I hope you have your Bibles with me and will turn to Matthew 5. I have two verses for us to consider before we get into Matthew 5.
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Luke 17:20-21 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
When I started preparing for this message on the Kingdom I quickly became overwhelmed by the reality of the seriousness of Kingdom living and the scope of Kingdom principles. I was tempted to stand up this morning and read these two Scriptures and merely say, “The Kingdom. It’s complicated.” J
But the Kingdom of God is so important to Jesus and so central to the Christian life that I must make an attempt with God’s help to flesh out what it means to “seek first the Kingdom” and what that means for how we live our lives.
In the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Kingdom of God was the dominant focus of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God had come in and through Him. The Kingdom of God having come in and through Him is supposed to then come through Him to the inside of each one of us. The Kingdom of God is the rule of God on the inside of us and the reign of God that is visible through our attitudes and actions.
We could spend weeks talking about the Kingdom of God and deal with a lot of Scripture, but I want us to focus on two chapters that culminate in our Matthew 6:33 passage about seeking the Kingdom of God. Look with me at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 as it outlines what the Kingdom of God is like.
Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The story is told of a young American student who visited the Beethoven Museum in Bonn, Germany. The student became fascinated by Beethoven’s piano that was on display there. It was a thrill to think that Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works on that piano! The student asked the museum guard if she might play a few notes on it. To help persuade the guard, she also slipped him a lavish tip. The guard agreed and the girl went to the piano and played the opening of the Moonlight Sonata. As she was leaving she said to the guard, “I suppose all the great pianists who come here want to play on that piano.” The guard shook his head and said, “Paderewski, the famous Polish pianist was here a few years ago, and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch it.”
Poverty of spirit is something that isn’t part of our nature. In fact, if ever there was a generation of people who had an entitlement mentality, I believe it is our generation. Even in the Christian community I see this pervasive attitude that says, “I’m entitled to blessing or ease or wealth or prosperity just because I want it and claim it as mine.” That’s not the way the Kingdom works. God is ruling and reigning in the lives of people who humbly recognize they deserve death and are in submission to God with forever grateful hearts because He hasn’t given them the punishment they deserve.
Poverty of spirit really has nothing to do with your checkbook. It doesn’t involve trying to think lowly about one’s self or loathing one’s self, but it involves leaning fully on God. The word used here to mean poverty is “ptochos” which speaks of absolute poverty, being destitute, bankrupt. Its spiritual application is that to be poor in spirit means we have embraced the fact that we are spiritually bankrupt and cannot save ourselves. We bring nothing to the table in our relationship with God. Without Him, we are nothing. Seeking first the Kingdom through spiritual poverty is the first step. It involves confessing our unworthiness and total dependence upon Him! Everything else flows from there. Pride says, “Look at me.” Humility says, “Look at Him because everything I have, everything I can do, everything I am is because of God’s grace, mercy, strength, and power at work in my life.” You seek first the Kingdom of God by admitting you are a sinner in need of a Savior and by making sure that in everything you say and do, Christ always gets the glory.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. People who seek to let God rule them seek to do so in good times as well as in bad times. Kingdom people mourn differently than the world does. You see, people who are grieving have to make a choice. They can process grief through their own understanding and limited view which can and likely will cause bitterness, doubt and anger towards God or they can turn to God, trust in God, and experience God’s comfort which will bringing healing and hope to their souls. Kingdom seekers must not let their grief inform their lives, define their future, or shape their attitudes. They must let God inform their grief so that He stays in control of their lives, their futures, and their attitudes. That’s what it means to seek the Kingdom in our mourning.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Seeking the Kingdom involves seeking to relate to people in godly ways. Let me clarify that meekness isn’t weakness as our modern dictionaries might suggest.
Take Moses, for example. He was an awesome leader. In his day, he took on the most powerful leader in the known world, Pharaoh Ramses. He demanded Pharaoh let God’s people go. He led the Israelites on the world’s longest hike ever to the edge of the Promised Land. Yet we read in Numbers 12:3 “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.”(KJV)
Jesus took on the Pharisees, people who were possessed by demons, the winds and waves that were out of control and chased corrupt money changers out of the temple with whips and yet we read in Matthew 11:29 about Him, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” So meekness definitely isn’t weakness.
