There is a dangerous tendency when coming across a passage of Scripture such as this one, to isolate these verses from it’s context. It’s dangerous because when you do that, what you end up with is a flawed doctrine. And a flawed doctrine is one that you cannot fully rely upon. You can’t fully trust it. It may sound good, it may seem true from a superficial reading, but when a real crisis hits your life that flawed doctrine isn’t going to hold water and it can cause shipwreck to your faith.
A superficial view of this passage would suggest that Jesus is teaching a sort of Christianized version of the song from the Lion King; “Hakuna Matata.” Or to put it another way, “don’t worry, be happy.” Such a flawed theology professes that Jesus is promising an unconditional elimination of worry – that a person doesn’t need to be concerned about finances or worry about needs or even worry about any unfulfilled desires you might have because God loves you and wants to fill your life with blessings. God just wants you to be happy. That’s His ultimate goal for your life.
It kind of reminds me of this plaque that someone gave me the other day. It was a quote supposedly taken from a text of Scripture in Matthew 21:22. It had a nice little frame and this artsy lettering which was well suited for hanging somewhere above the kitchen sink. It said, “Pray for anything, and if you have faith you will receive it.” I thanked the person who gave it to me, and then I promptly threw it in the garbage can. Not only is it a poor translation of the original scripture, but that statement on a plaque over the window proposes a blanket doctrine devoid of all context, and yet only within the proper context can it be truly understood. It was never intended to be a cure-all statement akin to rubbing a genie bottle.
We have to avoid the tendency to prescribe to platitudes that are supposedly formed on Scripture, yet cannot be fully understood without considering the framework in which they were given. For instance, in this passage Jesus is not advocating a carefree, hakuna matata lifestyle, in which God is obligated to work out every wish and desire that I have, irrespective of His will. As if God’s reason for existence is to serve me and my desires. No, the fact is that these promises are conditional upon the fulfillment of certain principles of the kingdom of heaven. IF you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, IF you have as your priority the priorities of the kingdom of heaven, IF you are living for the kingdom of heaven, then these things are true.
Notice Jesus is speaking to his disciples. These promises are never intended for all men in general. These promises are only for those who have sacrificed everything for the sake of the kingdom. These are people that have given up this world, given up their jobs, given up their religion, given up their families, given up their source of wealth or income, to follow Jesus. Peter acknowledged this in Matt. 19:27, “Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.”
Notice that Jesus isn’t suggesting that He will restore all their fortunes in this life on this earth. But Jesus says that in the regeneration, which is the final part of the kingdom when Christ will sit on His throne and we will be resurrected with a glorified body, THEN they will also sit on thrones. The fact is, on this earth, all of the apostles ended up losing their lives as a martyr, except for John. Jesus goes on to say that anyone who gives up his possessions or his family here on earth for the sake of the kingdom of God, will receive many times more and will inherit eternal life. The promise is simply this; that God offers the blessings of His kingdom for those that are willing to give up the earthly rewards of this life for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
That is what Christianity really is, by the way. There are a lot of people running around claiming to be Christians and yet they have never truly renounced sin, they have never given their lives to be lived solely for Christ. They essentially just added an outward form of Christianity to their lives. Kind of like the way somebody might add a life insurance policy to their portfolio. And I cannot help but wonder if a lot of those people are truly saved, whether they are truly children of God. Salvation is not necessarily obtained through an emotional experience you had sometime in your past. That may have been a factor in coming to Christ, but somewhere along the line there needs to be a recognition that salvation is an exchange; not only an exchange of your sins for Christ’s righteousness. But also an exchange of your priorities for God’s priorities. An exchange of your goals for Christ’s goals. An exchange of your desires for God’s desires. An exchange of your life, for His life lived through you. Don’t kid yourself, folks, anything less than that is not salvation. Anything less is just religion. It’s just adding a little Jesus like a good luck charm to your life to help you accomplish all that your goals. But that ain’t salvation.
Salvation means to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness, the kingdom of this world, to the kingdom of God. You once were of the world system, you were captured by the sin of this world and were under the domination of the ruler of this world, Satan. But when the grace of God appeared, Christ transferred you to the kingdom of God, and that resulted in a change of mind, a change of heart and a change of action. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, [who are] zealous for good deeds.”
