When I was coming to the end of my time in Madagascar I was browsing in a bookshop when a familiar piece of music began to play. As the piece built to its crescendo and the choir came in with “Zadok the priest” a tear came to my eye. I loved Madagascar: I felt at home and had tried to fit into the culture of the place as much as possible. But as I listened to Handel’s coronation music tangled feelings of homesickness, pride in my country (which I’d rarely had before) and looking forward to coming home came to the surface.
I was longing for the grandeur of a Kingdom that was long past its best but in praying the Lord’s Prayer we’re praying for the coming of a Kingdom that will never lose its lustre and will bring together people from across the world. But before we look at what the Kingdom is, let’s remind ourselves of what it is not.
It is not a political Kingdom
It is too easy to think that the Kingdom of God corresponds to the kingdoms of this world. As Jesus was about to ascend the disciples ask Jesus whether he will now restore the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Even with their experiences of Jesus and his teaching they equated the Kingdom with a earthly glory.
The history of the church is full of examples of looking for an earthly Kingdom. Too often we have thought that certain political viewpoints equate to the Kingdom of God. Christendom under Charlemagne and then the Holy Roman Emperors extended the Kingdom by the sword. The British Empire often equated liberal democracy and “civilisation” with the Kingdom. Now, many think that the Kingdom is seen wherever there are left-of-centre policies because they equate the liberation from poverty as being the Kingdom of God.
All these things are misguided. As Jesus tells Pilate: My Kingdom is not of this world.
It is not built by us
We human beings love to do stuff. We have to be active. We have to feel like we’re making a difference. This is seen in some of the language used about the Kingdom of God in our churches. The popular hymn says: “Sent by the Lord am I/ my hands are ready now to make the earth the place/ in which the kingdom comes.” This idea could not be further from the Biblical truth.
We do not build the Kingdom. We receive it (Mark 10:5). We enter it (Mark 10:23). We seek it (Matthew 6:33). The Kingdom of God comes about by God’s initiative and by the working of the Holy Spirit. It was fore-shadowed in the Old Testament, broke into history in the person of Jesus, expands by the preaching of the Gospel and will come to its full consummation when Christ returns.
But what are we praying for?
We are praying that more and more would see the wonder of our great King, Jesus. We are praying that the Gospel would go to the ends of the earth. We are praying that more and more would recognise the authority of God’s rule. And we are praying for the hastening of the time when Christ will return and bring his Kingdom in all its fullness.
But Phil, that doesn’t sound grand enough. Can’t we bring about a conversion of Great Britain to the gospel? Can’t we feed all the hungry and change the habits of multi-national companies? Can’t we all join together and march on Downing Street? We want people to see the Kingdom!
To which I say: Was it grand when Jesus was born in a stable? Was it grand when he wandered around and had no place to lay his head? Was it grand as he bled to death on the cross?
The resurrection is the promise of the glory to come. In the meantime; live under God’s authority – don’t mistake your ideals for God’s ideals – and the Kingdom, like a mustard seed, will grow without you even realising it.
Your Kingdom come.