A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on April 1, 2012.
O Loving God, you know both our deepest longings and what is best for us even when they are different. Do not let us shrink back from the commitments that we made on clearer days. Keep us on the path that we chose when there were less distractions in our lives and keep us on that path, following your son in all the ways that further your will, in all the ways that honor him, and in all the ways that keep us true to the most bold promises we once made to you. Help us to see through distractions and to lay aside any and all things that hinder our following. As individuals, call us again to participate in your work. Call us again to be your hands and to do it only with your heart. Grant that we might see the impact of our efforts for you, and help us once again to know the joy that you place within us when we labor in your kingdom. If we have children, convict us of the commitments that we once made to raise them first and foremost as your children. When our energy fails or when the pressures of growing press upon these commitments, remind us that before we committed them to anything else, we committed them to you. We committed them to you because you gave them to us, and we trust that you alone can order, direct, and redeem their lives. O God, help us to stay true to all the things that we promised you. If our commitment has diminished, then strengthen us again. If our will has weakened, then give us your spirit to help us stand. Draw us close to you in your love today. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
When the crucified Jesus is called the “image of the invisible God,” the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness.
–Jürgen Moltmann in The Crucified God
This is the last Sunday of Lent and it is the last Sunday that the worship bulletin will be stark black and white. It is the last Sunday when no hymn mentions “Hallelujah.” It is the last Sunday of the period of the year that we reflect on what it means to be a disciple and to reflect on the sacrifice of Christ and what it means to follow him.
The Lord’s Prayer has been our guide in worship. Phrase by phrase and Sunday by Sunday, we have prayed the prayer. We have examined the prayer. We have tried to be inspired by the prayer. As we say the words and as they shape our own personal prayers, we have found ourselves growing in this Lenten season and what it means to pray like Jesus prays.
Finally, we come to this last phrase: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
It seems to me that when we get to this part, there is often a rush to get through it. We are often past the good part and we are ready to move on with whatever comes next, and it is said in more of a hurry. I think my suspicion is borne out a little bit. I have a collection of books on the Lord’s Prayer, and I think I can say that in every book, the shortest chapter is on this portion of the prayer.
In one book, it actually skips for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory and just simply moves on to the Amen. What does it mean to say Amen? What are we missing when we get in a hurry at this particular part in the prayer? What if we are missing something that is very critical in what Jesus wants to lead us to pray and what Jesus wants to teach us about praying?
Let’s think for just a moment about the prayer. First, we connect with God who cares, our Father. We are reminded just exactly who God is and that he is worthy of receiving our prayers, our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Before we make the first request to God for anything else, we are told to pray for spiritual victory in the world, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
Once we have done that, we pray for the most pressing physical need, give us this day our daily bread, and pressing spiritual needs, forgive as we forgive others….lead us not into temptation. Then, we find ourselves back to the kingdom again, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
If we were to ask people which part we feel compelled to pray the most about, we would probably find that we care the least personally about praying for the kingdom. We certainly would not think of it first and last. Maybe it is because we understand it too little, but all of a sudden, we come face to face with the fact that it is the only object of prayer that is mentioned twice in the Jesus prayer. The only thing that comes up twice is the kingdom, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, is the end but earlier, thy kingdom come. We have not prayed for bread twice. We have not prayed for forgiveness twice, except in the one double-phrased portion. The temptation and evil are all packed together. The only thing that comes two different times is the kingdom.
When you pray, do you begin and end with the kingdom? I will have to confess that I don’t or at least I haven’t. It has not seemed that important to me. It has not seemed to be the most urgent thing in my heart when I offer prayers to God. Do we even understand it? What is the kingdom of God? If we all walked out of here and somebody said, “You were in church today and the pastor talked about the kingdom of God,” which one of us could give a ten-word definition on what the kingdom of God is?
Maybe the best way is to think about who the king is. If we think about who the king is, we will understand a little bit about what his kingdom is like. The passage from Mark 15 is the place where we find out what the king is like. It is a place in Mark’s Gospel that we have been building toward. If you read the Gospel from beginning to end, it is a place we are building toward for many chapters.
There has been a controversy over who Jesus was. Early on, he was casting out demons, and the demons said, “I know who you are, Jesus, you holy one of God.” Jesus did not want the testimony of evil so he told them to cease, he cast them out, and that was the end of the conversation. Demons cannot identify Jesus. Their identification is not valid.
We also find that in that moment where he said to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter got the words right and said, “You are the Christ of God.” Peter and Jesus got into a debate about whether or not Peter was right. Peter said the right words, but he did not have the right understanding.
Mark’s language is so graphic. He said, “If you could translate it literally, it would be muzzled like a dog. Peter, put a muzzle on it. You are saying the right words but you are telling people the wrong thing.” The identity of Jesus seems to still be a little undecided.
On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he was brought before the Sanhedrin and the Jewish council there in Jerusalem who were trying to trump up the charges and get him executed. It says, “They asked him, ‘Tell us plainly, are you the Son of God or not?’ and Jesus said, ‘I am.’” Is that plain enough for you? Immediately, they began to shout at him and say that he was blaspheming and they started tearing at their garments. The place was in total upheaval. When Jesus finally identified himself, the scene was totally chaotic and nobody was paying any attention.
