The Lord’s prayer could be the subject of several reflections in its own right and many theologians have given it their close attention. I will focus on two aspects – the nature of God’s Kingdom and the implications for those who have chosen to become members of the Kingdom.
As we come to Our Father in prayer we ask: “Thy Kingdom come“. What do we mean by the Kingdom of God – or the Kingdom of Heaven, which is the term used in Matthew’s gospel? The theme is at the heart of the recorded ministry of Jesus, yet it gets little attention in comparison with the Cross. We are used to thinking of kingdoms as being bases of power, where one un-elected monarch holds sway over everyone else. More often than not, that power is abused, and we see many of the Kings of Israel in the Old Testament failing to uphold God’s law and leading the people into the worship of false gods; the ultimate consequence of this being the bleak years of exile in Babylon.
We can portray God as King in a similar negative way; an all-powerful distant force who is there to police the world and ultimately judge us on our “performance” in life with an iron rod and with a stern, vindictive condemnation of our failings. The Bible teaches us that nothing could be farther from the truth! In the book of Romans, Paul reminds us that God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for all humankind on the cross.
During the exile, there was an expectation of a new Kingdom with a Messiah who would bring it in – following David’s line. Their presumption was that this new king would restore the people from the control of the Romans, and usher in a newly restored and liberated Israel that would be able to withstand all outside pressures. But Jesus brought in a different sort of Kingdom – one that we still struggle to understand, because his life demonstrated a God who identifies with and experiences our human suffering and grief – God with us: “Emmanuel”.
The Psalms and Old Testament prophets pave the way for understanding this radically different character of the expected King, someone who didn’t communicate through the earthquake and fire but used a “still small voice” to speak to Elijah, and we read in Isaiah of the King who would come as a “suffering servant”.
It was John the Baptist who brought a new dimension to their understanding:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”Matt. 3.1-2
Then, in the next chapter, Jesus announced his own ministry:
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”Matt. 4. 17
Throughout his life, Jesus demonstrated the authority of his kingship; over the elements of wind and storm:
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”Matt. 8. 27
Authority over sickness:
People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.Matt. 14. 35-36
Authority over demons:
if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.Matt. 12. 28
Authority over death itself:
He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”Mark 5. 39
His teaching was revolutionary, and none more so than in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, when he explained how the Kingdom of Heaven belonged to the poor in spirit, and those persecuted for righteousness. His Kingship challenged all conventional thinking – and still has the power to shock, even today.
Throughout his life, even though he was King, Jesus wept, prayed, and ultimately died with a crown of thorns on his head:
They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.Matt. 27. 28, 29
The Jews at the time were taken aback at this revelation of God – is this concept of the Kingdom of Heaven any more attractive to our generation? I think not.