Desiring the Kingdom
All of us—without exception—are chasing some idea of “the good life.” We all have a picture in our minds of what “the good life” is, and we are all working to build that life for ourselves.
Jesus has been speaking to his disciples about hypocrisy: about being real in their walk with him, and about not being afraid of what following him may cost them.
We’ve seen, over the last couple weeks, Jesus’s call getting more and more uncomfortable for us. He calls us to honesty with each other about our weaknesses—that’s hard enough. He calls us to honesty with the rest of the world about our faith, which is for many people even harder. He tells his disciples that following him may cost them their relationships or their comfort or even their lives.
The further he goes, the deeper he goes—just when we think he’s going to leave us alone now and let us keep some part of our lives for ourselves, he comes and snatches that up too.
And he’s not finished. In today’s text, Jesus says that following him will cost us even more than our comfort or our relationships: it will cost us our own desires, our own ideas of what “the good life” is.
But, he will say, if we let go of those desires, it will only be to replace them with something even better.
Felt Needs (v. 13-21)
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
This parable is pretty clear. Jesus is warning against pursuing useless things that don’t last and which have no lasting significance. Why? Because eventually you’ll die, and you won’t be able to use any of it. It’s insane, the time, energy and money we’re willing to spend pursuing things that we won’t remember in a hundred, or fifty, or even ten years!
Now, obviously my goal here isn’t to use this text to tell you that you’re wrong to buy a pair of jeans or a mobile phone or a game console or a computer. And that’s not Jesus’s goal either. It may be wrong, it may not be wrong, depending on the context—that’s not the point.
Jesus is talking about money, not because money or material possessions are fundamentally bad, but because they often reveal what is most important to us. For example, couples without children have a certain way of spending their money. They have special places they go out to eat, or special trips they take together, because they can.
But then they have kids, and these same couples are willing to make drastic changes to their budget and their habits, in order to feed and clothe and provide for those kids.
Why are they willing to do that? Because their kids are more important to them than all those other things that, in the end, are comparatively inconsequential.
So again, the point here is not money in and of itself. Rather, in using this illustration of money and possessions Jesus is trying to help us see what is most important to us, what is (to use Jesus’s language) our treasure.
That’s the issue we need to get at. Because it is quite possible that someone may not have a particular attachment to material possessions, and still have the wrong treasure.
We all have things that we want, and want so badly, we’ll be unhappy until we get them.
You’re miserable in your job, and you think, “If only I had a better job, I'd be so much happier.”
You don’t get along with your parents, and you think, “If only we had a better relationship, I'd be so much happier.”
Our apartments are tiny and expensive and old (it’s Paris, after all), and we think, “If only I could live in a bigger house in the suburbs, I’d be so much happier.”
Or even—“I’m single, and I so want to get married.”
“We’re married, and we so want to have children.”
“We have children, and we so want them to succeed.”
Now of course these things aren’t bad, in and of themselves! It’s not a bad thing to have a job you love, or to get married, or to have a house in the suburbs, or to see your kids succeed. These are good things.
But they’re not needs. They are, as the saying goes, “felt needs.” A felt need is something that we don’t actually need to survive, but that we want so badly, it feels like a need, rather than a desire.
That’s why Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against ALL covetousness.” “Covetousness” is, to put it simply, wanting something so badly that you’ll feel unhappy or unfulfilled until you have it.
We all have a picture in our head of what “the good life” looks like. And we spend so much of our time and effort and energy trying to build up for ourselves whatever that picture is for us.
So Jesus is calling us to consider this: Might there be something even better? Jesus calls that “something better” being rich toward God.
And he’s going to take that idea way farther in the next section.
Real Needs (v. 22-30)
22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.
Now, real quickly—why does he focus on his disciples here? He’s talking to the crowd about these felt needs, which are ephemeral and temporary, and then he turns to his disciples and begins talking about real needs. Everyone will agree that food and clothing aren’t felt needs, but actual, real needs: everyone needs to eat, and everyone needs something to wear, to protect themselves from the elements.
He says this to the disciples because he knows—and it’s possible they’re beginning to suspect now—that the life he’s calling them to may well require them to go without even these real needs met. They may have to go without food. They may encounter situations which will literally cost them the clothes on their back. We’re not just talking inconvenience here, but a life so radical, they may end up without even the bare essentials everyone needs to survive.
And yet, about even these real needs, he essentially says the exact same thing.
V. 22 again:
22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
Does that sound familiar? It should: he said something almost identical in last week’s passage (in Luke 12.7). And his point is the same.
God is intimately involved in the most insignificant details of this world he created. God feeds even creatures as seemingly insignificant as the ravens. And if God would care for birds, which are very small in the grand scheme of things, how much more will he care for us, his children, on whom he fixes his love? How much more attention does he pay to the children he created in his image and bought with the blood of his Son?
25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
It’s very hard to see just how extreme Jesus is being here. Think of the tremendous stress we have in anticipating and providing for real needs. Think of the stress that financial trouble can put on parents, when they don’t know how they’re going to put the next meal on the table for their kids. Everyone understands why that would be stressful—no one would blame a person for worrying, if they were in such a situation.
