Your kingdom come - Matthew 3:1-12
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There was no doubt about it, he felt betrayed. He had given of his best, ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ to use his own words. That he had made more than his fair share of mistakes was not to be denied, but to lead a nation from the brink of disaster through to outright victory was by any measure a most amazing feat. Later he would be hailed as the greatest Englishman, but in 1945 he was swept out of power by a landslide Labour Government. Winston Churchill’s defeat did come as a personal shock but it also signalled a major change in mood in the nation. After 6 years of rations, bombings and death in the greatest armed conflict the world had ever known, it was hoped that with a fresh government there would be a fresh start. The class distinctions which had so clearly defined people before the Second World War appeared to be eroding as people from all backgrounds, privileged and underprivileged mixed in the armed forces and merit rather than birth began to mark people out, although old attitudes tend to linger and do not disappear overnight. Whether the new start was successful is open to debate, but the belief is still widespread that if we want to see change in a country then one of the most effective ways of bringing this about is by changing the government.
Did you realise that every time you and I pray the Lord’s Prayer we are praying for a change of government? It is true. The petition is contained in those three words: ‘Your Kingdom Come’. Or, if you like, ‘Lord, establish your government in the world.’ This is a government which may not be elected but which is eternal; a government which begins not with people’s votes but in people’s hearts. And the change this government brings is a lasting change.
It is a good idea to really know what we are praying for and get the words and their meaning right. I am reminded of the little girl who misheard the Lord’s Prayer and instead of saying, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ prayed, ‘Give us this day our day in bed.’ So what are we really asking for when we pray, ‘Your Kingdom Come’?
First let’s ask, what is God’s Kingdom? It must be pretty important because it is a term, together with its more reverential equivalent, ‘Kingdom of heaven’ which appears over 60 times in the first three Gospels. John in his account of the life of Jesus tends to use another term which gives us some insight into what it might mean; he talks about ‘eternal life’ or simply ‘life’. So this government of God, one which is from the heavens brings true spiritual life – a real transformation.
In the Old Testament it was often declared in temple worship that the one and only God- Yahweh-the LORD- was the ruler of the universe and a cause for celebration, for example, Psalm 97: ‘The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad.’ So in one sense God’s government –his kingdom-has always been in effect in that as creator he upholds and controls everything. Since God is an eternal God then his reign or government is also eternal and cannot be shaken. But if God’s kingdom has always been present in that he has always reigned, then how can we pray for it to come? That implies that in some way God isn’t ruling totally, that his government isn’t in place.
Well, let’s go back to the beginning and think about God’s original intention for the way he wished to govern the world. We are told in Genesis 1:28 that he made human beings to bring 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, governors if you like. That is how it started. But that is not how it continued. Instead of ruling with God we decided to rule as god. UDI was declared and we became a rebel race. This is the King’s country we live in but we have taken it over and declared ourselves as kings. Whenever we decide to do something without giving God or his ways a second thought, that is being a traitor and this 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 working life, our sex life, our financial affairs – that becomes in effect ‘our kingdom’ not God’s. And what a mess we have made of it. The beautifully tended park called Eden we have exchanged for a desert. We have made vast spiritual wastelands full of broken lives.
But God being the kind of God he is, a Father-King, was not going to let that pass him by. What was ruined he intends to restore, what is broken he intends to make new, what is scattered he intends to gather and piece back together again. And in the midst of all this he intends to bring rebels to account in judgement if they continue that way. That is the story in the Bible, the unfolding of God’s intention to establish his throne back in the hearts of men and women with a resulting outworking in the rest of the world. So his plan involved choosing an Iraqi nomad, Abraham and a promise that through him he would produce a nation which would be a blessing to the entire creation. From this people- Israel- was to come a King, someone who would rule justly as God is just, whose character is so attractive, radiating 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 has the figure of a servant who seems to be strung up on some 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? What is more how will the world be changed in the way the prophet Isaiah suggests in a single event called ‘The Day of the Lord’?- Is 65vv 17-18; 25. "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. …..The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain," says the LORD.’ There is Utopia if ever there was!
