Summary: The kingdom for which we pray in the Lord's Prayer will come in fullness in the perfect future which God has planned. In the meantime, it is urgent that we demonstrate the kingdom's values in the present.
GOD’S ULTIMATE FUTURE AND
“Your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.”
Matthew 6:10, NRSV
This is now the third sermon in a series on the Lord’s Prayer, and the approach I have taken is that this prayer, if allowed to do so, will shape us into maturing disciples of Jesus. My understanding of prayer is that it is not so much directed at changing God and getting what we want as it is directed at changing us and getting what God wants. Every petition in the prayer is designed to refashion our desires and to bring them into alignment with God’s.
This is nowhere more evident than in today’s petition, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This, in fact, is the heart of the prayer. All the other petitions beat with the pulse of this one, in which we express our longing for God’s kingdom to come in its fullness.
But what exactly are we praying for when we say, “Your kingdom come”? In order to answer this question, I would like to ask three other questions and offer a brief answer to each of them.
I. Where Is the Kingdom?
Let’s start with the question, where? Where is the kingdom of God to be found? Many will tell you that the kingdom of God is in heaven and that, as a matter of fact, heaven itself is the kingdom of God, and that, when we die, we enter the kingdom. I would have to disagree with that answer.
Truly, the kingdom of God includes heaven, but it is not limited to heaven. The kingdom also includes earth, or, at least, that is what we ask for in this prayer, that it will extend itself to cover the whole created order. Listen again to what we say each and every Sunday: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth....” On earth! as it is in heaven.
To be exact, the kingdom of God is not a place at all. It is a force. It is the active reign of God in every place to which it extends. It is where God’s will is “done on earth, as it is in heaven.” In Luke, chapter 17, we are told that “Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you’” (Luke 17:20f.).
And what did Jesus mean by that? He meant that where he is, there is the kingdom. He is the perfect embodiment of God’s will being “done on earth, as it is in heaven.” If we are in him, then we are in the kingdom, but note this: the same obedience that characterized Jesus is to characterize us. We, too, must become an embodiment of God’s will being “done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Where Jesus is followed and God is obeyed -- there you see the kingdom in force. There you see God actively reigning. You might say that where the people of God are, there is the kingdom in midst.
But, of course, we are not perfectly obedient to God, not with the consistency that Jesus was. So, we have to qualify things a bit to say that where the people of God are, there, more or less, is the kingdom at work.
II. When Is the Kingdom?
If the first question has to do with where the kingdom is, the second question has to do with when it comes. We might ask, “When is the kingdom?”
You will recall that, after Jesus was baptized by John at the Jordan and tested by Satan in the wilderness, he emerged on the scene with these words on his lips: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17, NRSV, margin). It’s arrival was near, and it was near because he was beginning his great work. His call to repentance meant then, as it does now, that the nearness of the kingdom creates an atmosphere of urgency. We must prepare ourselves for it. We must shift our attitude from one of self-preoccupation with our own desires to an attitude of attention to God’s desires. Repentance means that we change our minds about what’s important. It means that a new necessity drives us. No longer are we to be motivated by money, sex, and power, but by righteousness, justice, and faithfulness to God.
N. T. Wright is the bishop of Durham and a New Testament scholar without equal in my judgment. Bishop Wright describes the kingdom as God’s “ultimate future and urgent present.” What does he mean?