Matthew 6: 31-34
The other day, at another meeting, we were looking at a passage further on in this gospel, in chapter 18 verses 15-20, where the Lord gives directions as to how a brother might be gained. If a brother offends, then one or two - or three, in fact - might undertake to gain a brother. I do not want to go into that procedure because my thought tonight is not exactly related to recovery, although that would be one application of the passage. But it raises the question, 'What would I want to gain a brother for?' You might say, 'He used to be a good friend of mine and I would like to recover the friendship that might have been lost', but I wonder if it really would satisfy the Lord’s directions if that was your only kind of object, if that was your horizon. What we saw in our enquiry is that you would be seeking to gain a brother for the kingdom. You would have in mind that he might be gained or restored to his part in the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of the heavens. (I will be allowed not to go into the distinction between these expressions now.) There are a number of reasons in that passage for reaching such a conclusion. One is that the brother is gained on the principle of subjection; that is, he hears you. But perhaps more precious still is what the Lord goes on to say, that “where two or three are gathered together unto my name” - that is, perhaps, you and the brother you have gained, and a brother you took with you to gain him - “there am I in the midst”. The way the kingdom is presented in Scripture shows that the Lord Jesus embodies the kingdom. If He is there in the midst, then the blessing and glory of the kingdom is experienced. So your object in gaining a brother would be to create conditions in which not only the brother had his part, but in which the Lord Jesus Himself would have His part. Your object would be so to clear the problem that had arisen that the Lord might feel comfortable in your company. The Christian circle should be like that. It should be a place in which the presence of the Lord Jesus is enjoyed. It should be a place into which the Lord Jesus can come, in the midst, and feel at home; a place He would want to come to. If that is to be realised, then clearly things must be in order, because after all, if we speak of the kingdom, He is the King. And it would be very wrong, I am sure everyone would understand, for a king to come into something that expressed his kingdom and find contrary wills and other offences allowed that disturbed his enjoyment of it.
Well, all that gives rise to a further question: would it be possible to seek to gain a brother for the kingdom if I am not in the good of the kingdom myself? Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to establish a brother in something that did not command my life already? And that brings me to say a word, beloved, about entrance into the kingdom. How is it that any of us might enter the kingdom? I want not simply to show you where the gates are or the door, but I would like to do it in a way which made everybody want to come through them and to live in the enjoyment of what they will find if they do. I want to take up this verse here to encourage all of us to be seekers of the kingdom - seekers. And not only seekers, but those who “seek … first the kingdom of God”; maybe to establish it more as a priority in the lives of every one of us.
Those of us who are familiar with Matthew’s gospel - and others can become so by reading it - will know how full different parts of it are with teaching about the kingdom. I will just go over a little of it. It will have to be simple because beyond that is beyond me. I would like to just sketch out a few things about the kingdom with the object of making them attractive. The kingdom of the heavens was the great theme of the ministry of Jesus on earth. Of course some will say He touched on a lot of other things, and He did. But the central theme of His ministry on earth was the kingdom of the heavens. And I say that because, when He began to preach, He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh”, chap 4: 17. That was something new, and it was new because for the first time there was to be communicated to people here on earth the principles of a kingdom that belonged not to this earth but to heaven. Not only did it belong to heaven, but because it belonged there it had a heavenly character. It follows from that that there is no man-made element to it. If you take account of the kingdoms of the world - the United Kingdom, for example, but there are others - they really express the outcome of a process by which they have been formed through the development of human ideas. But I want to show that there is no such element in the kingdom of the heavens. It is something that does not have any relationship to the political story of the world’s history. It comes from, and it belongs to, a context which is outside the world, apart from its history. It does not bear the world’s character - it cannot bear the world’s character: it is entirely different from what you might find in the politics or the affairs of men. It is the kingdom of God - that is who it comes from. And, not only is it of God, but it has a character which belongs to things that are of God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift”, James says, “comes down from above”, Jas 1: 17. That is the character of the kingdom: it is superior to the earth. And the blessings and benefits which you will receive as entering into it are all better than anything you would receive here on earth. It is embodied in the Person of Jesus. If you think, for example, of the United Kingdom - we are not there today; and those of us who have been there have not been to see it all. Therefore any of us only has a partial idea of what that kingdom is all about. But this kingdom is expressed in its fulness in the Lord Jesus. You might say He is King and kingdom. Not only does He give character to it, but He expresses every aspect of it fully. So entering into the kingdom becomes very simple. It is not a question of filling in green forms or white forms and negotiating with some immigration officer or queuing up and all these things we have to do. You come to Jesus. It is very simple. The most approachable Person there has ever been is the embodiment of the kingdom of God. And any of us can come to Him: little children - hundreds, thousands of them - have come to Him. The Lord Jesus says that in chapter 18. In fact, He says - and this shows how different this kingdom must be to any earthly kingdom - “Unless ye are converted and become as little children, ye will not at all enter into the kingdom of the heavens”, v 3. Now, little children do not fill in forms and deal with officials and bureaucrats and all those things. They do not need a level of understanding or intelligence, or all these other things which might be associated with claiming residence or title to something earthly; but little children know what it means just to come to Jesus. In fact, they do not have to come, because He takes them and brings them. What a blessed thing that is! It shows the character of the kingdom. It is a system of administration, one major feature of which is its consideration of the needs and interests and understanding of little children. What a blessed thing! I appeal to the young people, that the Lord Jesus is very anxious that, at the earliest possible opportunity you should seek entrance into His kingdom. And you do not have to look very far: if you want to find that entrance, you simply come to Him.
