[This was shared this evening during the midweek Lenten devotional worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]
To focus our thoughts on the second and third petitions of the Lord’s Prayer—“Thy kingdom come, [and] Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—I want to share two quotes from Jesus found in the Gospels.
First is Luke 10:9, where Jesus says, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
And second, Matthew 26:29, where, during the Last Supper, Jesus tells the disciples, “I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
These two statements from Jesus underscore the strange paradox in the New Testament’s discussion of “the kingdom of God.” A paradox, you know, is a situation that seems to be made up of two contradictory conditions. In the case of Jesus’ words about the kingdom of God—throughout the Gospels—the paradox is that God’s kingdom is already here (and we who belong to Christ are already in it), but it has not yet come. It’s already, but not yet.
The original Greek New Testament word that we translate as kingdom is basileia. It’s a less static or stationary word than our word, kingdom. It really means reign. You can be in the kingdom of God no matter where you live. And because of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross and in the empty tomb, the kingdom of God has already come to believers. The kingdom isn’t a physical place, then.
That, you know, was, partly, the mistaken idea Jesus’ first followers had. Lots of Old Testament prophecy had said that the Messiah or Yahweh—God Himself—was coming to the earth to establish the kingdom of God.*
Peter, James, John, and the rest believed that Jesus was the Messiah who would bring God's kingdom into the world and that's one of the reasons they were so devastated when Jesus was crucified. They had expected Jesus to be the Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and get rid of the fake royalty, the Herod family, and establish God’s kingdom on earth. They thought that the kingdom of God was a political or economic program.
When Jesus rose from the dead, their hopes of an earthly rule by God were revived. That’s why in the New Testament book of Acts we read about the disciples asking the risen Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” It’s as though they’re telling Jesus, “Hey, that resurrection thing was a neat trick. But when are you really going to get down to business and enact the kingdom?”
We may be inclined to laugh at the disciples and say something like the kingdom of God is spiritual, not physical. But that’s not true either. Those who live in the kingdom of God are called—even commanded—by God to live in certain ways here and now. We’re to love God, love neighbors, seek justice, and believe in Jesus Christ. The already/not yet kingdom of God is meant to be more than some private, ill-defined spiritual interchange that happens inside of us. It’s meant to change the ways in which you and I live each day.
If we have any doubt about this, we simply need to look at how Jesus teaches us to pray in the second and third petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”** Jesus teaches us to pray that God will reign here on earth today as directly, as totally, and as completely as He reigns from His throne in heaven.
But here’s the really dangerous thing about these two petitions: We ask God our Father to reign over this clump of earth, over you and me. We are clumps of earth, by the way. The scientists say it. But the Bible said it first: Remember that when God made Adam, He did it by scooping up dirt from the ground and breathing life into him.
To say, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is to invite God, first of all, to reign over our lives. As Martin Luther puts it in The Small Catechism, “God’s kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may come also to us.”
On the night of His arrest, Jesus prayed that the Father would create some other way to bring His kingdom into being than for Jesus to go through the cross. But then He prayed, “…yet not I want but what you want.” Not my will, but Thy will be done, in this lump of clay, on this piece of earth.
It’s a fine thing for us to think of neighbors, friends, and even enemies when we pray these two petitions. We want the kingdom of God to come to all people. We want everyone to come to believe in Jesus Christ as God and Savior and so become part of God’s kingdom. We want God to reign over our church, homes, communities, schools, government leaders, and so on. We should pray that God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done among these people and institutions, these clumps of earth.
But what Jesus, Who taught this prayer and then said this prayer Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, shows us is that we must also be willing to live this prayer. God brought His kingdom into the world through a flesh and blood Savior. It’s God’s plan that His kingdom will continue to come and His will keep on being done in this world as it is in heaven through the flesh and blood lives AND prayers of Christians.
It’s interesting to remember that Jesus didn’t teach what we know as the Lord’s Prayer to the disciples on His own initiative. He didn’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll teach the guys how to pray.” He taught the disciples how to pray after they asked Him to do so. They had seen the kingdom of God in Jesus and they wanted to know how the kingdom could come to them, too.
Maybe if you and I would take up these two petitions earnestly, asking God to reign over us and have His way with us right in the guts of our everyday lives, others might ask us to teach them how to pray.
May the Lord teach us how to pray these petitions and mean them. Amen
*See Ezekiel 34:11-16, Zechariah 14:1-5, Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3-5, and Isaiah 52:7-10.
**See Matthew 6:10.
[I really appreciate the discussion of these two petitions in N.T. Wrights book, The Lord and His Prayer. It distills, far better than I've done here, much of my own thinking about them.]