The Lord’s Prayer: God’s Kingdom
9/6/2016 12:07:25 AM
Luke 11:1-4; Matthew 25:37-40
September 4, 2016
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Luke 11:1-4; Matthew 25:37-40
[pics] Amy and I really enjoy the British TV show Downton Abbey. It’s a show about the social interactions in the household of a minor lord in England during the early 20th Century. Upstairs live the lord and his family. Downstairs live the servants. As the family and the servants navigate rapid changes in the economy, world politics and societal expectations, the viewer is drawn in to their personalities and stories.
One of the interesting social dynamics at play is the class system. Not only do the noble family members think of themselves as “above” the servant class, but even within the servants there is a very well defined pecking order of who is the most important. Within the body of servants, the ones who serve the most important people in the family become the most important servants. It’s quite interesting when certain servants experience radical changes in position. One of the servants who is an Irish Republican and doesn’t support the class system, begins as the family driver, a fairly low position. But then he and the youngest daughter of the lord fall in love and get married, much to everybody’s surprise and chagrin. Suddenly, by marriage, he is now a lord. It’s interesting to see how people treat him differently or disrespect him because of his previous low position.
In another situation, the high level valet, or personal dresser and assistant, to the heir apparent, loses his job when the heir dies in a car accident. Suddenly this middle aged servant goes from being one of the highest ranked servants to being unemployed. He winds up doing manual labour fixing roads. When the senior butler to the lord takes pity on him and offers him a job as a footman, a low level position, the former valet doesn’t want to take the job because it’s “beneath him” even though he’s doing manual labour and is essentially unemployed! But the social status tied to the position, based on whom he serves, is so important to him that he cannot swallow his pride and take a meaningful, steady job that would also provide room and board.
While we don’t live in early 20th Century England, and few of us are lords or valets or footmen, we still fall into a similar trap in our society too. We think that we are more important if we serve important people. I’ve spent some time recently with a friend who is not walking with the Lord and whose husband is quite wealthy. This friend talks about all she does volunteering for organizations made up of her wealthy friends, like their club or their condo board. She goes on and on about the volunteering she does for these organizations. These people could pay somebody to do a lot of the work my friend does, like overseeing the preparation of a meal for their club’s fall clean up day. They don’t “need” her help in that sense. It struck me recently that she derives a sense of importance from serving important people. She would never volunteer her time to help people who weren’t important. She doesn’t help with the poor, or single parents, or any charitable organization.
So although we may not be the same as the lords and servants in Downton Abbey, we can still fall into the trap of serving important people in order to feel important ourselves. Even think of our work situations. Sometimes we think we are more important as people because we either work for an important company or for an important person within our company. It’s a big deal to be the personal assistant to the vice president….
This is the way our world thinks. This is the way our world evaluates people and their importance. This is the way our world determines whom to serve- by what one gets out of serving them, including but not limited to a sense of one’s own importance for the service!
This is not the way the Kingdom of God functions. This is not the way things work under God’s rule and authority. This is certainly not the way Jesus functioned. Jesus frequently helped and served people who were at the bottom of the social ladder. Most of the people Jesus healed would have been poor because of their disability. Near the end of his ministry, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Not only were the disciples “below” Jesus in status, they being the students and he the master, but washing feet was the job of the lowest of low servants in any household! It was below even being a scullery maid in early 20th Century England! In the Kingdom of God, the rules of who or what is important are turned upside down.
Jesus served the unimportant people and he expects his followers to do the same. Jesus taught that when we serve people who cannot repay us, who cannot help us in return, who cannot improve our status or standing, then we are really serving him! He taught the first will be last and the last will be first.
Let’s turn, now, to our two texts for the day. First, we will read the Lord’s Prayer as found in Luke 11:1-4. Then we will turn back to Matthew 25 and read a piece of an important parable.
Let me make a few observations about the text. As you may remember from last week, Jesus was giving his disciples a model for prayer, a structure for them to follow. The surprising thing right off the bat is that Jesus teaches his followers to approach God as a loving Father! [pic] That brings God incredibly close and puts us in the right mindset that God is eager to hear from us, have a relationships with us and provide for us. In the same way that an earthly father is eager and willing to meet the requests of a beloved son or daughter, so God is eager to meet our requests!