The Greek word for “meekness” is praus and it means “to be gentle, humble, considerate, and courteous.” Three different kinds of people used that particular word in classical Greek. When doctors used the word “meek” they were talking about medicine that would take away a person’s pain if dispensed and used correctly. When sailors used the word “meek” they were describing a cool breeze that refreshed them. Farmers used the word “meek” of a donkey that had been tamed and was useful as a result. In all three cases, the medicine that is dispensed, the wind that blows to refresh and move a sailing vessel and the donkey that is submitted to his master’s bidding, they all describe a kind of “power under control.”
Those who are seeking the rule of God inwardly and the reign of God outwardly aren’t going to “let someone have it.” They aren’t going to “put someone in their place” out of anger or frustration. They aren’t out to “prove a point” or “make someone pay” with their words and actions. They are able to allow the life of God and the ministry of Jesus to be expressed through their lives in the character and attitude of Christ. Boldness and bullying are two different things. Courage and crassness are not compatible. Righteousness and arrogance are not intertwined. You can have high standards without riding them on a high horse! People with a spirit of meekness live a Spirit-controlled life and possess power not because they have to display power, but because they are willing to display the opposite, restraint.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Remember Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and HIS RIGHTOUSNESS.” I like the emphasis here on hungering and thirsting for those are things from within a person. We hunger and thirst on the inside. That is where righteousness ought to be craved and found. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the Pharisees, had an arrogant sense of false righteousness because they thought their good deeds, the things they did on the outside for all to see, made them righteous. Not so in the Kingdom of God.
Look at Matthew 5:20: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The Pharisees and teachers of the law weren’t craving righteousness, but power, prestige and position. Their acts flowed not from a love for God and others, but from a quest for authority and applause. We are told that the righteousness of Christ surpasses the example of the Pharisees. Other verses in chapter five give us clues as to how our pursuit of Kingdom righteousness is to be different.
Look at verses 21-26. We are told that we aren’t supposed to kill. That is an outward activity. We are to refrain from killing. But we are to do more than restrain ourselves physically. We are to take a position internally that would make it impossible for us ever to commit such an action. We are supposed to not be angry with our brothers and sisters. And it’s not just about not being angry, but we are supposed to be proactive and seek peace if we are going to hunger and thirst after righteousness. We are to be right on the inside in our feelings toward everyone to the point where we are intentional about being right with people on the outside as well.
Some of you here this morning need to leave this service and go to someone you have something against and tell them you are sorry for your part and for your anger. Righteousness involves an inward desire to have the outward expression of Jesus in all circumstances. You can’t have one without the other and call it righteousness either. You can’t have an outward expression without the inward love and release from anger. I have been in meetings with people where you could tell the reconciliation was “fake” or “put on” or “contrived” or because someone felt backed into a corner they agreed to “reconcile” and through gritted teeth they said they were sorry. That wasn’t righteousness because it lacked the internal freedom in their hearts to truly love and seek peace. Who do you need to release from anger today in order to pursue Kingdom righteousness?
In verses 27-30 we are told not to commit adultery, but it doesn’t stop there. There is an internal component as well. We aren’t to look at people lustfully. Why is that important? Because what we think about will impact our actions, and we won’t have a hope of being faithful to our spouse long term if we are going to let our minds go down alleys and roads and possibilities with other people. David found out how detrimental it is to let your mind wander into lust of another person when he had an affair with Bathsheba which led to an unwanted pregnancy and a cover up that involved murder! It all started because of an impulse on the inside of David. Righteousness goes deep because that’s where God can see. Past our façade. Past our good works. Past our actions, but right into our hearts.
In verses 31-37 we read about how seeking righteousness involves keeping our promises, our commitments, our oaths. It is about the intention of our hearts to follow through that causes us to push through obstacles and challenges and be people of our word as much as is possible on our end of every deal.
Verses 38-42 talk about not getting even, but about blessing those who aren’t good to us and blessing those we see as enemies. They speak about praying for people who persecute us, wrong us, or even those who just annoy us. When was the last time you hungered and thirsted to bless your enemies? That’s the kind of righteousness we are supposed to crave! How is everyone doing on the righteousness scale this morning according to Kingdom rules? (Gulp! J)
Just like I spoke about the idea last week that seeking God should be the obsession of every Christian’s life, seeking Him and His righteousness is an internal relentless pursuit that then is demonstrated in the things we say and do. Righteousness or perfection or right living or living without sin . . . this is to be the desire of every believer.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Let’s look at a conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees about the issue of mercy.
