The Kingdom of a Holy God

Scriptures: Psalm 99:1-5; Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 11:2-4

We continue, this week, with our sermon series on the Disciple’s Prayer. Remember I told you last week that I hesitate to call it the Lord’s Prayer, even though that’s traditional, because the Lord taught it to the disciples so they could pray. If you want to know what the Lord’s prayer is, look at John 13-17, especially chapter 17, and you get to see how Jesus himself prayed.

I want to note that Jesus taught them to pray to Daddy, Abba. Because we are God’s children by adoption. He is the perfect Father, and even though we may have experienced problems and traumas from imperfect earthly fathers, we can trust Him.

Because we have been adopted as children of God, there are implications for us with this Disciple’s Prayer. First of all, this prayer is personal, and intimate. It’s not just because we pray to the Father, Daddy, that it is personal and intimate, though.

These things we ask for and about are things we have a stake in. “Give us this day our daily bread.” “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us.” These are things that we’re involved with. It’s nice to pray for the world at large, but this prayer that Jesus taught us is very personal.

The first phrase, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” particularly the “hallowed be thy name,” was covered pretty well in last week’s sermon time during the skit, in my opinion. (If you weren’t here to be able to see it, then transcripts are on our web page, or there are DVDs always that are available for you to watch the service on your own time to make that up.)

In that skit they talked about what “hallowed” means. Holy speaks not just of God being holy, although we saw that in our Scripture reading, but also the reverence that we’re supposed to live like it, as we give our lives to God and consecrate ourselves to Him, answered God’s call “Whom shall I send?” by saying, “Send me.”

Thus, we will look at the next phrase this week: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” to use Matthew’s version.

Jesus talked a lot about God’s kingdom, God’s reign. His very first recorded sermon is described in the Bible as, “Repent, for God’s kingdom has come near,” in Matthew 4:17. He taught stories called parables designed to illustrate what God’s kingdom was like. The Bible calls the Christian message about Jesus’ death and resurrection “the gospel of the kingdom.”

Jesus believed and taught that through his life and death, God’s reign had descended upon the earth, that somehow his death and resurrection opened the door of God’s kingdom to all people. Yet he also taught that God’s kingdom wouldn’t come with full power and authority until his second coming at the end of the age. It’s important for us to understand that, as we’ll see.

The word “kingdom,” both in Matthew and here in Luke, is being translated from the Greek word βασιλεία (basileia). I mention that because your Greek dictionary or lexicon would describe this word to mean, “royal power, kingship, dominion, rule: not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom.”

I mention this because this was a continuing problem the disciples had with that. They were continuously thinking of the Jewish understanding of the Messiah and the kingdom, that he was going to set up some kind of geopolitical kingdom where Jerusalem was the center of the world, and all of the decisions flowed through Jerusalem and the king that would be enthroned there.

Jesus, even in his prayer to the disciples, is teaching them: it’s not about the physical kingdom. You might say, a free translation of “thy kingdom come” might be: “May your right to rule be accepted by all. May your reign be admitted. May you be Lord.”

Jesus is speaking of accepting God’s dominion, that is, God’s ultimate authority. So the kingdom of heaven relates to the consciousness of accepting the ultimate authority of who God is. This is describing the shelter, or the sanctuary, of God.

You might picture God’s kingdom this way. In Jesus’ first coming, he established God’s kingdom. He opened the doors to God’s kingdom, inviting people to come through those doors by trusting in his death and resurrection. He warned us that unless we’re born again by faith in him, we can’t come through these doors.

So God’s kingdom reign is established in some way through Jesus’ first coming, as God’s future kingdom reign somehow invaded the present, through him. Yet it is only when Jesus comes again at the end of the age that God’s Kingdom reign will be consummated in power.

Only then will God’s kingdom reign be established on earth as it is in heaven in the sense of abolishing evil and vindicating good. Only then will an ultimate sense of accountability be brought to all people, as every human being stands before the creator of the universe and gives an account. In between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus is the time of the Church, the time in which we now live.

So we live in a time of tension between the establishment of God’s kingdom and the consummation of God’s kingdom. Some Bible scholars call this a tension between the “already” aspects of God’s reign and the “not yet” aspects” of God’s reign. I happen to like that little phraseology. The tension between the “already” and the “not yet.”

