Dr. Robert Smith Jr.
“What’s Forever For?”
Beeson Divinity School – Samford University
Matthew 6:13; Exodus 15:1 – 21
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.” But, because we are so finite and because faith has not yet become sight, we cannot even 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 even a full dot, just a speck. We would have to live at least the lifetime of Methuselah, 969 years, to even 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 like this we are overwhelmed by its infiniteness because we are talking about eternity when we are just time conditioned beings. This word, forever, is a word that is not only sacred, but also secular. I recall Michael Martin Murphy in the early 1980’s raising the question in a popular song, What’s Forever For? He decried the fragility of relationships, fellowships, particularly marriages. And he asks, “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” (Matthew 6:13 KJV). In the Hebrew language, 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, 6 & 7 of the gospel of Matthew comprise what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. All of the words in these chapters are the words of Jesus except chapter 5:1,2, “seeing the multitudes, he went up on a mountain and when he was set his disciples came unto him and he taught them;” and in Matthew 7:28, “when he had ended all these sayings, the people were astonished at his teaching for he taught them not as one of the Scribes and Pharisees but as one who had authority.” 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 John 14:1: “Let not your heart be troubled.” Perhaps Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” He could have referred to 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17: “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in
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the clouds to meet the Lord in the air”. Thielicke said that 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 1st petition – “hallowed be thy name,” set your name apart. The 2nd petition – “thy kingdom come,” let there be an eschatological in breaking of your kingdom. The 3rd petition – “let your will be done,” bend our will according to your will so that our will is lost in yours. The 4th petition – “give us this day our daily bread,” give us that which will sustain us. The 5th 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 6th petition – “lead us not into temptation,” don’t allow us to be put in a position in which we are not able to escape. The 7th 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 I Chronicles 29:11. There David prays, “Oh, Lord, thine is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty.” We know that this doxology on the very end of “The Lord’s Prayer,” this postscript of praise, was not in Matthew’s original prayer. We know that it is certainly not in Luke’s prayer. It is in the King James Version, but it’s not in the original Greek. Matthew, in the original Greek ends “The Lord’s Prayer” with “deliver us from the evil one.” Luke in the original Greek ends his with, “Lead us not into temptation.” 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 the end, the first and the last, and the 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, will be 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 will already 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 a new 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 and there
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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 still say, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.” When I think about this doxological postscript, this postscript of praise, I cannot help but to think that when Jesus prayed, “The Lord’s Prayer,” the only written context that 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 just have to think that 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? Exodus 15:1-21 is a picture of God being celebrated for his conquest of nations, the eviction of nations, and the setting up of the residence of the people of God in Canaan. It also anticipates future victories and the building of a sanctuary in Jerusalem. In verse 1, God is not only subject but God is also object. Exodus 15:1 states, “I will sing unto the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously.” God is acting upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The horse and the rider had to be thrown into the sea; and yet God is the object of our song: “I will sing unto the Lord.” In verse 2, the rationale is given for praising this God who reigns forever: “He is my song, he is my strength and he has become my salvation. He is my father’s God and I will exalt him, but he is also my God and I will praise him.” In verse 3, there is a description of this militant omnipotent God. He is called a man of war and the Lord is his name. In verses 4-10, there is a picture of the annihilation of all the nations that are opposed to the Israelites. Look at this graphic picturesque scene. God sees that 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 as an imposing body of water is there – God blows the wind from His nostrils, the force that causes the waters of the Red Sea to part to and stand at attention while the children of Israel march over on dry ground. The Bible says, when Pharaoh and his hosts saw what the Israelites were doing, they proceeded to try to overtake them, but when the last foot of the last Israelite touched the other side, God blew wind from his nostrils and 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 is fighting for the Israelites; they are frightened by their enemies, yet they watch God fight foe after foe. The Bible says that God defeats the Canaanites. Israel finally takes up residence in the land of promise as God had promised Abraham and his descendants. Verses 17 & 18 are a graphic depiction of God. God is the One who has promised Abraham certain things: great name, descendants and land. Here God keeps his promise. In verse 18, the statement is made, “God reigns forever.” Forever is the picture of God pursuing his robe flowing in beauty and glory. He reigns forever. In Hebrew this means that 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
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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 just I Am. In fact, he was I Am before there was anything else. He is the Lord who reigns forever. Miriam, the 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 has always encountered us. Helmut Thielicke in the very last paragraph of his autobiography, Notes from a Wayfarer, writes, “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.” He goes on to write, “The lifespan that has been allotted to us is only the advent of a still greater fulfillment.” Then he closes by stating, “The land to which we are going is terra incognito, an unknown 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 will never be separation. Forever exists in order that death might die. The seminary hymn “Soldiers in 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 came 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 that there were teachers who had 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 ½ years, Gayle Walker Smith, who supported me all the way through Bible College did not attend my graduation from Bible College, nor my two graduate school graduations. The song continued: “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 that death may have a funeral. Forever exists so that we can enjoy God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1674 asks this question, “What is the chief duty of man?” The response is, “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 zillion years, a trillion years, when the rock of Gibraltar was finally reduced down to sea level, it would only be one day in eternity: “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less
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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 and 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 that you and I will be able to have a greater sense of adoration for the God who we worship and serve. When I think about the sacred texts that showcase the foreverness of God, I read in Genesis 3:22 – 24 that when Adam and Eve sinned, God evicted them and put them on the outside of Paradise and put some angelic beings with swirling swords to keep them out of Paradise, lest they eat of the tree of life and live forever. God intended for us to live forever in his presence. God incarnate, in Jesus His Son, went to the Garden of Gethsemane to drink the cup of suffering and death and died on a cross that we might be re-admitted into Paradise to worship God. Forever exists that we may worship God. There in heaven we shall see His face (Revelation 22:4).
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.