And yet Jesus says, Don’t be anxious. What good is your worry doing anyone? How is your worry going to buy you time—even an hour? If your worry can’t do something so simple as that, why would your worry make the big things any better?
Now, a lot of people, when they’re talking with someone in a stressful situation like this, will say similar things—“It doesn’t help to worry; it’ll all be okay.” And for the person hearing it, it’s actually no help at all: you saying it’ll be okay doesn’t make it okay. You saying “It doesn’t help to worry” doesn’t make not worrying any easier.
But there are two crucial elements in Jesus’s encouragement that make it different.
The first (and I know this is going to be hard for some of you to hear) is that when he says, Don’t be anxious, because God will take care of you, he is speaking to his disciples. He’s not speaking to the crowd, but to people who know him and believe in him. Jesus is not laying out a blanket statement on how God interacts with humanity.
Now, God does provide for humanity in general—the proof is that there are human beings who don’t know God, and who still have clothes to wear and food to eat. God, in his grace, does care for even those who reject him.
But that care is temporary. People who don’t know God through faith in Jesus Christ benefit today from God’s provision, but they can’t count on it. At some point, they may not have everything they need, and on that day they will have nowhere to turn.
It is not so for Jesus’s disciples—and that’s where we come to the second crucial element in Jesus’s encouragement, in v. 29-30:
29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
Did you notice how Jesus’s language changed here? Up to this point, Jesus has referred to God as “God,” using his “generic” name. But here—in v. 30—he refers to God as “your Father.” For Jesus’s disciples, God is not merely God—he is your Father.
And a good Father, who has infinite resources at his disposal, never refuses to give his children what they need.
Not necessarily what they want…but what they need.
John Piper gives this helpful analogy. A child comes to his dad and asks for a cookie. The dad loves his kid, so goes to get a cookie. But when he opens the pack, he sees that the cookies inside are moldy and stale. So he says, “I won’t give you a cookie, because it’ll make you sick. Here’s an apple instead.” And the kid begins to cry because his mean daddy won’t give him a cookie.
This is how we function most of the time.
We have a certain idea in our minds of what our needs are, when in fact that idea speaks more to our own preferences and desires than to our actual needs. We have a picture in our minds of what “the good life” is, and we imagine that we need these things, so we ask God for them. And we’re angry or disillusioned when God doesn’t do what we asked.
And we shouldn’t.
Sometimes God, just out of pure generosity, will give them to us. But other times, God will see that receiving what we asked for will actually be bad for us. So he’ll provide for our need in another way—by providing for the actual need, not for what we thought we needed at that time.
Piper’s conclusion to his analogy is this: God always gives his children exactly what they ask for in prayer…or something better. He doesn’t always provide for their every want, but he always gives them exactly what they need.
Of course he’s not saying that we should not make a budget, or use wisdom in our everyday finances. (We need only read the book of Proverbs to know that.) But once we have done our best to use our wisdom to “budget” the resources God has given us, God takes over. Like the good Father he is, he anticipates what we really need at any given moment, and he will provide for those needs.
So Jesus tells us, don’t worry. Your Father knows what you need.
Now at this point, Jesus could have stopped and said, “God will take care of you,” and left it at that. But that’s not what he does. Instead, he is going to take us in another direction. After telling us what not to do—worry about our needs, felt or real—he’s going to tell us what to do.
Or for you sermon junkies out there, when we come to the application of this text, we don’t have to work hard: Jesus himself supplies the application for us.
The application is this: seek a better treasure.
desiring the kingdom (v. 31-32)
31 Instead [of seeking to provide for your needs at all cost], seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
32 Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
We have our Father’s promise that he will always provide for our needs. So we don’t need to spend time worrying about that. Instead, here’s what we should seek: his kingdom. Our job is to seek God’s kingdom above all else, and his job is to make sure that these things will be added to you.
Again, pay attention to his language. God will provide for our needs…but it is his pleasure to give us the kingdom. God will be generous to us in a million small ways…but it is his pleasure to give us the kingdom.
You see what Jesus is doing? He’s redefining the good life for us.
God is all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful. When we are told that such a God takes pleasure in something, we should immediately see whatever that thing is as absolutely and infinitely desirable.
By showing us what God takes pleasure in—giving us the kingdom—he’s telling us that this kingdom is better than whatever it is we want.
“The good life”—the good life as God intended it when he created us—has nothing to do with our felt needs, or even our real needs!
The good life is not found in the satisfaction of our needs or desires: the good life is the kingdom of God. It is living as children of God, for the glory of God, no matter what is happening around us. It is knowing God, and honoring him, and seeing his hand at work in our lives and in his world.
The poorest, most destitute person in the world lives better than the richest of the rich, if he has the kingdom of God.
And here’s what’s amazing: in telling us this, Jesus is not simply teaching us. He’s giving us a glimpse of something much bigger. He’s pulling our eyes toward him.
Let’s take a step back for a second. Think all the way back to chapter 1. (Really, it would take about an hour to read from chapter 1 to chapter 12, and not a year like we’ve done here. When Jesus talks about the kingdom here, we’re supposed to remember this.)
