The Lord’s Prayer
July 24, 2011
“Thy kingdom come.” Matthew 6:10
Thy kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also. How is this done? When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life, here in time and hereafter in eternity.
Jesus taught us that the kingdom of God is hidden. It cannot be seen. He said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21) What is the kingdom of God? Here is the answer given in Luther’s Large Catechism:
What is the kingdom of God? Answer: Simply what we learned in the Creed, namely, that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil and to bring us to himself and rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death and an evil conscience. To this end he also gave his Holy Spirit to teach us this through his holy Word and to enlighten and strengthen us in faith by his power.
You cannot see Jesus, the Redeemer who shed his blood for us. You cannot see the devil who deceives people into false faith. You cannot see the righteousness and the life and the salvation that Jesus gives. The reality of the kingdom for which we pray is not something we can see in this life.
But to say that we cannot see the kingdom of God does not mean that we cannot know where it is. We can and we do know where God’s kingdom is. It is wherever the Holy Spirit teaches us God’s holy word in which Jesus Christ our Redeemer is revealed. Jesus was officially identified as the King of God’s kingdom when he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. It is necessary for us to see him as King in his suffering because it is in his suffering for us that he establishes his relationship to us as king. He governs or rules over us by suffering and dying for us.
Every other king gains power over us by coercion. The king says that if you won’t submit to him he will punish you. This is how governments must operate. Every kingdom of this world requires the use of force to keep peace. Anarchy is when there is no government at all. It becomes the very worst kind of tyranny because the stronger will bully the weaker into submission. That’s the way it works. No king or ruler can govern without instilling fear in the hearts of those who would be inclined to disobey. Peace on earth is established by making potential law-breakers afraid to disobey the law.
Imagine if you will an unarmed police force without patrol cars, without radar, and without anything but a frown to warn you away from speeding. Do you think that somebody racing down the highway at 100 miles an hour is going to be deterred by a policeman standing on the shoulder of the highway giving out dirty looks? I don’t think so.
Some people think that if everyone were a Christian we wouldn’t need any law enforced by men with guns. But that is a naïve denial of the clear biblical teaching that in us, that is, in our flesh no good thing dwells. Even Christians who are born from above into God’s eternal kingdom by the new birth of water and the Spirit need to be afraid of disobeying the kings and rulers of this world. And I’m not talking about speeding in our cars. There’s nothing inherently wrong in driving fast. I’m talking about crimes against God’s moral law: disobeying parents, killing, committing adultery, stealing, lying, and cheating people out of what is theirs. We need to be afraid of disobeying the king or the king cannot rule over us. Without the fear of potential criminals – and that includes everyone – no king can keep the peace.
This is why it is so difficult for people to understand that the kingdom of God is nothing like this. People assume that if God’s kingdom is God’s rule over us it must be a matter of God governing us by his law. This is how Herbert W. Armstrong used to argue. Armstrong was the founder of a cult known as the Worldwide Church of God which for years published The Plain Truth magazine. He insisted that when the prophet Isaiah said about Jesus, “the government shall be upon his shoulder” this was proof positive that the reign of Jesus on this earth had to be a political one. It couldn’t be a spiritual reign over the hearts of men because, in Armstrong’s opinion, a spiritual reign didn’t qualify as a government.
But the man was wrong. Those who argue that Christ’s real reign is yet to begin because the governments of this world aren’t yet under his control are arguing against the crucifixion. They are enemies of the cross. They don’t understand the first thing about the kingdom of God. The governments of this world cannot possibly govern the hearts of men. Oh, you will occasionally find a particularly skilled leader who with a display of personal character combined with eloquent speech can inspire people to sacrifice for their country. But no king of this world has ever been able to change the human heart. There is only one way to do that. That is to take away what corrupts it. There was only one way that could be done and only one Man who could do it. Jesus had to die. Jesus, the pure and holy God, who became a pure and holy man in the Virgin’s womb, had to bear the sin that corrupts and defiles every human heart.
