It seems to me that the great struggles of life centre round just one thing; what shall we seek first? Jesus, in His ‘sermon on the mount,’ recorded in Matthew’s gospel chapter’s five to seven, says, with great clarity, “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). If we take time to read the gospels we are sure to discover that God’s kingdom was at the heart of what Jesus preached and lived. Make no mistake, He did not simply teach and proclaim it, He lived it, for the kingdom of God is action, not words only. It translates into life behavior that issues from a heart made pure. Jesus did not preach church and He did not preach going to heaven when we die because we have believed in Him.
He preached the kingdom of God and said that it was now come and at the doors and would grow from the smallest beginnings into a great tree wherever it was received though initially but an apparently little and insignificant seed (Matthew 13:31-32). How often, in Israel of old, God had promised His kingdom to His people. Through numerous prophets throughout the centuries He said that it would come and linked its coming with the coming of the Messiah, yet when that Messiah came so few were ready to receive either Him or the blessed Kingdom He lived in and proclaimed! Indeed, the history of the generations of Israel was perfectly described in the parable Jesus told about the sower and his seed! So many in Israel, when they listened to the word of the prophets were like the hard ground, they gave no room to that wonderful word of promise, others were like rocky ground, no depth in their receptivity of heart, and still others, although they received the word spoken and the promises given allowed other things like thorns and thistles to grow in their hearts and so the expectation of the coming of the Lord and His kingdom were choked and brought forth no fruit.
However, throughout the long and sad, tortuous history of Israel there was a remnant that brought forth, some thirty, some sixty and some one hundred fold. Surely, this is the first interpretation of the parable Jesus told and recorded for us by Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus said that if the disciples did not understand this one, then they would not understand anything He said (Mark 4:13). If this story of he who sows and the seed sown was true of those former generations, how terribly and perfectly it describes His own ministry and that of the disciples in Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee. How few received either the King or the Kingdom He announced! Their hearts were conditioned to expect something very different. Their teachers had distorted the Old Testament promises and so the eyes of their hearts were blinded and their ears were made deaf (Matthew 13:13-15). Again, let me reaffirm, Jesus did not come preaching church. It was God’s kingdom He came to reveal, that realm in which God dwells in the fellowship of the Three.
That eternal life that was with the Father and was made known in Christ Jesus (1 John 1:1-4), this is kingdom life. It is indestructible. Kings and kingdoms will all pass away but the kingdom of God abides forever. It is certain that God, in the action of creating all things wrote the laws of His life into all that He made, especially human beings and yet in Adam we all turned to our own way and denied that which belongs to our true humanity and reaped dis-ease of spirit, soul and body leading to death. Jesus came announcing that the kingdom was at hand, in the midst of them, yes, still latent in man if he will just turn to Him Who is the King and also present in that Jesus Who was present, the kingdom, in Christ Jesus, was invading the realms of this world which would only come into their right place and order if His kingdom and righteousness is sought first. He did not come to destroy the other kingdoms so much as order them aright in the context of His own Kingdom. Consider some of the ‘kingdoms’ of this world and name them, for example, the kingdoms of race, family, self, money and state.
We could add a number of ‘sub-kingdoms’ if we so cared, realms in the context of which we live our lives out here upon earth. Education comes to mind along with class and color. If we examine ourselves honestly we do not take kindly to King Jesus invading and setting to rights the mastery of these other kingdoms and putting them in their place. Yet, the Kingdom of God is action, and part of that action is the tearing down of the idols, the influences that have shaped us, the despotic powers that have ruled our hearts and so to bring about His right-ness in their place. The rightness of His order and priority, in that so many of these ‘realms’ will remain in our lives and society but not as despots but as servant helps. The Second World War was fought partly over issues of what kingdom was put first by whom. For many Germans it was the ideology of superiority of the German Reich, the state that commanded first place.
For the Japanese it was race in the form of loyalty to the Emperor. For multitudes in our day it is the kingdom of money, the acquisitive avaricious greedy spirit that holds the mastery. There are laws in the business kingdom, profits and losses command everything and along with these there is an unwillingness to be generous employees, get all you can out of them for the least amount of remuneration! Yes, I am exaggerating, but only in part. Now, remember that every parable Jesus told contained a significant revelation of the kingdom of God. All that He said, all that He did was the action of the kingdom. Word and deed each corroborated the other. In one story He spoke of a vineyard owner going out at time of harvest to hire laborers (Matthew 20:1-16). That whole story illustrates the kingdom of God in contrast to the general states of the realm of ownership and business that pertained in His day (and ours) both for employed and employer.
