Teach us to Pray About the Kingdom
Doesn't the Lord's Prayer start in a funny manner? We begin by praying for 3 things that belong to God. "Hallowed be THY name;" "THY kingdom come;" And, "THY will be done." Seems funny to pray for things that belong to God. Why should He need our prayers? Our Catechism, in fact, recognizes that God doesn't need them saying, "God's name is certainly holy by itself;" "the kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer." And, "the good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer." And yet, we pray.
Tonight, in Gethsemane, is different. Human prayers were asked for and needed. Humanly speaking, the kingdom of God is in the balance tonight. Christ, His soul being overwhelmed to the point of death, plainly says that He doesn't want to drink the cup of God's wrath and judgement and asks the 3 disciples to keep watch and pray. Our Passion reading, however, doesn't preserve the full depth of His being overwhelmed. Christ doesn't tell His disciples He's overwhelmed then go a little bit further and fall down. No, Mark tells us that as Jesus went away from the disciples He kept on falling down, His legs giving out as a man being led to the electric chair might buckle. His legs gave out several times till "He fell with His face to the ground and prayed."
And make sure you see the Passion, that is the suffering, in the prayer of Christ. Hebrews 5 tells us that He offered up prayers "with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death." Make sure you see that the great drops of blood falling from His face are being forced out of Him by the greater anguish pressing on His soul. Christ doesn't want to go to hell for our sins. Christ doesn't want to drink the cup of wrath that our sins have filled. It is too full; too painful; too hellish; too frightening.
Christ could have stopped Himself from drinking it, you know? That's what He says to Peter. "Do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than 12 legions of angels?" A legion had from 3000 to 6000 soldiers. Do you think the large crowd of temple police and Roman soldiers would be any match for 36,000 to 72,000 angels? 1 angel in the Old Testament killed 185,000 soldiers. Do you think Jesus even needed angels to save Himself from going to the cross? With just two words in Greek, "I am," He flattened the arresting crowd.
No one could've made Jesus go to the cross. Yet, if Jesus doesn't go, the kingdom cannot come to anyone. Can you see why Jesus asked for their prayers? I know that bothers some of you. Jesus is God; why should He need our prayers? I could respond; Jesus is God; why should He need an angel from heaven to strengthen Him? Jesus is wrestling with the coming cross as you wrestle with doing the right thing in the crosses and crises that approach you. He wrestles as a Man in the same way that you wrestle. He is in anguish like you are in anguish. He is overwhelmed like you are overwhelmed. He cries like you cry. He begs to God like you beg to God. He asks for the prayers of His friends as you ask for the prayers of yours.
But the disciples don't pray for Him. They don't pray for Jesus to do the will of God, as Jesus did. They don't pray for the kingdom to come. What weak men they are. These men only a little while before had promised to stay with Jesus even through death. They said they would face dying rather than abandoned Jesus. Here in Gethsemane they couldn't even face tiredness. They couldn't even stay awake with Him.
To see their actions as heinous as they really are, remember that Jesus asks for them to pray with Him not once but twice. Remember Jesus tells them His very soul is overwhelmed to the point of death. Remember that they watch their much loved Jesus stumble off into the night His legs giving out until He collapses in a quivering, sobbing heap. Remember that since the Gospel writers record what happen and Hebrews does too, some of the disciples heard Him sobbing, heard Him pleading, and saw the bloody sweat. Yet, rather than pray for Him, they slept.
Do you think we are any less culpable? Jesus commands us to pray for His kingdom to come, but do we? I think we take it for granted that the kingdom comes to us. I need to pray for my health, my family, my job, my country; the kingdom coming can take care of itself. But our Catechism says that we are to pray that the kingdom come among us as if it's not automatically here. We've got it just the opposite of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. He said that we should seek the kingdom knowing that all the other things we need for daily life will be added to us as well. But we seek all the other things and assume the kingdom is added.
You know what happens when you don't pray for the kingdom? You end up doing what the disciples did in this text. You end up trying to establish or save or bring the kingdom of God by force. Peter resorts to the sword; I resort to thinking the kingdom only comes if I do something. I will force it out of heaven by my holy living, my programs to build the church, my straining and striving, working and worrying.
Of course, what ultimately will result from not praying for the kingdom to come is fleeing, running, deserting Jesus. That's what happened to the disciples, isn't it? Jesus wanted their prayers so that He might be strengthened to do what the Father willed. Jesus wanted what His Father wanted. He wanted the kingdom even though it would come in the form of a bloody, torturous cross. Jesus wanted the kingdom to come if His Father willed it even if it was by means of a cup filled with all the punishments mankind deserves. The disciples were frightened by the kingdom coming that way. We too can't imagine the kingdom coming by means of a cross. The kingdom of God can't come to me wrapped in cancer, job troubles, terrorist attacks, pain, hardship, sorrow, grief. But the kingdom does.
