(Preached in Cromer on 13/11/16 as the last in a series on the Lord’s Prayer)
Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory
The ending we usually say when we pray the Lord’s Prayer is not actually there in most modern versions of the Bible! The earliest copies of the Matthew’s gospel have a variety of endings, or none at all. Most Jewish prayers end with praise, and it is highly likely that Jesus and the disciples did the same, and that when the Lord taught his disciples how to pray he left it open how to end their time of prayer. When the Lord’s prayer started to be used in worship, from very early times, different congregations would probably get used to particular endings, and they would be added to the copies. The form we have now was one of the most common and is found in quite a few early copies of Matthew’s gospel. It probably took as its inspiration David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles chapter 29, verses 10 to 13, which we’ve just listened to.
Before we look in detail at the ending of the Lord’s prayer, lets think a little about the whole idea of including a time of praise in our times of prayer. David is beginning his prayer with praise; he ends it in verse 20 by saying to the whole assembly, ‘Praise the Lord your God.’ And we read, ‘So they all praised the God of their fathers, they bowed low and fell prostrate before the Lord and the king.’ Christians have more cause than anyone else to incorporate praise into our prayer – not just because we are aware of God’s presence and help now and in the past, but especially because he has promised such a glorious future through Jesus Christ. So my challenge for the week ahead: to include praise in my prayers, praise from the heart!
Let’s turn now to the first section of our three-part ending: For yours is the kingdom. What do we mean? What kingdom are we talking about? There are various possibilities.
First, we could be thinking of the political kingdom. When David said, Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, he may have been thinking that although he was the king of Israel, it was only because God had chosen him to be king – the nation belonged to God, and God had the right to choose who should be head of state. That held true not just for Israel. The prophets often pointed out that God was in charge of all the nations, and that governments held sway only for as long as God chose. That doesn’t rule out the role that human agents have, nor does it mean that the person in power has God’s approval. The American presidential election result came about by the vote of the electorate; but we believe that God’s purposes are being fulfilled through Mr Trump’s victory. His victory does not mean that he or his policies have God’s seal of approval; there were times in Israel’s history when God gave the kingdom into the power of bad rulers, sometimes as a punishment for rejecting him, sometimes to show them the difference between his reign and human rule or the rule of foreign gods. For example, when Rehoboam son of Solomon turned away from God, Shishak the king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem, and God told Rehoboam, ‘My wrath will not be poured out on Jerusalem through Shishak. They will, however, become subject to him, so that they may learn the difference between serving me and serving the kings of other lands.’
Behind all the politics and power games, God is working his purposes out for each and every nation; and those who rule will one day have to account to God for their actions. Yours is the kingdom, said David. In the time of Jesus and the early church, to make that declaration was a political statement, and carried great risks – surely, Caesar was lord. Yes, and the church respected Caesar’s authority; but when push came to shove it was more important to obey God rather than human beings, even if that meant suffering.
David in fact goes further even than that in our reading – ‘You are the ruler of all things’, he says. ‘All things serve you’, says the writer of Psalm 119. ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love him’, says Paul in Romans 8. So to say, ‘Yours in the kingdom’ could also be an affirmation of the fact that God is sovereign over all creation. This makes sense in the context of the Lord’s prayer. We have asked for daily bread, and deliverance from evil; only a God who is Lord of all can answer those prayers.
However, in the Lord’s prayer we also prayed that God’s kingdom would come, and that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s kingdom has not yet come in all its fulness. Many things happen against his will. So how can we say that God is ruler of all, when bad things happen? How can we say, ‘Yours is the Kingdom’, while still praying that his kingdom would come?
I find it helpful to distinguish between his rule and his kingdom. God rules all things in the sense that he works all things together for good, in fulfilment of his plans, even making bad things have ultimately good results. He is also the ruler of all in the sense that he has the right to rule everything – he is God. However, the word ‘kingdom’ refers more to the reign of God rather than a place – his kingdom is wherever people acknowledge his right to rule, and want his will to be done. In the kingdom of God 100% of the citizens are glad that God is king. But here on earth many reject his rule; they are not citizens of the kingdom. God is not a puppet master, nor a tyrant; he is a good shepherd who cares for all who choose to join his flock and follow him, but he does not force anyone to do so. He has given us free will, and he wants people to choose him as their king voluntarily; his reign is first of all a reign over our hearts. God’s kingdom is within you, said Jesus. So to say ‘Yours is the kingdom’ is to say ‘I acknowledge your authority over every aspect of my life.’ When you say, ‘Yours is the kingdom’, what do you mean? Do you believe he is king of kings, president of presidents? Including Donald Trump? Do you believe he rules all things, working everything together for good for those who love him? Do you really believe he is good? Do you accept his authority over every aspect of your own life? Let’s spend a moment in silence answering these questions.
Yours is the kingdom, and the power. We have just been looking at God’s right to rule. Now we look at his power to do what he wants to do.
David in 1 Chronicles says, ‘Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours… In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.’ David was the hero who had killed Goliath, and led Israel’s armies to victory after victory so that now Israel was the number one power in the region. Yet he knew that it was God who gave him the strength to fight, and he did not want his people to give him the credit – yours is the power. Nor did he want his people to take credit themselves for the position they found themselves in – it is God who gives strength to all.
It is not just physical strength that is meant by power; it is all sorts of ability – wisdom, talent, intelligence, skill, as well as physical power. When Israel was about to enter the promised land, Moses warned them, ‘You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.’ Father, yours is the power.
