Gold Nugget No. 5: Mission Festival Sermon

by C.F.W. Walther
translated by Aaron Jensen

Walther preached this sermon at a mission festival held in Sheboygan, WI in June, 1864. In it he shows us the significance of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Lord Jesus, thousands and thousands of voices are now calling to us, “The end is near!” and look! Countless souls are still today waiting in vain for the call into your kingdom of grace. Millions are still today sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. They still have not heard about you, the only help of every sinner. They still have not seen and found you, and so they face the judgment of a holy and righteous God and an eternal ruin without any hope. O Lord, therefore we flee to you. Arise, yes, arise and quickly save what is still to be saved. You really are Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. You really still have the same heart today as you did centuries ago, not wanting anyone to perish. Your grace really is a spring which no time, yes, no eternity, can exhaust. Your mercy really is new every morning. You really are never tired of having compassion. You alone really have come into the world and become a man and have shed your precious and divine blood on the cross to seek and to save what was lost. For this you have really given Word and Sacrament and established the ministry which preaches reconciliation to all people. You yourself really wept bitter tears over the misery of a stubborn Jerusalem and testified before heaven and earth that you desire the death of no sinner, but rather that he turns from his ways and lives. You really have promised your new union for all times, “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’” Oh, call still more workers into your great harvest and through them say to the souls still lost, “Here am I, here am I.” And open to yourself the hearts shut fast. Make the dead live. Make the deaf hear. Make the blind see. Make the mute speak. Save the lost and damned. And because you, O Lord, want to accomplish all this only through your Church preaching your Word and shouting to you, we pray you, make us also to be your tools in this blessed work, set us on fire for this with holy zeal and let a blessing flow out from this day not only upon us ourselves, but also upon many sinners still calling to you. Hear us, O Savior of the entire world, for the sake of your saving name. Amen! Amen!

Precious hearers redeemed by Christ!

Among the many visible kingdoms of this world there is also on this earth an invisible one. It is an entirely wonderful kingdom. A kingdom founded through the blood and death of its own king and still today ruled secretly by this same king. He recruits his subjects from every kingdom of the world and yet he lets them remain subjects in those kingdoms as before. Yes, whoever pays homage to that invisible kingdom will not only not be unfaithful to his earthly homeland, but the more zealous a subject a man is in that invisible kingdom the more faithful a citizen he is in his land. That invisible kingdom certainly has its standing army which everyone who becomes a citizen immediately enters and which must daily go out, not only to defend the goods of the kingdom against external and internal enemies, but also to extend its borders in order to annex for itself the entire world if possible. But as this army of defense and conquest sets out without bloody swords or deadly guns, carrying nothing that the weapon of the Word, it also leaves every conquered land its government and constitution and changes nothing in it other than the hearts.

In that invisible kingdom all citizens are the same as one another. All are brothers, and indeed, prophets, priests, and kings. There is no effective difference between commanders and followers, between rich and poor, between exalted and lowly, between slaves and free, yes, to be great in it is nothing other than to be the servants of the others. And in the opinion of this world this kingdom leaves everyone in the estate and calling into which he has been called, whether that is a high or lowly estate.

No river, no ocean, no mountain, and no line drawn by man forms the borders of that invisible kingdom. You do not become a citizen of it through a change of residence but only through a change of heart. It is not the man who comes to this kingdom but this kingdom which comes to the man, and it does not come with external gestures but under the sound of the Word, under the blowing of the Spirit, and under the repentant tears of the terrified sinner. It is everywhere where there are souls who, unnoticed by men, submit to the invisible king and let themselves be ruled by him in a hidden way.

From the outside this kingdom appears to be the most miserable of all. It is a kingdom of the cross, consisting of nothing but poor sinners. It is sieged by all the wise men of this world and persecuted by the mighty men of the earth. It appears to spring a leak, to be like a ship already sinking, from which the cry of help and lament resounds, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” And of course it is a kingdom of unsuspected inner glory, for it is a kingdom of grace, of righteousness, of peace, of joy, and of salvation, and standing unshakably firm it outlasts all kingdoms of this world into all eternity.

