By Dick Barrett
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. — Matthew 6:33 (NIV)
I recently spent a week alone with God. I try to do that a couple of times a year. I have learned to go into the week without my own expectations of how God might speak to me, whether through my Bible reading, other reading, prayer and/or interactions in the location I find myself in.
In years past I have taken many books with me only to return with them unopened because that is not where I found myself being led. This year I only took a couple. One of them was a book written by Tim Lehman, a former mentor of mine who served as both a congregational and transitional pastor in Ohio Conference for many years. It is titled All Authority Has Been Given to Me: Hearing and Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. I found the book very challenging. What does it really mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and to seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness? Tim spends almost the first half of the book looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), especially his Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), as he claims they lay the foundation for all that follows. Jesus follows his Beatitudes with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount in which he describes what God’s Righteousness, living out God’s Kingdom here on earth, should look like. Jesus teaches that God’s Righteousness exceeds the Law.
I was particularly drawn to the difference between God’s Righteousness and our human need to be right. I need to confess that I am a “lawman” to the core. Twenty years of growing up in a home where right and wrong was emphasized, followed by 20 years working in law enforcement cemented that in my core. That makes me ask the questions: 1) Why in those first 40 years of my life did I not find Jesus; and 2) Was I seeking a wrong righteousness?
It seems to me that God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness can only be found through seeking God. Moses sought God with all that he had, and because of that seeking, he was rewarded. Moses enjoyed an intimacy with God unlike anyone else on earth prior to Jesus’ coming. It was Moses whom God revealed his name to (Exodus 3:14). It was Moses to whom God revealed his law. It was Moses to whom God declared his true nature: “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). It was Moses to whom God revealed as much of himself as he could at that time in history (Exodus 33:21-23.). It was Moses to whom God revealed the promise of an even greater glory to come: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you” (Deuteronomy 18:15).
Jesus is the prophet who allows us to see God in a way that Moses couldn’t even see God. “No one has ever seen God but the one and only Son, who is himself God and has made him known” (John 1:18). “The Son is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). But like Moses we can only see God when we continue to seek God, in our time through the Son and the Holy Spirit.
I write this at the beginning of Lent, the season of the Christian year in which we are supposed to spend time seeking God at a greater level. It is also a time in which we are to reflect on our human shortcomings, darkness and sin. Michael Ford writes in his book, Eternal Seasons, “Lent is the spiritual season which calls for greater openness to the Word of God and conversion in every area of our lives. It is a time to face the darkness within and expose it to the light. Lent is the season to confront our demons and expel them.” This is the season in which I need to not worry about the small things I need to let go of, like chocolate or ice cream (which I have never been too successful at letting go of anyway), but to focus on the things that I need to expel from my life that are preventing me from seeking God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. The turning point in Jesus’ ministry here on earth came when he turned toward Jerusalem and set his sights on Calvary. In Matthew’s gospel it comes in chapter sixteen, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it’” (Matthew 16:24-25).
Tim Lehman writes in his book All Authority Has Been Given to Me, “All people are responsible to how receptive or unreceptive they are to Jesus’ teaching and his invitation to follow him. We all have choices to make about the extent to which we believe what he has taught as the authority over our lives. Each and every person must decide if Jesus is Lord and teacher of their life here and now, and whether they will be a part of God’s kingdom come to earth by obeying Jesus.”
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”