July 3, 2014 Broadcast

The Kingdom of God

A Sermon from Saint Andrew's Chapel

The Kingdom of God is one of the most important motifs in Scripture, yet many modern believers find themselves unable to articulate any understanding of the Kingdom at all. In this sermon, given at Saint Andrew’s Chapel, Dr. R.C. Sproul explains the Kingdom of God as it is found in John 4:42-44.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    God's Kingdom and Power

  2. article

    Kingdom

  3. article

    Thy Kingdom Come

God's Kingdom and Power

Now that we are nearing the end of the Heidelberg Catechism's exposition of the Lord's Prayer, it will be helpful to address some questions about the power of prayer: Why do we think that our prayers will be effective at all? What confidence do we have that God hears us and acts in our behalf when we pray?

These simple questions are worth asking in light of the various views of prayer in our world. For example, Buddhists "pray," but since their view of God is ultimately impersonal, how can prayers to the Buddha as a means to increase one's compassion be effective? Since there is ultimately no personal being to hear and respond to prayer, how is Buddhist prayer anything other than an exercise in futility? To bring it closer to home, there are many evangelical Christians who pray but have a deficient view of the sovereignty of the Lord. Such believers affirm that God is in control of all things—except human free will. Yet if the Lord is not sovereign over human decision-making, how can He answer our prayers for a friend's salvation or for others to show us favor? Only a robust view of divine sovereignty gives us the confidence that the Lord hears and answers prayer, and this is the view assumed throughout Scripture.

We do not find "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever" in either version of the Lord's Prayer as given in Scripture (Matt. 6:9–13; Luke 11:1–4). Instead, church tradition has bequeathed this conclusion to us for use in liturgical and devotional recitation and modeling of the prayer. There is good reason for this, for whether we are reciting the Lord's Prayer verbatim or using it as the structure for our own prayers, we need to be reminded that we do not utter wishful thinking when we pray to the Father in Jesus' name; rather, we call upon the One who has the power to act.

Because the kingdom of all creation belongs to Him (Ps. 103:19), God has the authority to bring about by divine fiat whatever we ask for according to His will. Since the Lord made the heavens and the earth by His "outstretched arm," nothing is too difficult for Him (Jer. 32:17). Consequently, He has the power to do all His holy will, and nothing can thwart His eternal intent. To Him alone belongs the glory, glory that all will one day acknowledge (Isa. 66:18–19). Thus, we know that He will give us what we ask for in prayer when it contributes to the final and full realization of His glory in creation.

Kingdom

James M. Hamilton, Jr.

What is the kingdom of God? The answer cannot be reduced to a word study of the term kingdom. That would be a helpful exercise, but the Bible describes the kingdom even when the word is not used.

Any kingdom will consist of a king, his realm, its citizens, and the law that regulates their lives. This is true of God’s kingdom as well. What follows is a short overview of the Bible’s presentation of God’s rule over God’s people in God’s place according to God’s law.

God’s Rule

Adam is not called a king, but God gives him dominion (Gen. 1:26–28). From the garden forward, God exercises His authority through human rulers, whom He calls to act as His vice-regents. Satan sought to usurp God’s throne, and Adam betrayed the Ruler of the world (3:1–7). God spoke judgment on the Serpent, however, and in the word of judgment came also a promise of redemption (v. 15).

This pattern seen in the garden was repeated once Israel entered the Land of Promise. Just as God had given Adam dominion, so Israel inherited the land, God’s authority being exercised by the Word He spoke to them. Adam rebelled. Israel and her kings followed in his footsteps. God spoke judgment through the prophets, and as Adam was exiled from God’s presence in Eden, Israel was exiled from the land. Here, too, though, promises of redemption permeated the words of judgment, the prophets pointing to a glorious latterday restoration.

After the exile, Israel was restored to the land. Though promises were partially realized, the people continued to wait for the desert to bloom. Then the long-time-coming Messiah, the King of Israel, Jesus, arrived.

