commandments. His highest will is made known in Jesus, that He desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:4).

When the LORD God gave His commandments He sent Moses. He was the great prophet and deliverer of the Old Testament, but he was still but a man. When God wanted to accomplish our salvation, He gave us His very own Son. His highest will is accomplished in Christ.

Thus we confess that He, “redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil. He did this not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that I may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom…” (McCain, op. cit. p. 355).

Cyprian, the ancient Bishop of Carthage, wrote about God’s will this way, “Now the will of God is that which Christ both did and taught. Humility in conduct, constancy in faith, truth in speech, justice in deeds, mercy in words, restraint in self-discipline, knowing nothing of doing injury yet willing to endure slight, holding peace with the brothers, devoted whole heartedly to the Lord, loving him as Father, fearing Him as God, preferring nothing whatsoever to Christ because He preferred nothing to ourselves, clinging inseparably to His love, standing by the cross with courage and faith…” (John Behr, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen On The Lord’s Prayer, Popular Patrisitics Series, p.75 - 76).

What are some other reasons to pray, “Thy will be done,” other than the fact that Jesus teaches us to do this? Peter tells believers not to live in the lust of their flesh. You already did that before you were saved, he continues, when you indulged in sensuality, carousing, idolatry, and so forth.

Peter goes on. He says that your old buddies, and the world as a whole, when they see that you are not running with them in the old lifestyle, they are going to attack you and malign you (I Peter 4:1-7).

It is as Luther wrote. When we prayed, “Thy Kingdom Come” we prayed for our greatest need. This need is the Gospel, faith, and the Holy Spirit. When we pray “Thy Will be Done” this acts as a fortress of protection that we would not be lost to this kingdom (McCain, op. cit. p. 442.69).

The world and our own flesh are relentless pushing, pushing, pushing until we are worn out. If they are not pushing then they are enticing saying, “Come, go my broad pleasant way!”

Notice how God’s people are enticed by various desires. First the Christian hates this or that sin and agrees with God’s judgment. Then in the passion of a particular lust the Christian falls into that sin. Finally he ends up giving his heart to it. In the end the he rejoices and revels in what he once considered distasteful and sinful.

“Dear God save me from my will.” “Dear God keep me in Thy will that I might not be cajoled away from Thy kingdom.” If God’s will is lost in our lives then just as surely will God’s kingdom.
The third petition would draw our hearts in a different direction than the world and our flesh. When we pray “Thy will” we do so that God’s good will would be done in us. Indeed having “prayed that He [would] rule us, we pray that we may in everything be ruled by him” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, on Matthew 6:10). You see, having God as our heavenly Father, we actually do heed Him. What good is it to call Him father but then ignore His will?

In this petition we learn the heart and mind of the Heavenly Father. We have prayed for the kingdom to come to us by the unmerited grace of Christ. Now we pray that the Holy Spirit would work God’s will in our lives through His Word lest being saved we become lost because we followed another will other than God’s.What is God’s will for you? It is that the smile that He bestows upon you now in Christ might endure and open up to everlasting life.

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.