The Greatest Prayer Week 3 - Thy Kingdom Come

When I was a kid I used to like to go to Burger King.  This was in the days before the Happy Meal, and Burger King pretty much flogged McDonald's when it came to kid friendly crud because they gave you a paper crown to wear.

I would wear my paper crown with pride even after I left the BK.  As my mom ran errands and did her thing around town with me in tow, other children would stare at me in jealousy because they knew I had just eaten at BK.  I felt like... well, royalty.

Wearing a paper crown sort of does something to your psyche when your five years old.  At least it did to me, which may tell you way too much about my psyche.  At any rate, I felt different.  There were all the poor children shuffling through the grocery store without a crown and then there was me.  King.  Ruler of all that I surveyed.  I could sit in the grocery cart and wave to them with that sort of backhanded wave that kingly people wave. 

The crown, however, was paper and prone to falling apart quickly.  And it didn't take long before I grew tired of wearing it or it broke, and then my reign would end as abruptly as it began.

This world is full of Burger King tyrants.  It always has been.  Rulers come and go.  Kingdoms rise and fall.  In the great, grand scheme of things it's like they were all wearing paper crowns.

As Christians we draw contrasts between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God.  We teach that the kingdoms of this world are fleeting and temporary, but the Kingdom of God will last forever.  Jesus was so concerned about the Kingdom of God that he essentially based his entire ministry and mission on proclaiming that it had not only arrived, but was being fulfilled in it's fullness.  He would often say that it was "coming" and "is now."  We are called to live in expectation of it's arrival even while we live into the reality that it is breaking through all around us.

When Jesus prayed, "Thy Kingdom Come," he was expressing a very Jewish idea that was re-imagined in light of his mission.  In a very real way he was giving voice to the hope that comes from joy--the kind of joy that can only be found in freedom. 

And that's the point, the meaning of that great line from The Greatest Prayer: "True Joy Comes From Freedom In Christ."

So what did Jesus mean when he said "the Kingdom of God?"  The ancient Jewish mindset interpreted that phrase as the "rule or reign of God," and even a "present reality" that was brought on by partnership with God.  Others defined it as the "ruling style" of God.  Basically, what we can draw from this is that the Kingdom of God is God-centered.  It's all about God.  It's God's presence, God's reality, God's way of being and creating, shaping and redeeming. 

And God's way of being, creating, shaping and redeeming is wrapped up in his Son, Jesus Christ

In Luke chapter 4 we see the story of how Jesus comes back to his hometown after being away.  He comes to the synagogue for worship and is invited as a "visiting" rabbit to read the Scripture.  In a town that only had about 1700 people living in it, most of the people gathered there that day would have known him well.  They were waiting with anticipation to hear what their hometown boy turned rabbi would teach.   Jesus turned to Isaiah chapter 61, a passage of Scripture that describes the Year of Jubilee.  Here's what Jesus read:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
   19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
 Then he handed the scroll back to the guy who handled scrolls and said, "You have now witnessed this prophecy coming true."  The people in the synagogue didn't take too kindly to his declaration that God's promised kingdom was being realized through him.  They also didn't like the way he emphasized that Gentiles, poor people, lepers, outcasts and the like were about to have joy and freedom.  These people had seen the Romans destroy the Gaililean capital of Sepphoris in 6 A.D. so that they could rebuild it as a Roman city. 

They decided to lynch Jesus as a result.  His hometown people.  Who had known him his whole life. 
Sometimes people have embraced slavery and unhappiness for so long that they cannot embrace anything else. 

Here's the thing, though.  There is a reason why Jesus used that particular passage from Isaiah, and a reason why he wanted to highlight the Year of Jubilee.  The Year of Jubilee was a special celebration that occurred every 49 or 50 years.  It literally means "shout for joy."  Anyone who had sold themselves into slavery to pay a debt were freed.  Anyone who had lost their family land because of foreclosure, bankruptcy, etc. had it returned to them.  This practice meant that no Israelite family could ever be in permanent slavery, nor could any Israelite family permanently lose their inheritance. 

Imagine if this was a practice that people actually kept.  I can. 

When I was in seminary, I racked up a phenomenal library fine for a bunch of books I had out to study for exams, write papers and prepare for ordination.  The bill was something around $200.  I finally had to pay it so I could graduate.  We didn't have $200 to spare, but I had to pay it.  My wife was not thrilled with me as a result.  When I went into the library and gave them my information, I readied my checkbook to write the check.  "Oh," the library assistant said, "your fine was cancelled."  I was incredulous.  "How did that happen?" I asked.  "It's the Year of Jubilee," she said, "and the school cancelled all fines and late fees." 

Let me tell you, I had some joy on the way home that day. 

It is hard for us to imagine a world without slavery, without debt, without war, without the pressure to succeed, to get more... to win.  While there might be things that would be good about God's reign, we find ourselves worrying a bit what it might mean for us if God ruled everything, including us.  What would we lose?  What would we be compelled to give up? 

You see, God not only seeks to reign in the world, but also in the hearts of people.  God wants there to be joy as a result of freedom in Christ not just in heaven and on earth, but in us. 

Here's something else.  When we pray "Thy Kingdom Come" we are basically admitting that God's kingdom has not yet fully arrived, and we are committing to furthering it, and embodying it and making it a reality any way that we can.  We can't bring it.  We can't make it happen.  We can't force it.  But we are part of it, and for some strange reason, God doesn't want to enact his kingdom without us.

D.L. Moody once said, "The world has yet to discover what God can do with one life that is totally committed to him."  What would it look like if we stopped thwarting the kingdom with our fear and apathy, and our mopey-ness?  What would it look like if we started being the kinds of people who let God get a hold us of so that we could show the world what pure joy is all about?

In Jeremiah 23:5 the prophet speaks about the One who will spring up and who will be used by God to bring about his kingdom.   
5 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
   “when I will raise up for David[a] a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
   and do what is just and right in the land.
 Jesus is that king.  He has arrived.  The kingdom of God in Christ is breaking through all around us.  Where do you see it?  I see it every time I see someone in my church who steps outside their comfort zone to care for the lost, the lonely, the hungry and hopeless.  I see it when leaders do what is right even though it costs them.  I see it when children draw chalk pictures of crosses and sunrises and letters to God on the sidewalks outside of our children's class rooms.  I see it when teenagers in our youth group take a week of their lives to care for severely disabled children, who will never know what it's like to feel normal.  I see it in every act of kindness, grace, mercy, goodness and gentleness.  I see it when we have a whole roomful of people stand after a sermon on Sunday morning because they are tired of living the same...old...way. 

Do you want to feel joy in your life?  I do.  I need some joy.  I need to run through God's creation with bare feet, my arms flung up in the air and laughter on my lips.  I want so desperately to embrace the moment when I see my wife unexpectedly walk into the room and I fall in love with her all over again.  I want to hold on to those feelings that I get when I hold my baby son close to my cheek and he laughs when my beard tickles him. 

That kind of unadulterated, pure joy can be ours when we pray with all of our hearts that God's kingdom would come, that it would happen, that it would be realized in our hearts and in the world.  True joy comes from that kind of freedom.  Freedom found in Christ. 


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