Your kingdom come - Matthew 13:24-46
6 years before she became Prime Minister in 1979, Margaret Thatcher famously said that she didn’t think she’d ever see a woman Prime Minister in her lifetime. 10 years before that in 1963, Martin Luther King made his even more famous ‘I have a dream’ speech; and it’s difficult to for many of us imagine that at that time, parts of America still operated a form of Apartheid: in today’s language, just one generation ago, America was an institutionally racist country. And so for once, it’s no exaggeration for the media to be hailing this week as a truly historic moment for America; indeed an historic moment for the entire world. The election of black man as president of the US, really does mean that change has come to America.
But the question for Barack Obama, America and the rest of the world is this: will Obama be able to live up to the fever pitch of expectation that he and his election machine have managed to generate? In a recent interview, Daniel Radcliffe, the young actor who plays Harry Potter, lamented the lack of inspirational politicians in our own country. And he picked up on a point that many other serious political commentators also noticed: when Obama visited Europe and especially Britain back in June, he was treated like some kind of Messianic visitor. And this feeling that somehow Obama will be able to sort all the world’s problems within 16 months was fuelled by his typically American ‘yes we can’ comment at the end of the victory speech.
Now Obama like many American politicians professes to be a Christian. He claims to have become a Christian in his mid-20s and to read his Bible and pray regularly. I certainly have no window into men’s souls to assess that claim. But, as Christians, our antennae needs to be up whenever someone claims, or is said to have, absolute power and authority to get things done; when anyone is proclaimed to be a sort of Messianic saviour figure. Because there’s only one God; and there’s only one Messiah: the God-man JC. And the God of the NT is the same God we meet in the OT. Listen to these words from the prophet Isaiah:
Is 50: Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? 13 Who has understood the mind [d] of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? 15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
Human beings of whatever race, gender or nationality need to remember this: God is God and we are His creatures. There is a distinction between the Creator and the Created. And because we are Created beings who live within the parameters set by our Creator, there are limits to what we can do. Yes we are created in God’s image and so there are many things we can do that reflect God’s creative character. But, ultimately we are not God, and so there are some things we cannot do or understand. As Isaiah put it: can any human being ever fully understand the mind of the Lord or instruct Him as His counsellor? And of course the answer is no isn’t it?
And so we need to remember this perspective when we come back to thinking about our prayer lives. Many people pray that their political party will win an election. Many Christians pray that their team will win the cup; and it would be nice to beat Chelsea, Man United and Bolton next time wouldn’t it? Christian parents pray that their children will do well at school and grow up as balanced young people. And yes many of these prayers are totally appropriate; indeed, the second half of the Lord ’s Prayer will focus on praying for our personal needs.
But as we’ve seen so far in the LP this term, prayer begins with God; or at least it should do. It begins by addressing God properly; knowing who God is and coming before Him with the right attitude: our Father in Heaven. And as we saw last week, the first petition of the prayer, the first thing we ask God for is that His name would be glorified: Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be your name. Not: ‘Dear Lord Jesus, can I start this morning with a long list of my hassles and problems that I’d like you to sort out before dinner time. No, the Lord’s Prayer, which is a model for all our prayers, the Lord ’s Prayer begins with God; it begins by addressing God properly and then recognises that God’s name, God’s glory that is, should be our supreme concern.
And so next comes: Your kingdom come. Notice, your kingdom come; not my kingdom come; but your kingdom come; God’s kingdom that is.
It’s tempting especially on a day like Remembrance Day to focus our prayers on topics like world peace; that our service men and women and their families would be properly looked after; that we’d be able to get out of Iraq as soon as possible without leaving behind an almightily mess; that Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations would be defeated; that the banks would pass on some more of this week’s massive interest rate cut; that small business and homeowners would have some other relief from the ravages of the credit crunch and more general economic downturn and so on. And these are all good and right things to pray for. But remember the LP: what does it mean to pray ‘Our Father in Heaven: may your kingdom come’? What is God’s kingdom? And what are we asking for when we pray that God would bring it on so to speak?
What is the Kingdom of God ?
So first of all then, what is the kingdom of God? What is the kingdom of God? And in a sense, as we saw from those verses in Isaiah 40, the Kingdom of God is the whole created order isn’t it? Both the OT and NT are clear that God is sovereignty in control of His creation. Nothing and no one is beyond His reach. He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. The nations and their rulers, no matter how powerful they appear to us, the rulers of the nation are simply pawns in the Lord’s hand. God’s kingship, or rule in that sense, extends to the whole earth, whether people acknowledge Him as God not.
But let’s come back to the beginning of the beatitudes in Mt 5 on p900/ 1501]. And look onto to that first beatitude in v3:
Mt 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven – or as Mark and Luke put it, the Kingdom of God.