But then it happened. The 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 and as the 1st century equivalent to Trevor MacDonald issued the news: ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is near’. 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 it either. It was a matter of laying down your arms of rebellion-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–the God-man Jesus had come and made the same announcement as his cousin John- ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near’- Matthew 4:17.
What did Jesus mean? Was it that the divine government was just waiting down the road to arrive? No. 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 other forces hostile to the king then opposition can be expected. That is what happened with Jesus. But that 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 government.
So there are three questions we need to think about so we know what we are committing ourselves to when we pray those words, ‘Your Kingdom Come’.
First, how does is this change in government experienced? 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 pint 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. To enter the kingdom we come with no achievements of our own. Of course the danger of holding on to a wrong view of greatness is that it puffs up pride and leads to the denigration of others. This is what Jesus goes on to ward off in vv5-14 the picture is being continued. Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me…."See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.’ The ‘child’ is a disciple, ‘one like this’. Jesus’ ‘little one’s’, are ‘those who believe in me’. In normal circles, the higher your status the greater are the people you associate with. Presidents mix with presidents. They ‘receive’ one another, and usually the lower ranking official ‘receives’ with pomp and ceremony the one of higher rank. The act of ‘receiving’ is thus a measure of the status you accord someone. Therefore to welcome a follower of Jesus, especially the one who brings the Gospel, the offer of new life under Christ’s governance, is to recognise their standing above your own. This higher status is underscored by Jesus’ identification with them, so that to receive them is to receive Jesus himself. Now do you see how you come in and stay in this kingdom? You do not come in with head held high with a ‘look at me and what I have done’ attitude. You come in with head bowed low and a ‘please don’t look at me because of what I have done’ attitude and you accept the Gospel message the offer of pardon and a fresh start. 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. That is what we are praying for.
But we also need to ask: what does this change in government involve? What sorts of changes are affected when God comes to rule by placing his flag on the ground of our hearts?
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 don’t exploit the wonderful gift of sex by using pornography or engaging in sex before or outside marriage. 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 plane 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 in the lives of more and more people. 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? Be careful what you ask for because you are liable to get it- a change in attitude, greater financial Christian giving, evangelism, mission and a different lifestyle from the rest of the people who live down your street.
But you say, this seems a big change and is rather daunting. It is. If left to ourselves it would be impossible. But God’s government doesn’t just offer words- party political pledges- but power. There is a story of a woman who had a small house on the coast of Ireland at the turn of the century. She was wealthy but frugal. And so the people were quite surprised when she decided to be the first to have electricity in her home. Several weeks after the installation the meter reader appeared at her door. He checked the meter and asked if her electricity was working. She assured him it was. Well, he said it’s just that your meter shows hardly any usage at all. Are you using your power?' Certainly.' she answered. 'Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on the lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.' Do you see? She was tapped into the power but hardly used it. Her house was connected but not altered. Jesus demonstrated in his own lifetime that the divine government was at hand- the sick were healed, the dead raised, demons, the moral and social outcasts were welcomed back home to God- all signs that God’s reign of renewal was breaking in at last. And the renewing work of God is still going on with lives being changed for the better as people discover the liberating rule of the God who made them and sent his Son to die for them. Often our problem is that we forget that we are now ‘connected’ to God like the woman in the story didn’t take advantage of the fact that she was now connected to the electricity. What is more we are connected to each other by the same Spirit. That is why we pray ‘Our Father’; we support each other in asking God to bring about his change of government in the world- hence are need to keep meeting regularly like this.
The final question is, ‘when will this divine government be fully operational? It is pretty obvious that it isn’t the case now. So when will that great vision seen by Isaiah be realised- world peace? 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 seeds pushing its shoots through the soil or a batch of yeast making its way through the dough. But the final establishment of God’s reign is going to be more dramatic and cataclysmic. This is the way the apostle Peter describes what is going to happen-2 Peter 3:10: ‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.’ God has promised it will happen and God always keeps his word. What are we to do in the meantime is to keep praying- ‘Your kingdom come.’ It will mean persuading others to adopt this government. But above all it will mean it will mean living godly lives which befit the change of government.’
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