Jesus exercised God’s authority in word and deed, commanding unclean spirits and elements, rolling back disease and death. In the plot twist of the eons, Jesus conquered by being killed, gave life by being put to death. Being judged, He brought promised judgment on the Serpent, overcoming the treachery of Adam and Israel’s kings, casting out the usurper and laying claim to God’s kingdom by passing through death to resurrection.

Christ the King then gave gifts to His church, appointing men as Apostles, prophets, and evangelists, and giving pastors and teachers to shepherd His people until His return (Eph. 4:8–11). The undershepherds of the High King mediate His rule through the ministry of the Word. He will return, exercise everlasting dominion, and wear many crowns (Dan. 7:14; Rev. 19:12).

God’s Place

First, Eden was God’s place; after our exile therefrom, God met with Abraham and his sons at particular places. He then met Israel at Sinai, the mountain of God, before leading them into the new Eden, the Land of Promise. At Sinai, God gave Israel the tabernacle, which was later replaced by the temple. Then Jesus came and replaced the temple: in Him God was present, and He became the place where forgiveness of sins was made possible. Jesus gave His followers the indwelling Spirit and authority to forgive and constrain sin, making the church the new temple. Jesus will return and cause the glory of God to cover the dry lands as the waters cover the seas, and then, in the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem will be what the Holy of Holies was in the temple: the throne room of God and the Lamb.

God’s People

God speaks of the seed of the Serpent and the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15. In this context, He speaks the words cursed are youonly to the Serpent (Gen. 3:14). When these words are later spoken to Cain (Gen. 4:11), echoing over Canaan son of Ham (9:25), we see that those who continue in unrepentant opposition to the Lord and His people descend from their father the Devil (see also John 8:44; 1 John 3:8–15). By contrast, the seed of the woman are those who repent of their sin, believe the promises of God, embrace God’s authoritative Word, and keep the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 12:17).

God’s Law

When God made Adam His vice-regent, God’s Word regulated and empowered him, giving both permissions and prohibitions. We see this dynamic again in Israel, as her kings were to enforce God’s law, being subject to it themselves. Jesus came as the living Word. He was the embodiment of God’s teaching, and He fulfilled the law. God continues to exercise His authority through His Word in the current expression of His kingdom, the church. With the new covenant inaugurated, God’s law is written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33; 1 John 2:20–27), and when Jesus returns, “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

God’s kingdom consists of God’s rule over God’s people in God’s place. God has established His King, Jesus, and by His Spirit He gives life to His people through His Word. God’s people are now sojourners and exiles, making their way through the wilderness to God’s place — the Land of Promise, the city with foundations, the new Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth. The kingdom belongs to the Lord, and He will rule over His people in His place according to His Word.

Thy Kingdom Come

Archie Parrish

Henry was an ornery agnostic. His wife, Eunice, was a devout Christian. They lived in a farming community, where a yearlong drought was devastating the local economy. At the request of many of the farmers, the pastor of a local church called the community together to pray for rain. As Eunice was leaving to go to the church, Henry challenged, “Do you really believe that it will rain if you ask for it?”

Eunice opened her Bible and read to Henry: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:16–18). Eunice continued: “Praying for the drought to end is a big prayer, but I believe there is nothing too hard for God. If I didn’t believe that God can answer our prayer and break the drought, I would not go to this prayer meeting.”

Henry mocked, “If you really believe that God will answer this ‘big prayer’ and give rain, where is your umbrella?”

Eunice picked up her umbrella and went to the prayer meeting. She returned home without having to use the umbrella, but that night it rained and the drought was broken.

What makes a “big” prayer? A multitude of words doesn’t do it. Only prayers that are consistent with God’s character and focus on advancing God’s kingdom can truly be called “big.”

