The Greatest Martyr on Earth: Is a Breath of Fresh Air


How easy it is to say the Lord's Prayer without thinking. How easy it is to make it an offering to God rather an asking of God. How easy it is to think that the words are magic just saying them does something. No wonder Luther called the Lord's Prayer the greatest martyr on earth. Even so it can be a breath of fresh air.

It is, that is, if your air is stale, close, insufficient. Some people are more sensitive to air issues than others. On those ozone action days, some really should stay indoors. Some people regularly have to step outside to get some air. What is true physically is also true spiritually. A hymn we sing calls prayer "the Christian's vital breath" (TLH 454:5). For some their breathing is heavy, ragged, labored. But not for all.

Some breathe just fine in what Luther called "this valley of sorrow" (Lord's Prayer, 7th Petition Explanation), in what St. Paul called "this present darkness" (Ep. 6:12) and "this present evil age" (Gal. 1:4). Only for the one who has breathed the air of the coming world is this present world something unbearable (Teaching Luther's Catechism, 245). Only for him who has given up the dream of reforming or perfecting this present age by the efforts of men is the petition "Thy kingdom come" a refreshing breeze (Ibid. 246). Only for the one who has breathed deep the air of the coming morning is the air of this night heavy and thick (Ibid. 250). Only to him who the kingdom of God is life in the open air is life in this world shut-up under a closed, leaden sky (Ibid. 251).

For those belabored with breathing now, being able to pray "Thy kingdom come" with the knowledge that "the kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer" work, worry, or effort is a joy, a relief, a breath of fresh air on a hot, stuffy day. For those who struggle to breath in this fallen, oppressed world "Thy kingdom come" is like the child with little or nothing singing, "Here comes Santa Claus, Here comes Santa Clause, Right down Santa Clause lane."

Why do I make this comparison? Because if you don't get a breath of fresh air from praying "Thy kingdom come," you're the spoiled kid who has too much. You're Scrooge who sees nothing more in Christmas than humbug. You're the Grinch whose small heart is quite content with a Christmas-less world. Dropping the figures and exposing the cold, hard damning reality, if you don't get a breath of fresh air from the petition "Thy kingdom come," you're content with a world without the kingdom of God.

But that's not any of you. You need, want, have to have the fresh air of the kingdom of God. But why do I liken the kingdom coming to a breath of fresh air? Because when we're talking the kingdom of God we're talking Spirit of God. The early church saw this connection. Several New Testament manuscripts have for the phrase "Thy kingdom come," "May Thy Holy Spirit come." Luther clearly saw the connection between Spirit and Kingdom saying in our Small Catechism, "God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit."

God's kingdom can't come to us apart from the Holy Spirit. We can't have the Spirit apart from the Person and Work of Jesus. The Spirit left Adam and Eve the second they sinned. We in turn are conceived in the womb void of the Holy Spirit being too fallen, dirty, dead for the Dove of the Spirit to land on us. God the Son as a Person of the Holy Trinity had the Spirit without measure, but to be able to give us fallen children of men the Holy Spirit He would need to win the Holy Spirit for us as a Man.

God the Father sent Him into our time and space as a Man to do that. Through 30 years of perfect living, never a wrong deed, never a misspoken word, never even an errant thought, the Man Jesus born of the Virgin Mary won the right for the Holy Spirit to descended on Him and remain. So if you touched the flesh of Jesus, you touched the Holy Spirit. The nostrils of Jesus breathed on you and you felt the Spirit's breath. The Word of the Man Jesus were not just life but Spirit.

That's all fine and good. Jesus the Man won the Spirit for His flesh and blood, but how did He come to have the right to give this Breath of fresh Air, this Breath of Life, to us who by nature are children of wrath, dead in our trespasses and sins, and blind to all that is Spirit? It would take dying to get that done. Think of the few times in your life you have been really mad and the white hot zeal you felt expressing it. That's God the Father punishing God the Son. On Jesus He sees the guilt of everyone who refuses to trust God; of everyone who misuses God's name; of everyone who doesn't hold God's Word and preaching scared and gladly hear and learn it; on Jesus God sees the guilt of boldly open and cleverly secret sinners.

