Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
“Thy Kingdom Come” (The Lord’s Prayer)
We continue our Lenten series on the Lord’s Prayer, a series that we’re calling “Lord, Teach Us to Pray.” We come now to the Second Petition, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
I have three main points to make about this petition: 1) In this petition, our Lord is teaching us to seek first the kingdom of God. 2) In this petition, we are praying that God’s kingdom would come in our midst now. And 3) In this petition, we’re praying that God’s kingdom would come with Christ’s return at the Last Day. We’ll take these points now one at a time.
First, in this petition–indeed, in the very structure of the Lord’s Prayer–our Lord Jesus Christ is teaching us to seek first the kingdom of God. Notice how Jesus has structured this prayer he has given us. The first three petitions are all about God: “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” All this before we get to the concerns of our daily life in the Fourth Petition with “Give us this day our daily bread.” You and I would tend to reverse the reverse that order, wouldn’t we? Our tendency is to jump in right away with our own concerns about the things we need–or even the things we want. To quote Janis Joplin: “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? My friends all drive Porsches; I must make amends.” Well, maybe we’re not that crass. But even if we have real needs, and not just greeds, Jesus would have us start elsewhere. Oh, it’s OK to pray for the necessities of daily life, like food, shelter, and clothing–as we will do in the Fourth Petition. But Jesus would have us get our priorities straight. As good as those things are, there’s something even better and more important. And that’s God’s kingdom and the righteousness that comes with it.
And so we pray “Thy kingdom come” before we get to our daily bread. This falls right in line with what Jesus teaches his disciples a little later in Matthew 6. He says that we are not to be anxious about food and clothing and so forth. If God takes care of the birds of the air and feeds them, and if God so beautifully clothes the flowers of the field–and you guys are much more valuable than they, aren’t you?–then you can relax a little bit and not be so anxious. Your heavenly Father knows what you need even before you ask him. And that frees you up to set your mind on the things of God and to put your priority on them:
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
“Seek first the kingdom of God.” We do that very thing in the way Jesus has taught us to pray, in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.
So what exactly are we praying for when we pray “Thy kingdom come”? That leads to our second point: In this petition, we are praying that God’s kingdom would come in our midst now. That’s what Jesus said was happening with his own coming some 2,000 years ago. When he came on the scene, Jesus announced, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” In other words, God’s promised end-time kingdom was breaking in, in the person of Christ.
Jesus brought with him the blessings of that kingdom: Wisdom, healing, deliverance, forgiveness, life, salvation, righteousness–all bound up in the person and the work of Christ. Where Jesus is, there is the kingdom. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
How we praise God that Jesus came and brought in the kingdom with all its blessings! We would be lost apart from Christ’s coming. Our sins would condemn us. Death would consume us. Misery and despair would be our lot in life. But Jesus came and redeemed us from all that. His righteous life, his atoning death, his victorious resurrection–by virtue of these, the kingdom of God has come among us and opened up to us a whole new life.
So now when we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying that these divine, blessed realities would be ours through faith. We’re praying that we would take hold of Christ’s gifts, which we receive through the church’s ministry of Word and Sacrament. And, even beyond ourselves, we’re praying that God’s kingdom would be extended throughout the world, that many more would come to faith in Christ, through the ministry of the gospel.
Thus this Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a real missionary prayer. We’re praying that the reign of God would spread and expand throughout this fallen, sin-darkened world. So when we pray “Thy kingdom come” in our daily prayers, we could include under this petition all sorts of specific prayers for pastors, for congregations, for missionaries–all who are engaged in the work of proclaiming and spreading the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
When we talk about the kingdom of God in this way, we generally refer to it as “the kingdom of grace”: how God rules among us by his grace, to save us from our sins, to give us new life, to bring us to faith and keep us in the faith, through the means of grace. That’s the kingdom of grace, and that’s certainly a big part of what we’re praying for when we pray this petition in the Lord’s Prayer.
But there’s another aspect to the coming of God’s kingdom, as well. This we refer to usually as “the kingdom of glory.” Notice how Jesus moves from one aspect to another, from the kingdom of grace to the kingdom of glory, within the span of a couple verses. First he says, “Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” That we might call the kingdom of grace. Then he moves immediately to the kingdom of glory, that is, to the day of his return in glory, at the Last Day: “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” That’s talking about Christ’s Second Coming, which we still await.
And so we pray that that day would come! Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Maranatha! Our Lord, come! This has been the church’s cry, the church’s fervent longing, ever since our Lord ascended. We desire and we pray that Christ would come again and deliver us from this vale of tears and usher in the age to come, when all the dead in Christ will be raised from death with glorified bodies, to live in a restored creation, heaven on earth, the New Jerusalem. This is what we look forward to, with great anticipation. New heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will be at home. God dwelling with his people, in joyful and eternal fellowship. This will be the kingdom of glory, and we pray that it will come soon.
Is this something you look forward to? Or is this something you pretty much don’t even think about? Dear friends, let God’s Word shape your mind and your thinking and your praying. This longing is all over the New Testament. Let it become your longing and expectation also, by the renewing of your mind. Oh, you’ll still be attentive to the affairs and duties of this life, your various vocations in the world. You won’t just go off and sit on a mountaintop gazing up into the sky. But you will have a definite forward look, and with joy! The coming of God’s kingdom at Christ’s return–this is the biblical hope, this is the church’s great hope, that our Lord will come again and set all things right. We pray for this, expectantly, whenever we pray “Thy kingdom come.”
The kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory. You know, Luther got it right in seeing both of these aspects embedded in the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. He wrote: “How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”
“Here in time and there in eternity.” Kingdom of grace and kingdom of glory. Heavenly Father, hear us when we pray, as your Son has taught us: “Thy kingdom come!”