By Robert Smith Jr.
Thursday, December 08, 2011
Some of our favorite hymns ring with the melodious note of the foreverness of God. Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" is an example. The last half of the last verse: "Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God's truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever." Reginald Heber's hymn, "Holy Holy Holy": "Holy, Holy, Holy! All the saints adore thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea; cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee, which wert and art, and evermore shalt be." Isaac Watts' hymn "O God, Our Help in Ages Past": "Before the hills in order stood or earth received her frame, from everlasting you are God, to endless years the same."
Because we are so finite and because faith has not yet become sight, we cannot begin to think about the foreverness of God, the resultant state of those who love Him and will live in His glory. We are just specks of a dot on the timeline of life—not a full dot—just a speck. We would have to live at least the lifetime of Methuselah, 969 years, to be in preschool in terms of thinking about the foreverness of God.
We are just dust balls traveling down the corridors of time. So when we approach a text such as this, we are overwhelmed by its infiniteness because we are talking about eternity when we are time-conditioned beings.
This word forever is a sacred and secular word. I recall Michael Martin Murphy in the early 1980s raising the question in a popular song "What's Forever For?" He decried the fragility of relationships, fellowships, particularly marriages and asked, "What's the glory in living? Doesn't anybody ever stay together anymore? And if love doesn't last forever, tell me what's forever for?"
"For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever" (Matt. 6:13). In Hebrew, it implies continuity, perpetuity; endlessness in perpetual motion, essence which cannot be interrupted. "For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever."
The Lord's Prayer, according to Helmut Thielicke, is the prayer that spans the world. Chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of Matthew comprise what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. All the words in these chapters are Jesus' words except verses
Thielicke describes an event of a young pastor who had the task of eulogizing a young woman, a mother of three children and wife of a bereaved husband. The young woman had been killed in a traffic accident. Thielicke said the young pastor had at his disposal many verses of Scripture. He could have used
Thielicke said the young pastor was so overwhelmed with the pain of the surviving husband and children that he absorbed the pain and instead of using for his disposal something beyond his emotional reach, he used The Lord's Prayer. So, when he got up to give the eulogy, he said, "Let us pray, The Lord's Prayer." When they finished The Lord's Prayer, he said, "Amen." It is the prayer that spans the world.
There is a prelude, seven petitions and a postscript of praise. The prelude is, "Our Father which art in heaven." The first petition: "Hallowed be thy name" sets God's name apart. The second petition: "Thy kingdom come" allows eschatological in-breaking of God's kingdom. The third petition: "Thy will be done" bends our will according to God's will so our will is lost in His.
The fourth petition: "Give us this day our daily bread" gives us that which will sustain us. The fifth petition: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Not in Luke's Gospel, but in Matthew's we have the words, "Forgive our debt as we forgive our debtors." The sixth petition: "Lead us not into temptation" requests that we not be allowed into a position we are not able to escape. The seventh petition: "Deliver us from evil," or as Matthew says, "Deliver us from the evil one."
"For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever" may be an allusion to
This postscript of praise, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever" is not found in the Coptic version, in the Latin version and is not found in many of the church fathers. So, where does it come from? I am not going to organize a campaign to get rid of it, to cancel it, to excise it or to cut it out. I'm glad it's there. This prayer begins with God, "Our Father who art in heaven" and also ends with God, "For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever." We already emphasize the devil too much. Without this postscript of praise, the prayer would end with the original ending of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew's gospel, "deliver us from the evil one."
I want the first and the last word to be about God: "Our Father which art in heaven…for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever." God is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, first and last, author and finisher of our faith. I like it because it will succeed time and inherit eternity.
The only thing in The Lord's Prayer that's going to inherit eternity, that's not earthbound and time-oriented, is the foreword: "Our Father which art in heaven"; the first petition: "Hallowed be Thy name," and the doxology: "For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever."
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name" will be voiced through ceaseless ages.
We won't have to pray in the eschaton, "Thy kingdom come." It already will be here. We won't have to pray, "Thy will be done," because every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. We won't have to talk about the marriage between heaven and earth, because the earth will crumble; and from the flickering flames of the ruins there will arise a new heaven and earth. We will not have to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," because His presence will be enough. In His presence is fullness of joy. We won't have to pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," because there will not be any temptation; there will not be an evil one, for the devil who is the tempter will be cast into the lake of fire to burn eternally.
However, the doxological postscript will remain, because in heaven we will say, "For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever." When I think about this doxological postscript of praise, I cannot help but think that when Jesus prayed The Lord's Prayer, the only written context He had was the Old Testament. In the wilderness, being tempted by the devil, He lifted up the Old Testament; and in the back of my mind, I have to think Jesus must have been thinking about the Old Testament.
What is an Old Testament portrait of God that is consistent with the biblical theology of the Lord's Prayer?
In verse 1, God is not only subject, but God is also object.
In verses 4-10, there is a picture of the annihilation of all the nations opposed to the Israelites. Look at this graphic scene. God sees the Israelites are at an impasse; they can't go back because the Egyptians are there. They can't go forward because the Red Sea is there—God blows the wind from His nostrils, the force that causes the waters of the Red Sea to part and stand at attention while the children of Israel march across dry ground.
