Lord, Teach Us to Pray (2)

            Last week, we saw that the disciples of Jesus came to him with a request, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1).  And Jesus responded by giving them what we often refer to as the Lord’s Prayer.  He said, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4)

            Now, as I said last week, we tend to be more familiar with the version of this prayer that’s found inMatthew chapter 6.  That prayer is a fuller version of this same prayer.  And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also gave some other instructions on prayer.  For example, don’t pray to try to make your neighbors think you’re religious.  And prayer isn’t intended to be a show, so when you pray, find a quiet place where it’s just you and God.  And don’t think you need to go on and on to make sure your prayers are heard.

            As I said last week, prayer is a conversation with our Father. And we can share with God whatever is on our hearts, and use whatever words we want to use.  What God finds more important is our faithfulness, our sincerity, our openness to God’s response.  But Jesus wants us to know that the words we use matter, too.

            In his commentary on Luke, Justo González explains why the words we pray are so essential. He said, “We tend to think that … an attitude leads to an action … But the converse is also true. Action shapes attitude … [W]e know that the simple act of smiling often leads us to want to smile.  In the life of faith, faith leads us to worship; but worship also leads us to faith.”

            In other words, our attitude when we pray will affect the words we use.  But it’s also true that the words we use will affect our attitude.  The words we pray have the power to transform us. To renew our minds. To direct our hearts. To reshape our character. To connect us more closely with God’s will for us.

            And the Lord’s Prayer does all of this for us.  It directs our attention to God our Father’s character and will.  We pray that his name will be made holy, and that his kingdom will arrive.  And that directs our attention away from ourselves.  We pray for ourdaily bread.  Not just my daily bread, but our daily bread.  We pray that we will forgive those who do us wrong.  

            And as we pray the Lord’s Prayer with faithfulness, with sincerity and openness, we begin to be transformed. We begin to learn what it means to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

            Last week, we learned that loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength means living for his glory, not ours. That’s what it means to pray, “Father, hallowed be your name.”  Uphold the holiness of your name.  Help me to live in a way that gives you the glory.

            This morning, we want to look at the next petition in this prayer that Jesus gave us: “Your kingdom come.”  Now, if we’re going to pray, “Your kingdom come” or, as the Contemporary English Version translates it, “Come and set up your kingdom”, I think it’s important for us to understand exactly what it is we’re praying for.

When we go back into the Old Testament, we find that the concept of the kingdom was at the very heart of Jewish thought.  All through the Old Testament, the prophets looked forward to the establishment of the kingdom.  For example, Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:7).

And, for centuries, the Jewish people looked forward to that kingdom.  The kingdom is coming, the kingdom is coming!  So, you can imagine the excitement generated by John the Baptist when he began preaching and his sermon was summed up in one sentence – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2). 

And then, when Jesus began teaching shortly after that, his message was also summed up in those exact same words – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17).  And, in fact, everything Jesus taught centered around the kingdom of God.  That phrase is found 61 times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. 

Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43).  Jesus said the reason he came to this earth was to introduce the kingdom of God. 

And so, as you read through the gospels, you find that many of Jesus’ parables were about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, which incidentally are two different terms for the same thing.  Matthew tended to use the phrase “kingdom of heaven” because he was writing to Jews who were more comfortable with that terminology, while Mark and Luke preferred to use the phrase “kingdom of God”.  But both of them refer to the same thing – the kingdom.

And so, in his parables, Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven is like a man sowing seed, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field, the kingdom of heaven is like ten virgins waiting for a bridegroom, and so on. 

            Now, when I was growing up, I was taught that we shouldn’t pray the Lord’s Prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer is now obsolete.  And it was because of this one phrase, “Your kingdom come.”  I was taught growing up that the kingdom is the same thing as the church.  The church is the kingdom, and the kingdom is the church.  Every time Jesus mentions the kingdom, he’s talking about the church.  And so, we shouldn’t pray for God to come and set up his kingdom because the kingdom is already here, and it has been ever since Acts chapter 2!

And there are definitely some passages where those two terms are used interchangeably.  For example, in Matthew 16, Jesus said to Peter, “on this rock I will build my church” and then right after that, he says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19).  I don’t think Jesus was talking about two separate things here.  He was talking about the same thing.  The church is the kingdom of heaven.

In Mark 9, Jesus said to his apostles, “There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1).  I think it’s clear that Jesus was talking about the establishment of the church in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit came upon them with power.  The church is the kingdom of God.

            But it is a mistake for us to think that every time the word “kingdom” appears in scripture, it’s talking about the church.  Because here’s the problem.  If you go to scripture and you try substitute the word “church everywhere it says “kingdom, there are some places where it makes sense, but there are other places where it doesn’t make any sense at all.  

For example, in Matthew 25 where Jesus described the last day when he will separate the sheep from the goats and Jesus will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34).  We are not going to inherit the church on the Day of Judgment, and so we understand that, in this passage, when Jesus uses the word “kingdom”, he’s talking about heaven.

            So, now we feel comfortable saying that the kingdom is always either the church or heaven, one of those two things.  But then there are a lot of other verses where neither the church nor heaven is being talked about, and we have pretty much just ignored those verses (or at least not really thought much about them) because they don’t fit into our neat little package.

