Think of all the stories of that Jesus told to help people have a clearer grasp of what it meant to live for God in the world. He used the most common events of the daily life of the people to whom he spoke to illustrate the points he wanted us to get. He talked about sowing seed and the harvest that resulted. He told of a vine and its branches and bearing fruit in him. He talked about mustard seed and leaven that was hidden in the meal of the cook. He described treasures both hidden in a field and valuable pearls that a man was searching for. Most of Jesus stories had one thing in common. Most were linked to the kingdom of God or of Christ. He would often say, “The kingdom of God is like.” Even when he didn’t mention the kingdom it was very much a part of the whole context of his discussion. In the single greatest sermon ever preached by anyone, known to us as the “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus followed the theme of the kingdom of heaven from the beginning to the end. He started the sermon by listing the beatitudes and in giving the blessings he started and finished with the kingdom. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
I’ve often wondered what came to the minds of the people when they heard his lessons on the kingdom. Their lives had been spent under the rule of different kingdoms. Israel had known both very good kings and some of the worst imaginable. At the time Jesus spoke they were both dealing with King Herod’s sons who reigned over different areas around them and with the Roman Emperor who was more often than not a horrible person. So what entered their mind when they heard Jesus speak of the kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God? Perhaps their minds went back to the glory days when David and Solomon were kings in Israel with the nation on the grow and with God’s blessings on them as a whole. Probably most of them kept on with the thoughts that if Jesus were the real Messiah he would set up the kingdom of Israel again and reign like David over the people. But, if they did, you have to wonder what they thought of so many of Jesus stories about the kingdom or even his discussion of the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount. A kingdom that blesses the poor in spirit or those persecuted for righteousness didn’t fit the mental picture they had drawn up for the coming kingdom the Messiah would set up.
In Matthew 6, the middle chapter of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus concluded the chapter with the command, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough evil of its own to deal with.” But notice what had been discussed in this chapter. He had focused first on the motive of our righteousness. Don’t do your righteousness before people to be seen by them but do them in secret and the Father who sees in secret will reward you. He illustrated the point by discussion of prayer, giving and fasting. In the prayer discussion he gave them the model prayer saying to pray like this. In that prayer the first plea for the Father was “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In this Jesus gave a clear grasp of what kingdom living is all about. When God’s kingdom is dominant in our lives we do God’s will. It would be totally out of place for me to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven when I’m not doing anything to carry out God’s will in my own life. I suspect the way we should pray this prayer is “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven and Lord start with me.”
In that command to seek first above everything else God’s kingdom and righteousness it is vital to see the tie between kingdom and righteousness. If I seek God’s kingdom above all else it will certainly lead to me striving to be right with the Lord in everything I do. Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were my servants would fight but my kingdom is not from here.” God’s kingdom isn’t some physical, earthly kingdom to be set up in Jerusalem to have Jesus reign on this earth for 1,000 years. It is a spiritual kingdom and Christ when raised from the dead was seated at God’s right hand on David’s throne and has been reigning as king over his kingdom ever since (Acts 2:29-40).
Kingdom living means that Christ is our king. It means we have a heart set on doing the Lord’s will and following His guide all the time. It means that we yield to the lead of the Holy Spirit in us. It involves the strongest efforts to please God, not to try to please all the people around us. If we are pleasing all the people, it is clearly the case that we aren’t pleasing the Lord and His rule isn’t dominant in our lives. Kingdom living means that we aren’t spending our time worrying about what all may happen in this world. It amazes me that Jesus discussion was on worrying when he told us to seek his kingdom first and all the things that we normally worry about will be taken care of by the Lord. He challenged us not to worry about what we would eat, what we would wear or where we would live. He said not to lay up our treasures on this earth but to lay them up in heaven where they can’t be destroyed by the affairs of this life. If there has ever been a time when people who follow Christ spent more time worrying about what is going on in the world than they do today, I would hate to have seen it. How can we keep from worrying about our country, about the morals of our nation, about poverty and crime in the world and about the lack of spiritual growth among even God’s people? Jesus gave the answer. Instead of worrying ourselves to death when it won’t do even a little bit of good, seek the kingdom of the Lord and his righteousness. God can handle the world and its future. Live for today. It is all we can handle anyway. So live as kingdom people and let Christ be the king of our lives all the time. It will change us and the world around us when we do.