Here we are at last to the Good News. The kingdom of God comes even without our prayers. The disciples failed to pray; instead they added more sins to the overflowing cup of God's eternal judgment. Yet Jesus drank it. God's kingdom came to earth, to sinners like us who manifestly don't deserve it, when Jesus got up from His prayers and faced His betrayer. The holy kingdom of God could not come where sins were. Christ drained the cup of wrath and so removed the sins. There was only one sinner in the garden that night: It was Jesus. All of the judgment of God, all the torments of hell descended upon the holy head of Jesus who stood guilty of our sins.
The Father saw only one sinner in Gethsemane that night, Jesus. That's why Jesus could say, "Let these men go." "Let go Peter, James and John, they are not guilty of failing to pray, I am," says Jesus even though He is the only One who did pray. "Let her go," says Jesus. "She's not guilty, "I am." "Let him go," says Jesus, "He's not guilty of shameful lust, greed, gossiping, an unbelief. I am." So they all go scot-free. So we go scot-free. Though are sins are many and mighty serious worthy of imprisonment, mocking, beating, spitting, whipping; worthy of being led naked through the streets to be made fun; worthy of being nailed brutally to a cross; worthy of the flames of hell burning every inch of our body till our tongues swell up and split; though are sins are worthy of all this punishment, we are let go, freed, because Jesus endures it all in our place!
I am freed from the punishment and judgment I deserve. I am freed from God accusing me. I am freed from my conscience accusing me. I am so free that I know of not one single thing in all of my life that I need to feel the least bit guilty about. Inhaling such grace, such freedom, such release into my body, into my very soul, causes me to exhale prayer. Can you see this from how the Lord teaches us to pray? He tells us to first pray for His name to be hallowed. This is done when God's Word is taught in truth and purity. The pure Word of God brings to us the sweet, delicious Gospel of God in Christ. Inhaling that Gospel causes us to exhale the prayer, "Thy kingdom come."
But how does God's kingdom come? The early editions of Luther's Small Catechism pictured how in a woodcut. I would think some of you older members, particularly those of you confirmed in German, might have seen this. The woodcut for this petition was the scene of the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit being poured out on the Church. The kingdom comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. And what does our Catechism specifically say the Holy Spirit does? He gives us grace so that "we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity."
We don't build the kingdom of God; we receive it. But it takes a special gift of grace to believe we are receiving the kingdom of God. This goes back to what I was saying earlier about the kingdom coming in, with, and under the cross. What happens to us in life seems no more compatible to the kingdom coming to us than what happened to Christ seems compatible to the kingdom coming. The kingdom coming is always accompanied by the cross. That's because Satan marshals all of His forces against wherever the kingdom is breaking out because that kingdom coming means his is being pushed out, overcome, defeated. Read the Book of Acts. Wherever the kingdom starts to blossom, there Satan is on the attack.
He attacks with internal fears, doubts, worries, and more. He attacks with external sickness, affliction, persecution, and more. How are you suppose to believe the kingdom is coming to you when you feel more sinful the more serious you are about the forgiveness of sins? How are you suppose to believe the kingdom is coming to you when you look like such a stranger to it? I mean those in heaven aren't in hospital beds, aren't afflicted with disease, aren't attacked and afflicted by others, are they?
Dear friend, in such circumstances only the Holy Spirit by His grace can make you believe that you are indeed in the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit will bring you His grace by His Word. A Christian brother or sister will assure you that though you feel kicked out of the kingdom that the kingdom yours remaineth. Some sermon, some devotion, some pastor or person will come to you in the midst of your afflictions and doubts and point out that none of these nullify your Baptism by which the kingdom was brought to you. Or while in the hospital surrounded by sickness, suffering, and sorrow, your pastor will come to you with the Body and Blood of Christ testifying to you that you are indeed in the kingdom though not a speck of you feels that way.
We pray about the kingdom because everything around us argues against the kingdom coming to us. But just as neither sin, death, or the devil prevented or even slowed Christ from winning and bringing the kingdom, even so these three enemies can't slow the Holy Spirit from bringing you the kingdom now. Why not? Because it's God's will that you have the kingdom. But more about that next week when we take up the petition after Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent II, Wednesday (2-20-02), Second Petition