But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ~ Matthew 6:33
If you ever get the chance to visit the ruins of ancient Rome, I would recommend you go. And if you go, either get a really good guide book or tour guide to take you through the area. You need a guide to help you imagine what the city looked like at the peak of Roman empire. The ruins, while still impressive today, a mere shadows of what was once a gleaming capital built to make a statement of power and force in the world. To sit among the ruins and imagine them covered in gleaming gold, marble, and detailed carvings and mosaics is to begin to understand why Christian churches of old throughout Italy and the rest of Europe were built to also make statements about the power and glory of God.
One of the things which stood out to me in my visit a few years ago was a small sign marking the spot where the ancient Romans believed the center of the universe to be. Everything in the Roman Empire was measured in relation to this point. I couldn’t help but wonder what those who lived in this great city at its height around the time of Christ would think of Rome’s fall largely into ruins over the next 4-5 centuries. If they could see so many of their grand buildings and temples in ruins, the surviving treasures from within having survived because they were pillaged into Christian churches, what would they have to say. Rome is clearly no longer the center of the universe.
When we hear the word kingdom, it’s hard not to think of places like ancient Rome. Grand palaces, priceless artwork, sprawling, well maintained gardens, and various displays of wealth and riches everywhere you look. It’s hard not to think of a king and queen with crowns ruling from a place set apart from the “commoners.” It’s hard not to think about the how the king, or emperor, or ruler sets whatever rules they please which everyone must follow or be punished. But these images are hard to reconcile with the ministry of Jesus who spoke well over a hundred times of the kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven.
One of the key things to remember when we talk about the kingdom of God is that we are not talking about an actual, physical place. The kingdom of God is defined by God’s work as Creator and Redeemer. It is work which is reflects the eternal nature of God. And because God is eternal, his kingdom is also eternal, his kingdom transcends time and space.
Don’t feel bad if that concept is hard to wrap your head around. Even the disciples, who had the chance to talk directly with Jesus, didn’t get it. Even the disciples still looked for Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom, to overthrow the Roman government. Even the disciples were limited by their earthly understanding of what a kingdom could look like. After Jesus’ death, they went into hiding and they scattered. The risen Christ had to appear to them on the road out of town to Emmaus and enter a room through a locked door.
It’s tempting to wish for God’s kingdom to be a portion of land on a map we can draw borders around, isn’t it? After all, we are talking about a place where every disease and sickness is healed. Where God’s love permeates everyone and everything. It is a place where nations peacefully co-exist with each other meaning there will be no more war. People will no longer have to toil and labor to get by and will no longer take advantage of each other. Sounds great to me. Sign me up. When does my flight leave, I’ve got my bags packed and I’m ready to go.
But Jesus didn’t establish and earthly kingdom bound by time and space.
So what does it mean to pray “Thy kingdom come” if it isn’t to create a place on a map ruled by God? Primarily it means to pray for the rule and reign of God in our hearts and lives.
When God is in control of your life, THAT is the kingdom of God come to earth.
Giving God control in your life is one of those things which is so much easier said than done. If was just about going to church on Sunday, being a generally “good” person who doesn’t swear a lot, physically assault other people, or steal from anyone, then giving God control of your life would be easy. But giving God control is about so much more than that.
Giving God true control over your life means you don’t gossip about that co-worker or neighbor. It means you forgive rather than seek retribution. It means put the well-being of others, even strangers, ahead of your comfort and well-being. It means you follow the example of the Good Samaritan, going out of your way to care for someone society tells you to ignore and discard. It means you have compassion for the poor and hungry, the orphan and the widow, the least of these in our current society. It means you speak the truth even if it costs you a great deal by earthly standards.
I don’t think God’s kingdom coming to earth means we will have a government where Jesus is an earthly king or president or dictator of some sort. I think it means, as we will talk more about next week, that each person will surrender control of their lives completely to God. And when each person does this completely, without holding anything back, they won’t sin anymore because God’s plan isn’t for us to sin, but for us to be holy.
The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, has a lot to say about describing the kingdom of God and heaven. Click HERE to read just one summary of those scriptures with some great, easy to understand, explanations.
While a video can never fully capture being in Rome, check out this episode of Rick Steve’s travel show which takes you through ancient Rome.
The kingdom of God is a HUGE thing to study and understand. Click HERE for a good article which offers a solid starting point.
In what ways do you invite the kingdom of God to come into your life? What is easy to give God control of in your life? What’s harder?