The most important and noteworthy thing about this kingdom, however, is that outside of it there is no salvation and no blessedness. Just as once the only rescue from the temporal ruin of the great flood was only in Noah’s visible ark, so also the only rescue on earth from the eternal ruin of the flood of divine wrath on the Day of Judgment is in the invisible miraculous kingdom. Just as once only he who had gone through the courtyard and through the Holy Place of the Temple in Jerusalem could enter into the Most Holy Place, so also no one who has not entered the invisible kingdom of grace here on earth can reach the kingdom of glory in heaven. Therefore Christ has also taught his Christians to pray daily, “Your kingdom come.” This second petition of the holy Lord’s Prayer is therefore also what we want to consider with one another in God’s presence today on this dear mission festival.

Text: Luke 11:1-2

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.’”

The last of these words we read, “Your kingdom come,” are a mission prayer. They are therefore also the words at which I will above all focus your meditation on this mission festival by showing you:

How important it is that in the holy Lord’s Prayer Christ places the mission petition, “Your kingdom come,” in the mouths of his Christians.

We see this especially in two ways:

  1. The Christian’s holy mission responsibility, and
  2. The Christian’s certain mission comfort

I.

In our text, my friends, it is reported to us that once when Christ prayed to his Father in the presence of his disciples, one of them was aroused by this to such an ardent desire that as soon as Christ had ended his prayer, he turned to Christ with the petition, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” And what is it which Christ taught his disciples to pray? After he first had told them to pray, “Hallowed be your name,” he then places in their mouths the petition, “Your kingdom come.” It is a thing of the highest importance. And to be sure we see from it first that the mission responsibility is a universal responsibility of Christians.

Think about it. According to God’s Word prayer should not be external lip service, but our heart’s conversation with God. What we carry before God with the mouth should have first lived in our hearts and so moved our hearts that as an enclosed fire it bursts out and forth and strikes up a flame of sacrifice to God lit on the altar of our hearts. Therefore when Christ says to his Christians that when they want to pray they should among other things also say, “Your kingdom come,” we see from this that they should bear on their hearts the work of spreading God’s kingdom of grace on earth, or in a word, the holy mission. As certainly as he cannot be a Christian who still cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer in devotion (for that belongs to the ABC’s of Christianity even though it also can never be exhaustively learned), he also certainly cannot be a true Christian who still does not bear the holy mission work on his heart. Yes, it is impossible for it to be any other way. A Christian is first of all a man who loves Jesus, his king of grace. But how could he love Jesus if he were indifferent as to whether Christ’s kingdom expanded or diminished, whether Christ’s worship and praise on earth becomes more and more glorious or smaller and smaller, and whether or not Christ reaps the reward of his bitter work, which is none other than the rescue of souls redeemed by him? But a Christian is second of all also a man who, because he has experienced God’s love for him, now also has a heart which loves his brother. But how could a man love his brother, his fellow redeemed, if he does not care whether or not millions suffer in the misery of their sins? No, as certainly as Christ places in the mouths of his own the mission petition, “Your kingdom come,” a man certainly, as soon as he has become a true Christian, immediately also bears on his loving heart the mission among the heathens as also among the dilapidated Christians. As often as he thinks about the great flock of men and sees that it is as a flock which has no shepherd, a victim of rapacious wolves, he moans. Yes, as often as the true Christian meets a man whom he notices is still without salvation in Christ, his heart breaks over it and he thinks, “If you only knew at this time then you also would consider what serves to your peace! But it is still hidden from your eyes. Oh, may God have mercy on you too!

