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04.22.12 Thy Kingdom Come, Matthew 27:62-28:15 Sermon Summary

by on April 23, 2012

Matthew’s first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus invites us to consider the differences between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God.

Summary Points

  • Contrasting two kingdoms from Matthew
  • What if God is King? Three implications
  • Things that get in the way and how we can remove them
  • The helps God gives us to live in his kingdom

The resurrection of Jesus marks a new stage in the coming of God’s kingdom. At the time of Jesus, the dominant belief among Jews (the Sadducees were the exception) was that God’s kingdom would include a general resurrection of the dead so that those who were unjustly killed would be vindicated. With Jesus’ resurrection, the coming kingdom of God entered a new stage.

When the angel appears to the women disciples of Jesus, he says what most angels say, “Do not be afraid.” What is important to notice is that the soldiers, who were approved by the Roman governor Pilate to guard the tomb, were terrified enough to appear as dead men. They were not given the same assurance by the angel.

The point? Disciples of Christ need not fear the resurrection as the revelation of God’s kingdom. But adherents of the kingdoms of the world should “be afraid, be very afraid” (to quote a line from The Fly.)

The reason earthly kingdoms should fear is because God’s kingdom, which is eternal, operates so differently from earthly kingdoms, which are destined to fade. On display in Matthew are the ways earthly kingdoms operate. When their power is threatened, earthly kingdoms gather the important players and devise a plan; the chief priests meet with the elders to come up with the plan. Part of the plan is manipulating the facts; they pay the soldiers to go along. Earthly kingdoms come up with an alternative story, one that preserves their power. And if it doesn’t work at the fundamental level, they keep upping the deception until it will; they are willing to “satisfy” the Roman governor should it reach that high.

This kind of power-grabbing manipulation and deception is antithetical to the kingdom of God revealed in Christ. God’s kingdom is one of service, love, justice, and above all, trust in God as King.

What if God is king? If God is king, then we have a place. Calvin says we occupy a place in God’s kingdom like a “sentry post” (Institutes 3.10.6). This means that whatever our “lot in life,” we can engage them with faith that God the king has stationed us there. And with this faith, we can experience more contentment in our lives.

If God is king, our lives have a purpose. We are stewards over our lives and everything that characterizes them. The steps to faithful stewardship, again as laid out by Calvin, begins with gratitude. We say thanks to God for every aspect of our lives. But then we must detach from those same characteristics. Only after gratitude and detachment (or non-attachment, as Buddhists might prefer), can we become good and faithful stewards.

According to Calvin, if you want to determine whether you’ve been gifted and called to exercise stewardship, all you have to do is answer the following question: Can what I have be used to benefit others? If the answer is yes, then you’re a steward. Give thanks, detach, and begin to serve others with your life. We can do this if God is king.

If God is king, we can trust God’s judgments. We look at everything in our lives as a decision God has made. This allows us to begin to have peace even in our suffering. Somehow God has ordained or allowed or is at least present with us as king in our suffering.

Trusting God’s judgments gives us hope for deliverance, for we believe all things work out for God’s glory as king (see Romans 8:28). And by trusting God’s judgments as king we can rejoice in the deliverance of those who have gone before. If God is king, our lives, and the lives of those we love—both present and those who have died—can be entrusted to God’s good care.

Why don’t we live this way? Why don’t we live as if God is king? One reason is that we don’t pray as we ought. The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer is that God’s kingdom would come. If not in their very words, at least in its outline, the Lord’s Prayer instructs us how to pray. Praying according to this instruction ensures that our prayers will be answered, for we are praying according to God’s will, and God answers prayers only according to God’s will. (See last week’s sermon.)

Karl Barth reminds us, “We must have ground on which to walk, and in prayer we walk on the ground of the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. We must not be surprised that many prayers resound in a void and are not answered.” (Prayer, p. 27) If we don’t pray as we ought, we won’t live as we ought. And God wants us to pray and live according to God’s kingdom.

Another reason we don’t live as if God is king is because we don’t rely on the Spirit of baptism. Baptism is our renunciation of the kingdoms of the world and our pledge to live according to the kingdom of God. When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tried, to forge his identity as the Son of God, and to fill him with the power to live faithfully according to God’s kingdom. That same Spirit is at work in our lives through baptism if we will submit to it.

Last year I preached on the Seven Deadly Sins. These are the things we are to renounce. (Search this blog for those sermons.) I just finished a series on the Fruit of the Spirit. These are the things we are to live by. (Again, search here for those.) So this is a place to start living according to our baptismal identity and in the kingdom of God.

Later in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus instructs us to ask for our “daily bread.” Part of what this teaches us is that progress in the spiritual life is to be measured day-by-day. We can’t be discouraged when we find ourselves living more according to the deadly sins than the fruit of the Spirit, more according to the earthly kingdoms than God’s. But each day is a new opportunity to pray for God’s kingdom and to live according to it.

One of the ways we can make daily progress is to give up our little fiefdoms. No matter how large your fiefdom is compared to others’, it’s puny compared to the kingdom God has prepared for you. How do we give up our fiefdoms? There are several practices we might use. First is prayer, just as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer. Another is fasting. Denying ourselves trains us to realize God is calling us to something bigger. Living more simply will increase our ability to embrace God’s kingdom. Being generous with others with our finances and our time in service will lead us to more intersections with God’s kingdom.

But it is scary to pray for and live into God’s kingdom. Jesus taught that we can only serve one master, not two. We can only be subject to one kingdom at a time—either a worldly one or God’s. He tells us to put our treasure in heaven and not on earth, for the earthly kingdom is robbed and destroyed but the heavenly one endures. And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says we possess the kingdom of heaven even in, or better as a result of, our poverty.

This scares us, which is why Jesus also, like the angel, tells his disciples to not be afraid. He says to us, “I am with you in my resurrection. My Spirit is with you. God is with you to help you live according to his kingdom.”

And this is why Jesus also gave us the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist is the foretaste of the kingdom. At the Lord’s Table there is room enough for Jews & Gentiles, Saints and Sinners, Adults and Children. There we remember the abundance of God’s providence. With bread and cup, we encounter the undeniable presence of God. The Lord’s Supper is our concrete and ritual expression of our prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” And the Lord’s Supper sends us out, reminded, filled, and nourished to live according to that prayer.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • In what ways are you living according to a worldly kingdom, your own fiefdom, or God’s kingdom? What do you see in your own life that shows your allegiance to these domains?
  • What things do you need to renounce, and what pledges do you need to make, in order to live more fully into God’s kingdom? Use the Seven Deadly Sins and the nine Fruit of the Spirit as a starting place.
  • Do you live as though your life has been “placed” by God, that it has a purpose? Do you trust God’s judgments about your life? Why or why not?
  • Consider the other ways identified as helps for living into God’s kingdom (e.g., praying the Lord’s Prayer, spiritual practices, celebrating Communion, etc.). What can you begin doing this week to help you live according to God as king?
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