In the Gospels, and especially here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is using the phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ to mean something a bit different from God’s universal rule. Only those who are poor in spirit will enter God’s kingdom; only the poor in spirit will enter heaven as opposed to hell as we learnt back in September. Which means that not everyone is part of God’s kingdom in this sense. Only a sub-set of people are part of God’s kingdom in this Gospel sense of the word; only some people make it to heaven; which means that some people won’t make it to heaven; some people will spend eternity in hell. And Jesus himself speaks more often about hell than heaven. Not because he’s morbid, but because he’s desperate for people to avoid the horrors of hell; horrors that would make the trenches of the first world ward seem like a picnic.
And that’s exactly the point Jesus is making in those parables we looked at over in Mt 13. And in that first parable, the so-called parable of the weeds, Jesus is dividing the world’s population into 2 camps: not black and white, but wheat and weeds. And at the end of time, on Harvest day, on Judgement Day that is, the wheat will be gathered into heaven, but what about the weeds? Well look at v30:
Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"
And Jesus spells it out more clearly over in v40:
40"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
There is only one division between human beings that matters; not that between black and white, but the difference between wheat and weeds. And so the crucial question is: who are the wheat and who are the weeds? Am I with the wheat or the weeds? And which group are you part of? Well come back to v38:
38The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom.
The Good seed are the sons or the heirs of the Kingdom, God’s saving Kingdom that is. Which brings us right back to the beatitudes in chapter 5: Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the Kingdom of God; they will inherit the earth, the new heaven and the new earth that is; they will be shown mercy over their sins and see God, because they will be called Sons or heirs of God; theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. And back in September, we saw that the key to inheriting God’s kingdom was poverty of spirit; knowing that you’re not good enough for God; knowing that you're a sinner justly facing His eternal wrath in hell; knowing that, by your own merits, you don’t deserve God’s mercy; because mercy, by definition, can’t be earnt; it's a free gift from God to those who don’t deserve it. True poverty of Spirit acknowledges that we need a saving messianic figure; and true poverty of Spirit acknowledges that only Jesus fits the bill. Because Jesus is the only person who’s ever lived that lived a perfect life; and so Jesus was the only one who could die in our place, taking the punishment our sins deserves as he bled and died on that cross.
True poverty of Spirit acknowledges with that 18C hymn-writer Toplady: nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.
And so in eternal terms, it really doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; it doesn’t matter if you're a Muslim, Hindu or a Jew. What does matter, is whether you’re a Christian or a non-Christian. That’s the only division in the human race that will matter for all eternity; the division between wheat and weeds. And it’s only when we’ve understood the eternal consequences of not being a member of God’s kingdom, of not being a Christian that is, that we’ll see the amazing value of the kingdom in J's next 2 parables: so look on with me to v44:
44"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
And it’s only in contrast with that shuddering prospect of an eternity in hell, that the Kingdom of Heaven seems so attractive. So attractive in fact, that if we’ve got any sense, like the man in v44, or the merchant in v45, we’d do anything within our power to be a part of it. Or in other words, we’d fall on our knees, repent of our sin and rebellion against the one true God, and seek mercy and forgiveness in J’s name. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs really will be the Kingdom of heaven.
And so that’s exactly what Jesus is going on about in this part of the LP: Our father in heaven, may your kingdom come; not our kingdom remember, but your kingdom. Not God's kingdom in the universal sense, but God’s kingdom in the salvation sense; he’s encouraging us to pray about the extent of God’s saving purposes in His world:
What is the kingdom of God in the Lord ’s Prayer: it’s the kingdom of God’s people; Christians; the church; those who openly acknowledge that the sovereign creator and ruler of the universes is who he says he is; but more than that; the Kingdom of God is the realm of those who acknowledge Jesus and Jesus alone as their saviour.
What does it mean for the Kingdom of God to come
Which brings us to the second question. What does it mean for the Kingdom of God to come? What does it mean for the Kingdom of God to come? Well come back to the parable of the weeds in chapter 13 and look again at v40:
40"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.
History is not random, nor does it go round in endless circles. No history is linear; it's heading somewhere, and that somewhere is Judgment Day; the second coming; the day that Jesus will return. A day that will usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth. A perfectly recreated world where there’ll be no more pain, or death or dieing; no more wars like the World wars of the last century, the Iraq war or the latest civil war in Congo. A perfect new world with no more sin and rebellion against the rightful ruler of the world: our Heavenly Father, Son and HS. And so, on that day, the oppression and persecution that God’s people have always endured will end. And that’s a key reason why the NT is peppered with prayers for the Lord Jesus to come back - and to come back quickly: because on that day, the persecution of Christians will ceases and justice will be done and be seen to be done. Indeed, the penultimate verse of the Bible ends with these words: Amen: come Lord Jesus.
