Wednesday, November 04, 2015

November 1, 2015 The Lord's Prayer: The Real Final Four

Sermons are often a work in progress.  If you pay attention to the name of the sermon as printed in the study guide each week, you might notice that the title sometimes changes by Sunday morning.  In the study guide for this message I used the title Forever.  In the program this morning the title is The Final Four.  It’s changed once again and is now The Real Final Four.  Being in a state that is very serious about basketball, I decided to play off the idea of the final four as a title, but then decided to make it The Real Final Four in recognition of the more serious nature of the phrase we will study this morning.

Completing our study of the Lord’s Prayer, this week we come to the final phrase, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.  We will again read the Lord’s Prayer, as found in Matthew’s gospel, with another passage that also comes from Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew 6:5-15;
“Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Matthew 16:13-18
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

There are four words I want to focus on in that final phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, The Final Fourkingdom, power, forever, and amen.

1.  For thine is the kingdom.
There are a couple of unusual aspects to this final part of the Lord’s Prayer.  First, depending on the translation of the Bible that you use, you may be surprised to find the final phrase – for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen, missing.  In most of the newer translations this phrase is either placed in brackets or in a footnote.  The translations omit this phrase because it doesn’t appear in many of the early manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel. Interestingly, it begins to appear more often in the manuscripts that date to the time when the church was suffering terrible persecution under the Roman Empire.  It was an important reminder that came at a very difficult time and was a way of saying never give up!  Don’t lose hope.  Don’t lose faith.  Don’t despair.  The world is in the hands of God however much it may appear otherwise.  That was the message sent to a church under terrible persecution – God is in control, not the Roman Empire.

When Tanya and I were in Rome in May we visited the Colosseum.  I took this picture, which has some very interesting symbolism.  The cross in the picture marks the spot where the Roman Emperor was seated when he was in the Colosseum.  I was surprised to find it at ground level, as movies generally show it being elevated. 

It’s amazing that so much of the Colosseum still stands after so many centuries, but what is most interesting is to consider the fate of the Roman Emperor.  It’s been many centuries since the end of the line of emperors and many centuries since the end of the Roman Empire.  What would have once been inconceivable – that the Roman Empire would come to an end – is now a long proven historical fact.  The once invincible Roman Empire is long gone.  What an historical irony, that standing in the very spot where the Emperor – the seat of the office that sought to end the church and the Christian faith – is a cross, the symbol of that faith. The Colosseum was the location where some early Christians were put to death by the Roman Empire, but as it stands in ruins that cross proclaims that God’s kingdom continues to prevail.  Jesus said he will build his church and the very gates of hell will not prevail against it.  Kingdoms come and go, but God’s kingdom remains.  The Roman Empire is gone, just as the empires of the Greeks, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians before them.  Every kingdom has a shelf life and will eventually disappear, except for God’s kingdom.

How many of you feel hopeful about the state of the world?  It may not be in great shape, but it’s been in worse circumstances, and what has been the constant through the past two millennia?  The church.  Kingdoms rise and fall, but God’s church and God’s kingdom stands forever.  The political debates might occupy our attention for a brief moment in time, and the outcomes do have consequences for our lives, but they are but a moment in time.  God’s kingdom stands forever.

2.  For thine is the power.
The word kingdom is a reference to the larger picture of God’s kingdom.  The word power is a reference to the individual, and how God’s power can fill us and empower us for whatever comes our way.  When you feel as though you want to just give up, when your life gets to the point that you feel so overwhelmed you want to just throw up your hands and say what’s the use?  I give up!  I quit, remember that God’s power can fill you and give you strength for whatever difficulty you face. 

The evil in the world can cause us to lose hope, and some people have abandoned faith because of the evil they see or experience.  It is tempting to lose heart because of the struggles we face in life.  It is tempting to say what’s the use in trying?  It is tempting to say what I do doesn’t matter.  It is tempting to say nothing I do makes a difference.  But this final word of the Lord’s Prayer is a reminder that in spite of how bad things might appear, God is ultimately in control and he will fill us with the power to persevere. 