Through Jesus, our sins are already forgiven, yet because of the “not yet” we still struggle with the power of sin in our lives, still often falling and failing. Through Jesus, our salvation is already guaranteed and we’re promised complete healing and restoration when Christ comes again, but because of the “not yet” our bodies still get sick and we struggle with doubts and fears.

Already the powers of evil and darkness have been defeated by Jesus through his death and resurrection, yet because of the “not yet” there’s still evil and darkness in our world. So when we pray, “your kingdom come” we’re not asking for the “already” part, but we’re looking forward to the “not yet” part.

Sometimes people differentiate between “God’s kingdom” and “God’s will,” but really these two look at this same reality, just from two separate perspectives. Think of God’s kingdom as the big picture perspective, like a telescope looking at the galaxies. God’s kingdom is God’s saving reign over all of His creation.

So the phrase God’s kingdom looks at the whole picture, from the perspective of Christ’s work being applied and God’s plan being fulfilled.

Then you might think of God’s will as looking at the same thing from a smaller perspective, like a microscope, individually. God’s will is God’s saving reign in a specific circumstance of life. God’s will is His kingdom applied to a circumstance, like a relationship, an individual person, or a particular community.

God’s will is seen in the microcosm, to use a fancy word, and His reign speaks of the macrocosm. So essentially the phrases “God’s kingdom” and “God’s will” refer to the same reality, God’s reign, just from slightly different angles.

If we’re serious students of the Bible, and we truly want to be disciples of Christ, it behooves us to ask, since Jesus taught this prayer, why, and how does it get lived out in our lives? What are we supposed to think and do?

As followers of Jesus, we’re called to live under God’s reign, even though the kingdom hasn’t yet arrived on earth in power. We seek live our lives by the values of God’s reign, even though we still live in “occupied” territory.

I found a sermon illustration online about two countries, the country of Laos and Vietnam. Many years ago, the kings of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement on how to distinguish which residents were under the Laotian government and which residents were under the Vietnamese government.

Those who ate short-grain rice, built their houses on stilts, and decorated their homes with Indian-style serpents were considered Laotian. Those who ate long-grain rice, built their homes on the ground and decorated their homes with Chinese style dragons were considered Vietnamese.

Even though they lived in the same geographical area, their kingdom allegiance was determined by the values and culture they embraced. In a similar way, as followers of Jesus our ultimate allegiance is to God’s reign, as we seek to live by kingdom values in our world today.

Even though we live as Americans and seek to be good responsible citizens of our nation, our ultimate loyalty is God’s reign as our King. Just as with the Laotians and the Vietnamese, people should be able to tell who we belong to, what kingdom we belong to, as they see us, our home, and our lives. Where are the telltale signs?

This tension between the “already” and the “not yet,” between the human and the divine, can be seen even in Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you remember, when he went there, the night he was betrayed, he prayed. “If it is possible, take this cup from me. Nevertheless, Thy will be done.”

Jesus was not relishing what he knew was about to come. He wasn’t looking forward to it. He was scared by it. He didn’t want to feel the pain. He didn’t want to undergo the suffering. He was human. And yet he was also God, and he placed his trust in the Father. “Nevertheless, Thy will be done.” By that trust, he brought home the salvation on the cross.

When we pray for God’s kingdom reign to come, we are affirming our desire to follow Jesus’ example. . When you and I pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done” we’re saying the same thing to God that Jesus said in the garden.

We’re following Christ’s example by abandoning our own lives to the will of our Father. We’re saying, “My life is not my own. I belong to a heavenly Father who loves me.” This is a mighty affirmation, that I think we make all too glibly at time.

But this isn’t the only affirmation. If you look at 1 John 5:14-15, the apostle John tells us that we have a certain kind of freedom or boldness in approaching God, and this confidence relates to our prayer life. We have whatever we want when we approach God, as long as our request is in harmony with God’s will.

So when we pray for God’s kingdom reign to come, we are affirming our trust in God to answer our requests appropriately. And there are three ways that God answers prayer requests.

