BUT SEEK HIS KINGDOM
Luke 12:22-34 (Key verse: 12:31)
“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Last week, through M. Phillip Brown’s message we learned how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God. The rich man temporarily enjoyed the worldly treasures but he became a foolish man before God. In today’s passage, Jesus warned and taught his disciples to seek God’s kingdom. Jesus’ disciples were poor in this world, but they were rich toward God. Jesus promised them the kingdom of God as their treasure and also taught what attitude they should take as God’s kingdom citizens. Evangelical Christian Theologian, Francis Schaeffer wrote a famous book toward the western Christianity which was declining with materialism and moral corruption, titled “How should we then live?” Through today’s message God may help us to know “How should we then live?”
- DO NOT WORRY (12:22-30)
Having addressed the crowds in vv. 1-21, Jesus turned to his disciples. Look at v. 22. ““Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.”” In this passage, Jesus commands a series of four prohibitions at every corner: ‘Do not worry’ (22, 29b), ‘Do not set your heart on’ (29a), and ‘Do not be afraid.’ (32) Through these strong warning and command, Jesus awakens their distracted hearts. The word “to worry” in Greek ‘μεριμνάω’ means ‘to be divided into parts with anxiety.’ In the parable of the rich fool (13-21), the rich fool also worried about an abundant harvest, saying, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops…You have plenty of grain laid up for many years.” (17, 19b) Wow! How nice a worry it is? But for Jesus’ disciples their worries were not such luxurious ones, rather they were worried about their basic needs relating to daily survival; what to eat daily and what to wear today.
On one occasion, Jesus told a man who voluntarily dared to follow Jesus wherever he goes, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (9:57-58) Jesus’ disciples had neither monthly paychecks for food nor townhouse to live in. Therefore, it is natural for them to worry about what they will eat today and what they will wear tomorrow. But Jesus rather commands, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.” Now, Jesus explains the reason why they do not worry about these matters in v. 23. “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.” In other words, it means, ‘you don’t live to eat and you don’t have a body for the purpose of clothing it—living is more than having.’ Both eating and clothes may represent our critical needs in life. Just as the best bed could not provide the best sleep and the best food could not give us the best happiness, the anxiety for the worldly things could not provide us a life. The rich fool misunderstood the fact that he could buy happiness and life through eating, drinking and having a huge house. However, that very night his life was demanded from him by God. Jesus questions, “Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (20) Yes, if we worry about food and clothes only, but lose our God who provides us life and body, we will lose everything. The priority of our life should be put first on God who is our Creator and the provider of our life.
Now, Jesus illustrates how God cares for all creatures and satisfies their needs wonderfully. Look at v. 24. “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” The word, “consider” in Greek “κατανοέω” means ‘to concentrate by fixing one’s thinking and to perceive clearly.’ In antiquity, ravens represented birds that were considered unclean (Lev 11:13-20) and therefore unworthy of God’s care. Sorry to the fans of Baltimore Ravens baseball team! Did you see any agonizing raven which worries that the supply of worms may run out soon? Did you hear any news that ravens are starved to death throughout history? Not at all! In College Park, I do not see any skinny squirrel but all of them are chubby ones. The ravens’ nests have been same both in 1st century and in 21st century, having no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. God’s invisible and sovereign hand nourishes and raises them faithfully. And how much more valuable we are than birds! We have received God’s sonship by faith, crying “Abba, Father.” “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32) Yes, God will feed us with his wise bestowment!
Jesus continually teaches us another reason not to worry: worrying is useless. Look at vv. 25-26. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” The word, “your life” in Greek “ἡλικία” means ‘stature, term of life.’ If there is anyone among us who enthusiastically worries and adds one inch to his stature, why do not all short ones grow like Abraham Song or Razban? Instead, by worrying our stature shrinks more and more and becomes less and less. As a human being we have 5 limitations: time, space, power, knowledge, and mortality. All of these are out of our control, but are in the mighty hands of God’s control. By worrying we cannot resolve these very little things. Therefore worrying does more harm than good.
Auguste Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker” is originally located on top of “the Gate of Hell,” overlooking the agonizing and corrupt world with God’s judgment. Like “The agonizing Thinker” we also think and worry about all kinds of matters without any answer. How many hours do you spend your time in a day? How many days do we waste our time by just worrying about things? With excessive worrying, our mind and body go into high anxiety, even panic. impending doom or unrealistic fears that only increase our worries. Many people who worry excessively are so anxiety-ridden that they seek relief in harmful lifestyle habits such as overeating, cigarette smoking, or using alcohol and drugs. Worry becomes worse and worse like a monster that finally eats up our lives.