Finally we come to the scene from Mark 15. Now the cross has done its dirty work for Rome in that a person accused of rebellion has been executed. The cross has done its dirty work for the leaders in Jerusalem because they have tortured and publicly humiliated Jesus by virtue of the way that he was executed so that the crowd no longer wants anything to do with him and hurls curses at him. The people who have been following Jesus have all run off and are hiding someplace. He is no longer an attractive figure by any stretch of the imagination. The cross has done its dirty work for Satan. The very one who came to save the world and to tell about God’s love has now been rejected. It is in this moment that we find the verses about the centurion: “And when he saw that he died thus, he said, ‘Surely, this was the Son of God.’”
Note the tense: was. We have Easter so we have an advantage. We have read to the end. We know that Jesus is raised and this is confirmation of all of these things. But all the centurion has is what he has seen that day since they led Jesus out of the Praetorium and brought him to the place called The Skull, drove the nails in his flesh, hung him up, watched the sky turn dark, and all the things that transpired. That is all he has to go on.
What has he seen? He has seen Jesus tortured but he did not curse anyone. He has seen him humiliated, and he did not break. He has seen him abandoned, and he quotes scripture. He sees him hated, and he forgives the people who are doing this to him. He sees him rejected, and he prays for the restoration of everybody who has done it. The centurion sees Jesus committed to redeeming all of this out of love and no other way. He has seen Jesus love to the bitter end.
When the centurion saw that he had died this way, he said, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.” Truly, this man shows us what God is like. If this is what God is like, we begin to understand a little about the kingdom. It is not defined in the ways we would define it. It is not defined by the country with the best geography or the greatest military or economic power. The kingdom is not defined by the person who can garner the most votes or the person who can manipulate the forces of politics to achieve what they want. It is not based on the party that gets the majority or any other way. The kingdom of God is based upon a God who will suffer for his subjects. It is based upon a king who will love to the bitter end. The kingdom is wherever individuals, a church, other organizations or anyone will acknowledge that Jesus is king, where they will follow in this way, and where they will serve him in this way. Wherever people become part of the work that Jesus was doing on the cross, that is where the kingdom of God is. The kingdom of God is near us. It is within us. The kingdom of God is within you and within me. It is behind me. The kingdom of God is in any church and any group of people who are trying to live the way of God this way.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we have prayed thy kingdom come, this kind of kingdom come. We pray for success for the will of God that works this way. We pray for the success in all the world of a way of life that is willing to suffer, a way of life that is willing to give itself, a way of life that will turn the other cheek instead of striking back, and we are invited to share in it.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Do you realize how challenging that is? That is not even challenging; that is dangerous. It is dangerous to pray that the kingdom of the cross would find its way throughout all the world, that it would touch every life, every place, and every corner. God, let your kingdom, what Jesus was doing on the cross, come everywhere on earth. That is a dangerous, dangerous prayer.
It is easy to get unstuck from that way of life. It is easy in a moment of passion after a revival or a retreat to say, “I want to follow Jesus like this.” Then, we start finding out what the cross is like, and the way of the world looks a little better. We get wooed by the world. We lose focus. We find an easier set of priorities, and it is very easy to get unstuck from the way of the kingdom.
Now, we come to this phrase at the end of the prayer, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. I am not so sure that Jesus has not added this part to help us remember what it is we have been praying for. Not a God that we would shout, “God, shower me with the lottery. Bring it this way. Let me show you what I will do for you with the lottery.” We pray for daily bread, and only after we would pray for God’s will to be done in all the earth. We pray to receive God’s forgiveness and understand that the condition is that we would forgive others. Lead us away from temptations, even ones we like the best.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. This is the kingdom so now we come to the place where we need to remind ourselves that this is what we have been praying about. For thine is the kingdom. Keep me glued to the way of the cross, forever and ever. And thine is the power. How many times have the people of God lost sight of the nature of the kingdom and tried to bring Jesus’ kingdom in by force? It will not be brought by force. It will not be brought in by the size of a bank account or gross domestic product. The power of the kingdom is in love and it is in the cross.
For thine is the kingdom, and help us to use only the power that you gave to Jesus. Help us only use the willingness to serve and willingness to suffer. Help us to forgive in the face of everything else. Help us to love our enemies when they curse us. Instead of thinking about crushing our enemies, help us to think about loving them into our friends. It is not about killing anybody. It is about being willing to die.
For thine is the kingdom. Glue us to what you want. Thine is the power. Glue us to the way you want it done. Thine is the glory. God, never let us think that this is about us and some recognition of some accolade. This last phrase keeps us grounded. How easy it is to become unstuck from the way of God. How easy it is to want to do God’s work our way. How easy it is to want everybody to give us a little praise when we do it. Thine is the kingdom, thine is the power, and thine is the glory forever. God, keep us glued to what you want, the way you want it, and help us to always give you the credit.
Prayer begins and ends with the kingdom because life itself begins and ends with the kingdom.