The Bible provides many examples of such prayers. In response to big prayers, God delivered His people from the dreaded Assyrians (2 Kings 19:14–37). The restoration of the people of God from the Babylonian captivity was an answer to big prayers (see Jer. 29:10–14; 50:4–5; Dan. 9; Ezra 8:21; Neh. 1:4–11; 4:4–5; 9:1–38). Samson, in his weakness, received strength to pull down Dagon’s temple through big prayer (Judg. 16:28–30). In answer to big prayers, God gave the greatest outpouring of the Spirit on the church in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14).

Jesus prayed big prayers. Some would say that our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17 was His biggest prayer. In this prayer, He asked that His people would be kept from the evil one (v. 15), that they might become one (v. 21), and that they might be with Him and behold His glory (v. 24). As the hour drew near when He would die, Jesus prayed that the work of redemption would be accomplished, even at the cost of His life (Matt. 26:39, 42). Now at the right hand of the Father, He lives forever to pray big prayers of intercession, pleading the power of His sacrifice to counter the accusations of the adversary against His people (Heb. 7:25).

God is the high priority in the model prayer given by our Lord. The best Greek manuscripts omit the closing sentence: “ ‘For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen’ ” (Matt. 6:13). There is abundant evidence, however, that these words were used almost universally in the worship of the early church. Some believe congregations recited these words in unison after each petition. If they did, then focus on the kingdom of God is underscored. I infer from this that all prayer should focus on God’s kingdom. What is kingdom-focused prayer? It is not mere instinctive prayer, but it is Spirit-enabled. It is not man-centered, but God-centered. It is not self-serving or sentimental, but Scriptural—in both principle and content. It is not timid, but bold! It is not passive resignation, but proactive cooperation. It is both solo and concerted. In summary, kingdom-focused prayer is the Spirit-enabled cry of God’s adopted children seeking their Father’s glory by persistently asking Him for the nations, their promised inheritance.

The Reformers prayed big prayers. The Protestant Reformation was initiated, achieved, and maintained by big prayers. Among the enemies of the Reformation were the Muslims, the emperor, and the papists. Martin Luther believed in praying big prayers. He taught, “The Lord is great and high, and therefore He wants great things to be sought from Him and is willing to bestow them so that His almighty power might be shown forth.” Thus, Luther prayed: “Dear Lord, I know that You have still more, You have much more than You can ever bestow; in You I shall never want, for if there were need, the heavens would rain guilders [dollars]. Be my treasury, my cellar, my storehouse; in You have I all riches; if I have You, I have enough.”

God indicates there is nothing too hard for Him (see Jer. 32:27), and so He challenges us to pray big prayers: “ ‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know’ ” (Jer. 33:3).

Praying big prayers requires childlike faith. Patrick Johnston tells a story about his wife, Jill. For a long time she was burdened to help children pray big prayers for world evangelization. She began to write a book to this end in 1990. She lived at the headquarters of the Dorothea Mission in London. As Jill completed each chapter, a group of praying children used the information to intercede for each country. Albania was one of the first countries in her project. It was a communist hermit state, which proudly claimed to be the first atheistic country in the world. All religious expression was illegal. The Gospel was banned and there were no known believers in the entire country. The children began praying for the needs of the children in Albania. They prayed for religious freedom to come to that land. A few months later, the communist government fell, and freedom for worship and witness came. Jill had to rewrite the Albania chapter in her book. When these children heard this, they were delighted. One of them shouted, “We have changed Albania!” Today there is a Gospel witness in virtually every Albanian town and city. May God give us the faith of these little children.

Evaluate your prayer life by answering the following questions. More than 40 percent of the earth’s surface is in a state of drought—are you praying for rain? Like Hezekiah, are you praying for deliverance from terrorists throughout the world? Have you thanked the Lord for His intercession for you? Like our Lord, are you praying “ ‘not as I will, but as You will,’ ” even if it costs your life? Are your prayers “kingdomfocused”? Are your prayers big enough to honor God? Are you praying for enemies of the cross to be converted? If they will not be converted, are you asking God to restrain them so they cannot disturb the growth of His church? Like the children who prayed for Albania, do you pray for God to change the world? Are your big prayers becoming bigger prayers?

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