Second, in this model we see that the first thing a Christ-follower thinks of when praying is that God’s name, his character, nature and plan, be set apart and recognized as holy. That means that when we come to God in prayer we are to begin with God’s glory in mind first. We are to lay as a foundation in our prayer the desire that God’s character and purposes be made known, that his saving work (the defining aspects of his loving nature) we seen and respected or revered. This begins with us, those coming to God in prayer!
Having laid the foundation of seeing God’s nature honoured, we then ask that his kingdom come. What does that mean? The word “kingdom” means authority to rule, not a geographical place. We talk about this frequently because the idea of the kingdom of God shows up so often in the Bible. But when we hear the word “kingdom” we tend to think of a place, like the United Kingdom, and that’s incorrect. We need to remember that whenever we come across the word “kingdom” in the New Testament, it means “authority.” Not only does this apply to the Kingdom of God, but in Luke’s parable (Luke 19) of the servants given a sum of money, like Matthew’s parable of the talents of gold, the master in that story goes away to receive a “kingdom” and then comes back. He doesn’t go away to get more land. Rather, he goes away to be given the authority to rule his own land as a king!
So, what does this mean for the Lord’s Prayer? When we pray for God’s kingdom to come we are praying that God’s rule would be established, that his authority to rule would be recognized and obeyed. As with the first part of the prayer, this begins with us. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, if we are sincere, we are praying that God’s rule and authority would come in our own lives. We are praying that God’s rule and authority would be recognized and obeyed in our own hearts, minds and wills. This is a prayer of repentance! This is a prayer that God would work on us to reorient our own wayward minds, hearts, wills, desires and attitudes so that we obey God, submit to God and yield to God.
At its heart, sin is a rebellion against God’s authority to rule. That is, sin is when we choose not to submit to God’s authority. We don’t let God be God. We don’t give him the authority in our lives that he is due. We don’t submit.
And the whole world is characterized, shaped and polluted by this rebellion. All of creation longs to be restored through Christ. All of creation is affected by our sin and rebellion. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we are praying that “all of creation would be restored to its fullness and that sin, in justice and chaos be banished.” [Darrell L. Bock, Luke, p. 204]
You see, there is “an inseparable relationship between the kingdom of God and his Fatherhood….” [George Ladd, New Testament Theology, p. 82] It is when we submit to his rule, when we repent of our sin and reorient our whole being towards God, that we are reconciled to God and he is adopts us as his children and becomes our heavenly Father. This relationship is dependent upon our repentance and submission to God. That this is even a possibility is because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is through him that we can call God Father because of the atonement he made on the cross for our sin and rebellion. So praying “Father” is linked to “Your kingdom come.” And when we ask that his kingdom come we are asking that his rule come in our own hearts and lives as well as in the hearts and lives of everyone on earth.
But some of you might be asking, “Doesn’t God already have authority? Doesn’t he already rule the earth? Isn’t that part of being God?” These are very good questions indeed! You see when Jesus began his earthly ministry, he declared, “Repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:15) One might even translate this, “The kingdom of God is banging on the door!” Yet in our daily experience, we see so much sin and rebellion against God. All you have to do is turn on the news and you will see story after story of people rebelling against God’s authority. So what’s up with that?
God has given us free will. That means he has allowed us room to choose to follow him or not, to submit to his rule or not. We consistently choose not to. We consistently choose to rebel against God and to violate his will and defy his authority. As such, we can legitimately refer to this world as existing in darkness. We live in the age of darkness and sin.
But God is not willing to allow his creation to be destroyed and consumed by the darkness. Instead, since the very beginning, God has planned the redemption of his creation through the work of his Son. The Word of God came to the world He created to be the light in the darkness. Although the world has not understood the light, the light still shines in the darkness, driving the darkness back. This is part of God’s plan for creation. This is part of his authority being exercised in creation. This is the kingdom of God being made manifest in the world. This is called the Age to Come because in the future, it will come in fullness and fully push out the age of sin.