So when you consider all that Jesus has been saying in our text, it is obvious that the characteristic of a citizen of the kingdom of God is a complete surrender of your will to God’s will. He started off in vs. 1 by saying that anything less than a transformed heart resulting in a change of behavior is hypocrisy; it’s not really salvation. It’s just empty religion unless the heart is changed and that transformation will produce a behavior change, or else it’s not real.
Then Jesus says in vs. 2, 3 that God sees the heart. Nothing is hidden from God; not your thoughts, not your motivations, everything is laid open before the eyes of God. And then Jesus tells us in vs.5 to fear God! Now that would seem a direct contradiction to the passage we are looking at today. How do you fear God and not worry at the same time? Well the answer is that those that are not really a citizen of the kingdom of God should fear God who will cast them into hell one day. But those that are of the kingdom of God don’t need to fear Him, because those that are truly His children do what He wants them to do and He takes care of them.
Jesus then goes on to teach the disciples in vs. 15 that kingdom life is not about accumulating possessions. That’s the world view, the view of the kingdom of darkness is to say that he who dies with the most toys wins. That we should just focus on being happy and whatever brings you happiness is ok. But God doesn’t promise you a perpetual state of happiness as a Christian. And blessings are not measured by material things. That view is contrary to Scripture. But Jesus calls that kind of thinking the plans of a fool, and He says that judgment awaits such a person who thinks and lives a materialistic life. Jesus says in vs. 21 that rather than being focused on the riches of this world, we need to focus on being rich towards God.
So that’s the context in which these promises are placed. They are first and foremost for the citizens of the kingdom of God who are living for the kingdom and who have died to the things of this world. They have renounced the world’s view of life, and are living solely for the kingdom of God. The overarching principle to understanding all of this is found in vs. 31, “But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” Matthew adds the phrase, “seek first His kingdom…” The priority of the kingdom of God in your life is the condition by which all these things are so.
You know, I hate to sound harsh, but for some people we could just stop right here. There is no sense in going on about all these promises that God has for us if we are still living carnal lives that are only concerned with our needs and our desires. If your allegiance to God is dependent upon getting what you want in this life, then you might as well just stop right here. Because that is not Christianity, that is not discipleship and that is not the hallmark of true salvation. If you love this life more than you desire the next, and you’re not willing to give up this life in exchange for the one that God has for you, then you are fooling yourself. The promises of God have no place in you.
Don’t be deceived, Christ is not talking about an easy believism, “name it and claim it” type of Christianity. That is why back in vs. 11 He says, “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” This isn’t some idle speculation. This is a promise founded on a prophecy that they would be brought up before trial for what they believed. They would give up their lives for the gospel.
It’s sad that the gospel of Jesus Christ that not only the apostles were martyred for, but thousands upon thousands of men and women through history have died for has been watered down and twisted and perverted to the point that it has been reduced to the prosperity doctrine that it has become today. In it’s modern dilution, the gospel has neither the power to deliver from sin nor the power to save. But that is not the true gospel and that is not the gospel of our forefathers in the faith. Those men and women are described in Hebrews as those that “looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”
I recently read the story of such a man of faith as that which I would like to share with you. In a book first printed in 1890, John Ryle describes the death of Rowland Taylor, who was executed in England because he believed that priests could marry and that the bread and wine of communion did not become the actual, literal, body and blood of Jesus.
On the last day of January 1555, Taylor appeared with two others before the Bishop of Winchester, and was charged with heresy and dividing the church. When they refused to change their minds, they were condemned to death. When condemned, they replied back to the Bishop, “We know that God, the righteous Judge, will require our blood at your hands, and the proudest of all of you shall repent this receiving again of Antichrist, and of the tyranny you now show against the flock of Christ.”
On February 4, Taylor was kicked out of the priesthood, and that night, his wife and son were permitted to eat dinner with him. After dinner they left, with much affection and tears. The next day, he was led out to Hadleigh to be executed, so that he would be burned to death in the city where he served as a pastor and in front of his congregation.
