Your Kingdom Come - Matthew 6:5-13

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 25th October 2015.

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The term ‘despot’ tends to have negative associations in our minds. A despot is someone in whose hands is concentrated all power and authority. It is a rule which is absolute. In 1642 England was torn in two over this very issue- the supposed divine right of a King. Similarly in 1776 the United States was founded in response to what the colonists perceived was despotism being forced upon them- ‘no taxation without representation’ was their cry. When despotism manifest itself in the 20th century, the results were simply horrific. Two million people slaughtered in Cambodia under Pol Pot; thirty million Russians perished under Stalin; sixty five million Chinese under Mao- not to mention the carnage wreaked by Adolf Hitler. Despotism does not have a good track record. It would seem that human beings are not cut out to be despotic rulers- there is something in their DNA, their character, which, regardless of background or motives, just won’t make it work. And so for many, if we are to have a monarchy at all, it has to be a constitutional monarchy with all the real power residing elsewhere with the appropriate checks and balances.

 

But what if there was a ruler, a King, who was not only all powerful but all benign? Who not only had good motives but good plans coupled with great power to bring those plans to pass; a King whose character was flawless and incapable of corruption? Then might not such ‘despotism’- shorn of its dark associations- begin to look like an attractive proposition?

 

The fact is each time we pray that petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Your Kingdom Come’ we are asking for such a benign despotism, the kingly rule of God himself.

 

Before we go on to see what this Kingdom of God actually is and what its implications are, let’s think a little more by what is meant by the term ‘kingdom’.

 

We might think of a territory under the governance of a monarch and so we speak of the ‘United Kingdom.’ But we might also think of it more personally. In one sense each one of us has a ‘kingdom’ or ‘realm’ which is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens. In this sense our kingdom is the range of our effective will.[1]  This means we have an influence for good or ill on our families, our friendships, our work; and the more responsibility and power we have the greater will be the range of our ‘kingdom’- our ‘sphere of influence’ if you like. The problem is the way we position ourselves in relation to that sphere. John Calvin remarked that ‘Everyone flatters himself and carries a kingdom in his breast. There is nobody who does not imagine that he is really better than the others.’ And if that ‘I am better than you’ mentality which stands at the heart of our outlook is coupled with tremendous power and carried to the nth degree, that is when you have the Stalins and Hitlers of this world. But in principle, the ability and desire to exercise influence through the choices we make is no bad thing- this is the way God made us to function in his world, but with one an important proviso- we are to exercise our little ‘kingships’ and queenships’ under the loving direction of his Kingship.

 

So let’s go back to the beginning for a moment and think about God’s original intention for governing the world he created. We are told in Genesis 1:28 that he gave human beings the job of bringing the world under control. That is, he chose to establish harmony and wholesomeness, what the Jews later called ‘shalom’ through people willingly obeying him, living life in friendship with God. He gave humans the dignity and responsibility of being his vice- regents, his governors if you will. That is how it started. But that is not how it continued. Instead of ruling with God we decided to rule as god- hence what is called ‘the Fall’ recorded in Genesis 3. We became mutinous and descended to become a race of rebels. This is the King’s country we live in but we have tried to take it over by declaring ourselves to be kings. Whenever we decide to do something without giving God or his ways a second thought, that is being a traitor which is what the Bible primarily means when it talks about sin. Any area of life which does not allow God to get a look in- our home life, our work life, our sex life, our financial affairs – that becomes in effect ‘our kingdom and ours alone’ not God’s. And what a mess we have made of it. We have made vast spiritual wastelands full of broken lives. This is not simply a Christian observation. Here is the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, ‘Happiness has proved elusive in the contemporary world. By any conceivable measure of the good life, we are better off than any previous generation since the birth of time. We are more affluent. We have more choices. We can travel further and more easily. We have more access to education and information. Our health is better. We live longer. We keep ourselves fit. We have leisure. We are freer. There are fewer constraints on our lifestyles. We are living, compared to any previous generation, as close to paradise as people have ever lived. Yet by the indexes of self-reported life satisfaction, we are no happier than people were two generations ago. In some respects our lack of happiness is palpable. We take more anti-depressants. People suffer from more stress-related syndromes. They are less optimistic than they used to be. They no longer think their children will have better lives than they did. There has been a palpable breakdown of trust.’ Isn’t that so?