So there are two forces at work in the world: light and dark. Another way to put this is that there are two kingdoms striving with one another for control. There is the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world, the kingdom of darkness and sin. What we see when we see sin at work is the kingdom of darkness battling against the light.
As Christians, we are citizens of God’s kingdom. We are God’s subjects and those who submit to his authority. But even within ourselves we experience sin. We experience rebellion against God’s authority. Our own hearts, minds and wills are divided against themselves and we experience this enmity, this battle in our very beings.
[diagram] In the past, I’ve shown a diagram to help explain this competition between the two kingdoms. At first, this diagram can be confusing because it puts things in terms we’re not used to. But when you’ve seen it a couple times and when you take the time to figure out what it’s saying, it is actually very helpful in understanding the situation we find ourselves in. It is very helpful in terms of understanding God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of darkness and how they coexist. In some ways, it’s even helpful in understanding the problem of God’s sovereignty and our own free will.
Along the bottom is a timeline running from creation to the return of Christ. Along the top is a line running from the resurrection of Christ to the infinite future. The bottom line represents this present age of sin, the Kingdom of Darkness. The top line represents the Kingdom of God, the Age to come. The Kingdom of God broke into our world in an unprecedented way when Jesus was raised from the dead. He conquered sin and death that day and that brought about God’s plan and authority in a new, powerful way.
When we repent and accept Christ’s forgiveness for our sin and authority over our whole lives, we become citizens of the Kingdom of God. That is, when we repent and accept God’s authority, we enter his rule or kingdom. But we still live in the broken world, we still live in the world dominated by darkness. Why? To be God’s ambassadors. To be his little lights in the darkness. To be he messengers and heralds of the good news of Jesus to the lost and broken world. This is part of the battle between the two kingdoms. This is part of the battle between the two authorities fighting for control of the world and people in it.
When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we are praying for his rule to be more visible in the world. We are praying for more light in the darkness. We are also praying for the day of Christ’s return when God’s rule will be fully and finally established and the age of sin, the kingdom of darkness will come to an end.
This is a big picture way of thinking about the kingdom of God and the apparent tension between the “now and not yet” aspects of God’s rule. It is present now but not fully present. Another way to think of this is that In Jesus God’s rule was fully present but veiled. In Jesus’ disciples it is present to a lesser degree (because we are still sinful creatures, prone to rebelling against God and defying his authority on a daily basis.) [Darrell W. Johnson, Fifty-Seven Words That Change the World, p. 50] In the same way, God’s kingdom, his authority and power are fully present in the world, but veiled. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come we pray for his power and authority to be unveiled. His authority and power are fully present, but they are veiled, just as in Jesus God’s power and authority were fully present, but veiled. We pray for an unveiling of that power and authority when we ask God to bring his kingdom.
We have the privilege of praying for this. We have the right, as God’s adopted children, to ask for this. But why don’t we ask for it? Because praying for God’s rule to come means giving up our own rule. [Johnson, p. 51] And that’s why we are reluctant to pray for it. Even as believers, we still want our way. We still want our autonomy. We hate the idea of submitting. We don’t want to submit to one another. We don’t want to submit to God. So we are reluctant or half-hearted when we pray for God’s rule to come because it means submitting ourselves to that rule! God’s rule turns everything upside down and we don’t like that!
So how do we apply this? What use is this for us? First, by way of understanding what Jesus taught his followers to pray. We must learn how to pray. We must learn how to come to God appropriately. And what is surprising is that coming to God appropriately is not a matter of choosing fancy words. It’s not a matter of pleasing God in order to get his attention. It’s not a matter of having the right flattering words to say. Praying appropriately means coming to God with the right attitude: loving children coming in submission to a loving Father asking that his plans be carried out in our world beginning with us.
God’s kingdom turns everything upside down. When we ask God to bring his rule it means changing all the rules! It means we no longer get to set the rules. We follow God’s rules. And that includes the rules about what makes us important. It changes the rules about what matters. It changes the rules about our priorities and goals. It means choosing to see as important those things God sees as important.