When the left the London jail on the morning of February 5, it was still dark. Taylor’s wife suspected he might be taken that morning, so she waited with her two daughters outside the jail. When she called out to him, the sheriff allowed her to come with her daughters for one last meeting with her husband. Rowland Taylor took his little daughter Mary up in his arms, while Elizabeth knelt with him and said the Lord’s Prayer. They prayed together, then kissed and hugged, and Taylor said to his wife: “Farewell, my dear wife: be of good comfort, for I am quiet in my conscience. God shall raise up a father for my children.” He kissed his daughter Mary and said, “God bless you, and make you His servant;” and, kissing Elizabeth, he said, “God bless you. I pray you all stand strong and steadfast to Christ and His Word.” As he was led away, his wife called out, “God be with you, dear Rowland: I will, with God’s grace, meet you at Hadleigh.”
The journey from London to Hadleigh took several days, and all along on the trip, Rowland Taylor was joyful and merry, as if he were going to a banquet or a party. But on February 9, 1555, they came into Hadleigh. When they were still two miles from town, Taylor leapt off his horse and started on foot-but he was walking fast, almost as if he were dancing. The sheriff asked him how he felt, and he said, “Well, God be praised, good master sheriff, never better; for now I know I am almost at home … even at my Father’s house… O good Lord, I thank You! I shall yet once before I die, see my flock whom You, Lord, know I have most heartily loved and most truly taught. Good Lord, bless them, and keep them steadfast in Thy Word and truth.”
When they came into Hadleigh, they put a hood over his head and came over a bridge. At the foot of the bridge was a poor man with five children, who cried out, “O dear father and good shepherd, Dr. Taylor, God help you, as you have many a time helped me and my poor children.” The streets were crowded on both sides with people who wanted to see him; when they saw him being led to death, they cried and wept with all their strength. People cried out, “Ah, good Lord, there goes our good shepherd from us, that so faithfully has taught us, so fatherly has cared for us, and so godly has governed us. O merciful God! What shall we poor scattered lambs do? What shall come of this most wicked world? God Lord, strengthen him and comfort him.” Taylor answered back, “I have preached to you God’s Word and truth, and am come this day to seal it with my blood.”
When they came to the town square, he heard a great multitude and asked where they were. When they told him they were at the place he would be executed, he said “Thank God, I am even at home,” and he took the hood from his head. When the people saw his face, there was an outpouring of emotion. They wept and cried out, “God save you, good Dr. Taylor! Jesus Christ strengthen you; the Holy Spirit comfort you,” and many other such things. Taylor wanted to speak to the people one last time, but as soon has he opened his mouth, a guard put a spear right up to his open mouth, and made him stop.
He started giving away his clothes-first his boots, then his coat and jacket, till all he had left was his pants and shirt. He then cried out with a loud voice, “Good people, I have taught you nothing but God’s Holy Word, and those lessons that I have taken out of God’s blessed Book, the Holy Bible; and I am come here today to seal it with my blood.” But then one of the guards clubbed him over the head and said, “Is that keeping your promise of silence, you heretic?” So, seeing he could not speak, he knelt down to pray. A poor woman came to kneel beside him and pray, and the guards tried to push her away but she would not go.
When he had prayed, he came to the stake he would be tied to and he kissed it, stepped into a barrel, and stood with his hands folded in prayer and his eyes towards heaven as they tied him to the stake. After some agonizing delays, they finally lit the fire, and Rowland Taylor prayed out loud: “Merciful Father of heaven, for Jesus Christ my Saviour’s sake, receive my soul into Your hands.” Then he stood perfectly still as the fires arose around him, without crying or moving, until a guard clubbed him on the head and his brains fell out, and his dead corpse fell into the fire. A marker was left that simply said, 1555: Dr. Taylor, in defending that which was good, at this place left his blood.
It is obvious that this man loved the kingdom of heaven more than all this world had to offer. And though such a story might seem drastic to our 21st century ears, such an attitude is the hallmark of true discipleship. For those that are willing to bow their knee to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every facet of their lives, then Christ promises that God will take care of them. They need not worry about earthly things such as food and clothing. They have a higher calling. They have been commissioned by God Almighty. And though they may suffer the loss of all things here on earth, God will reward them. God the righteous judge will one day set things aright. This life lasts but a moment. But eternity lasts forever. The riches of this world will one day be burned up, but the riches laid up in heaven will never fade away. But some of you are clinging to the things of this world, and in so doing precluding the promises of the next.