Look at 27-28a. “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you…” Now Jesus gives another example of wild flowers in contrasting the grandeur of Solomon. Jesus uses nature as a good picture for memory like a power-point in his sermon. In this sense, Jesus is the first pioneer to use power-point in worship. In this picture, the specific flower may be the red and purple anemone, which would compare to a king’s purple royal garb. Look at the wild flowers’ pure beauty and delicate figure. Smell the fragrant aroma in it. Any artificial skill/art and color could not surpass God’s wonderful works in wild flowers.
King Solomon is the representative who enjoyed the most glorious splendor in this world. 2 Chron. 9:13-21 describes what a wonderful glory and splendor he had as a king. The king made a great throne covered with ivory and overlaid with pure gold. The throne had six steps, and a footstool of gold was attached to it. Twelve lions stood on the six steps, and nothing like it had ever been made for any other kingdom. All King Solomon’s goblets were gold, and all the household articles in the Palace were pure gold. Nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value as stones in Solomon’s day.
But Jesus said that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these wild flowers. Because God himself clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire. God cares and clothes even the trivial and temporary flowers with his wonderful splendor and glory. Then how much more will he clothe us with his divine glory and splendor? Look at our brothers and sisters. Even though they have not undergone plastic surgery and have not decorated themselves with gorgeous clothes like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, and Armani, they are the most beautiful men and women in the world. Because God clothes them with his divine beauty and splendor which comes from their faith in Jesus. Though they wear just $5 T-shirts, they are the most fashionable ones because of their aroma of faith in Jesus. 1 Pet 1:24-25 says, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
Then Jesus closes with a reminder and a rebuke. Look at v. 28b. “You of little faith!” Jesus’ disciples’ anxiety shows that they don’t believe in God who controls everything in their lives. The root of their worry is the lack of faith in God’s sovereignty and his mercy. Last Tuesday we began Romans Bible Academy in chapters 9-11, which is the most difficult but crucial message in all Scripture. Most biblical scholars dare not to deal with this part because of its deep and convoluted rhetorical logics. We found the main topics and character of God are his sovereignty of choice beyond our wisdom and his deep mercy toward his people is the root of his sovereignty. God with his sovereignty chooses the objects of his wrath or the objects of his mercy just like the potter who has the right to make each one with his purpose. God chose Pharaoh as the object of his wrath so that his name and mighty power might be proclaimed in all the earth. Some people could talk back to God that God is unfair and unjust. God has bound his people temporarily over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all, that is, to save them all. (Rom 9; 11:32) God’s sovereign hands comes from his mercy toward his people.
Most fields of our lives are out of our control such as our security problems, lifespan of life, health, and future matters etc. We cannot add a single hour to our lives with worrying. But God is our provider for all of our lives and his sovereignty is his unfathomable mercy over us. When we trust in God, who controls all our lives with his merciful sovereignty, we can overcome the worldly worry and become more than a conquers. Jesus repeatedly reminds his disciples, “And how much more valuable you are than birds!” “How much more will he clothe you!” (24, 28) Yes, we are his beloved sons and daughters who are more valuable than birds and all other things in the world. Therefore, let us have faith in God. Let’s repent of our lack of faith in God’s mercy and trust in God in all circumstances.
Look at vv. 29-30. “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.” Now Jesus again commands his disciples not to worry, especially not to “set your heart” and not to “run after” these matters. In other words, his children have a different life attitude from the pagan world. The life pattern of the pagan world could be summarized by “what we will eat and drink,” just as the rich fool’s motto was “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” (19) But our attitude should be different, because we believe that our heavenly Father knows what we need.
Personally, I believe our Lord Jesus was very familiar with and an expert in the book of Deuteronomy. Actually, when Jesus was tempted by Satan three times in the wilderness, in all three times Jesus attacked Satan by quoting the book of Deuteronomy, “it is written.” (Matt 4:4, 7, 10) In the same case, this passage could match together perfectly with the situation and message of Deut 8:1-5. Deut 8 describes how God guided and trained his people of Israel for 40 years in the wilderness and what purpose God had toward them in this process. “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (8:2) God humbled them, causing them to hunger and then feeding them with manna, so that he might teach them that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” During these 40 years, their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell, because God knew that they would need them.