Of course, my friends, when Christ places in the mouths of his own the mission petition, “Your kingdom come,” we see from this not only that a Christian has a holy mission responsibility but also how he has to carry it out and fulfill it. If Christ had only given the warning, “Remember the spreading of my kingdom! Do not forget the poor heathens!” then some could still think that if they merely bear good wishes for the mission work in his heart, then they are done. But because the Lord has included in his prayer instructions the word, “Your kingdom come,” we see from this furthermore that is not enough if a Christian is merely not an enemy of the mission and wishes it well. No, he should have such a great earnestness that he also prays for it. While the feet of those who proclaim peace and proclaim goodness walk over mountain and valley, while the servants of the Church in the house of God call the assembled mass to the heavenly wedding or go from house to house and speak words to the sinners through
which they shall be saved, and while finally the missionaries to the heathens with danger to their life attend to the wild hordes roaming around in their forests and prairies and bring them the news that the great God himself out of incomprehensible love came from heaven, became a man for them, yes, finally died on the cross for them to reconcile them with himself and to save them by grace, while this is happening all Christians should stand behind the message of Christ as an auxiliary army and accompany and support its preaching with fervent prayers to God in their chambers and say, “Our Father, oh, our Father, Your kingdom come!” That is, let your preached word sound not in vain in the ears of men who are spiritually dead and lost in sin, but let it accomplish that for which you sent it. Trample Satan, who still holds the poor souls captive. Let Jesus, the bright Morning Star, rise into the darkened hearts and so bring into them your kingdom which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

But consider further that Christ not only reminds his Christians once in passing that they also must occasionally remember in their prayers the conversion of the world, but Christ has even included the mission petition, “Your kingdom come,” in the Lord’s Prayer, which is the Christian’s daily prayer, yes, their hourly prayer, which should always be in their hearts and on their lips, which they should pray, whether they may be walking or standing, sitting or lying, coming in or going out, as often as they rise and go to bed, as often as they use Word and Sacrament at home or in the public gathering, as often as they begin and conclude their work. From this we see the that the mission responsibility should be so holy and important to a Christian and lie so heavy on his heart that he lays himself in God’s ear, so to speak, asking for good progress of this work, not only now and then, but daily, yes, hourly, both day and night.

Of course Christ still wants more with this mission petition. “Your kingdom come,” should not only belong to a Christian’s daily and hourly petitions, it should also constantly be not an appendix or not at the end but always the second of their petitions. To be sure the Christians should first pray, “Hallowed be your name,” for everything, heaven and earth, angels and men, in short, all things, are created to God’s honor. So the Christians should of course pray first and foremost that God’s honor become great in the entire world, which happens through nothing else than through the preaching of his Word. But after the Christians have first laid this desire of their hearts before God in prayer, then the next thing for them should be, and nothing should lie so great on their hearts than that through this proclamation of God’s honor, namely through the preaching of his Word, the sinners who are still lost may be converted and so God’s blessed kingdom of grace may be established in their hearts and take place in them. Christians should pray for this before their daily bread, yes, before the daily forgiveness of their sins, before the preservation from temptation, and before the deliverance from all evil. In short, the mission prayer “Your kingdom come” should not be a secondary prayer but a daily and hourly chief prayer of all Christians.

The most important and most noteworthy thing which a Christian should do for the mission and also what everyone, even the poorest Christian can do for it, is prayer. Whoever does not pray for the mission does nothing for this work before God even if he gives over all his possessions for it, if he lets all his sons become missionaries, if he himself forsakes house and home, wife and child, and becomes a preacher or wants to go among the heathens as a missionary. For even whoever sacrifices still so much for the mission but fails to pray for it, reveals in doing so that all his mission gifts do not flow out of a heart full of true love for the heathens. But God’s Word says to us, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” So pray, pray, my friends, for the work of the mission! Learn to bring the second petition, “Your kingdom come” before God in true fervor of the heart as often as you carry the Lord’s Prayer before him. Then you are really working together on the great work which Christ has entrusted to his Church. Then you are proving yourself to be true living members of the Church, the invisible Jerusalem which is above, about which Paul says, “She is our mother,” for only through it, which is born of God himself, should you also always be reborn children, like the dew from the morning rose.