Scripture, on page after page, affirms that God is indeed in control.  The Old Testament book of Job is about the testing of Job and raises the question of whether he would be able to endure in spite of a series of great trials and testing.  In spite of all the difficulties Job experiences, he doesn’t lose faith.  In spite of the fact that Job’s friends encourage him to give up, he does not do so.  In 13:15 Job’s hold to his faith allows him to say though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.  The 23rd Psalm reminds us that even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we can fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Isaiah 40:28-31 reminds us Do you not know?  Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Romans 8:37-39 reminds us who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Philippians 4:13 reminds us that we can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. 

The book of Revelation, often seen as only prophecy, is really a book to instill confidence in people who were suffering terribly under persecution.  So many of the images in Revelation are of a God so much mightier and more powerful than the armies of Rome.  God is still in control is the message of Revelation.  It is his power that is at work in the world and it is his power that is the ultimate power.

3.  Forever.
Some years ago I had a young lady in my youth group who came up with an interesting idea about how we would spend our time in eternity.  She had evidently thought about this a great deal, and this was her idea – when we arrive in eternity we join a long line of others, all waiting to ask God a question.  When we arrive at the front of the line we are allowed to ask God one question – any question – which he will answer.  After we receive our answer we are sent to the back of the line to wait for another opportunity to ask our next question.  It didn’t sound all that appealing to me, but it seemed to her to be a good way to comprehend eternity.  It would be my luck, that the person in front of me would ask God my question, and not being able to think of another question quick enough, I would be sent to the back of the line! 

Time is an interesting concept.  We believe we never have enough time, and yet we don’t always appreciate the precious nature of the time we are given.  We certainly find it difficult to appreciate what it means to be part of a faith that stretches back so many millenia.  How do we comprehend a thousand years, two thousand years, and more?  II Peter 3:8 tells us that with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  We exist within time, while God does not, and we have an almost impossible time trying to understand such long passages of time.

It is so difficult to comprehend the passage of a millenia or two, so how do we comprehend a concept such as forever?  But what do I know about time?  I spent two hours yesterday trying to decide what to do with the extra hour we got from turning back the clocks.

I believe the message of the word forever is further confirmation that we should never grow discouraged and we should never quit.  We should never lose heart.  We should never lose faith.  Those words are a promise of the goodness of God and the faithfulness of God. 

There are countries in the world where groups are trying to drive Christians from the land.  They need to know the promise and the hope of forever.

Forever, Jesus says.  Forever.  When the economies of the world are shaky and on the verge of collapse, God is in control, and he is in control forever.  When political instability threatens – God is in control – forever.  When wars and violence rage on, God is in control – forever.  When hatred seems to be getting the upper hand over love, God is in control – forever.  And when we are faced with our final breath we can find comfort in the promise of the 23rd psalm that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Some of you are facing tremendous challenges.  Some of you may be on the cusp of giving up.  Some of you may be wondering how you will make it.  Never give up.  Do not lose hope.  Don’t quit.  Your life doesn’t rise and fall on the stock market.  Your life doesn’t rest upon the success or failure of a political agenda.  Your destiny does not rest upon the report a doctor offers, but upon what is deeper, higher, and more powerful – that which lasts forever.  Forever!  Say it with me – Forever!
God is in control, forever.

4.  Amen.
It’s easy to think of the word amen as little more than the word we use to end a prayer.  For me, I always know when to end a prayer, because Trish Fegenbush will squeeze my hand if I pray too long.  When we are preparing to leave on a trip with the Recycled Teenagers or to offer a blessing before a meal, Trish always manages to stand next to me so she can squeeze my hand if I pray too long (and she will probably want to squeeze my neck for saying this!)

Amen means let it be so.  In one way, the words let it be so can be spoken with a sense of resignation, as in a sense of surrender.  But that is not the way we are asked to say amen.  To say let it be so is an acknowledgement that all of these promises in the Lord’s Prayer, and all of these affirmations of the Lord’s Prayer, and all of the hope that is infused into the Lord’s Prayer have been true, they are true, and they always will be true.

Amen to Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Let it be so!

Amen to Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Let it be so!

Amen to Give us this day our daily bread. Let it be so!

Amen to And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Let it be so!

Amen to And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.  

Let it be so!


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