God punished all of these sins to the fullest on God the Son hanging on the cross. Then beaten, whipped, tortured, and crucified by not only men but by the wrath of God against our sins, Jesus handed over the Spirit. Your English will water down Matthew 27:50 and John 19:30. They both say at death Jesus gave up "His Spirit," but the Greek is clear. At death He gave up "the Spirit." See this graphically. After the Father has unleashed the last thunderbolt of His wrath against your sins, after the Son has declared His suffering for your debt of sin finished, the holy flesh and blood of Jesus exhales and out comes the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit being holy goes right to the realm of heaven. But when Jesus, risen from the dead as proof that God the Father has accepted His death as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, arrives in heaven He pours out the Holy Spirit on all flesh. How? By putting His Holy Spirit in things that touch flesh and blood men. In Water that touches skin; in Words that vibrate ear drums, in Body-Bread that can be eaten and Blood-Wine that can be drank.

The Breath of Fresh Air that is the Spirit comes whenever we utter just the petition, "Thy kingdom come." Whenever we pray the Lord's Prayer or any part of it, the Father doesn't answer with "no" or "maybe" or even "wait" but with a loud, resounding "YES" (LW, 43, 38). And do note that we pray "Thy kingdom come" to us, not "let us come to Thy kingdom" as though we had to move to Him (LW, 43, 41). Think of the drowning victim dragged from the water and through chest compressions and breaths of air, his lungs fill up with air and up he sits up with a gasp. That's what happens when drowning men and women pray, "Thy kingdom come."

"God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us Holy Spirit," we say in our Catechism. Every time you return to your Baptism, the Holy Spirit is given you anew. In every Absolution, you are given the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion is not only the communion of the Body and Blood of Jesus but of His Spirit. When you receive the Holy Spirit, you receive God's kingdom. Augustine pointed out Jesus did not say "My kingdom is not in this world" but "My kingdom is not of this world (Christianity and Classical Culture, 510). His kingdom is here wherever His Spirit is.

Our Large Catechism says the kingdom is where God governs us as a king protecting us from sin, death, and an evil conscience (LC, III, 51). This is happening right now in this present darkness, in this valley of sorrow, in this evil age. Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in its purity and the Sacraments are used according to Christ's institution sins are being forgiven, death is being defeated, and evil consciences are being silenced.

In God's kingdom the grace won by Jesus is delivered by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace, "so that by His grace we believe His holy Word," as we confess in the Catechism. His holy Word says in Revelation 19:6, "The Lord our God omnipotent reigns." That means right now we can do more than sing along with choirs as they trumpet Handle's "Hallelujah Chorus." We can live it; we can confess it; we can inhale that chorus like a breath of fresh air. Yes, even in this present darkness, this present evil age, this valley of sorrow our God reigns and His kingdom comes to us.

Sin, death, and unbelief do not stop or even slow the kingdom from coming. The fact that we can't see it with these eyes means nothing. The kingdom of God has always been veiled to everything but the eyes of faith. God hid life and death under the fruit of trees in Eden. God hid the Promise Seed in incredibly sinful men for thousand of years. God wrapped Himself in flesh and blood and was hidden in a virgin's womb, in an ordinary birth, and in an ordinary childhood. Even in His ministry Jesus was hidden to those who saw only a carpenter's son or worse a son conceived out of wedlock. And could the King of God's kingdom be anymore hidden than in a criminal's death on a cross?

As Elisha prayed for his servant, so I pray for us, "Open our eyes Lord" that we might see Thy kingdom hidden today in baptizing Waters, absolving Words, and communicating Bread and Wine. Grant that we might see You here, so we might breathe the fresh air of your kingdom which is the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus' sake. Forgiveness is the rest of the answer to "How does God's kingdom come?" "God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word" deep breath here, then go on, "and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity."

Read about Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke 1. They are both described as "walking blameless in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord." How on earth could that be? Only in the kingdom of God; only in the kingdom of God. And that's what the first part of Luke 1:6 says, "They were both righteous in the sight of God." In the kingdom of God where the Spirit brings us for Jesus' sake, God sees us as leading godly lives here in time and there in eternity. Being in His kingdom, God sees none of our sins, none of our failings, none of our shortcomings. Exhale a sigh of relief and inhale a breath of fresh air from the Kingdom that has come once more to you. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Advent Vespers (20131218); Lord's Prayer 2nd Petition