God's Kingdom Has Come Near You
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is the last words of our Gospel reading, "The Kingdom of God has come near to you" (Luke 10:9), as well as our Catechism lesson for the day, the Second Petition, "Thy kingdom come."
The story of the kingdom of Israel goes like this: God wanted to be Israel's only King, but they rejected Him. So out of compassion for His weak, sinful people, He gave them earthly kings—Saul, David, Solomon, and so on. A pretty motley bunch, really. Even the best of them, David, was a murderer and adulterer. That is why in the Old Testament, the Lord promised that a future King would come who was like the great King David, only better; perfect. That promise was of the Messiah, the Christ, the King of Israel; Jesus.
But when Jesus came, He didn't seem to fit the bill. The wise men could content themselves with Jesus as King, but not Israel. That little baby didn't really seem like much of a king, even less after He grew up. Jesus said, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20) Not very regal.
But Jesus insisted that He was bringing the kingdom of God with Him wherever He went. In His first sermon, He said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15). Today he sends the apostles out to proclaim the Gospel, heal the sick, and say, "The kingdom of God has come near to you." It has come near in the preaching of Jesus as Christ the King.
As King of God's Kingdom, Jesus was more than qualified to tell His disciples what the kingdom of God is like. For example, He says the Kingdom is like a mustard seed; small and insignificant now, but eventually it will grow to immense proportions. But the first disciples were impatient; they wanted a kingdom bigger and better than the mustard seed kingdom Jesus described. We see most clearly that they weren't getting it when James and John came to Jesus and said, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." (Mark 10:37) This got the other disciples quite angry, because they wanted the top spots too.
So Jesus told them that the spots at His right and left in His glorious kingdom were already prepared for others, and then He gave them the clue revealing for whom those spots were prepared; He said, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) He pointed them to the cross, where those placed at His right and His left were two thieves. He reigns from the cross, bleeding and dying: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." That's the sort of King Jesus is.
The disciples never wanted such a Jesus. They had their own agendas for His reign. They desired a kingdom of power. When Jesus was arrested, Peter pulled out His sword to defend Jesus, and Jesus said, "Put that silly little toy away." Jesus is God the Son, and He could have called down innumerable angels to defend Him, but He chose to walk the way of the cross and reject the way of power and coercion.
Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?"…Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." (John 18:33, 36-37)
The truth is that the kingdom of Jesus is not of this world because it bears no relationship to the kingdoms of this world. Jesus is the Redeemer King, who laid down His life as a ransom for all, just as He said in the words of institution of the Lord's Supper, "Drink of it, all of you, for this cup is the New Testament in My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins."
Even the best of secular rulers cannot atone for the sin of the world with his death. Even the greatest kingdom in history cannot offer the priceless treasure given in one drop of Jesus' precious blood. And even the most gracious of earthly rulers still reigns over his subjects by coercion and not by self-sacrificing love such as Jesus showed in laying down His life for us.
God has reconciled the world to Himself in Jesus Christ crucified, and this is the eternal message of the Kingdom of God, which has come to us even before we prayed for it. His Kingdom of grace came not with coercive military power or oppressive martial law, but in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. As Peter preached the Gospel, the Holy Spirit broke into the world to bring the Kingdom of God near to 3000 people. After his sermon, they were cut to the heart and asked, "What must we do?" And Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:37-38) And on that day, those people were made subjects in God's kingdom, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In your Baptism, that same Holy Spirit delivered the forgiveness of sins King Jesus accomplished for you on the cross and made you a member of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:5) Baptism saves you no matter at what age you are baptized, but infant Baptism is the most perfect expression of how the Kingdom of God comes to us: Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Luke 18:16-17) The Kingdom comes to us without our efforts, as total gift, pure grace, full of mercy, as Jesus said, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32)
Our Lord wants to give us His eternal kingdom for free! And that is the comforting thing about praying, "Thy kingdom come; Lord, let your kingdom come to us" — we know the Father has already given it to us and wants to keep us in it. But as sinners, we are tempted to get in the way of the Kingdom's coming. We are tempted to rebel against our Lord's kingdom of grace by returning to the wicked unbelief we should have left behind. And so the Lord warns us not to reject the kingdom of God through unrepentance.
St. Paul said, "Those who are doing the following works of the sinful flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these." (Galatians 5:19-21, paraphrase). We must live each day in repentance, not resisting the Kingdom of God through disobedience and rebellion against God but rather receiving His grace through faith, and seeking His forgiveness through prayer and using the Means of Grace.
Likewise, St. Paul says, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: those who are practicing the following will not inherit the kingdom of God: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers. They will not inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, paraphrase)
Dear friends, these words of warning from St. Paul should cause fear and trembling in our hearts, for they are the Law intended to expose our need for repentance into the forgiveness of sins. Even if you have committed that should rightly disinherit you from the Kingdom of God, nonetheless I have good news for you: there is still hope! Repent. Turn from evil and receive the Lord's precious absolution. Do not doubt that Christ has died even for your sins, and if your sins are on Christ's back, they are not on yours. In Baptism you have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God who laid down His life for your sins. So don't try to hide your crimes; confess them; He is not surprised that you are sinners; He knew that as He went to the cross to establish His kingdom of grace, and He knows that now even as He forgives all of your sins. For every time that you have lied to God, saying, "Lord, I promise never to do that again," He forgives you. For all of the commitments to your Lord you have failed to keep: there is forgiveness for you.
Believe the Gospel that Christ has died for your sins to save you for His eternal kingdom. Believe the words of absolution that have been proclaimed into your ears. Believe that your Baptism daily and richly works forgiveness of sins and rescues from death and the devil. Believe in the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. The Kingdom of God has come near to you in these gifts, near enough to save you.
And that changes everything. Dr. Luther explains this in the Small Catechism, "God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity." The godly life is the one lived each day under King Jesus in His Kingdom of grace, the Kingdom in which the Holy Spirit daily and richly forgives your sins in the Holy Christian Church.
This Kingdom is of far more value than anything we could ask or pray for in this life, as Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) This is why we seek first His Kingdom in the preaching of the Gospel and in the Sacraments, and this is why we pray, "Thy kingdom come." Our Lord invites us to claim His kingdom for ourselves. The best thing about praying the Lord's Prayer is that God promises to answer it with a "Yes!" So in the Lord's Prayer, we ask Him to deliver His kingdom to us today and forever; we ask Him to keep us from getting in the way of His kingdom's fulfillment; and we ask Him to let us take part in extending His kingdom to others. That's all contained in, "Thy kingdom come," and we should never doubt that He will answer those prayers with a "Yes!"
And one more thing: every time you pray, "Thy kingdom come," you are asking for King Jesus to return to judge the living and the dead. Then the kingdom will be brought to fulfillment and the kingdom's power and glory will be visible for all eyes to see. So all who believe and are baptized can say with complete confidence, right along with St. Paul in our Epistle reading: "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (2 Timothy 4:18).
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.