Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God
#1 in the Series “All I have Commanded You”
Primary Text: Matthew 6:33—“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Secondary Texts: Matthew 6:10, Mark 1:15, Mark 4:30-32, Luke 11:14-23, John 14:35
Once upon a time there was a large island in the ocean. This island contained two countries. The first of these two countries was a constitutional monarchy with a good king, free people, and the rule of law. The second country was a military dictatorship characterized by nepotism, corruption, and the rule of terror.
These two countries had fought a desperate war with each other when the dictator made a greedy and unsuccessful bid to become the only ruler of the whole island. As these things often go, there was no clear winner of the war, and the two countries merely called a truce. There was no peace treaty, but the terms of the cease-fire held for many, many years. According to these terms, no person from the dictatorship could be offered asylum in or escape to the kingdom. Conversely, no person who belonged to the kingdom could be harmed by the dictatorship—only deported.
Because the situation of the people in the dictatorship was so desperate—there was so much crime, corruption, violence, illness, and death—the king resolved to invade the dictatorship, which did not have the military resouces to stop him. The dictator, however, began having doctors inserting a vial of deadly poison which could be released by remote control into every person in his country from birth. He treatened the king by saying that if there were any invasion he (the dictator, that is) would kill himself and would also kill every other person in the country.
The king and his advisors thought long and hard about what they could possibly do to put an end to the cruel dictatorship while saving the people of the country. Finally, the king resolved to send a secret agent into the dictatorship to offer people there the opportunity to become citizens of the kingdom. Under the terms of the ceasefire they would be protected from harm by the dictatorship—as long as they could furnish proof that they were indeed citizens of the kingdom. That proof would have to be an ability to speak the kingdom’s language: a unique, beautiful, and very difficult tongue which if spoken by anyone would conclusively prove that they were subjects of the king.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus came from the desert where he had been tempted by Satan to Galilee where he proclaimed this: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel! (Mark 1:15)” If you can picture the entire collection of Jesus’s teachings as a wagon wheel, consisting of a rim, a hub, and ten spokes, then what Jesus had to say about the Kingdom of God is the rim—that which connects all of Jesus’s instruction to the reality of the world. The Old Testament prophets spoke of “The Day of the Lord”, a moment in which God will violently and suddenly invade the world to bring about drastic change. Jesus speaks of that day, but he also speaks of a reality called the Kingdom of God which is already at work in the world in a subtle way.
What is the Kingdom of God? It is simply that place where what God wants is done voluntarily. Although ultimately all designs of God are carried out, Christians have long distinguished between what God’s permissive will (what He allows) and His perfect will (what He desires). God’s kingdom is present when people wholeheartedly pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, God exercises authority (a constant theme in Jesus’s teaching) everywhere, but His kingdom is where his subjects submit to his authority by choice.
Jesus recognizes that the effective ruler of this world is Satan. Furthermore, Jesus also recognizes that Satan gets to keep the people who belong to him. Anyone who voluntarily chooses to live under the rule of selfishness will also voluntarily go with Satan. Anyone who will not choose to pray “Your kingdom come” thereby chooses citizenship in the dictatorship.
Satan’s pull is so strong, that the kingdom of God has to work in a sneaky way. In three of the gospels there is a story in which the religious leaders accuse Jesus of performing a healing by the power of the Prince of demons. Jesus points out that Satan is like a strong man who is armed to guard the treasures of his house. God’s kingdom is like a stronger man who binds up the stronger man in order to steal those treasures. God’s kingdom comes like a thief in the night. Jesus doesn’t heal people by Satan’s power. Instead, he has to surprise and overpower Satan for each soul to be delivered.
For this reason Jesus teaches that at this time the kingdom of God comes very subtly, like the growth of a mustard seed which is at first so tiny it is nearly invisible but becomes the largest bush in the garden, or like a bit of yeast that disappears into the dough but eventually causes all of it to rise. There will be an invasion, a “Day of the Lord,” but Jesus himself refuses to even know when it is—because before that day comes He wants to rescue as many people as possible. Just before his ascension into Heaven the disciples asked Jesus, “Will you restore the kingdom to Israel?” At that point all of Jesus’s followers belonged to a single nation, and the restoration of the kingdom would at that moment have been limited to a single nation. Jesus instead responds in effect, “don’t worry about that. Instead, you are to witness to me throughout the world.” It is not a matter of restoring the kingdom to Israel but of bringing the kingdom to every culture, language, and people group on earth, usually without anyone noticing.
When we accept Jesus’s gift of salvation and ask for God’s will to be done in our lives, we declare our allegiance to the kingdom of God. Once chosen that allegiance has to grow, however. Satan will waste no opportunity to try to reassert his jurisdiction over us. That is why it is so important that we learn the language of the kingdom. When we speak the language we live completely in the kingdom’s cultural reality. What is the language of the kingdom? Jesus says it best, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples (citizens of the Kingdom of God), if you love one another.” Let us learn that language so well that Satan has only one choice regarding what to do with us: deportation.
In Christ, Pastor David