And so in that sense, praying Your Kingdom come, means praying for J’s return in line with those prayers we find in the NT. And so the obviously question is: do we ever pray for that: And as I was writing this sermon I had to stop and ask myself: do I ever pray for this: and the honest answer was probably not: indeed, I can’t remember the last time I pray for this. Maybe you’re like me and if so, why don’t we?
Well maybe it’s for right reasons; elsewhere in the NT, Peter tells us the Lord is delaying his return so that as many people as possible have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and become part of God’s Kingdom. And so I’m genuinely reticent about praying for J's return because there’s lots of people I know and love who aren’t Christians; lots of people for whom J’s return would end their opportunity of accepting Jesus and going to heaven.
But if we’re honest, I think our motives are more mixed aren’t they? I wonder if, more often than not, the reason we're not praying for J's return is because we want to get married first and enjoy the pleasures of marriage in this world; or maybe we want our careers to progress a bit further before they come to a halt; or maybe we want to go on that holiday or see the children and or the grandchildren grow up and so on. Or maybe we don’t really believe in the second coming; we’ve yielded to the scoffers Peter was writing about; people who say “where is this coming you Christians keep going on about: ever since the creation of the world, things have just carried on, and it’s been 2,000 years since your Jesus bloke supposed ascended to heaven; if he’s coming back, then he’s taking his time isn’t he”. If you call yourself a Christian, you wouldn’t put it that crudely, but deep down that’s the king of thing you might be thinking. But of course, God’s timing is different to ours and he’s got a track record of delivering on His promises.
Praying to our Father in Heaven, Your Kingdom come, then means we praying in line with God promise that the Lord Jesus to come back and usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth: the Kingdom of God in other words. So let’s resolve to start praying for this shall we?
But come back to the parables of the Mustard Seed in v31 which we skipped over before:
31 [J] told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."
And the point of this parable is that the Kingdom of Heaven is growing in this world even before we get to the second coming. It might seem pathetic to some eyes, a message of eternal salvation from a just judgement though faith in J’s death on a cross 2,000 year ago; this news won’t cause newspapers to sell out across America. To many, it will seem small, pathetic and irrelevant to life in this world; but the ultimate fruit of this growing Gospel message will have amazing results that will last for all eternity: men and women of all nations enjoying the perfect and eternal New Creation. And so the main point of this parable is that the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s realm of salvation that is, is present now as people accept the message of Jesus and become His children in this world. And so praying to our Father in Heaven: may your Kingdom come, in this sense, means that we’re praying that God would be glorified as more people become Christians and join His church. God’s name is hallowed or glorified on earth before the second coming as His church expands, grows and impacts on the rest of the world.
And so this should be our prayer as well: that more people, starting here in [Dunswell/ Riverside] would come under the sound of the Gospel, respond to it, and become Christians. And so this means that prayers for evangelism should be pretty high on our prayer list. Which begs the question are they: are we praying for our family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and others the Lord has put us among, that they would become Christians; that they would have natural opportunities to hear and respond to the Gospel? Are we praying that we corporately here at [St Faith’s/ Riverside] church are reaching out to our community with this saving message of J? That we would be making the most of every opportunity that comes along? Do we make coming to the [SF/ Riv] prayer mtg a priority where we specifically pray for such things?
Our Father in Heaven: may your Kingdom come: and God’s kingdom in this sense is all about His saving kingdom; a kingdom populated by those who’ve been saved by J’s death on the cross. And so this kingdom has a now and a not yet aspect. God’s kingdom now is the church: the collective body of those who belong to Jesus. But the best is yet to come: because the not yet aspect is all about J’s second coming: all about the New Heavens and the New Earth.
Our Father in Heaven, may your Kingdom come, starting right now but supremely as you send Jesus back to wind up history begin eternity. Amen.
And so now we know what the prayer means, dare we pray it? We should be, but can we pray this part of the LP with integrity and meaning? Not a mindless mantra, but a prayer with more global significance than a New African-American President. “What a faithful God have I, faithful in every way”, as another famous hymn-writer put it. That’s my God. That’s the God of the Bible. But is that your God? And if he is, then let me encourage you to start praying the LP as Jesus really meant it – to the glory of God as His kingdom is extended in this world and consummated in the next. Let’s pray.
Our Father in Heaven, we’ve asked you to teach us to pray, but often it’s not our lack of understanding, but out lack of motivation that hinders our prayers. So help us to pray that your name might be hallowed and glorified; help us to pray that your kingdom would come; help us to pray that more people would become genuine Christians; and help us to pray for a truly historic day, the return of our Lord Jesus Christ and for eternal change to come not just to America but the whole world. For your ultimate glory, and our eternal comfort we pray. Amen,
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