And he did. There was no sin that didn’t corrupt our nature through and through. Sin isn’t just the doing or not doing of things. Sin is a condition of the soul, heart, and will of every man, woman, and child in this world. It is the love of self more than anyone else. It is the denial of God, God’s word, God’s name, and God’s will. Jesus confronted this mass of human corruption on the cross. He suffered for it by bearing it completely as if he were the one guilty of it. You and I think we know sin but we know it only as sinners who are constantly being beguiled and deluded by it. Only Jesus knew sin as the one who was innocent. He knew no sin yet became sin. All we can see is the outward manifestation of the sin. All we can feel is the hurt of the guilty conscience. Jesus saw the deepest corruption and he felt the wrath and just vengeance of God against all sinners and every sin. He took it all away on the cross. This was the only way he could remove it all from us.
This is why the kingdom of God comes only from the crucifixion of Jesus. The Holy Spirit calls us into this kingdom when he baptizes us and makes us God’s children. The Holy Spirit confirms for our faith the full forgiveness of all our sin by the words of Jesus, “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins,” even as we eat and we drink that precious body and blood by which this forgiveness was procured. And the Holy Spirit teaches us the heavenly doctrine that lifts us out of death into life by means of the gospel that we hear again and again and again. Every spiritual need we have is met when we meet the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.
We need to be governed. We need a king. But we need to be governed truly and eternally. The law that threatens us when we disobey cannot give us peace. It will threaten us as long as we are sinners and that will be as long as we live in this world. The law can govern our bodies, our appetites, our urges, and our old sinful flesh. But it cannot govern our hearts. Only the grace of God that flows from the wounds of Jesus can govern our hearts and make us love God from the heart. This is why Jesus is our king in his suffering for us. And this is why we seek God’s kingdom by seeking out where the pure gospel of Christ’s crucifixion for sinners is preached and where the true sacraments of Christ that join us to that crucifixion are administered.
When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying that God give us what he gives us in the Divine Service every Sunday morning. It is inconceivable that a Christian could sincerely pray that God’s kingdom come and refuse to attend the services of God’s house. These services are divine, not because we come here to serve God. We can do that at home, on the job, or at the lake. The Sunday services are divine because here it is that God comes to serve us. He could do it on a Wednesday or a Monday, that’s true. And he certainly doesn’t need this preacher to do the preaching. But one thing is sure. He will bring his kingdom to us and give to us forgiveness of our sins by means of the preaching of his gospel and the administration of his sacraments.
This is why the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer is so closely tied to the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and his word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” The kingdom of God comes to us whenever and wherever the gospel is preached and we hold it in our hearts as our dearest treasure. For it is in speaking to us of the suffering of Jesus to take away our sins that God governs our hearts. Only by forgiving the unforgivable can God govern them as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Only by removing as far as the East is from the West all our transgressions, can God assure us that we are his and he is ours and we have nothing to fear from him. Whereas the kings of this world require fear in our hearts so that we won’t disobey them, Jesus rules our hearts precisely by taking away all our fears and assuring us that our sins are forgiven by his blood.
Thy kingdom come. Not only to us, but also to the whole world for whom Jesus died. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying that it come to those who are even now being governed by lies and deception. We invite people to come to church, not because we want more folks in our religious club, but because we want the kingdom of God to come to them and we know his kingdom is here because his gospel and his sacraments are here. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying that the gospel by which Christ governs our hearts will yield the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. And whenever we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying for the return of Christ. He will return in answer to this prayer. He will return. It will not be to establish the mythical kingdom promised by the false prophets promoting one or another brand of Millennialism. Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” No, Jesus will return to bring us to heaven where the kingdom that is now hidden within our hearts and now identified only in the humble and despised means of grace is fully and beautifully revealed to all our senses. The wonder and the glory of that kingdom cannot be described by words. We must wait to see what eye has not seen nor ear heard nor what has entered into the heart of man. Amen