As much as I love the Garth Brooks song (I think it’s Garth Brooks) “Unanswered Prayers” – that’s a great song, the fact of the matter is, there are no “unanswered prayers.” Sometimes God answers “Yes,” sometimes God says “Not yet,” and sometimes God just says “No.”

“No” is something that we have a problem dealing with, a problem accepting when we’ve asked. Anybody who has had kids or grandkids recognizes that. A kid wants something, so they usually go to one parent and say, for instance, “Mommy, can I have this?” “No.”

So then they go to dad, and say, “Dad, can I have this?” Dad says, “No.” Then they go back to mom, and they say, “Mom, I went to Dad and asked him and Dad said to talk to you.” In the hope that she changed her mind. That there was a doorway opening, in which to work.

But sometimes, God answers No. And that is a good thing in the long run. My mother had a prayer journal. It was a simple spiral notebook, with lined pages, with page after page after page of names, dates, the prayer request, and then two columns, Y or N, and she would check one or the other.

She would just keep praying until she was sure of the answer. She didn’t have the “not yet.” I guess she just kept praying until it was decided. But God always answers our prayers.

When we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done” we’re saying, “God, I trust how you choose to answer all my requests.” We’re saying, “God, this is what I want, what I think I need for this situation, but I trust you and I believe you see this situation far more clearly than I do.”

This tension in prayer causes many struggles. Many struggle with the issue of whether our requests to God really even make a difference in what God does. After all, if God is sovereign, if He is the King, and He already has a plan, what’s the point of me asking for God to heal someone, or provide financially for a need, or whatever. Hasn’t God already decided what he’s going to do, so what’s the point of me even asking?

I hear this a lot in the context of evangelism. If God has already chosen His people, if God has already predestined us, then what is the point of us evangelizing other people, because God has already chosen them or not chosen them?

I say, just because God has already chosen them does not absolve you of a responsibility to follow what Jesus said, to make disciples and share the good news. It could be that God is using you as a tool to set fire to their hearts, as they respond to the gospel.

Some have suggested that the only purpose of prayer is to align our will with God’s will, not to ask God to intervene, but simply to align our will. I will admit up front, I don’t understand exactly how God’s plan, from before the beginning of time, and our prayers fit together. I don’t understand how our prayers don’t change His mind, and yet seem to affect things.

I think it has much to do with obedience, and trust. We show our obedience and our trust as we pray. Regardless of how we deal with this mystery, though, the fact remains, when we pray for God’s kingdom reign, we are affirming that we trust God to answer appropriately, and according to his will.

There is a third affirmation we make when we pray this phrase of the Disciple’s Prayer. Remember the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” in the establishment of God’s Kingdom. When we pray for God’s kingdom reign to come, we are affirming our confidence in the future culmination of God’s plan.

At times, life seems like a random sequence of events that lack any overall plan or purpose. A drunk driver crosses the double yellow line and crashes into the car in front of us but not our car. Why the car in front of us, and not us? Was that random, an accident of chance?

Someone gets ill, and they question, why did this happen to me? Is it just the random way the world works, or is there a plan?

Life seems like a maze at times, with unexpected twists and turns along the way that don’t make any sense. Why is life leading us in the opposite direction of where we think we need to go? Why does the door that would most seem to glorify God (at least in our opinion) seem closed to us?

In those times of doubt and uncertainty, when we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done,” we’re affirming that we’re confident that God’s plan will be completed. When we live in the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” we affirm our confidence that the culmination of God’s plan will answer our “not yet” questions.

Martin Luther once said that if most Christians really understood what they were saying when they prayed this part of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” they’d shudder with fear.

I’m not sure they’d shudder with fear, but I am sure that it would help us make sense out of our lives. When we pray for God’s kingdom reign, we’re making three affirmations: We’re affirming our desire to follow Jesus as his disciples, we’re affirming our trust in God to answer our requests appropriately, and we’re affirming our confidence in the future culmination of God’s kingdom plan.

It gives us perspective, from God’s point of view, so that the requests we make after that understand who God is, and trust in Him to respond. To God be the glory for the great things He has done, and the even greater things He will do – with each one of us.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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