Look at it carefully; it was a common enough occurrence in those days, the owner finding temporary laborers at harvest time. Gone were the days when Israel harvested with joy, when everyone sang at the bringing in of the vintage. Israel, in the days of Jesus was a miserable place, there was a grey-ness, and the Romans took so much from the profits and the harvests brought in. The kingdom Rome established was cruel and bland, disappointing in contrast to that which had been, in the days of Israel’s obedience. Now, instead of thanksgiving only a grinding and wearisome business remained. These were the social conditions in the days when Jesus came preaching and living the Kingdom of God! Follow the story through, the agreement with those hired in the morning, a denarius for a day’s work, then and the hire of others later in the day and then at the last hour! Then, the shock of all being paid the same wage! In the merciless world that pertained then, a generous employer! A denarius was a laboring man’s wage, it was the base minimum needed to feed his family. The perilous position of those who only had an hour’s work given them is obvious! Next day there would be hardly anything to eat for his hungry wife and children.
Another point to consider is the profound annoyance of those who had gained employment for the whole day only to discover at pay-time that those who had worked so little gained the same wage. Everything about this story breathes the atmosphere of the cutthroat world of the employee fighting for his place and a just wage. For certain Jesus knows what the kingdoms of this world are really like in their workings, the jealousies of the work place, the vying for position in order to get a step higher and so we could go on. The kingdom of business, employer and employee is built on mistrust and rivalry is rampant. In this story Jesus shows that a new world is breaking in! The kingdom of God is come and its possibility can reach right into the grey world of the kingdoms of business and money.
The rules change in the kingdom of God, yet, to live in that realm will not lead to failure but opportunity, those that honor the Lord He will honor. He elevates work to the realm of value and business to the realm of goodness. We should note carefully the mistranslation of one word that is important. In most versions the vineyard owner is made to say, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge me my generosity” (Matthew 20:15)? But take a look at the margin in your Bible and you will see that Jesus caused the man to actually say “is your eye evil because I am good.” The Greek word is ‘agathos,’ and does not primarily mean generous, but suitable, excellent, useful and appropriate. Check these meanings up in any Greek dictionary and you will see that Jesus is saying that it is entirely in keeping with living appropriately as befits true humanity to bestow upon all equally, to honor their labors and to relieve all of the anxiety of not being able to obtain a sufficiency to feed and clothe and house their family.
We know that what is demonstrated by this man is not according to the rules of the kingdom of business as we know it with its struggle for a slice of the cake but in the kingdom of God these are among His laws, this way is utterly reasonable and appropriate and how hearts should thrill at what Jesus is showing us in this story. How we should read with renewed interest every word and every record of the actions of Jesus, for all shows forth the kingdom of God. He smites a deathblow to racial pride when sitting on the well He conversed with and cared for the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42). In that one day He also broke down the kingdom of class for she was a woman of questionable character to say the least. The kingdom of family must find its proper place.
The kingdom of God must break in there also. The selfish family orientation of many must give way appropriately to the incoming of the kingdom of God. Jesus showed this when His own mother and stepbrothers came claiming His allegiance and He contextualized them against the greater kingdom of God as He said, pointing to those who were His disciples, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whosoever does the will of My Father in heaven are My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:43-45). Seek first the kingdom of God and your family will be given back to you appropriately, otherwise family allegiances will strangle your Christian life and this is true of racial allegiances, class consciousness and educational pride with its accompanying intellectual snobbery. The rich variety of color differences between peoples will be given back to you if pride of ‘whiteness’ or ‘blackness’ is slain. And should we not mention also the pride of ‘church’ that often occurs.
When our denomination, our ‘charismatic church’ becomes the be all and the end all, the channel of blessing into the world turns that all into a dreadful ‘kingdom’ which must die in order for us to gain our church group back again in true value. He that saves his life shall surely lose it, but he that loses if for God and His kingdoms sake shall find it. This is a fundamental law of the realm of God. We must die on one level to live on another. Self is most voracious of kingdoms, people swirl around the abyss of their own self-importance, unwilling to put the kingdom of God first, but, if they do, then they will gain the kingdom of self in truth. They will become properly human and become full of ‘ease’ of spirit and soul and probably of body too instead of the ‘dis-ease’ mentioned earlier in this musing. Just consider the surrender that is implicit in the creation, as God has made it, the lower kingdoms giving themselves up to the higher.
The mineral kingdom surrenders to the vegetable that then takes that and transforms it into a living form and so on the process goes to the necessity that the kingdom of man can only find itself transformed when it surrenders to the kingdom of God. Seek first His kingdom and righteousness, it is loss of the other kingdoms only to gain them in their appropriate place, beauty and usefulness. Put any other kingdom in the place of priority and the result is sure to be frustration and a lack of any lasting satisfaction. He created us for life in the kingdom of God, we were formed to dwell in union with Him and all else is an aberration leading ultimately to a hell of profound emptiness.