In the Lord’s prayer we have just prayed to a God whom we believe not only has the authority but also the ability to answer our prayer. He can do it! When the angel Gabriel came to Mary and explained how she would become the mother of the Son of God, he reminded her, ‘nothing will be impossible with God.’ If God decides something will happen, it will happen. He is almighty, all powerful. And it is good to say so at the end of our prayer, and helps build both our humility and our faith, for we are acknowledging that all that we are and have and are able to do comes from our Father in heaven.
‘Yours is the power.’ This is true especially in the difficult situations we find ourselves in, when we are at our wits’ end, or feel that we are failures, totally inadequate. ‘I can’t do it, I can’t carry on!’, we say. Maybe; but we can also say, Yours, Father, is the power. You do it – and if you want to do it through me, here I am.’
How does God use his power? Not often in the way we want him to! The prophet Habakkuk saw that the
Babylonians were coming to attack Jerusalem, and said to God, ‘You cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?’ Some of us may have prayed, ‘Lord, make Hilary president.’ ‘Father, deliver us from evil – from that illness, from this situation.’ ‘How can you let all those innocent children in Aleppo suffer so much? Why do you let those evil people carry on committing atrocities?’
Often we want God to use his power to make things happen, even to force people to do the right thing, or to perform a miracle against the laws of nature. ‘God, yours is the power, you can do it.’ Of course he can. And sometimes he does. But not usually.
Why is this?
There are different kinds of power. We want God to show us his miraculous, awe-inspiring, coercive power – to batter evil into submission. There is a place for that, as we often see in the Bible. But there are other kinds of power. There is the power of creation, which uses the laws of nature, cause and effect to feed the birds, clothe the flowers, give us our daily bread – and answer many of our prayers. Above all there is the power of self-sacrificial love, the power that we see on the cross, a power that looks like weakness and defeat, but was truly a power that conquered sin and Satan and death itself. God’s power has many forms – and each form is stupendously strong and mighty! And God uses each one as appropriate, and always with the greatest wisdom. He uses them to rule the world; and also to rule our hearts and grow us into his image, the likeness of Christ. We may not understand what he is doing – it looks all wrong to us. Sometimes it seems that he want to allow evil to show its full extent, so that he can destroy it utterly. Often we don’t know exactly what he is doing. But we do know that he wants us to be part of what he is doing, weak though we be; his strength is made perfect in our weakness. So he wants us to believe in his power,
his power to work his purposes out through all the elections and through all the decisions of military leaders and politicians, even those in Aleppo; he wants us to believe that he can work powerfully through us and through our prayers, both for big issues and for individuals; he want us to believe that he can work powerfully in us, to transform us and enable us to will and to do his good purposes – and he wants us to believe not just that he has the power to do this, but that he is doing it, here and now, and doing it well – and to trust him. ‘Yours is the power. It is not by human power that good things happen; it’s all from you.’
Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on this truth, and to praise God in our hearts for his power that is at work within us, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory.
David in his prayer wanted God to receive all the glory for what was happening. So he praised God for his greatness – for his power and majesty, for his rule over all, the strength and honour he gave to people – ‘Now, our God, we give you thanks and praise your glorious name.’ As we have seen, David was highly honoured because of the way he had raised the kingdom of Israel to the position of top dog. He wanted his people to honour the one who really deserved it – the God who had made it happen.
We see the opposite in the story of king Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel chapter 4, where we read, ‘As the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “…your royal authority is taken away from you… you will live with the wild animals… until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”’ Then the next chapter we have the story of his successor and the writing on the wall, when Daniel tells the king, ‘You did not honour the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote this inscription…’ and he goes on to prophecy the immediate end of the empire. ‘You did not honour the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.’
In the year 1646, just after the English civil war, a group of church leaders gathered together in Westminster. Over the next year they wrote a catechism, a set of questions and answers, to use in teaching; and they wrote a shorter version for children. The first question and answer I think is inspired:
Q. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
Or, in modern English, What are we for? To show how glorious God is, and to enjoy him fully for ever.
Most of us are happy with the last part. We want to enjoy God fully for ever. But what about the first? Do we really want to glorify God? I find it all too tempting to seek praise from other people, and not to point them towards the real source of whatever is good, giving honour to God. Yet this is the point of this last phrase of the prayer. ‘Yours is the glory’.
Why? Because he is the source of all that is good. Glory be to God for all that is beautiful, lovely, wonderful in creation. It is all from him. Glory be to him for his provision for every creature’s needs. God forbid we blame God for the unfair distribution of the world’s resources, which he has put into our hands. Glory be to God for the new creation that is coming, the fulfilment of history. Glory be to God for his love for the world, that gave his only Son so that whoever, whoever, believed in him should not perish but have eternal life – be part of this new creation. Glory be to God for his beautiful purity and holiness, for the immeasurable depths of his forgiveness. ‘Yours is the glory’.
How do we bring glory to God? By our words – words of praise, of thanks, of testimony, what God has done for us. Words that stick up for God when he is despised or dishonoured. Words that reflect his love, his forgiveness. And by our thoughts. And by our actions and lives. All we do can glorify God. All we do in the new creation will glorify God – but now is our opportunity, in a dark world, to be lights that bring even more glory to God.
Let’s spend a few more moments in reflection. How much do we appreciate God? How much do our lives bring glory to him? Do our words honour him? Do our attitudes bring him glory? How much of our prayers and singing is given to praise and thanksgiving? Is it heartfelt? Do we really want those around us who do not honour the Father or the Son to see how glorious he is? Are we living for the glory of God? How can we bring God more glory?