“The Lord’s Prayer in the Lord’s Passion” is the theme of the Lenten devotion that Steadfast Lutherans has put together this year. The following sermon addresses the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. For further reflection, read The Large Catechism, II.27-31 (Second Article of the Creed), II.38-39 (Third Article of the Creed), and III. 49-58 (Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus has taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” But what is the kingdom of God? When we think of a kingdom our minds usually picture a throne, a castle, lands, and armies. Yet we know this isn’t what God’s kingdom means. Jesus said in the reading, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36), and so imagining God’s kingdom as an earthly kingdom isn’t helpful. What, then, should we think of when we think of God’s kingdom? Rather than thinking of physical objects or places, we should think of the King himself being present among his people and exercising his authority.
There are several accounts in Scripture that illustrate what God’s kingdom, or reign, looks like. The first is the Exodus. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, subjects of Pharaoh. They cried out to the Lord, and the Lord sent Moses. The Lord did not send Moses with a sword and army, but with a wooden staff and with the Word of the Lord, “Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Ex. 8:1). God’s kingdom came as he exercised his authority through his Word. And when Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to the Word, God’s kingdom came through the staff, as the Lord sent plagues by it. God’s kingdom came as the Egyptians learned to fear him. God’s kingdom came as Israel trusted him. And God’s kingdom came as he parted the sea and brought his people out from under Pharaoh, that they may be his own and live under him in his kingdom.
While the events of the Exodus are true and did really happen, at the same time the Exodus is a great picture of the ultimate conflict between two kings: the conflict between the prince of this world and Jesus Christ the Lord. Like the Israelites, we were slaves in the devil’s kingdom and were the subjects of a tyrant. And we had brought ourselves into this by our disobedience. The devil lorded over us and wielded against us the weapons of sin and death.
And then God’s kingdom came. The Lord came into the midst of his people and exercised his kingly authority. As at the time of the Exodus, Jesus exercised his authority with a wooden staff. He was lifted up and crucified on that staff, and by his cross, he sent a plague of blood on the devil’s kingdom and devastated it. With his blood he has redeemed us, as it says in 1 Peter 1, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). By his cross he parted the sea and made a way out from under the devil, as it says in Colossians 1, “[the Father] has delivered us from the authority of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
In short, the coming of God’s kingdom is the Second Article of the Creed: I believe… in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty, from thence he will come to judge the living and the dead. “Thy kingdom come.” And Jesus came among men and exercised his authority in order to redeem mankind.
So God’s kingdom has come generally, or universally, in the Second Article. Yet we also desire that Christ Crucified would be in our midst specifically and exercise his authority among us specifically, as it says in the Small Catechism, “The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.”
How does Christ, who was crucified once for all, continue to reign over his Church today? The continued reign of Christ does not look like another crucifixion. Rather, the continued coming of God’s kingdom among us looks like Pentecost, and this is the final account that illustrates God’s kingdom. On the day of Pentecost, the Father and the Son gave the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Holy Spirit caused the Word of Christ to be proclaimed to all nations, as the people there said, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). As at the time of the Exodus, so at Pentecost, the Lord exercised his authority through his Word. The Holy Spirit worked by means of that Word to cut people to the heart with the consciousness of their sins and to forgive their sins for the sake of Christ.
And this is how God’s kingdom continues to come to us: when the Holy Spirit works among us by the Word to give us faith in Christ. Thus we confessed from the Small Catechism, “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,” because a godly life flows from trust in the Word.
Therefore God’s kingdom came once for all in the Second Article of the Creed through the work of Jesus and continues to come in the Third Article of the Creed through the work of the Holy Spirit. Or in other words, God exercises his kingly authority among us as he did at the Exodus: through the staff of Jesus’ cross and through the proclamation of his Word.
“Thy kingdom come.” We’re asking for nothing less than that God himself be our King. And therefore we’re not only asking that God would rule us now by his Word, but that he would finally destroy the devil’s kingdom entirely. Martin Luther sums all of this up very nicely in the Large Catechism:
“Dear Father, we ask you first to give us your Word, so that the gospel may be properly preached throughout the world and then that it may also be received in faith and may work and dwell in us, so that your kingdom may pervade among us through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, and the devil’s kingdom may be destroyed so that he may have no right or power over us, until finally his kingdom is utterly eradicated and sin, death, and hell wiped out, that we may live forever in perfect righteousness and blessedness.” Amen.