 

But God being the kind of God he is, a Father-King, was not going to sit by and do nothing. What was ruined he intends to restore, what is broken he is committed to mend, what is scattered he is pledged bring together And in the midst of all this he will bring rebels to account in judgement if they continue that way. This is the story in the Bible, the unfolding of God’s intention to establish his throne in the hearts of men and women with a resulting outworking in the rest of the world. So his plan involved choosing a nomad called Abram, and a promise that through him he would produce a nation which would be a blessing to all other nations. From this people- Israel- was to come a King, someone who would rule justly as God is just, whose character is so attractive, radiating entrancing moral beauty, who wouldn’t be corrupted by power as many politicians are, but who would do what is right and willingly die for what is right. But where was he and where was his kingdom? For two thousand years the people looked and waited. The prophets spoke of him as being like a shepherd, tender and patient, a King of the royal line of David. At other times he appears as a conquering soldier, trampling his enemies under foot. More mysteriously still, he appears as a servant who seems to be strung up on a monstrous contraption of torture, face beaten, arms and legs bloody, a human sacrifice to take away the sins of his people- Isaiah 53. So what sort of king is this and how will he govern? Those were the questions that perplexed not only the wise men of Israel, but also the common people scattered throughout the towns and villages of Palestine.

 

But then it suddenly happened. After over 400 hundred years of silence with not a word from God, a public announcement was made in the desert of all places, perhaps there because it is the most striking visible reminder of a world out of kilter with its Maker- dry, desolate, lifeless, alien. John the Baptist came declaring what he called ‘Good News’ or ‘Gospel’: ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is near’, he said.  That is, there is going to be a change of government so get ready. Not that Rome will pack up and go home. Not that Herod will abdicate and give over his palace to someone else. But God is doing a new thing by making his loving rule now accessible to all people directly. That sphere of God’s governing in which there is life, revitalised spiritual life, a restored relationship with God was now available. It wasn’t available through the old ritual of the temple. It wasn’t a matter of being good to enter into it either. It was a matter of laying down your arms of rebellion in repentance- and coming to bow down in homage to the King. But wasn’t he in heaven? Not any longer in that sense, for the King had arrived- God was on the move in an unprecedented way- in fact God was present incognito, as it were, as a human being- Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God or Jesus Christ- ‘Christ’ meaning ‘King’.

 

And when Jesus started preaching he made the same announcement as his cousin John- ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near’- Matthew 4:17.

 

What did Jesus mean by that? When he said, ‘it is near’ he meant, ‘at hand’ or, as we would say, ‘readily available.’ If I go to the dry cleaners and the lady behind the counter tells me that my jacket is ready and is hanging up on the rail, she could have said, ‘Your jacket is near’ or ‘Your jacket is at hand.’ So by announcing God’s saving rule to be near-Jesus was in effect actualising it, making it available. Let me tell you something: Australia became part of the kingdom of England at the very moment Captain Arthur Philip ran up the English flag at Botany Bay and solemnly claimed the land for King George III which would have been nice for him having just lost America! Well, similarly Jesus inaugurates God’s government by solemnly announcing its arrival-planting God’s flag if you like, firmly in the ground, claiming it for him. It may seem simple but that is how kingdoms come. Of course if the land is occupied by forces hostile to the king then opposition can be expected. That is what happened with Jesus. But this in no way diminishes the establishment of the kingdom; it just means it takes a little longer before there is full submission to the king. And that is where our prayer, ‘Your kingdom come’ comes in. It is partly through our praying that God has chosen to fully establish his divine government. But the moment the king arrives- the God-man Jesus, the moment royal pronouncements are made with the offer of amnesty - things start to change.

 

Do you remember the episode in the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, when it was rumoured that Aslan- the true Lion King of Narnia- ‘was on the move’? Rumour is one thing- but what’s the evidence? The evidence is when things start to alter for the better, when the perpetual winter over Narnia, signifying the evil reign under the White Witch begins to give way to the first blossoms of spring. This is how Lewis describes it, ‘Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller. Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow. Soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs or the black prickly branches of bare oaks and beeches and elms. Then the mist turned from white to gold and presently cleared away altogether. Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down on the forest floor and overhead you could see a blue sky between the tree tops.’[2] The witch’s spell over the land was being broken by the arrival of the true King. And so with the arrival of the true king of this world, the divine Son, Jesus, the wicked reign of Satan, sin and death begins to be broken as people are set free to come under the loving reign of King Jesus.