Having got on to the subject of the King Himself, I would like to say something about how the kingdom has become established. You might say it has always been established. It has come from heaven, from a place where there is nothing to overcome; there is no victory to secure. But in a practical sense, the sense in which we may now take it up and enter into it, the kingdom is presented to us in the light of this great truth, that the Lord Jesus has died. It may be a little new to some people if I say that, but the kingdom practically in the operation of it - and certainly as far as our entrance into it is concerned - is established on the great principle of redemption. What that simply means is that the King of whom we have been speaking, the Lord Jesus, has a precious claim, a very personal claim, to every single person who belongs to His kingdom. They are not simply His subjects, they are His redeemed. What a wonderful thing that is, that the Lord Jesus Himself has provided that security, that basis, on which we may now have part in the blessings over which He is, and which He administers for our benefit. How precious it is to think of the Lord Jesus Himself being prepared to suffer and die. I will not go at length into the sufferings of Jesus, but think of that. Consider the question that Pilate asks in John’s gospel, as to the kingdom. He says, “Thou art then a king?”, John 18: 37. Think of his wonder contemplating Him. Here was a man arraigned before him as a troublemaker and in some mysterious way a criminal, and yet apparently a king. He says, ‘Thou art a king?’ He did not look like one. He did not look like someone to whom Pilate had any cause to be subject. The Lord Jesus says, “... I am a king”. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world”, v 36. It was not a kingdom that derived from earth, and it was not a question of establishing its rights in relation to the Roman empire. The Lord Jesus was able to testify in the course of His trial before Pilate that He had a heavenly kingdom. Think of the Lord Jesus about to be crucified, about to be refused by His earthly people; left by all His friends, standing apparently alone in the midst of the most abject and humiliating circumstances: “I am a king”. Does that appeal to you? Let me emphasise the appeal it ought to make to you. He stood there, not then to claim His earthly throne, but to claim you. And, in order to make that claim to you good - and dare I say irresistible - He proceeded from that miserable trial to hang upon a cross. There He hung as a King. And He laid down His life. He took upon Himself every obligation of all His subjects, and answered to God’s holy claims for them all. In order to do that, He suffered what it was to be forsaken by God for three hours on the cross. Beloved, think of it! He did that because He wants you to “seek … first the kingdom”. He wants you to consider your priorities. He wants you to think about what is important to you and, in order to make you think about it, He would like you to think just for a moment about what was important to Him. Beloved, you can measure how important you were to Him by considering for a moment what He was willing to do for you. Now, I draw this from things I have read, and I would not dare say it if I did not know that somebody else I respect had said it; but when it says in the Scripture that “Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us” (2 Cor 5: 21), what that means is that not only did He bear the penalty of death that must be paid by the sinner; but He also bore the wrath of God which must be endured if the offence of sin is to be atoned for in the presence of God. In order to bear, and fully taste and exhaust the wrath of God, for those three hours on the cross He had to know what it was to have no sense of the love of God (see JND Collected Writings vol 7 p178-190). I would just like to ask you to think. I suppose we all know something about the love of God, but none of us can imagine what it would feel like if for three hours there was no sense whatever of the love of God. In its place was God’s holy wrath against sin. That is the way, dear believer, in which your redemption was secured. It was not secured like some market transaction; it was done in three terrible, terrible hours, when the King who had all those rights stood in the place of His subjects and atoned for them before God. How wonderful that is! Beloved, He did that to establish for us what we had no right to whatever, and He did it in love. As a consequence of doing that, He has established a claim in redemption. It is not simply that the basis for redemption has been secured, but the claim of redemption has been established. Everybody owes to Him the acknowledgement of a right over us. And in order to make that acknowledgement good, we have to face the things that will bring us into the kingdom.
