THE KING AND THE KINGDOM
By Pastor Glenn Pease
For 13 years he was one of the greatest rulers Russia ever had. In 1547, when he took the throne, he sought for a Queen, and found one he loved so dearly that together they made their kingdom a kingdom of love. The king became a friend of the poor and suffering, and he built churches, and encouraged godliness. But then the fairy tale of living happily ever after came to an end. The Queen became ill and died. In his grief the king became a drunken sadistic beast. He began to abuse his power. He tortured people, and buried them alive. Freedoms were taken away, and the kingdom which was the best they ever had, was now the worst they ever had. The king, who for 13 years was called Ivan the Wonderful, was now called the name history remembers him by, Ivan the Terrible.
As the king goes, so goes the name of the king. When the kingdom is one of peace, joy, and justice, the ruler is respected, and his name is honored. When the kingdom is one of conflict, cruelty, and injustice, the name of the ruler is despised. The nature of the kingdom, and the name of the king are linked together as one, and they rise or fall as one. The king and the kingdom are one. That is why we see in the Lord's Prayer that the name of God and the kingdom of God are side by side, as desire number 1 and 2. It is first the king, and then the kingdom.
The kingdom of God is that realm over which God is king. This makes it a very unique and different kingdom from the kingdoms of men. The king of England ruled over England, and everyone in England was in the realm over which he ruled. The kingdoms of men are national and geographical. Not so the kingdom of God, for it is spiritual and universal. Part of the citizens of England are in the kingdom of God, and part of them are not. So it is for America, Europe, Africa, and the rest of the nations. None of the land of any of these nations is in the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is not a matter of land, but a matter of lives. People in all of these lands are submissive to God, and because God rules in their lives, they are part of the kingdom of God. All Christians have a dual citizenship, for they are citizens of their earthly kingdom, and of the kingdom of God.
This makes the kingdom of God very unlike all other kingdoms. It is fluid, and not static like other kingdoms. England has always been just where it is now, and so has France, Spain, and America. They are locked in kingdoms. Not so the kingdom of God, for it is very fluid, and can come or go anywhere in the world, and become stronger or weaker depending on the subjects of the kingdom. During a revival, when people opened their hearts to the spirit of God, the kingdom can come in great power, and the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven. God rule is evident in lives, and the society, for people obey the will of God as revealed in His Word.
On the other hand, when people neglect God's Word and forsake their loyalty to it, and become cold and indifferent to His guidance, the kingdom of God grows weaker. God's authority is undermined by some other authority, and the result is God's rule can even depart completely. North Africa is a good historical example. The kingdom of God thrived there in the early centuries of the Christian era, but for many centuries now, the kingdom of God has been weaker there than in almost anywhere in the world. So the point is, when we pray, Thy kingdom come, we really mean just that. May your rule come into our lives, our community, our nation, and our world, that we might be guided by your authority, and not lose the power and light it brings.
The first step in salvation is to respond to God's call-come. Jesus said, "Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." The second step is to develop the desire to call unto God-come. Thy kingdom come. God wants us to come to Him, and then He wants us to want Him to come to us. Coming to Him is the experience of salvation. When we come to Him by faith in Jesus Christ, we enter the kingdom of God, that realm in which He reigns. But as we mature, and desire Him to come to us, that is the experience of sanctification. Step one is when you enter the kingdom, and step two is when the kingdom enters you. When a person receives Christ as Savior, they are immediately taken out of the kingdom of darkness, and taken into the kingdom of light. They are in kingdom of God, but not much of the kingdom of God is in them yet. The new Christian may be quite worldly and immature. Thy kingdom come is a prayer for change. It is a desire that you will not rule your own life, but that God would come and rule, and make your life a realm in which He reigns, and thereby, uses you to bring honor to His name.
The degree to which the kingdom comes in your life will be the degree to which you will hallow your heavenly Father's name. The degree to which you resist the coming of God's kingdom is the degree to which you will dishonor the name of God. This prayer sincerely desired is simply saying to God, I want to be a cooperative member of the family, and be a channel by which you can influence and change the world according to your will.
A person from another country can come into our land and live here, and be in our kingdom, so to speak. But as they fall in love with the freedoms and liberties of our land they develop a desire, not just to be in the kingdom, but to be a part of the kingdom, and get their citizenship. They were first in the kingdom, but then the kingdom got into them, and this in turn made them desire a more intimate relationship to the kingdom of America. This process is what the prayer, thy kingdom come, is all about. It is a prayer which involves a two-fold experience which I want to focus on. First of all, it is-
I. AN EXPERIENCE OF ENTHUSIASM.
Clovis Chappell, the great Methodist preacher, rightly said, "The kingdom of God was our Lord's supreme enthusiasm." Jesus practiced what He preached. He said we are to seek first the kingdom of God, and there can be no doubt this was the first priority of His own life. The very first message that Jesus proclaimed in public was, the kingdom of God is at hand. He proved God's kingdom, or God's rule, was present by defeating the power of evil. He cast out evil spirits, and He healed all manner of diseases. The kingdom of God was the kingdom of life, health, and joy, and it was good news to those who lived under the darkness of evil, sickness, and oppression.
