By Rev. William M. Cwirla
“Thy kingdom come.” Really? Do we want that to happen? Really? Do we want to be ruled over, reigned over, lorded over? After all, we live in a democracy, not a kingdom. We have elected officials who do our bidding. We aren’t servants of a king. So what’s with this kingdom talk?
The King is the one who teaches this petition. He teaches us to pray to His Father and our Father, “Father, let your kingdom come.” Rule over us! Be our King! Make us your subjects! Why? Because the King is good and gracious, forgiving and merciful.
Think of the images of King Jesus in the Gospel. Riding into Jerusalem atop a borrowed donkey—a vehicle of peace. Crowned with thorns. Enthroned on a cross. Dying for His people. Waging holy war for us and for our salvation. A beggar King in a kingdom of beggars. That’s the sort of king Jesus is. Not like the kings of this world.
His kingdom is not of this world, although people mistakenly try to establish the kingdom of God on the earth. We don’t; He does. Subjects don’t establish the kingdom, the King does. And this King does it by dying and rising. In this world, God’s kingdom appears hidden like seed buried in soil, like yeast stirred into a lump of dough, like treasure hidden in a field. It seems insignificant compared to the kingdoms of this world, as insignificant as a tiny mustard seed. It’s vulnerable to attack. The devil can attack it like birds gobbling up seed off the pavement. The old evil foe can sow weeds among the kingdom’s wheat. Yet this seemingly small and weak kingdom is literally “to die for,” like the unique pearl of great price, and in the end, the kingdom triumphs because the King has already conquered by His cross.
In God’s kingdom the first are last and the last are first, so don’t bother lining up to boast. Eleventh hour hires get the same day’s wage as those who have worked the whole day. This is a kingdom of grace, of gifts given and received, not wages earned. Everything comes “without any merit or worthiness in us,” all thanks to Jesus the King. How does God’s kingdom come? In two ways—now and not yet. The kingdom of God comes to us now when the Word of God is preached into our ears and the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts. In our Baptism, in the preached Word, in the Supper of Jesus’ Body and Blood, the Father answers this petition by bestowing on us kingdom blessings and benefits: forgiveness, life, and salvation. The not yet kingdom comes to us finally at the appearing of the King in His glory on the Last Day and the raising of our bodies from the grave. Right now, the kingdom is by faith; it is not yet by sight. Now the kingdom is heard and believed; soon it will be seen.
The King is reflected in His subjects. To live under King Jesus in His kingdom is to do His goodness and mercy to others. Your love for others does not get you into the kingdom nor does it keep you in the kingdom. Your love is the love of the King for you reflected to others. It is His goodness and mercy at work in you. King Jesus has freed you from slavery to Sin, Death and Law, which means you are free to love and to do His goodness and mercy in the world. Martin Luther emphasized how great a petition this is. Imagine being invited into the presence of a very wealthy and powerful man who said, “Ask anything of me and I will give it to you,” and all you ask for is a bowl of soup or a crust of bread. That man would be insulted. Jesus is inviting, yes urging, His disciples to “think big” with their petitions. Go ahead! Dare to ask for the kingdom!
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring.
For His grace and power are such
None can ever ask too much.
(Lutheran Service Book #779)
What gets in the way of all this is our unbelief. We barely trust God with the little temporal things. We hardly ask God for the things we need for our bodies and lives much less recognize that all that we have is a gift from God. We worry more about what we will eat, what we will wear, what songs are on our iPods, what cell phones we have, whom we will date or not date. And in our unbelief, we forget the words of Jesus, “But seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. ” (Matthew 6:33).
So what are we praying for when we pray, “Thy kingdom come?” We are praying for the Word, that it would have its killing-and-making-alive way with us, that the Spirit would work faith in our hearts, that the old Adam in us would be killed and Christ would be raised in us, that we would come to the full joy of the freedom that is ours as citizens of heaven and subjects of King Jesus. We are praying that King Jesus would come, now through Word and Sacrament, and soon by His appearing.
Jesus died and rose to give us the kingdom. How could we ask for anything less? And if He promises to give us the kingdom, how will He not give us all that we need in this life?
Our Father in heaven...
Thy kingdom come!
Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California, and the President of Higher Things. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.