According to the Bible, when Pharaoh and his host saw what the Israelites were doing, they tried to overtake them; but when the last foot of the last Israelite touched the other side, God blew wind from His nostrils; the waters collapsed and drowned Pharaoh and his hosts.
In the African-American church, we sing, "O' Mary, don't you weep, tell Martha not to moan. Pharaoh's army got drowned in the Red Sea. O' Mary, don't you weep. Tell Martha not to moan." God annihilated the Egyptian forces.
Verse 11 speaks of the incomparableness of God. Who is like God in his holiness? Who is like God in his accomplishments? Who is like God in his deeds? He is unique. There is no one like Him. In verse 12, there is a discussion of the right-handedness of God. Verse 6, the phrase "God's right hand" is mentioned twice and once in verse 12. The right hand represents the hand of power, the hand for which God brings about victory.
In verses 13-17, there is the discussion of the alarming predicament of the enemies of the Israelites. God fought for the Israelites, who were frightened by their enemies; yet they watched God fight foe after foe. The Bible says God defeated the Canaanites. Israel finally took up residence in the land of promise as God had promised Abraham and his descendants.
Verses 17-18 provide a graphic depiction of God. God is the One who has promised Abraham certain things: great name, descendants and land. God kept His promise. Verse 18: "God reigns forever." Forever is the picture of God, His robe flowing in beauty and glory.
He reigns forever. In Hebrew, this means God succeeds God-self. God is the self-existent God, the great I Am in three tenses: God is I Am was, I Am is, I Am will be. There is no potentate, no prince and no king who succeeds himself. God keeps succeeding Himself because He is the great I Am, and there is no one who can succeed God. If all of creation vanished from the memory of God and time ticked its last tick, God could still say, "I Am." He's not I Am because of who I am; He is I Am because He was I Am before there was anything else. He is the Lord who reigns forever.
Miriam, sister of Moses, got the women involved in praising God. Miriam and the women gathered together, a tambourine was taken, and the women started singing in verse 21: "The Lord has triumphed gloriously. The horse and the rider have been thrown into the sea. I will sing unto the Lord this song." This is a portrait of the foreverness of God.
So, what is forever for? Forever is for a purpose. Forever is for our encountering the One who always has encountered us.
Helmut Thielicke in the very last paragraph of his autobiography, Notes from a Wayfarer, wrote, "We are certainly guests on this beautiful planet. Wayfarers, on call under sealed orders in which the day and hour of our departure were recorded. Our departure is certainly not easy…The lifespan that has been allotted to us is only the advent of a still greater fulfillment."
Then he closed: "The land to which we are going is terra incognito, a known and inconceivable land. In that land there will only be one voice that will be recognized. It is the voice of the good shepherd." Forever exists for our continuous union, for there never will be separation. Forever exists in order that death might die.
The seminary hymn "Soldiers of Christ, in Truth Arrayed" is sung during every commencement of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At each commencement I attended, I never got beyond a certain phrase in the hymn without crying: "We meet to part, but part to meet when earthly labors are complete. To join in yet more blest employ, in an eternal world of joy."
When I come to the part, "We meet to part," the words always get stuck in my throat, and I can't sing the rest of it because I know there were teachers who taught me who are no longer living: Marvin Anderson, Church History; Willis Bennett, Church and Community; Ken Chafin, Preaching; Bill Hendricks, Theology; Wayne Oates, Pastoral Care; Ernie White, Christian Education; Luther Joe Thompson, Preaching.
I thought about the fact that my devoted wife of 15 and a half years, Gayle Walker Smith, who supported me all the way through Bible college did not attend my graduation from Bible college or two of my graduations from graduate school. My father, Robert Smith Sr., and my brother, Willie, passed following my graduation from Bible college and graduate school.
The song continues: "but part to meet, when earthly pleasures are all complete, to join in yet more blest employ, in an eternal world of joy."
Eternity and forever exist so death may have a funeral. Forever exists so we can enjoy God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1674 asks: "What is the chief duty of man?" The response: "To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." John Piper says, "God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him." Forever is going to exist for believers to enjoy God. Forever will exist in order for time to be erased.
Imagine a seagull swooping down and brushing against the Rock of Gibraltar one time with its beak. After 1,000 years had passed, another seagull swoops down and with its beak brushes against the Rock of Gibraltar and flies away. If that process was repeated every 1,000 years, with one seagull repeating this procedure every 1,000 years, after 100,000 years, a million years, a billion years, a trillion years, a zillion years, when the Rock of Gibraltar was finally reduced to sea level, only one day of eternity would have passed: "When we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun."
Forever is for God to put Himself on display. We don't have enough time in this life to see God on exhibition; we are only here 60, 70, 80 or 90 years. Eternity will exist to showcase God in all His beauty. After we have been there 100,000 years and we look at God for all those years, we will understand just a little more about His love. After a million years, we will understand just a little more about His grace. After a billion years, we will understand a little more about His mercy. In other words, God will keep showcasing, de-layering and revealing Himself so you and I will be able to have a greater adoration for the God we worship and serve.
When I think about the sacred texts that showcase the foreverness of God, I read in
God incarnate, in Jesus His Son, went to the Garden of Gethsemane to drink the cup of suffering and death and die on a cross that we might be re-admitted to Paradise to worship God. Forever exists that we may worship God. There in heaven, we shall see His face (
"Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne;
Hark! how the heav'nly anthem drowns all music but its own:
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King Thro' all eternity."