We also have lived in our real problems of wilderness such as no job, uncertain future security, suffering time, and serious sickness and pains. God sometimes humbles us with various training and severe situations that we encounter in our lives of wilderness. However, God’s real purpose for these things is to humble us and to test what is in our heart, whether or not we would keep his words, which comes from the mouth of the Lord. In the time of suffering, God wants us to be different from the pagan’s life pattern, worrying and grumbling about worldly matters. Rather, in the time of suffering, God wants us to obey God’s words and to be molded into his image with thankful hearts and with trust in God. Therefore, in good times and bad times, we should trust in our Father God, who knows our need and provides, and we should follow God’s will and his words. May God give us faith in God and in his sovereign mercy toward us.
- BUT SEEK HIS KINGDOM. (31-34)
Now, Jesus teaches what different attitude we should positively seek as his children. Look at v. 31. “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Instead of worrying and grumbling, his disciples should positively seek God’s kingdom. The boundary of God’s kingdom and its concept is so broad and deep, so we cannot exactly point out into one or two categories. But we could simplify here his kingdom as seeking God’s will and his valuable, everlasting heavenly kingdom, which is beyond the boundary of eating and drinking. As the children of God we should positively pursue God’s kingdom. Apostle Paul claims that we have two citizenships as children of God, saying, “worldly people’s destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, who will transform our lowly bodies like his glorious body.” (Phil 3:19-21) As heavenly citizen, we naturally seek God’s divine will and his reign over our heart and life more than worrying about eating and drinking in the world. Then our Father will add all these things as well. Some people could use this promise as an excuse of their laziness not to work. But 2 Thess 3:10 clearly proclaims that “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” We should work hard in this world as layman missionaries to support our family’s financial needs and worldly needs. More than that, our true and ultimate goal is to know God’s will and to be governed by God’s everlasting kingdom. Then God will provide all our needs.
When Abraham sought positively God’s kingdom and his command by giving his only Son Isaac as a burnt offering, God became to him “Jehovah Jaire,” which means “The Lord Will Provide.” (Gen 22:14) M. Timothy Chang who is now in India obtained many elements to realize the American dream, but his priority was different. He abandoned his rights and advantages in the US, and went to India as a self-supporting missionary, which is one of the most toughest mission fields in the world. He seems to be a fool in the eyes of the world, but the ultimate goal of his life is to seek God’s kingdom. Recently, Dr. Timothy Chang was promoted to Associate Professor and at the same time nominated as a tenured professor from IIIT in Delhi, because of his excellent performance as a professor. It is a very rare case for a foreign professor to earn tenure in India, but it is God’s reward to his obedience.
Look at vv. 32-33. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroy.” To his cherished children, the most secure assurance is that our Father has been willing and pleased to give his kingdom. My family received a Green Card 12 years after coming to the US by God’s grace. The most precious blessing is that I don’t worry about the fear I had as a foreigner anymore. I have deep confidence and pride as a citizen of this nation. God has pleased to accept us as his precious children and given us his kingdom forever. Therefore, as God’s kingdom citizens what shall we do? We should sell our possessions and give to the poor. We should become wise men who store our treasure up in heaven for our eternal blessings.
I am going to share the life stories and farewell stories of the two greatest men who ever lived in world history, Alexander The Great and Apostle Paul. As a military commander, the Alexander the Great was undefeated and the most successful throughout history. On his way home from conquering many countries, he came down with an illness. At that moment, his captured territories, powerful army, sharp swords, and wealth all had no meaning to him. He realized that death would soon arrive and he would be unable to return to his homeland. He told his officers: “I will soon leave this world. I have three final wishes. You need to carry out what I tell you.” His generals, in tears, agreed. “My first wish is to have my physician bring my coffin home alone. My second wish is to scatter the gold, silver, and gems from my treasure-house along the path to the tomb when you ship my coffin to the grave.” After gasping for air for a while, he said: “My final wish is to put my hands outside the coffin.” Alexander’s most favored general kissed his hand and asked: “My Majesty, we will follow your instruction. But can you tell us why you want us to do it this way?” After taking a deep breath, Alexander said: “I want everyone to understand the three lessons I have learned. To let my physician carry my coffin alone is to let people realize that a physician cannot really cure people’s illness. Especially when they face death, the physicians are powerless. I hope people will learn to treasure their lives. My second wish is to tell people not to be like me in pursuing wealth. I spent my whole life pursuing wealth, but I was wasting my time most of the time. My third wish is to let people understand that I came to this world with empty hands and I will leave this world also with empty hands.” He closed his eyes after finished talking and stopped breathing.
Apostle Paul, who devoted his whole life and sold his life for Jesus’ kingdom, finally commands his beloved son Timothy before his death: “Command people not to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life…I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (1 Tim 6:17-19; 2 Tim 4:7-8)
What kind of life do you want to live between the two greatest men in history? May God bless each one of us to seek his kingdom and to store up our treasure in heaven forever!!