 

So we see in history what Lewis captures in a story at the beginning of Matthew’s biography of Jesus in chapter 4:23, ‘‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.’ The crowds are coming because of the healing, but Jesus is teaching about the kingdom, that is the message of God’s saving, restoring rule, breaking into the world. And as he teaches about the kingdom he is bringing about the transforming effects of his kingdom- sick people are made healthy, demon possessed are set free, dead people are raised, and the effects of our rebellion are being reversed at every turn and salvation is being ushered in by the King. This is like the line from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: ‘The hands of the King are healing hands, and thus shall the rightful king be known.’ How do we know that Jesus and no other self-proclaimed ruler is the rightful King of the universe? Because his hands are ‘healing hands’- they restore and make whole. That is what Christians have found to be true in their own experience for two millennia now.

 

So there are three questions we need to think about so we know what it is we are committing ourselves to when we pray the words, ‘Your Kingdom Come’.

 

First, how do people enter into this kingdom? Here are the King’s own words on the subject in Matthew 18:1-4. 1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ He takes a ‘paidion’ that is, a very young child, a tiny, tiny infant. ‘I tell you the truth’ –unless you become ‘converted’ and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ What is it about a child that Jesus points to as the essential prerequisite of entering his kingdom and enjoying the true life it offers? He tells us in v4 ‘humility.’  It is non-achievement he is speaking about, an infant has achieved nothing to which he can point and say, ‘Look at me and what I have done.’ In fact it is the opposite- a tiny infant is totally dependent upon the kindness and goodwill of an adult to be cared for. So it is if we want to enter God’s kingdom. This contrasts with the way we view ‘greatness’ which is often measured in terms of what someone has achieved. As Jesus puts it in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the Kingdom of heaven.’ Now could I ask you whether that is you? Do you have this ‘beatitude attitude’? So when we pray ‘your kingdom come’ we are praying for humility. We are praying that we become like children who love to receive gifts and who are in a totally dependent frame of mind upon our heavenly Father who is the great Giver. That is what we are praying for.

 

Secondly we need to ask: what does this change in rule involve?

 

First, a new presence takes up residence in our lives-as individuals and as a Christian community - Christ by His Spirit. He begins to occupy that which is rightly his and which we have willingly surrendered to him- our entire lives. If you want to know what that is to look like in practice for you as a Christian and for us as a church, then read through the Sermon on the Mount, it is all there. So Jesus says that those under his government don’t hate and harbour grudges, rather they forgive. They don’t try to manipulate people or cajole them by being judgemental and censorious, rather they ask. They have a carefree trust in their heavenly Father who is able to supply their every need instead of joining the rest of the rat race in the accelerating game of ‘spend, spend, spend to get more, more, more’. In fact they give away loads for the sake of the kingdom. They are prayerful people not boastful people. They are also a learning people who love to listen to the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, they just can’t get enough and want to put it into practice like a wise builder who sites his new house on a solid rock way above the flood plain so that when the storms of life hit they remain firm. What is more, they are people committed to mission for they want to see this Kingdom come into the lives of more and more people around the world. So they will be praying for conversions, they will be asking for faith sharing opportunities and they will be supporting those both at home and abroad who have given their lives over to this task of announcing that Jesus is king -missionaries and ministers. They will support them in prayer, in giving and in offering encouraging words. Those are just some of the things we are committing ourselves to when we pray, ‘Your Kingdom Come’. Now do you see what a powerful and costly prayer it is? You see, one test as to whether you belong to this Kingdom, a genuine Christian is that you are changing.

 

The final question is, when will this divine government be fully operational? It is pretty obvious that it isn’t the case now. This is where the prayer ‘Your Kingdom Come’ is finally heading. At the moment the kingdom is growing, often quietly, almost imperceptibly, like a tiny mustard seed pushing its shoots through the soil until eventually it becomes a like a giant tree, casting its branches over everything. But the final establishment of God’s reign is going to be dramatic and cataclysmic when Jesus returns to claim the whole world for himself. And what a world it is going to be! It is going to be a renewed world with the warping effects of sin taken out so there will be the end of fear, suffering and death. That is when the citizens of this kingdom- Christians- will say, like the unicorn Jewel in the Chronicles of Narnia, ‘I’ve come home at last! This is my real country…..This is the land I’ve been looking for all my life’ And so we pray ‘Your Kingdom Come’.

 

[1] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p 29

[2]  C s Lewis, The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe’ p 110

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