Jesus says in vs. 22 to those willing to forsake all to follow Him: “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” It has taken me almost half my life to come to realize that it is far better to have lived for the Lord and have little, than to live a lifetime without Him but have much. It is far better to burn out for Christ, than to rust away in the world.
Here is the principle; God will take care of His own. “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!” David said in Psalm 37:25, “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread.” Now that is a general principle about God’s provision. And without contradiction listen to how Paul said that is worked out in his life; Phil. 4:12, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Paul was sold out for Christ. He said he considered all the things of this world as rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ. And so Paul knew he could trust Christ to take care of him.
The citizen of the kingdom of heaven must first come to give his life to God to use as He wills and trust that God values His life and will use it for His glory. Jesus explains the freedom that comes from having that understanding in vs. 25, “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?”
And Jesus illustrates that with an example of the flowers in a field. Now at first reading this seems to be about clothing. But I don’t think it’s talking about clothing at all. I think Jesus is saying to consider how meticulously God created the flowers and how beautiful they are. They are a picture of our lives which are precious to God. And yet those flowers are so short lived that they are here today and gone tomorrow. But how much more value are we than the flowers. Let’s read vs. 28 “But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!” Isaiah 40 says, “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.” Our lives are but a fleeting vapor. We can’t hold onto it. We can’t add to it. But if we are citizens of the kingdom, then Jesus promises that our lives will count for something if we give them to God for Him to use.
Jesus continues to contrast the way people of the kingdom of God are as opposed to the kingdom of this world. Vs. 29, “And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.”
There is a book out called “Fearless”, the biography of Adam Brown. He was a former drug addict who was saved while going to Teen Challenge. After graduating from college, he joined the Navy to become a member of Seal Team 6. And one day he paid the ultimate sacrifice by drawing enemy fire to himself in order to save his comrades. But just before he died he sent a letter to his wife and children which said in part, “I’m not afraid of anything that might happen to me on this earth because I know, no matter what, nothing can take my spirit from me.” He knew he had eternal life, he knew that he had an inheritance awaiting him in the kingdom of God and so he didn’t fear losing his life here on earth for the sake of a higher calling.
I don’t think that we fully appreciate the nature of this inheritance we have in the kingdom of God. We have been given the right to be joint heirs with Christ! Listen to Rom. 8:16, “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” I’m afraid that we commonly swap the treasures of heaven for the baubles of this world much like Esau traded his birthright for a cup of stew. We rightly condemn Esau for making such a dumb trade, but we commonly trade the glory of heaven for the garbage of this world and think nothing of it.
Christ gives one more set of characteristics of those that are children of the kingdom. Vs. 33 “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Having no fear, having no worries results in the freedom to give yourself totally and completely to the Lord. So that rather than accumulating possessions as the rich fool did, the citizen of the kingdom gives his possessions away. Rather than storing up treasures on earth, the citizen of the kingdom makes a money belt that doesn’t wear out because it’s resource is in heaven. If God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the wealth in every mine, then because He is our Father then they are mine as well. That gives me the freedom to give without my right hand knowing what my life hand is doing, because God my Father has endless resources.
But if my treasures is wrapped up in things of this earth, in my possessions, in the fulfillment of my agenda, my desires, my will, then that shows that my heart is still unregenerate. My heart never has really been transformed. If I am afraid to live fully and unreservedly for the kingdom of God, then that shows that I have a heart that is still trapped in the kingdom of darkness. Or at the very least, I show that I have allowed the enemy to take back territory that was claimed for the kingdom of God.
Listen, if we claim to be a child of the King, a citizen of the kingdom of God, then we should act like it. We should live fearlessly, fully throwing ourselves into the work of the kingdom and not allow ourselves to get caught up again in the worries of this world. 2Pet. 2:20, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.”
I am going to close with a warning from Hebrews 12, starting in vs. 15. “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”