What if we thought of the people of God first as a kingdom? It’s obvious that Jesus first picture of his followers was as such. One can not read far in any of the gospel accounts before encountering the word, “Kingdom”. Focus on the sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew in chapters 5-7. In the first sentence of the sermon Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” As he described these qualities one needed to be in the reign and rule of the Lord he opened and closed the section by saying their blessing would be the kingdom of heaven.
For Christ to reign as our king, thus making us part of the kingdom we must recognize our total dependence on God. To be poor in spirit is to see we are completely bankrupt before the Lord and see that all the goodness and grace come from him. Because of our sin we have nothing with which to bargain with God. But He made the way for us to not only be forgiven but treated as though we had never sinned at all. Other marks of kingdom living are that one mourns over their sins and the sins of the world, they are gentle, thus allowing God control of their life, they hunger and thirst for righteousness, they are merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers. The result of living such a life will be that one is persecuted for righteousness and the promise of God that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It is those who so live in the kingdom that are the salt of the earth and light of the world.
One of Jesus’ amazing statements about the kingdom came a few verses after the beatitudes in Matthew 5:20. “Except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of God.” Its hard for us to imagine how that statement would have affected those who first heard it. In their minds the very symbol of faith and righteousness were the scribes and Pharisees. They were the devoted students of Scripture. They took the word to heart, learning, memorizing and living what they understood it to teach. What in the world could Jesus mean that our righteousness must exceed theirs to be saved.
He applied the point in several ways immediately following. Each application started with the words, “You have heard it said by those of old times that……but I say to you.” To be right with God we must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees with regard to murder. They said not to commit murder. Jesus said not to be angry at a brother or call another by names such as dumb, stupid or fool or we put ourselves in danger. He noted that anger led to murder and challenged us to put reconciliation ahead of even worship. If we come to the altar to make an offering and there remember that someone has something against us, then leave the gift at the altar and first go and make friends again with your brother.
He said we must exceed the righteousness of these religious leaders with regard to adultery. They said don’t commit adultery, but Jesus declared one who looks on the opposite sex with intent to lust has already committed adultery in their hearts. Closely tied to this one was the teaching about divorce. They said if you divorce a mate then give them a written certificate of divorce and put them away. Jesus said we must be more righteous than that in not divorcing an innocent mate or marrying one who is guilty of immorality.
We should exceed the religious leaders in righteousness with regard to swearing. They had elaborate standards for when to swear and mean it and when it didn’t matter. Jesus said not to swear at all but to let our yes and no be sufficient.
He noted with should exceed them with regard to revenge. They said “An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth”. Jesus said to turn the other cheek. He also said we must exceed them with regard to love. They said love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Jesus said to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.”
In chapter six of Matthew Jesus gave the model prayer in which he said to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He wasn’t telling them to pray for the coming of the kingdom or church but praying that the rule and reign of the Lord would be over all, starting with us. The best explanation of his meaning of the word kingdom is given in the parallel phrase, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus concluded this chapter by saying, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and these things will be added to you. Do not worry about tomorrow for the morrow will worry about the things of itself. Each day has a sufficient amount of evil in it.”
Our whole lives should be built around seeking to find God’s will and doing it. When we live by the things He wants us to do we are living righteously. He is the standard of right and wrong. Later in chapter 7 of this sermon, Jesus pictured the final judgment by saying, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but he that does the will of my father in heaven. For many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in your name, in your name cast out demons and in your name done many wonderful deeds. Then I will profess to them, “I never knew you.”
It is great to call Jesus Lord. But merely saying the words is meaningless. If he is Lord then we will submit to his word and will in everything. Kingdom living isn’t just about preaching about Jesus, standing against evil in his name or even doing all kinds of good works in his name. Those actions go on all the time. The deeds aren’t bad. Truthfully we should be doing them all along. But kingdom living goes deeper than the deed and looks at the motives behind the deeds. Are we doing the service so people will tell us how great we are doing or is it to bring glory to the Lord.
When the religious leaders had become so infuriated by Jesus and his teachings that they delivered him to the Roman governor to be executed they declared that he had made himself king instead of Caesar. Pilate asked him if he was a king. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were then my servants would fight. But my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36) Probably Pilate didn’t understand much of what Jesus was saying. But he knew that the kind of king Jesus was had no conflict with Caesar and he recognized that it was envy that had caused these religious leaders to bring him.
It was to one of the religious leaders named Nicodemus that Jesus said, “Except a man is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus like so many others didn’t grasp what he was saying and asked, “How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter his mother’s womb as second time to be born?” Jesus explained, “Unless a man is born of the water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
While I believe the water here refers to the water of baptism, it isn’t just the act of baptism that is involved but the radical change that takes place in a person’s life when they are born again of the water and the Spirit.
Another time Jesus told the disciples unless they were converted and became like a little child they wouldn’t enter the kingdom (Matthew 18:3). In Luke 17:20-21 he said “The kingdom of God is within you.”
To think of the followers of Christ as a kingdom isn’t to somehow try to set the boundaries around the kingdom to decide who is in and who is out. It is to focus on being part of the kingdom by allowing Christ to reign as king in us and to tell others of him so they too can be part of the kingdom. To think in terms of the kingdom means we think of God’s people around the world rather than just the Christians I know or the ones who worship with me each Sunday. It is all too easy to become so focused on the congregation one is part of that we think only in terms of that few people. The boundaries of the kingdom of God reaches around the world, through all history and into the future as long as time will last and it reaches into heaven and those who reign with him in glory forever. Peter longed for us to live so we could have an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of the Lord (2 Peter 1:5-11).
While we may speak of the local church, we don’t speak of the local kingdom. In the kingdom there is room for only one king. Long live and reign King Jesus.