Scripture speaks about many such things but I want to look at just two. One is repentance and one is conversion. It is worth saying as to conversion that it is not something you can do yourself. You cannot convert yourself. I might think that, in ordinary things, if I started off for example as a civil servant, by a process of training I might turn myself into a teacher or something of that sort. But you cannot convert yourself in this sense. It is something that you are dependent on God to do in you. But you must recognise at any rate the necessity of it. And the reason why it is so necessary is that, otherwise, you would want to bring into the kingdom things for which the King has suffered and died; and that cannot be. The kingdom is a place where there can be no offence. We read of that in chapter 13: He says, “they shall gather out of his kingdom all offences” (v 41) - all of them. If you want to see the process by which that is accomplished, you can read the book of Revelation and you will see how severe and unsparing the gathering is. There cannot be offences in His kingdom, and in order that you should bring no offence into the kingdom, you have to understand what it is to be converted.
There are several references to conversion in the New Testament, and the immediate bearing of them all is on Jewish people. It is important to understand that because, for a Jew, his history and what he had been before was very important. For the Jew to feel he had a proper and legitimate claim to the blessings of God, he had to be quite sure that he was a Jew. And therefore his history and all that went before was important. But the Lord Jesus shows that it will not give you entrance into the kingdom of the heavens. There were people who came and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of the heavens?”, Matt 18: 1 He says, 'it is not a question of being greatest; you will need to be converted'. So, all the things you thought might make you great do not count. They will not help you. You see that you have to submit to the work of God to clear away all the things that might give you status or standing or whatever it might be - your interests, and all those things that do not bring you any nearer to God; and you have to submit to the work of God in you.
Now, the means by which you express your submission to the work of God in you is repentance. That means that you come into the presence of God; it is not just to say you are sorry, or you will try and do better, or something like that. You must come into the presence of God and ask Him to show you not only how what you have done seems to Him, but also to ask Him to show you how you seem to Him. You must get an understanding in the presence of God of what a sinner looks like to God. What God will say to you is that your sinnership is a source of offence; it is unclean. He cannot have it in His presence. At the same time, He will show you that He loves you, and that He wants to have you for His pleasure and glory; and in order to do that, He will separate you from your sins. He will visit His unsparing judgment on them, and save you. Now, in order to be a repentant person, your judgment of all those things has to line up with God’s. You have to recognise that the things that God has judged are rightly judged; and you are going to judge them as well. You are going to submit to the will of God, and to the ordering of God. You are going to hear the gospel, and the way that God presents His message of salvation to you. And by these means, beloved, you become a subject of the kingdom of God. You become qualified, and entitled for entrance into His kingdom, the kingdom of the heavens. How precious this is, that God has made all this provision for you! Through the gospel, He presents to you this wonderful prospect of coming to Jesus just as you are, recognising the work He has done for you and its atoning power, putting your faith in it, and receiving the righteousness it gives - “righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ”, Rom 3: 22. Think of that - it says that here, “seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”. God’s righteousness has been displayed, it has been displayed at the cross. It has been displayed in the ministry and in the Person of Jesus. There it is! It does not depend on your righteousness; you have none. If you had it, it would be worth nothing. And why would you want it when God presents His own righteousness, in the work and Person of a perfect Man, who has suffered and died for you? 'Seek it!', He says, “Seek ye first ... his righteousness”. What a precious thing, that we might be the recipients, the beneficiaries, of the righteousness of God! It is a principle of the kingdom. Things are not wrong in the kingdom. Things are not out of order, or out of place. Relationships are right, relationships between God and His subjects, between the King and His subjects. They are as right as they are between God and the King. What a wonderful thing that we should be free of the things that intrude into our relationships and disturb our peace with God. These things can be removed on the principle of subjection, and recognition of the will of God, and the rights and principles that mark the kingdom.
The kingdom of God manifests itself in very practical ways. The Lord Jesus speaks of some of these things here and it is worth remembering them. He says, “your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of these things”. The needs of every day, He knows that you have need of them. Because you are subject of His kingdom, He makes it His responsibility to ensure that your needs are provided for. So there is no need for the believer to worry. The future has many uncertainties to it, some big changes and things that bring in doubts and fears, and perhaps changes that we would prefer not to happen and hope will never happen. But we can trust the Father about them because He has brought us into His kingdom. And, having brought us into His kingdom, He does not simply impose obligations of subjection upon us, but He takes upon Himself an obligation for our care and well-being even in our practical circumstances here. Oh, you say, 'You said it was the kingdom of the heavens'; and so it is, but the kingdom of the heavens can look after people who are on earth. It can look after them better than earthly-minded people can look after themselves. I like to think of Joseph in His kingdom. (Joseph was in effect the king in Egypt.) You can look at some of the simple practical ways in which he used to administer. Take his father: he loved his father and he had a special relationship with him, but see how he puts the kingdom of Egypt at his disposal. He knew what his father was feeling. He said, ‘You do not worry about all those things; you come into the kingdom and all your needs will be supplied. You do not have to worry about these things, things you have had to do for yourself, things you have to worry about for yourself - worrying about where next year’s crops were going to come from and all those things. You do not have to worry about all that - put it out of your mind.’ “Come to me”, he says, “and I will give you the good of the land”, Gen 45: 18. What a king he was! And, then at the end of his life, his grandchildren - the next generation, were born on his knees, Gen 50: 23. That is rather an unusual thing, for a grandfather to be at a birth like that, but you see how it shows how the kingdom is concerned with people from the very outset of their lives, so that from ‘day 1’ onwards they should know the blessings and benefit not only of the kingdom, but of a personal and family relationship with the king.
