by Rev. Christopher Lewis,
Nothing is Impossible Ministries
When Jesus’ disciples, the men who travelled together with him for three years to learn under his tutelage, asked him to teach them how to pray, he gave them a very interesting model prayer. It’s one that has been prayed by many throughout the centuries, though I fear that many pray the words without really grasping what they mean.
He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4) NIV
It’s a very interesting prayer, a very earthy prayer in fact. I’m particularly interested today in these words: “your Kingdom come.” Jesus didn’t tell them to pray, take me up to heaven someday but “your kingdom come.” What did he mean?
I suppose it might help us to think about this question: What is the “Gospel”? The word “gospel” is one that is used often by Christians, and it means literally “good news.” But what is the good news that Jesus came to bring?
Some think that the good news is simply that if we will believe in him we can go to heaven someday. However, in his ministry, Jesus preached “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17) He didn’t talk about his kingdom being something that was only far away in the heavens, and his news wasn’t simply that you can go to the kingdom someday. He actually talked about something that was near, and when he taught his followers to pray, he didn’t tell them to pray, take us up to your kingdom someday. Rather, he taught them to pray, “Your kingdom come.”
In order to better understand these words, “your kingdom come,” it can help to know something about the world in which Jesus first said these words. He was entering into the age old story of the Jewish people. They had once had their own nation, but then they had gone into exile in a foreign land. For years, they dreamed of going back into their land, the land of Israel.
Now they lived in the land again, but they were still in a form of exile. They were living under foreign rule and had now for several centuries. They were hoping for freedom. And they believed, as the Old Testament had shown them that freedom would come through the Messiah that was to be sent by God. The word Messiah, from the Jewish Scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament, means “anointed one.” They were waiting for the anointed one, the Messiah, to come from heaven and to bring his kingdom.
And what did these words, “Kingdom of Heaven” mean? They did not refer to a place. Rather, they referred to God’s rule coming to earth; His justice and peace on earth. They were waiting for a king.
As to how they interpreted this “rule of God” coming to earth, it depended on who you talked to. While they waited for the coming of God’s kingdom, there were basically three different groups of Jews who each chose a different way to use their time and live their lives until the King came.
1) The first group are the ones we might call separatists. Their approach toward how they would wait for the coming of God’s kingdom was as follows: Separate yourself from the wicked world and just wait for God to do whatever He’s gonna do
2) The second group are the ones we might call the compromisers. They would be represented by the example of King Herod in the Bible. He took this following point of view to heart: build yourself fortresses and palaces, get along with your political bosses as well as you can, do as well out of it as you can and just hope that God will bless it somehow anyway.
3) Then there was the third group, who were called the “zealots.” This was their approach toward waiting for the kingdom: take the kingdom by force, fight a holy war and bring in the kingdom on earth by military means.
Now Jesus was a true revolutionary. He came to turn all their expectations upside down. His option was a fourth option…one that totally fit with the predictions of the Old Testament, but which they’d all missed until he came. He WAS the expected KING, but his KINGDOM was different than anything they’d ever imagined.
Jesus didn’t do things the way people expected him to. In fact, he turned all their expectations upside down. From the world’s point of view, in many ways the Kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom. When God’s rule comes into a group of people, it takes a form that no other government or political movement on earth would even consider.
In Luke 4, Jesus stood up in front of a Jewish synagogue and explained the values of his kingdom and his interpretation of the words, “good news,” with the following words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) NIV
When Jesus told his people to pray, “Your Kingdom come,” he was calling for a massive revolution. However, it was a revolution of a different kind. Rather than a call to upward mobility and a fight for free-market economy, it was a call to downward mobility. A call to “humble yourself in the sight of the Lord,” to “be the servant of all.” It was a call to speak out for those who did not have a voice in the world, to set the captives free, to release the oppressed. It was a call to the kind of revolution that only comes through love and service.
When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” we’re praying that God’s way of thinking would become our way of thinking, and that his concerns would rule in our lives. We’re praying that we would become less selfish and more selfless. We’re not praying that our political party would win the next election, but we are praying that God would help us to stand up for issues of justice in the world and to seek ways to reach out to the poor, the sick and the hurting.
Whenever we reach out in these ways, God’s rule starts to take hold in our world. We get glimpses of his kingdom NOW, knowing that one day his Kingdom will arrive completely.
“But,” someone might say to me, “doesn’t the good news mean we will have eternal life?”
Yes, of course it does! Jesus said:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) NIV
The Greek word translated “eternal,” however, does not just refer to something that starts at some day in the future after you die. The word, aionios, refers to something that has no end and will never cease. However, it refers to something that starts now and continues into eternity.
In other words, in biblical thinking, eternal life begins immediately when we trust Jesus. He comes into our life and then desires us to submit to him as King now and forever. Submitting to him as king, of course, does not just mean going to church and doing religious things. It means submitting our very lives into his hands and seeking to live in such a way that his kingdom principles are lived out in us.
And so we pray, “Your kingdom come.”
I wonder, when a young starving boy prays this in an African slum, what kind of image he has in mind. “Your kingdom come.” Or the woman who is being sold into slavery in order for her children to eat, or the little girl dying of AIDS.
When we consider that 25,000 children die every day of hunger, poverty, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other related causes, what does it mean to pray, “Your kingdom come”?
That’s the equivalent of 1 child dying every 3.5 seconds.
And let’s consider the rest of this model prayer Jesus gave us. He said things like this: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Some people act like being a Christian is just about getting by on earth until the “real life” begins in heaven. But Jesus told us to pray that his will be done on earth.
About 1.1 billion people in the world don’t have adequate access to water, something you and I might take for granted, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation. Many millions of people around the world don’t have access to healthcare. Between 1 and 1.5 million people die of malaria every year, a disease that could easily be cured for less than the price of a meal at McDonald’s.
“Your Kingdom come.”
I wonder what it means for little Peter, a young man I know in the Mathare slums in Nairobi, when he prays, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
As I said, it’s really a very earthy prayer. It’s about praying for God’s rule to come into the everyday situations of life, where people are suffering. And, if we read it in the context of the rest of the Bible, it’s clearly about praying with the knowledge that God wants those of us who can help to play a part in the answer.
Even the words, “Forgive as we forgive those who have sinned against us,” take on an especially powerful tone if we think of them in the terms of their original context.
The original audience lived under Roman rule, in an atmosphere of oppression. They longed for deliverance.
Just like in the Mathare slums, where Peter lives. The people live in “houses” made of the flimsiest, dirtiest of materials. The first time I visited Mathare, I noticed a stream of dirty water running down the uneven, dirt road. I was told that it was both the drinking water and the toilet for the residents. Rubbish lined the roads and filled the corners between the homes. The pastor of a local church told us that diseases like malaria, diphtheria, AIDs, etc. were just as common to them as the common cold is to Americans, if not more so. And I was told that the local government charges the people to live there. Their leaders live nearby in mansions paid for partially by their rent.
“Forgive those who have sinned against us…”
What about this part of the prayer?
“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…”
I think about the many children I’ve met who steal bread, and the girls who have been sold into prostitution…spurred on by sheer desperation.
“Yours is the kingdom and the power and glory forever. Amen.”
The Bible assures us that one day every wrong will be made right, God’s Kingdom will come fully, all evil will be judged, the oppressed will be set free. But the Bible also makes it clear that God’s Kingdom is meant to break into the world NOW through those of us who claim to follow him.
What are you and I doing to see to it that bits of God’s rule breaks into a world where so much pain and injustice still reign? I wonder if, after thinking about these thoughts, we’ll think a little differently about these words when we pray, “Your Kingdom come.”