God’s Kingdom, God’s Will
By Dr. Mickey Anders
Our text for today is the same as last week and the same as it will be for the next several weeks. As a part of our focus on prayer, I am preaching a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer. The intent of these sermons is to make of us a praying people.
Perhaps you will want to follow the example of the earliest Christians who followed the Jewish pattern of praying three times a day – morning, afternoon and evening. Instead of praying the Shema as was Jewish custom, the early Christians prayed the Lord’s Prayer on those three occasions each day. We could do worse.
Last week we focused on the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.” Today we take the next petition: “Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.”
Matthew 6:9-13 says:
“Pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Every movement that has broken into history has had a watch-cry. No cause or crusade can succeed without a slogan. Men on Madison Avenue lie awake at night thinking up clichés and catch words.
• In the American Revolution it was “No taxation without representation!”
• In the French Revolution it was “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity!”
• In the Civil War it was “With liberty and justice for all!”
• In the First World War it was “Make the world safe for democracy!”
• In Christianity, it is “The Kingdom of God.”
We are not clear at all what Jesus was talking about when he referred to the Kingdom of God. We have a sneaking suspicion that he is talking about heaven, and we are not quite ready to go there.
What is your definition of the Kingdom of God? Most of us don’t have one, so I want us to review what the Bible says about the Kingdom of God.
First, I must remind you that the terms “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” mean exactly the same thing. We have often mentioned the sense of reverence in Jewish circles which led them to avoid pronouncing the sacred name of God. So often we find the term “heaven” substituted for “God,” but the meaning is the same.
When we review the various statements from the Bible about the Kingdom of God, we find that the Hebrew prophets were enamored by the dream of the kingdom, a vision of the world where God’s justice and peace would reign.
Isaiah referred to a place where swords would be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, and we would learn war no more. He saw equity for the poor, help for the weak and liberty to the captives.
Amos spoke of the kingdom as a place where justice would roll down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream. Elsewhere we find an image where where the earth would be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God all the time. He said, “The Kingdom of God doesn’t come with observation; neither will they say, ‘Look, here!’ or, ‘Look, there!’ for behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
Early in Matthew Jesus repeats these words on two occasions: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17)
In Matthew 16:28, Jesus says, “Most certainly I tell you, there are some standing here who will in no way taste of death, until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Most certainly I say to you, a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)
So now, what is your definition of the Kingdom of God? It’s still not easy, is it? It seems that Jesus avoided giving a clear cut definition for us. But William Barclay gives significant insight when he points to the parallelism in our text for today. He reminds us of the Hebrew pattern of poetry in which the second line explains, amplifies, and defines the first line. We see this pattern all the way through the Psalms.
Thus he suggests that the Lord’s Prayer provides the perfect definition of the Kingdom of God this way, Thy kingdom come is defined by the phrase “Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.” The Kingdom of God is a society upon earth where God’s will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven. To be in the Kingdom is to obey the will of God.
Jesus said as much in another passage found in Matthew 7:21 when he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
We pray every Sunday for God to bring in the Kingdom of Heaven, but I wonder if we really want it. Do we really want the Kingdom of God to come?
The Kingdom demands the submission of my will, my heart, my life. It is only when each one of us makes the personal decision and submission that the Kingdom comes.
Sometimes when we want something built or constructed, or altered or repaired, we take it to the expert or the craftsman for consultation. That is always my attitude when I take my car to the mechanic. I think auto mechanics is a mysterious art like Zen Buddhism. Not long ago, I took my car to the mechanic because it was running roughly. He pronounced his verdict, “It needs a new ERG valve.” I didn’t even know it had an ERG valve, but I knowingly replied, “Yes, I think you are right. Why don’t’ you just go ahead and replace the ERG valve.” He was the expert, and I was willing to do whatever he suggested.
In the Kingdom of God, we submit our wills to the will of God, and we often learn that God’s ways are not our ways. An old episode of The Jerry Seinfeld show features the hapless character, George Costanza. George is a classic loser. There is no politically correct way to describe him otherwise. In the storyline, George attests to his own inadequacies and ineptness. Bemoaning the fact that all of his decisions in life have turned out wrong, George vows to spend his day choosing the opposite of what he would normally select. His reasoning is sound: if his instincts are always wrong, he must try the opposite. The episode was hilarious as George went through is day always doing the opposite of he would normally do.