I would just like to say one more thing, and that is that one of the important practical manifestations of the kingdom is fellowship, fellowship among the subjects of the kingdom. The teaching shows that there is a distinction between the kingdom and fellowship - that may very well be, but the truth is that the same principles that prevail in the kingdom govern fellowship. We have fellowship together, and it is a very precious thing. I would just like to leave with you the thought that the welfare, and certainly the peace, of the fellowship depends upon us all abiding by the principles of the kingdom. You do not take anything for granted in the kingdom. You do not start saying you have rights in the kingdom, or anything of that sort. The kingdom subsists on the basis that subjects are subject. They recognise that what they are brought into is not a right but a privilege. The young people need to understand that, that the fellowship proceeds on the basis that participation in it is a privilege. I am among the majority here who have been brought up, as we say, ‘in fellowship’. I have never known anything else. My earliest memories are of coming to meetings - probably the oldest memories I have include memories of coming to the meeting. When I gained a certain age, I was commended and I have broken bread ever since - for forty-five years, I have broken bread. You might say that is all very natural, and it is very happy and very simple. But I would not like any one to come that way and think they were taking the principles of the kingdom for granted, as if they did not apply to them.
There are two great principles I would like to leave you to think about. The first is what I have gone over about conversion. You might say, 'I have never been out in the world. I have never been like that; why do I have to change? I grew up ‘in fellowship’, why do I have to change?' I would just like you to bear in mind that the mere fact that you grew up in a Christian household, and as a member of a Christian company, does not of itself entitle you to entrance into the kingdom. If it did, you would be able to bring into the kingdom the things that someone who had an unbelieving background would not be allowed to bring. So you have to come the same way as everybody else. You have to accept the gospel. You have to have the transaction with God that I have spoken about. You have to understand and recognise what sin means to God; and you have to recognise how intolerant His kingdom is of offences. And you have to judge those things in yourself. You have to come by way of the cross just like everybody else. That is a firm, specific, explicit transaction. It is associated with the principle of baptism, and those of us who were baptised as infants have to come to the point at which we can say, ‘well, if my father had not taken responsibility for my baptism, today I would want to take that responsibility myself’. That is how you enter into the kingdom, by facing up to that question.
The other thing which comes out in this passage is that the kingdom is for people who want to commit themselves. It is not for people who have a passing interest in God’s things. It is not for people who are glad to take His benefits without putting anything in. It is not for passengers. Let me just make that clear by pointing out that the way the kingdom was established was by the Lord Jesus making a total, absolute, irrevocable commitment. That is the basis of His kingdom: it underlies everything in it. The blood of Jesus - there it is, you cannot get away from it. It gives a moral character to the whole of the kingdom; that it is founded on the blessed real fact that the One who gives character to the whole thing gave everything, never thinking that anything of what He gave could ever be taken back. You might think that that sounds rather frightening if that is what you have got to do, but in principle that is what you have got to do. You have got to say that this kingdom attracts me so much that I am going to seek it first. From now on, there is nothing that I will allow ahead of the claim that God has established over me as a subject of His kingdom. That does not mean that you cannot do anything else, but you do this first. In return for that - being whole-hearted - you will get all the blessings of the kingdom. Let me say this, the kingdom was established for man’s blessing. There is no system of blessing like the kingdom of God. His blessings are not confined to the circumstances of daily life. They are not confined to time. They are not confined to youth or old age. They are not confined to particular kinds of people. In their scope, they are universal; and in their extent they are eternal. They cover every need you might have, not only in your circumstances but in your soul. And God has the ability to provide you with fulfilment and satisfaction that you will find nowhere else. Now, if you want to be half-hearted, you are giving up a lot. And my appeal, in the light of what I have said, is, let us resolve to seek first - not the things of earth, not material things, not the things you can find outside, not the things you might share with those who do not know anything about this; but seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Seek it first, and take up everything else, as the Lord Jesus says, in the light of that first priority that you have established.
May He bless the word.
24th July 2007