Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Seek and Seek

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. ~ Matthew 6:33 (KJV)

It rained. And then it rained some more. Branches bowed down dripping, flower heads drooped under the weight of water. With ever more winged visitors to our "garden", the trees literally sing for joy... A recently acquired set of binoculars have brought a few of these into sharp focus. New voices are added to the bird-song. There is the thrill of spotting the owner of a particular song. Noticing it's favourite perches and adding it to the growing family of Inesi inhabitants.

After the last blog I wrote, I have been challenged on quite a few issues. The most pertinent being - Seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness...

If we are to "seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness" - what does that mean and how is it done? And if "all these things shall be added unto you", as a consequence - what are "these things"? (Matthew 6:33)

Almost two weeks have gone past, and I cannot say that I feel enlightened to the point that I have it all logically concluded and that I am ready to share these conclusions. In fact, I feel quite overwhelmed and more than a little over-awed. But also quite excited at a glimpse of something so truly vast and mysterious, that it cannot be dissected.

My first impression was: "Jesus is the centre of the Kingdom of God, so the Kingdom is, wherever He is". Beautifully simple, but was there really no more to it than just that? I realised long ago that this is the wonder and mystery of the gospel and all of God's Word. There are always more layers to be revealed - each revelation more wondrous than the one before. It is, and it is not that simple. It simply depends on your own walk and where you are on the journey with your Redeemer.

But as this blog often serves as a platform for me to unravel certain issues for myself, using Scripture, I thought to share what I find with you as I go along.

I went back to Matthew 4, 5 and 6 to get the context. The "what went on before and what followed after" chapter 6:33, which almost seems like a conclusion of the whole chapter.

In Matthew 4 Jesus begins his ministry after being tested in the wilderness and choosing His disciples. In Matthew 4:17 I read: "From that time on, Jesus began to preach: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near...” He touched the sick, made the lame leap, gave sight to the blind, drove out demons. Large crowds start following this amazing man. Curious, hungry and needy people - all wanting a piece of the miracles they had heard of. "... and He healed them." (v24b)

Chapter 5 follows with the Sermon on the Mount. Starting with the Beatitudes and followed by that incredible all-encompassing sermon on the application of the law, which Jesus came to fulfil, not abolish.

Then chapter 6 continues with a warning in v1: "Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."

Ouch... That spoke to me. It is so easy to be tempted to do right, to flaunt it, to prove that we are good Christian folk. But that adds up to "self-righteousness"...

The dictionary defines self-righteousness as: “confidence in one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behaviour of others.” Biblically speaking, self-righteousness, which is related to legalism, is the idea that we can somehow generate within ourselves a righteousness that will be acceptable to God (Romans 3:10). Because of our sin nature, it is a constant temptation to all of us to believe we are, or can be, righteous in and of ourselves. In the New Testament, Jesus and the apostle Paul came down particularly hard on those who attempted to live in self-righteousness.

Over and over again in the Gospels, Jesus clashes with the Pharisees and scribes about true righteousness. At the same time, He spends a great deal of time and energy warning His disciples about the dangers of self-righteousness, making it clear that, without Him, they could do nothing (John 15:5).

Fortunately, v3-4 gives the alternative: " not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

The righteousness to seek, which I may wear as a breastplate and count as my own through Jesus and the cross, is the righteousness of God. To which I can neither add or take away anything by my own doing.

The next section, from v5-14 deals with prayer. "How not to" (publicly, long-winded etc.) and an example of how I should pray (in an inner room) with the "Lord's Prayer".

v16-18 deals with fasting - with the same principles as applicable to prayer, doing good and being charitable. "... and Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (v18b).

 v19-21 deals with: storing up treasures and the love of money and possessions: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (v21) and "No-one can serve two masters..." (v24a). "You cannot serve both God and money." (v24b)

The last section deals with: worry. Worry about life, about what I shall eat or drink I will wear etc. "Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?" (v25b)

The birds and flowers are used as a picture of how generously the Father provides. You just need one Bird-cherry tree in your garden and a summer display of wild freesia to see a beautiful example of this providence...

We like to joke about this with the "don't worry, be happy" line from a rather silly song. But worry is sin. Not a nice thought, but true. Being concerned for each other's well-fare and safety and being responsible with what has been entrusted to us, is different. I know when I worry, as opposed to being concerned and responsible. The one results in surrender to God, and/or an appropriate response, whereas the other (worry), most often results in inertia, anxiety and... stress. And honestly - has anyone ever been able to add a single hour to his life by worrying? (v27). Verse 34 reminds us that each day surely has enough trouble of it's own and how futile it is to worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself. For God has already been there.

v32 reads, quite soberingly: "For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them."

The Father knows. He knows what I need. My motives. My pride. My inability to get it right. But still he loves me enough to say in v33:

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well".

Sweet, powerful words, which I want to make my own. Day by day. Moment by moment. Not waiting for His Kingdom or looking out for it. Seeking it.

Seek - zéteó (Greek) Meaning to: seek, search for, desire, require, demand. To seek by inquiring; to investigate, to reach a binding (terminal) resolution; to search, "getting to the bottom of a matter." (Strongs Greek 2212).

(Chapter 7 continues with the rest of the sermon on the mount - which I have not tried to explore in depth at this point.)

I think that I may now have a better understanding of  how to "seek", of the right "righteousness" to pursue, and the "things" that will be added as an outflow.

But there remains for me much mystery around "The Kingdom of Heaven/God". This is possibly what is referred to as what we "see through a mirror". A very limited reflection of the whole, a small view of what we will one day see "face to face".

A few chapters earlier in Matthew 3, we are introduced to John the baptist, who also begins his ministry by saying: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near" - v2.  (In Matthew alone the Kingdom of Heaven is referred to 29 times. Luke and Mark seem to prefer to using the "the Kingdom of God" instead.) But the first mention in the New Testament was the voice in the wilderness which Isaiah spoke of, calling: "Prepare the way for the Lord..." John is saying: Look - Jesus (God) has come near! He is both the Kingdom and He proclaimed the Kingdom. "... He (Jesus) said, "I must proclaim the good news (gospel) of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent." (Luke 4:43) Not an easy concept to get my head around.

I always liked to think that Jesus came just to die for my sins. Which may be true in part, but there is much more to His ministry than our salvation. This I am not going to try to understand right now. Bit by bit, I will hopefully come to a greater understanding of this beautiful mystery. And share with you if it is possible to put into words. It is a tantalising glimpse through the looking glass of things that are and are to come.

There is a tension between knowing that I am seated at the right hand of God right now, ("But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus". - Eph 2:4-7) and being in this broken world, looking toward the day that Jesus will show us the incomparable riches of His grace, in His glorious presence. I am given the choice to have a world perspective or a Kingdom perspective. One leading to death and one leading to glory and eternal life in and with Christ.

It is here, and it is coming. It is Jesus and it is His Dominion. It is the Word which was with God, and was God. The Word that spoke the Universe and everything in it, into being. By Him and for Him. In Him was and is life, and that life was and is the light of all mankind. The light that shines in the darkness, darkness that will never overcome it. (John 1)

As near as His precious name and as beautiful as the freedom which His blood has bought me. Near enough to know my thoughts and whispered prayers. But also omnipresent in every atom of the Universe - the known and unknown. His Kingdom.