Of course, my friends, just as all giving for the spreading of the kingdom of God is nothing without prayer for its coming, so also in turn all prayer is nothing without giving if one can give. Tell me, what would you think about a man who sees his brother fall into the water and struggle with death in the flood, and could extend to him a rescuing hand, if he indeed knelt down on the bank and prayed to God for the rescue of his injured brother but himself would not lift a hand for his rescue? You would no doubt consider such a praying man to be either a wretched hypocrite or a lunatic. See, in the same way all those who indeed pray for the spreading of the kingdom of God but do want to do or sacrifice anything for it are nothing but obvious hypocrites or irrational enthusiasts. Saint James speaks about such false Christians in his epistle, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

Well, my friends, from now on as often as you pray “Your kingdom come,” may you have not only an earnestness from God in faith to really desire in the name of Jesus Christ what you express with the petition, but also may it be a firm reminder for you that God will not accomplish what you ask of him immediately, but rather mediately through men, and to be sure also through you. The same hands which you lift to God in prayer for the mission also open with your gifts of love for it. Do not let the world put you to shame. Consider how much the world itself now sacrifices for the worldly kingdom of its earthly homeland. It sacrifices its wealth, its sons, and the life and health of thousands and thousands for it. Is it that great a thing then when you are required as Christians to sacrifice for the spiritual kingdom of your heavenly homeland some of your earthly possessions and, if God has given you sons with the gifts for it, to sacrifice them also to become Christ’s messengers? How much money does the world loan out on uncertain interest and of course it often loses both? Are you as Christians not most willing to invest money with God, who will, as surely as his Word is truth, again replenish you with incalculable interest? And furthermore, how much of the goods entrusted to them does the world turn to vain trinkets, to fashion, to the desires of the flesh? Should you as Christians not be much more willing to at the very least turn as much to the spreading of the kingdom of God as the world turns to the spreading of the kingdom of the devil?

II.

Of course, there is probably someone among us who has just been lazy up till now in praying and giving for the spreading of the kingdom of God in the world because he thinks it is just all in vain. For his sake and as an encouragement for all of us let me now show that in the petition Christ prescribed for his Christians “Your kingdom come,” not only the Christian’s holy mission responsibility lies expressed, but also his certain mission comfort.

Yes, my friends, it cannot be denied. If we direct our eyes at the circumstances in which we presently find the world, an extremely depressing view always presents itself to us. While within Christianity the apostasy from Christianity becomes more and more universal and raises its head with more and more daring, heathenism and Judaism appear to be more and more hidden in their blindness. First, as far as Christianity is concerned, countless people who once in their childhood were baptized in the triune God now declare loudly and publicly, “There is no God, no resurrection, no judgment, no heaven, no hell. It is all nature. Man is nothing but an animal. All religions are inventions of deceivers and enthusiasts fooled by themselves.” Or they deny that Christ is God’s Son and the Savior of the world who has redeemed the world lost in sin with God by his suffering and death and make Christ into merely a virtuous man who came to show man how he can and should be his own savior, namely, how he can and should save himself by his own power and virtue. In countless pulpits unbelief is proclaimed instead of faith in the Word, or instead of the pure Gospel an adulterated one, a gospel merely in appearance. Indeed they cry out everywhere, “Union! Agreement! Love! Peace!” But the Christianity already divided into hundreds of sects divides more and more every day, and it is only united when it is necessary to blaspheme, condemn, and persecute the pure old Bible teaching and the orthodox old Bible Church together. And oh, even the church which has been entrusted the pure unadulterated Gospel, the church of the Reformation, the old church of Luther, is also now a picture of destruction. They very well may still today call it after Luther’s name and even sing its heroic hymns, but they reject Luther’s teaching as dangerous false teaching and enthusiasms, while they at the same time praise as jewels of Lutherandom what Luther once threw out of God’s temple as abominations of the Antichrist and human reason. Yes, what shall I say? Doesn’t it appear sad enough even in the congregations in which the old teaching of Luther really resounds? Laments be to God! Earthly thinking, greed, friendship with the world, lukewarmness, sluggishness, disgust for God’s Word as a bad food, and resistance against good Christian discipline becomes more and more powerful and glorious in most congregations. In particular we see our youth irresistibly dragged along almost everywhere by the current of the present spirit of the world and of the times. No sooner had God let the sun of his gracious visitation rise several decades ago when it already bent to set again. That’s how it is among the so-called Christians, and if we ask about the success of the mission among the heathens, we hear that the workers in Christ’s harvest gather less and less sheaves into his barn, that Satan fortifies and entrenches his castles among the people of heathendom more and more impenetrably and impregnably. So it certainly seems that a star of hope shines for neither the internal nor the external mission, for the work of Christ’s messengers neither inside nor outside of Christianity.