            For example, there’s a very familiar passage in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  That’s a familiar verse.  We quote it a lot.  We sing it a lot.  But what does the “kingdom of God” mean in that verse?  Is Jesus saying, “Seek the church first along with God’s righteousness”?  That doesn’t even make any sense.  So, what is the kingdom of God in that passage?

            In Luke 9, Jesus called his apostles and he “sent them out to proclaim [or preach] the kingdom of God and to heal.”(Luke 9:2).  So, what exactly did the apostles preach?  Did they preach about the church?  That doesn’t seem very likely to me because they didn’t have any understanding of what the church was all about.  So, what is the kingdom of God in that passage?

            Later in Luke 9, there was a man that Jesus encountered who wanted to follow Jesus but he asked to bury his father first.  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60).  What was Jesus telling him he needed to preach?  Was it the church?  That hardly seems possible since this man just met Jesus.  So, what is the kingdom of God in that passage?

            In Luke 10, Jesus sent out seventy men to preach in the cities of Judea.  Among his many instructions were these words, “Heal the sick…and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:9).   Notice they didn’t say that the kingdom of God would someday come near to them.  No, their message was that the kingdom of God had come near to them.  But the church hadn’t come near to them.  And heaven hadn’t come near.  So, what is the kingdom of God in that passage?

            In Luke 11, Jesus was accused of working for Satan and he said that it wouldn’t make any sense for Satan to cast out demons because he’d be fighting against himself.  Then he said, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20).  “The kingdom of God has come upon you.”  The church hadn’t come upon them.  So, what is the kingdom of God in that passage?

            In Luke 17, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come.  Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21).  But the church wasn’t in the midst of them.  Heaven wasn’t in the midst of them.  So, what is the kingdom of God in that passage?

            There are other examples, but I hope that these are sufficient for you to see that “kingdom” in the scriptures doesn’t always refer to the church, and it doesn’t always refer to heaven.  So, we keep coming back to this question — what is the kingdom of God?

            And I think the best way to answer that question is to look at another way of translating the word “kingdom”.  The Greek word used in the New Testament is the word “baseleia” and it can be translated as “kingdom”, “reign”, “sovereignty” or “power”.  Let me suggest to you that it might be helpful to view the kingdom of God as “God’s reign” or “those whom God reigns over”.

            Now this is a concept that the Jews were very familiar with.  They didn’t fully understand what it would look like, but the Jewish people always believed that God was going to redeem the world by bringing it under his reign.  In fact, the Jews had been praying Jesus’ prayer for the kingdom to come for centuries. 

            For most of us, “your kingdom come” has always sounded like a prayer for the church to arrive.  But it’s more of a prayer to expand God’s reign, to bring all people into relationship with God so that they might submit themselves to his authority and do his will.   

            We see this in Psalm 103 where we read, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” (Psalms 103:19).   We sang a song right before my lesson that expresses this well — “Lord, Reign in Me”.  The words of that song say, “Over all the earth, you reign on high, every mountain stream, every sunset sky.  But my one request, Lord, my only aim, is that you reign in me again.”

            That song does a good job of pointing out what the Psalmist said, that God already reigns over all this earth.  He is King of everything, he is the sovereign Lord.  But not everyone has acknowledged God as their king.  So, we pray that God will reign in our hearts, and we pray that God’s reign will come into the lives of people we know and love, and we pray that God’s reign will come into the lives of everyone on the face of this earth – “Your kingdom come!”

            But Jesus also indicated that God’s reign came to this earth during his ministry.  As I read earlier, Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17).  Some translations (NLT, ISV, NET, GW, etc.) read,“The kingdom of heaven is near.”

            That word “near” means “near” in the sense of “intimately near”.  For example, in Isaiah 8:3, we read that the prophet Isaiah came “near” to his wife, and she conceived a son.  Folks, you can’t get much nearer than that.  It is the joining of two things together.  That word “near” means to be with someone in a very close way.

            So, when Jesus said that the kingdom of God was near, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking he was saying, “it’s not quite here yet” but it will be in another two or three years.  No, Jesus said, “When I came to this earth, the kingdom of God came near in the same way that a husband comes near his wife.”  Heaven and earth connected.  Heaven and earth were joined together in a way that they never had been before.

            Through Jesus, God revealed his sovereignty.  Through Jesus, we understand the power and the authority of God.  And every time someone who was sick was healed, God’s power and authority was made clear and the kingdom of God was near.  Every time a demon was cast out, God’s power and authority was made clear and the kingdom of God was near.

            Every Sabbath, the Jews remembered how Israel was redeemed from Egypt by the power of God.  And they would say, “Your people saw your kingdom as you separated the sea before Moses.”  And what they meant by that was that when the Red Sea parted, God’s power was demonstrated in an amazing way.  It was as if a giant hand reached out of the sky and parted the waters, allowing the Israelites to walk across on dry land.  By performing that great miracle, God was showing his people (and his enemies) who is really in charge of the universe.  And that’s what the Jews mean when they say, “Your people saw your kingdom as you separated the sea before Moses.” 