All through His ministry the dominate theme of Jesus was the kingdom of God. Most of His parables were parables about the kingdom. When He sent His disciples out to preach, they were to preach the same message about the kingdom of God, and they were to demonstrate the truth of it by healing, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and driving out the demonic powers that ruled in their lives. The enthusiasm of the entire New Testament revolves around the kingdom of God. Even after Jesus rose from the dead, His primary theme was the same. Acts 1:3 says, "He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God." Jesus began and ended His ministry on earth with the message of the kingdom.
Paul's focus was also on the kingdom, and we read in the very last verse of the book of Acts, where we see that last glimpse of Paul, "Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ." These are only a few references to make the point, for the evidence is too great to consider in detail, for the kingdom of God is referred to 140 times in the Gospels and Epistles. There is no New Testament teaching that is not intertwined with the kingdom of God. The more you grasp this, the more you recognize the importance of being enthused about the kingdom, for it is the key to all that matters in God's plan for man.
As citizens of the kingdom of God, we give our highest allegiance to the King of this kingdom. The idea of my country right or wrong is anti-Christian, for if my country is wrong, it must be resisted, and brought into conformity with the kingdom of God. To chose to follow your country, even when it goes contrary to the rule of God, is idolatry. It is not seeking God's kingdom first, but second or third, and anything less than first is idolatry. I bring out this idea just to show you how dangerous this prayer is. If Christians really desire God's rule to come, and to drive out the rule of evil forces, it becomes the basis for that kind of enthusiasm that leads to civil disobedience, and even revolution.
Enthusiasm for the kingdom is what turned the world upside down in the early church, and it has been the driving force behind the great social movements of history that have put an end to so much injustice. Volumes are filled with the heroes and heroines of history, who have prayed, Thy kingdom come, and proved they really meant it, by being a channel of God's love that gave God an open door to enter lives and reign there.
I had heard so much about Mother Teresa of Calcutta, but recently I read some of her writings, and discovered a marvelous Christlike woman. She loves the unlovely with a love only Christ can supply. She reaches out to the unwanted, unloved, and abandoned, and she gives them help and dignity. She helps the hopeless die with dignity, and live, knowing they were loved after all. In Calcutta alone she had taken in 30,000 people off the street by 1975. Most of these she led to seek God's pardon, and His love. She helps lepers believe God loves them, and that their horrible malady is not due to His rejection of them. She wrote of one old leper who was completely disfigured, who came to her and said, "Repeat that again; it does me good. I had always heard that no one loves us. It is wonderful to know God loves us. Say it again."
She discovered that the greatest hunger in the world is the hunger to be loved. The greatest disease and tragedy is to be unloved. She sees thousands die in peace just because they found out they are loved by God, and have proof of it in her ministry. You do not realize how hard it is to be Christlike until you read of one who is being Christlike. We tend to think of it as passive, but she shows us it is active. It is an invasion of the kingdom of darkness with light and love to lift the fallen and the crushed.
There have always been many who were enthused for the kingdom of God who sincerely thought they wanted God's will to reign, but who failed miserably, and brought disgrace to the name of God. Catholics and Protestants alike have tried to force the kingdom of God on others, and in so doing they wrote the darkest chapters of Christian history. Aldous Huxley in his novel, Ape and Essence, defined progress like this: "The theory that Utopia lies just ahead, and that ideal ends can justify the most abominable means, it is your privilege and duty to rob, swindle, torture, enslave, and murder, all of those who obstruct the onward march to earthly paradise."
Christians have, time and time again, become convinced that evil is legitimate for the cause of the kingdom, and they have disgraced the name Christian, and the name of our Lord, and of our heavenly Father. When Christians are evil and oppressive of others, it is not better than when non-Christians do it. It is worse, for they represent the kingdom of God. Someone said, "No rearrangement of bad eggs can make a good omelet." A Christian who denies me my rights and freedom is more evil than an atheist doing so, for the Christian is letting the kingdom of darkness use the resources of the kingdom of light. A traitor is more despicable than an enemy. We expect an enemy to be unjust, but we expect all in the family of God to be loving and good. The point I am making is, it is essential to have enthusiasm, but that alone is not enough.