Of course, my friends, it only appears so. One star of hope still today shines for us and it will not set until all the hopes of Christians and all the promises of God are fulfilled, that is, until the kingdom of grace on earth is followed by the kingdom of glory in heaven. And this star of hope is nothing other than the second petition of the holy Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come!” Isn’t it true, if a father instructed his child for what and with which words he should and may daily ask him, that the child can be certain that the father also wants to and will grant this petition? Now the Son of God has instructed his Christians to ask daily and hourly for the spreading of his kingdom and has placed in their mouths the exact words with which they should carry this petition before the great God. Can and may we fear that this petition will not be heard? No, never! Doesn’t Christ himself say, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” This is true, however, not only about the petition for the Holy Spirit, but about all petitions, even about the petition for the coming of God’s kingdom.

The petition “Your kingdom come” is very well muttered daily by countless nominal Christians without faith, yes, without thoughts, for Luther rightly says that the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr in the world. But who could count also the host of those who still really call to God each day always in faith, “Your kingdom come”!? Christ still has a Church of his believers among all the peoples of the earth, in every land and speech and tongue. And from the mouths of all these people day and night that petition sounds into God’s ear as a heaven-and-earth-filling shout of a mighty army. This million-voiced petition is just like the fire which ignites the weapons of those who lead the Lord’s battle, so that one fortification of Satan after another is overthrown and the victory flag of the Crucified One is planted in the mountain of the heart of first this sinner, then that one. As horrible as it may now appear both inside and outside Christianity, so full of despair must Satan always be as he defends himself because he knows that he has little more time. As long as Christianity stands behind the heralds of the Gospel and bombards God’s heart with its petition “Your kingdom come!” the work of the internal and external mission will not be fruitless or in vain.

If you hold yourself to this certain mission comfort and do not lose heart when everything looks so hopeless before the eyes of men, then you will not become weary of continually praying for the work of the mission and working because it is day. For as long as God still places people who pray for his kingdom in the field, God is at war against the kingdom of Satan. But as long as God is still at war, it is also certain that he wants to win and he will win.

Here we have still another comfort. If we ask Christ, “Your kingdom come” then we pray not only for the coming of God’s kingdom of grace but also for the coming of the kingdom of glory. With it we ask, “O Lord, let the number of your elect soon be made full. Bring the kingdom of sinful atrocities on earth soon to an eternal end. Fulfill soon the anxious sighs of the creatures subjected to vanity against their wills and make them free from the service of transitory existence for the glorious freedom of the children of God. Shatter the rotten scaffolding of this work and come with your dear last day and bring your Church finally out of its work to the eternal rest, out of the fight to the eternal feast of victory, out of disgrace to eternal glory.

Therefore if we only continue to cry in faith day and night “Your kingdom come” then this prayer will not, cannot, remain unheard. We implore you either for victory for the Church fighting on earth or its soon transformation into the triumphing Church in heaven.

So in conclusion beg with me in firm faith:

Conqueror conquer, Ruler reign,
King assert Thy sovereign right,
Till no slavery more remain 
Spread the kingdom of Thy might!
Lead the captives freely out,
Through the covenant of Thy blood,
From our dark remorse and doubt,
For Thou willest but our good (Catherine Winkworth, 1858).