When we pray that God’s kingdom come, we are choosing to submit ourselves and our actions, our plans and our goals to God’s plans and goals. What are some of God’s plans and goals? What does God see as important and meaningful? God’s plan is for us to bless and serve the least significant people. You may have been wondering all this time why we read from Matthew 25. That is one of many parables Jesus told about the Kingdom of God. In particular, this parable is about the day that Jesus sits in judgment of the world which is when the Kingdom of God will finally be fully unveiled. In the parable, Jesus explains what is important. He explains what he expects of us, his followers. He says that those who have served “the least of these my brothers” will enter into eternal rest with him. Why? Because in serving the least of these we are serving Christ.
This is where everything gets turned upside down! In human terms we think we are important when we serve important people. We evaluate service to important people as important service. But Jesus reverses this! Jesus says that when we serve insignificant people, when we serve people who cannot help themselves, when we serve people who cannot repay us or improve our status, we are actually serving God himself!
When we serve people in order to feel important, gain status or put people in our debt in some way, then we are getting our sum total reward when we feel important, get repaid or have our status increased. But, when we serve others out of being purely concerned with their well-being and not with any motives for ourselves, then we are actually serving Christ! And that is the most important work of all! That is what matters.
In the Kingdom of God the rules for what is important are completely different. Serving the lowest of the low is the highest of highs. Making ourselves important by worldly standards is of no use in the kingdom of God. Similarly, the things that make us important in the kingdom of God are not likely to gain us much status in the world. The two different kingdoms have completely different sets of rules.
So let me ask you, “Whom do you serve?” Why do you serve them? Where do you serve? Why? Who are the people you seek to do things for? Why? Which set of rules are you playing by? Are you like my wealthy friend who is trying to curry favour with other wealthy people? Maybe you’re not actually serving wealthy people, but you can still be serving out of a sense of personal gain. Perhaps it makes you feel good. Perhaps it assuages a guilty conscience. Perhaps it gives you status somewhere. Perhaps it’s to justify other things in your life, or not serving in areas that are more important in God’s kingdom. Maybe it’s to please people, friends, family or coworkers.
When we ask God for his kingdom to come, we are asking that his rule and authority be unveiled. We ask that it be unveiled in the whole world, but we also ask that it begins with us. This is a prayer of repentance, asking God to reorient hearts and lives to be focused on God. Part of that repentance, part of orienting ourselves toward God is choosing to not only live under his rule, but “play by his rules” so to speak. It means living by his standards, not just of moral conduct, but living by his standards of what is important. It means serving and giving because we are serving and giving to God and no other reason. It means seeing people, even poor people, disabled people, insignificant people as valuable and important because they are created in the image of God. Even if they are the “least of these” by the world’s standards, they are to be important to us because they are important to God!
God’s kingdom turns everything upside down. The first will be last, the last will be first. The people who are important in the kingdom of darkness are not likely to be important in the kingdom of God. The people who are last or least in the kingdom of darkness are the most important in the kingdom of God! Jesus even said “Blessed are the poor!”
When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we recognize that he is a King! [Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer, p. 54] He has authority. We recognize that he should be our king. God is the greatest king. He is the most powerful king. He is the greatest king and the king of all other kings. We also know, from the first part of the prayer, that God is our Father. He loves us and cares for us. If your dad is the greatest king and greatest dad you could even imagine, why not submit to him? Why not surrender your plans to his plans? Why not surrender your rule to his rule? He’s better at ruling anyway.
Serving a king is a good thing. Serving the greatest king, the King of Kings, is fantastic! When we ask for God’s kingdom to come, we are volunteering ourselves for this service. We are volunteering to surrender to his authority. It is an honour to serve a king, an even greater honour to serve the King of Kings. But to do that we must learn what it means to serve him. And that means serving those who cannot serve themselves, who cannot repay us, whom serving does nothing to raise our status in life. It means serving the least of these.
When we do that, we embody the kingdom of God. We participate in God’s rule. We shine the light of Christ. We unveil the veiled power of God. We kick against the darkness and bring daylight into dark places.
Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come on earth and in our lives as it is in heaven. Amen.
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