What follows is a radio message that I wrote for our Evangelistics course and that I delivered at my Chapel on Monday. It won’t be aired until next February, so you can read it now, forget it, and then listen to it in a few months. It is from Matthew 6:25-34, with the focus being on verse 33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
No one has ever said that the gospel is a sensible thing. It’s been called a stumbling block, foolishness; and as it is something that has come down from above, it seems to us as though it is upside-down. In fact, our passage tells us to put aside for the moment the practical things of life, and to instead dwell on what is impractical. To take leave of adulthood and to think again like a child. To look at birds, to look at lilies, and to rest when we should be working. There’s a good reason why elsewhere in Scripture Christ says that the kingdom belongs to the poor, and to the children. Rich people take themselves too seriously, and serious people can’t see the richness of the world. If you are worried about where your next meal is coming from, we might ask you in for dinner, or give you a gift card; Christ tells you to look at the birds. If your clothes are worn out and you think you can’t afford new ones, we might direct you to a favourite thrift store; Christ tells you to look at the lilies. For such are the ways of His kingdom, an incomparable kingdom full of secrets; a kingdom that can’t be seen but yet must be sought.
Our text, then, begins with the command to seek first this kingdom. The command is not to seek only the kingdom, but among all the many things we will pursue in life, to seek first the kingdom. It’s a matter of balance and priorities. Maybe you know someone who loves to pour a lot of sugar into his coffee. And if so, you might have asked him, or heard someone else ask him, jokingly, “Would you like some coffee with that sugar?” Or maybe, “would you like some pancakes with that syrup,” or “would you like salad with that dressing?” But that’s really the sort of principle Christ is after in His command. Just as it would be absurd if you really were to add a bit of coffee to a lot of sugar, so it is absurd to add a bit of kingdom to a lot of material things. Rather, the main thing must be seeking the kingdom, and everything else in life is an additive.
So when Christ mentions the kingdom of God here in this passage, what exactly is He talking about? The kingdom of God comes up many times in His ministry, and He shows us many sides; but which side is in view in this passage? He is speaking here to His disciples, and He is teaching them not to be anxious. The examples of the birds and the lilies were to illustrate that since the Father provides such care for lesser creatures, how much more does He care for His own children? If you invest in anything other than this simple truth, Christ tells us, you’ll receive dividends of worry and anxiety. We could put it another way, too, and say that it is to the anxious and the worried that Christ offers His kingdom. For His kingdom offers the anxious person what they really need. And what the anxious person really needs, is rest. Contrary to the kingdom of work and busyness and stress, the kingdom of our age, Christ offers a kingdom of rest.
In fact, this kingdom of rest has been around since the very beginning. Back in the second chapter of the Bible, we read that after God finished His work of creation in six days, He rested on the seventh day and made it holy. So right in the very rhythms of life, even before humanity fell into sin, God established the principle of rest. When we as sinners, then, seek reconciliation with God; when we seek His kingdom, we must learn how to rest.
There’s a good example of this from the life of Christ. At one point He stays at the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. While Martha busies herself with the practical things of hosting, with preparing food, cleaning up, and serving, her sister Mary sits at the feet of Christ and listens to Him talk. We can all understand Martha when she finally gets frustrated and says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” But Jesus answers her and says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” You see, Mary had sought first the kingdom, while Martha had sought everything else. Mary had learned to rest in the good news that Christ had brought, and that rest would never be taken from her.
There may not be a more stinging rebuke of our modern era. Ours is a world obsessed with the concepts of business and manufacturing; we want productivity, we want efficiency, we want speed, information, technology, progress. And my point here is not to speak against these things, to speak against work, but only to put them in their place. You see, work is a good thing, but it’s a cruel god. So many of us worship at the altar of work, at the altar of finance, at the altar of research and development. Like Martha we are impressed by our hard work, and we imagine that God must be impressed as well. But the truth is, if the gospel is a stumbling block for Jews, and foolishness to Greeks, it’s laziness to us. In Martha’s eyes Mary was lazy. She was just sitting there doing nothing important, it seemed. But Mary had chosen the good portion, because Mary knew when to rest! God created six days for us to do all our work, and He called those six days good. But the seventh day He called holy, and because it is holy we rest. We don’t rest on that day to get energy for the work week; that’s exactly backwards. We work during the week so we can rest on that day! On that day, on Sunday, on the Lord’s Day, we are treated to an appetizer of eternity. The purpose of life is to rest in God, and only from that foundation can we then work to His glory.
But forgive me if I’ve led you to believe that this is just about working at our jobs and then taking a day off. While it is that, it is meant to point us to something so much better. Because what really is this rest that the kingdom offers us? What is the real rest that removes our anxieties? What did Mary understand about rest that Martha didn’t? Well we see in our text the answer to this as well. For we are told to seek first the kingdom and His righteousness. The righteousness of God. What this term means is that God is right in all that He does, there is no wrong in Him. But it has a further meaning as well. For God Himself became a man, the very man whose words we are studying here. And this man, too, was right in all that He did; there was no wrong in Him. But more than that; that man took on all of the wrongness in us, that ocean of sin that keeps us ever distant from God; He took that on Himself and He was punished for it. Every other religion in the world focuses on crossing that ocean. And every other religion in the world tells you that you have to do it under your own steam. Either you have to do the right number of rituals, or you have to meditate hard enough, or you have to do a certain amount of good to outweigh the evil; whatever it is, it is work, and a work that you cannot finish. It is a labour that you will take to your grave, and a labour that will go on forever. For Scripture also tells us that those in hell have no rest.
So listen then to the beautiful message of the gospel. For the gospel tells you that the ocean has been crossed! Jesus Christ did all of the work for you, and all you have to do is believe that! This is the real rest that you will find in the kingdom of God. It comes by seeking His righteousness and making it your own. It comes by resting from the labour of your soul, the labour that tries to reach God on its own. Instead, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and Christ will be added unto you!