In Romans 7, Paul says much the same thing:
“I don’t know what I am doing. For I don’t practice what I desire to do; but what I hate, that I do… For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don’t find it doing that which is good. 7:19 For the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice” (Romans 7:15-19)
We may have to learn that we too will have to do the opposite of our instincts if we really want the Kingdom of God to come.
Ours is a world where we normally think only of ourselves, our success, our safety, our security, our investments, our comfort, our luxury. God’s kingdom might challenge such instincts.
We have witnessed the tragic outcome of an economy built on greed. When everyone takes as much as they can take, when excess becomes the norm, when executives take millions in bonuses while driving their companies into the ground, when individuals commit to loans they can’t possibly repay, when fraud and theft occur on a massive scale, sooner or later that house of cards has to come crashing down. And it has.
I saw on television this week a woman who had lost $2 1/2 million in the Madoff scandal. Can you imagine? Another attorney said she had her whole retirement savings invested with him and lost it all. She said, “Now I will be working until I am 95.”
It has been a vivid reminder that life is far more insecure than we like to think. Fortunes can be lost. Security can evaporate. There has to be more to the meaning of life than that.
At our elders meeting this week, I asked the elders to respond to the question, “What are the spiritual needs of our congregation?” The first answer was that we needed to spend more time in hands on missions. It is one thing to talk about missions; it is a good thing to give our money for missions projects, but the kingdom of God calls us to get our hands involved in missions.
Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me….” (Matthew 25:40) That’s what the Kingdom of God is all about.
But we are a very comfortable people. We like our life as it is. Most of us have families and friends whom we enjoy, jobs that keep us busy and happy, and a religious faith that sustains us in the rougher moments. While we pray every Sunday for the Kingdom of God to come, we probably would add, “but not yet.” “Thy kingdom come, O Lord, but maybe not just now.”
We have achieved in the UnitedStates a way of living that is just about as close to heaven on earth as we are likely to get. We no longer have to worry about the basic necessities of life. We no longer worry about getting enough to eat. On the contrary, we worry about getting too fat. We even worry about our dogs and cats getting to fat, so we put them on diets too. Who wants to leave all that for some unknown realm called the Kingdom of God?
The Kingdom idea reminds us that God is the expert in life, and God’s guidance can never lead anyone astray. Our task is to submit our will to the will of the one who created all life.
The Kingdom of God is life transformed to accord with the will and purpose of a loving God. The Lord’s Prayer does not say, “Thy kingdom come in heaven.” It says, “Let your kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.”
When we understand the Kingdom this way, we discover that this is a dangerous prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, in me, as in heaven.” It lets God loose in us and in the world. The person who utters such a far-reaching request assumes an obligation to work for its fulfillment in convincing people to accept God’s control.
We hear the ultimate goal of the Lord’s Prayer in the wonderful passage from Revelation 11:15, “The kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ.” (Revelation 11:15)
In the Seinfeld episode, George Costanza realized his instincts were all wrong. The culmination of this thinking comes when he sees a lovely young lady in a restaurant. Whereas the “old” George would try to impress her with tall tales of success and prosperity, the “new” George strolls up to her and says, “Hi, my name is George. I am single, unemployed, and I live with my parents.” To his amazement, the opposite response won the heart of the young lady.
Seinfeld is a comedy; the Kingdom of God is a radical new way of life. If we really understood this part of the Lord’s Prayer, we would find that our lives and our values would be turned upside down.
Somewhere the story has been told of a well-to-do businessman traveling abroad who, out of curiosity, visited a Roman Catholic leper colony. He peered into one of the shacks there and saw a nun down on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor. A leprous person had died there only hours before. Looking at her incredulously, the man said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Glancing up at him from her work, the nun replied, “Neither would I.” (Ministers Manual for 1985, p. 98) She was living in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus taught that the kingdom is like a pearl of great price, or like a treasure uncovered in a field, that was so valuable and so desirable that men were willing to sell everything they had in order to obtain it. We too need to be willing to make that sacrifice.
Meanwhile, we are playing with dynamite every Sunday when we say:
“Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.”
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2009 Mickey Anders. Used by permission.