Matthew 9:10-13 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The Pharisees lived by the letter of the law rather than by the spirit of the law. Because they did, they found ways around loving everyone. They emphasized parts of the law and ignored other parts. They decided the law should serve them rather than the other way around. As a result, “certain people” were alienated from their friendship and help.
Jesus wanted the Pharisees to understand that mercy trumped everything, even the letter of the ceremonial laws about being clean and unclean. Mercy involves doing all you can whenever you can to bring healing and hope to people who are spiritually sick or in need in any way. Kingdom seekers are those who see the needs of other people and who respond with compassion to their needs even if it means personal cost or investment or being labeled by others as a “friend of sinners.”
I want to skip to a later part of Matthew 5 before concluding this morning’s thoughts with the next Beatitude. In Matthew 5:13-16, we see that people who seek the Kingdom seek to be “salt” and “light.” Once at a meeting, some young people were discussing that Christians are supposed to be salt, and they were suggesting uses of salt, and the meaning and what Jesus meant by calling His followers salt. They listed things like the fact that salt gives flavor to food. It preserves food to keep it from decaying. And then one little girl piped up and said, salt makes you thirsty. The room got very quiet as they thought about if their lives had made anyone thirsty for Jesus. (http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/illustrations-about-salt.asp) Is my life making anyone thirsty for Jesus? Is yours?
We are also called “light.” Kingdom people are those who “Walk in the light as God is in the light. . .” (I John 1:7) The story is told of a little girl who was shivering her way along a main street in one of our great cities. Seeing the beautiful lights of a church building and hearing the music coming from within, she went in and warmed herself as she listened. The preacher’s text was, “I am the light of the world.” At the close of the service, she went to the minister and said, “Did you say you are the light of the world, sir?” The minister replied, “No, dear child. Christ is the light of the world, and I am one of the lights.” The little girl looked at him for a moment, and then solemnly said, “Well, Sir, I wish you would come down and hang out in our alley, ’cause it’s awful dark down there!” Christians, we are “the light of the world.” As one of those lights, are you “hanging out” in some dark alley?—Biblical Research Monthly. http://www.moreillustrations.com/Illustrations/light%202.html
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. This verse really hits the nail on the head. The Kingdom of God is the rule of God on the inside of a person.
“Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). From the heart are all the issues of life.
What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart . . . For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man. (Matthew 15:18–19)
For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34)
That is why we must guard our hearts. Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Everything hinges on the conditions of our hearts! What goes on, on the inside of a person is absolutely critical. We are to pursue Kingdom life on the inside first!
We need to regularly examine our hearts and pray the prayer the Psalmist prays in Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Have you prayed once this last week, “God, have I offended you in any way?” You see, Kingdom righteousness means above anything else that we want to be right with God.
In a nutshell, a pure heart is singly focused on letting God rule on the inside so that He can reign on the outside of us too through our attitudes and actions. When something is “pure” it isn’t mixed with anything else. It isn’t diluted with anything else. It doesn’t share the space with anything else. The Psalmist prayed in 86:11, “Psalm 86:11 (NIV)
“Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” Do you sense the purity of the writer’s request? More than anything. . . more than anything, he wanted to be pure in heart.
You see what I mean? Seeking the Kingdom of God is complicated or is it? I guess if I think about blessing those who are mean to me it seems very difficult. If I think about loving and praying for my enemies that can feel like a burden. If I focus on not relying on myself and being proactive about releasing anger and seeking peace it can all seem overwhelming or like a lot of work. But if I start with my heart and desire to be pure in heart first and let everything flow from that place of submission and singleness of purpose won’t everything else become a natural outgrowth or natural progression of my heart’s desire? And if loving my enemies is my heart’s desire and seeking peace and showing mercy are my heart’s desire and being salt and light because Jesus says I should be are my heart’s desire, then it’s never a “have to” but a “want to.” It’s a “can’t wait to.” It is a blessing because after all, don’t we want to see the desires of our hearts satisfied?
Seeking first the Kingdom means getting things right in our hearts. It makes sense then, that “all these things are added to me” or line up in my life when I do. Jesus was pinpoint accurate when he said in Luke 17:21 “The kingdom of God is within you.” Do you possess it?