            In a similar way, when Jesus healed people, when Jesus cast out demons, God’s kingdom was seen in a greater way than ever before.  In fact, after Jesus cast out demons and the Jewish leaders accused him of working for Satan, listen again carefully to what Jesus said: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Luke 11:20)

            The Jewish people would not have missed the significance of those words Jesus.   Because Jesus was referring back to the story of the Exodus, to the time where the Egyptian magicians had witnessed God’s power in the plagues and they exclaimed, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).  It was at that moment that Pharaoh’s men realized that they had been beaten. God’s power was way beyond any demonic force they could conjure up.  It was the finger of God!

            Jesus said to the Pharisees, “That’s the kind of power I have.  I have the ability to cast out demons by the finger of God.  The power of God is evident, the authority of God is evident, and the kingdom of God has come upon you!”

            And this was his way of introducing himself as the Messiah because all of the Jews expected the Messiah to bring God’s kingdom to earth.  Now most of the Jews misunderstood.  They expected the Messiah to be a military conqueror who would set up a physical kingdom on this earth, a mighty king who would ride in on his white horse and destroy their enemies.  It’s easy to understand why the Jews wanted that kind of kingdom. 

            But even the disciples of Jesus misunderstood.  Even John the Baptist had trouble understanding.  Remember when John was put into prison?  And he began to question who Jesus really was.  Even though he had proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God, even though he had heard God’s own voice acknowledging that Jesus was His beloved Son.  John still had doubts.  So, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).

            I think what John wanted to know was if Jesus was truly the king he claimed to be, and if so, how long was it going to be before he started acting like a king and getting him out of prison.  But Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5)

            Jesus responded by reassuring John that he was indeed the Messiah, the promised King, but he was completing God’s mission in a very different way from what John had imagined.  Instead of God’s reign involving a violent overthrow of the Romans, Jesus linked the kingdom of God to his works of healing and forgiveness.  His kingdom would be a kingdom built up not by destroying the enemy but by forgiving them and atoning for their sins. 

            It’s no wonder Jesus spent so much of his ministry proclaiming the kingdom. Because this is why Jesus came into this world — to open the way for all people to come back to God. And when we enter into a relationship with God, it is “entering into God’s reign”.

            When we make the commitment to follow God, to obey his commandments, we are bowing down before God, and we are making him our king. We proclaim our faith in God and we pledge our allegiance to live under his rule. When we understand that, it makes perfect sense that Jesus would say, “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:21).

            So when Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven(Matthew 5:3), he is saying that those people who have acknowledged they don’t have the power within themselves to achieve righteousness have the kingdom of heaven.  Why?  Because they acknowledge God’s right to reign in their lives.

            Remember what Jesus said to the rich young ruler who turned down a chance to become one of his disciples?  He said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24).  Jesus wasn’t saying it’s hard for a rich man to get into the church.  But he’s saying if you have money, it’s hard to let God rule your life.  Here was a young man who was refusing to accept God’s kingship over his life right then.  How difficult it is to put God first when our life is filled with “stuff”.

            When we pray, “your kingdom come,” we are acknowledging God’s right to rule all people, including us.  But the first thing we are asking is for God to rule in our own lives.  We dare not pray for his rule over others unless we honestly desire his rule over us.

Once we begin to see the kingdom not as “the church”, but as God’s reign in our lives, it changes our perspective on the kind of life we live.  Because if I see the kingdom simply as the church, then once I’m baptized and I become a member of the church, I’m in the kingdom and there’s not much else I need to do. 

But if I see the kingdom as God reigning in my life, then every day I’m confronted with choices that make me answer the question, “Am I in the kingdom of God today?”  Is God reigning in my life right now?  Am I letting him make the decisions?  Am I letting him guide me? 

            Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer says, “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  I think those two sentences are saying the exact same thing.  You see, here on this earth, God’s will is not always done.  Sometimes Satan’s will is done.  Sometimes your will is done.  Sometimes my will is done.  Sometimes the wills of politicians, drug dealers, rich people, pedophiles, and terrorists is done.  It’s not always God’s will being done down here.

            In fact, more often than not, God’s will isn’t being done on earth. But in heaven, God’s will is being done.  God rules in heaven.  But we want God to rule here on this earth.  And wherever God’s will is being done, the kingdom is there.  And wher­ever the kingdom  is, you will find people doing God’s  will.  That’s what we pray for.  We pray that God will rule in our hearts.  We pray that God will rule in the hearts of everyone on the face of this earth.  “Your kingdom come!”

This morning, I want to offer you an invitation.  Not an invitation to be a part of the church, because you may make the mistake of seeing that as just an opportunity to join up with a nice bunch of people so that you can have fun.  No, my invitation this morning is for you to be a part of the kingdom.  It is an invitation to let God truly reign in your life, to bow down before him and acknowledge his right to tell you what to do and how to live. 

Because, I’ll be honest, I think there are a lot more people interested in being a part of the church than those who are interested in being a part of God’s kingdom.

But perhaps this morning, it is your desire to be a part of that kingdom.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again — of the water and the Spirit — he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3,5)


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