Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mark's thoughts: The double meaning of "Thy kingdom come"

One of the challenges of using the Lord’s Prayer is that its petitions are so dense. The seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are all brief statements that flow easily, one after another.  Years of use make the cadence and rhythm of the petitions second nature.  Yet each of those petitions contains a treasure of theological meaning and in our use of the Lord’s Prayer this is easy to overlook.

The Second Petition, “Thy kingdom come,” provides an excellent illustration of this.  Our Lord teaches us to pray for the arrival of the kingdom of God.  While the word “kingdom” makes us think of a place like the kingdom England or France, in the Scriptures the word “kingdom” instead refers to an activity.   Coming out of its Old Testament background, the phrase “the kingdom of God” refers to the reign or rule of God.  As Psalm 97:1 states, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad.”  The phrase refers to God’s activity, and not a place, as He cares for His people and opposes sin and evil in the world. 

Jesus teaches His disciples to pray for the future arrival of God’s reign – His kingdom.  He teaches them to pray for the Last Day.  We now know that this Last Day will take place when the risen and ascended Lord returns in glory.  Yet Jesus teaches the disciples to pray in this fashion as He is with them.  This fact leads us to recognize that the coming of God’s kingdom does not happen in only one way or time.

Jesus began His ministry by saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has arrived; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). During this ministry he announced, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).  Jesus declared that in His person and ministry God’s reign – his kingdom  - was present to turn back Satan, sin and death.  During His earthly ministry, Jesus was the presence of God’s reign as He forgave sins, healed diseases and cast out demons.  Jesus carried out the most important act of God’s reign when He died on the cross and rose from the dead.  

Jesus spoke of God's kingdom as something that was both present and future.  The same thing is true in our day.  Martin Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, "The coming of God's kingdom to us takes place in two ways: first, it comes here in time, through Word and faith, and second, in eternity, it comes through the final revelation (III.53).  Just as the earthly ministry of Jesus was the presence of God's reign in the first century A.D., so also God's reign continues in our day as the Holy Spirit works through the Means of Grace to create and sustain faith in Jesus Christ.  Through this work He frees and protects us from Satan and sin.  Luther focused on this aspect of the kingdom of God when he wrote in the Small Catechism: "How does God's kingdom come?  God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity."
We recognize that God’s reign comes by itself without our prayers.  However we pray in this petition that God’s reign would come to us.  We pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to use the Means of Grace to strengthen us in the faith, for by faith in Jesus Christ we have been redeemed (freed) from the power of the devil and Jesus has become our Lord.  At the same time, we pray that God’s reign will come in all its completeness.  When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying for the return of Jesus Christ and the arrival of the Last Day when God’s reign will do away with sin and death forever.   We are saying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

In the Divine Service, the Lord’s Prayer is spoken in conjunction with the Words of Institution and the distribution of the Sacrament of the Altar.  From ancient times in the Church’s practice the Lord’s Prayer has been used in association with the Sacrament of the Altar.  Several petitions in the Lord’s Prayer have always caused the Church to think about the Sacrament.  It is appropriate that we pray “Thy kingdom come,” just before reception of the Christ’s body and blood because God’s reign comes to us in the Sacrament as we receive the forgiveness of sins and as the Holy Spirit strengthens us in the faith.  At the same time, it is also fitting to pray “Thy kingdom come” because the coming of Christ in His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar points us forward to the coming of Christ on the Last Day when He will return in glory.  As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:26 about the Lord’s Supper, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” The unique character of the Sacrament of the Altar serves as a reminder that to pray “Thy kingdom come” is to ask for God’s saving action now and also in the future.

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