This is why, hallowed be Thy name, is the first petition, and must have priority over the others. Nothing can be acceptable Christian behavior that brings dishonor to the name of God. If you by sheer force get people to conform to the kingdom, but they despise the king of the kingdom, the kingdom has not really come at all. You may form a legalistic culture as many have, where the laws of God are enforced on unwilling subjects. This is a slave culture, and not the kingdom of God. Where God truly reigns, the people chose to obey Him, for they love Him, and enjoy the liberty His law gives. Our enthusiasm for the kingdom must always be guided by the higher desire to honor the name of God. The history of Christian cruelty is the history of taking this second petition as number one, and excluding the first. This is forgetting that the kingdom only truly comes where the name of God is honored. This prayer is a desire that leads, not only to an experience of enthusiasm, but also to-
II. AN EXPERIENCE OF EXPECTATION.
If you want anything to come, the implication is that it is not yet here, and so this desire, by its very nature, looks to the future. We must live in expectation of its fulfillment. This expectation includes the immediate and the infinite future, as well as everything in between. It is a mistake to limit the coming of God's kingdom to anyone manifestation of it. Those who look only to the end of history miss the value of this prayer for the daily process of history. One of the strongest objections humanists have of Christianity is that it has often ignored human misery, and focused on future glory. This has often been true, but not because it was the way of Christ, or God's will.
The true desire for God to rule is not just a desire for someday, but for today. We are to desire it now, just as we desire daily bread. This is not a prayer Christians have prayed for nearly 2,000 years without an answer. It is answered daily in millions of lives. Therefore, it is a mistake to focus only on the ultimate expectation of the coming of the kingdom. If this is a prayer for the coming of the final kingdom only, then it is the most unanswered prayer in history. Multiplied millions have prayed it over and over through the centuries. If it has only one answer at the end of history, it is not very effective nor efficient, and it would then be more like the vain repetition that Jesus condemned in prayer.
Unfortunately, both Protestants and Catholics have seen this petition as a future focus only. Many Protestants see it as primarily relating to the millennial kingdom, where Christ will reign on earth. Maritain, the Catholic scholar, writes, "This petition, or this desire, relates first and above all to the future world, the world of eternity." My own conviction is that Jesus intended this prayer to be a practical guide for daily life. He expected God's name to be honored now in everyday life, and He expected the will of God to be done now; daily, in the life of the believer. We need daily bread, daily forgiveness, and daily deliverance from temptation. Why should we take all the desires of this prayer for man and make them current events, and then take the three first desires concerning God's person, power, and purpose, and treat them as relating to the distant future? This is both foolish and dangerous, for it is saying, God is not relevant for the now.
I think Jesus had just the opposite idea in mind. He expected the Christian who prays this prayer, with a desire for the kingdom to come, would expect it now, and not someday. The desire is for God's will to reign in the present. The ultimate reign of God is inevitable, and will come whether we pray or not. God's will will be done finally, but the real issue is, will it be done today, and will it be done by us? Will God's rule be effective in the decisions we make right now? For the millions who pray this prayer, that should be the primary question, and, therefore, the primary expectation should be for the kingdom to come, not just someday, but today.
Helmut Thielicke, the great German preacher, who kept preaching the Gospel even under Hitler, tells of a day of great discouragement. His church had been bombed, and was a heap of rubble and ashes. His people were scattered to the four winds. He stared into the concrete pit where 50 people had been killed. He was depressed as he was absorbed in the gloomy thoughts of it all. A woman came up and asked if he was the pastor, and when he said yes, she said, "My husband died down there...the cleanup squad was unable to find a trace of him....We were there the last time you preached in the Cathedral church. And here before this pit I want to thank you for preparing him for eternity."
Thielicke said the kingdom had come, even into that depressing environment. He had not been expecting it, but the point is, he should have, and all of us ought to always expect the kingdom of God to come. That is what we pray for, and that is what we should be always expecting, whatever the situation. Our desire is not just that God will ultimately reign, but that He will reign now, and over rule the power of evil, and bring forth good for time, as well as eternity.
We are praying, come and so reign in my life that whatever the circumstance, I can be used to be part of the answer rather than part of the problem. This is the prayer, not just of the eternal optimist, but of the present optimist who expects God to win even now. Augustine was right when he said, "It is the grace of living the right way that you ask for when you pray, Thy kingdom come." The whole idea of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, is that of being a channel by which the kingdom of God can come into this world now. This petition is to be an experience of enthusiasm and expectation that will make us a tool God can use to make more real to us, and the world, the king and the kingdom.