In chapter 1, when the angel appeared to Mary, and told her she would have a son, what did he say about this baby?
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
In other words, the King of this kingdom is Jesus.
He is the Son of God; God’s kingdom is his kingdom. Jesus’s entire life was singular in its purpose—he came to establish his Father’s kingdom.
Jesus lived this perfect life, and suffered in our place, in order to secure the kingdom of God for us.
Do you see how much bigger this is than just, “What will I eat?” or “What will I wear?” It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, and he did it by sending his Son to live, suffer, die and rise from the dead.
And this kingdom Jesus inaugurated through his life, death and resurrection will be consummated when he returns. The kingdom is not only what we seek today; it is where we are going tomorrow. Revelation 19.11, 16:
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True… 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
And Revelation 21.3-5:
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
THAT is the good life, brothers and sisters—today, and forever. That is what Jesus came to secure for us.
And that is what he calls us to pursue.
So the question is, how do we do that? What does it look like to not worry about our needs, and instead, to seek his kingdom?
33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.
So here’s the first point of application Jesus gives us: Fix your eyes and your thoughts on heaven. There is only one place where the things we have will not grow old, where our treasure will not fail, where no thief can come near and no moth can destroy—and that is heaven. “Provide yourselves…with a treasure in the heavens.”
Most Christians have an idea of heaven which is so vague and ephemeral that we almost never give it any thought. All of our thoughts of the Christian life are focused on here, and now—how do I live my Christian life now? And while it’s good to ask that question, you’ll never find the answer if you’re not looking forward.
Why? Because the only reason your life now has any meaning is because Christ frees us to invest in things which have eternal significance. To invest our time and energy and resources into his kingdom, into seeing the knowledge of the glory of God fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2.14).
Do you see what has changed for us? We now have a choice. We no longer have to work for things that will only last a handful of years, and then disappear. Very little of what has happened in human history lasted longer than the lifetimes of those who did them. And even for those events and acts in history that we remember, most of those things won’t last forever. The only things that will last forever are those things which display God’s glory…and we are free now to pursue those things, to invest in those things.
How many people can say that? That they are working for something which has eternal significance?
We need to think about that, to keep our eyes fixed on heaven, because that’s the goal. That’s where we’re going, and that’s where everything we do will either stand the test of time, or be forgotten.
Secondly. If we have our sights fixed on heaven, there is one commandment which will immediately make sense, and that is the command to be generous. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Invest in the needs of other people, not just in what you imagine you need today.
We invest in them physically, by—yes—spending our own money so that people we don’t know can buy what they need.
And we invest in them spiritually by providing for churches to be planted and to operate freely, churches which will bring the gospel to places and people who don’t yet know Jesus.
Why? Because it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. It’s not his pleasure to give the kingdom to animals or trees or inanimate objects. He gives the kingdom to human beings, made in his image.
And when Jesus came to secure the kingdom for his family, he didn’t do it by wielding the power at his disposal to impose a domineering rule over men. He gave what he had, ALL of himself, for those who didn’t know him or care about him.
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul encourages the church in Corinth to be generous, and as an example, he tells them about the church in Macedonia.
2 Corinthians 8.1-4, 9:
8 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints…
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
So this church had nothing, materially speaking. They were poor, they were afflicted. But they had one thing that most people don’t: an abundance of joy in their Savior, in the midst of extreme poverty, which drove them to give beyond their means so that others might have what they need.
Why? Because that’s exactly what Jesus had done for them.
Desiring the kingdom frees us to love what actually matters. Desiring the kingdom frees us to live like Christ, who gave everything so that we might receive everything.
And that’s where Jesus puts a cap on this part of his teaching. He gives us this very famous verse (v. 34):
34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
It’s so well known, we forget how devastating it is.
James K. A. Smith wrote (in Desiring the Kingdom, a book whose title I borrowed for this message) that if someone wanted to know about you, if they wanted to know what makes you who you are, most people in the West would ask a question which is some form of this: “What do you know?”
What do you believe? What do you think? What are you convinced is true? and so on.
But Smith says that if I really wanted to know who you are, what makes you tick, then “What do you know?” is not the question to ask. If I really want to know who you are, here’s what I need to ask:
“What do you want?”
What do you love? What do you long for? What do you desire?
All he’s doing is reformulating v. 34. We are what we love, brothers and sisters. And what we love always drives us to make choices. Those choices either free us, or they box us in, to fear and worry about our ability to get the next thing we think we need.
If we know the grace we have in Jesus Christ, and all we have in him… If we love him for it and desire his kingdom above all things… If we progressively learn to love what he loves and hate what he hates… How much of the things that most people spend vast amounts of money and time and energy going after just seems silly? How silly will it sound to spend that much time and money on something which has zero eternal significance?
If we desire the kingdom, we will see what is significant: love for Jesus. A knowledge of God through his Word. A firm assurance in the hope that we have. A solid and unshakeable joy in his glory.
And our abundance of joy—despite what some people would consider extreme poverty—will overflow in a wealth of generosity on our part (cf. 2 Corinthians 8.1-5), because we will know that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. The only reason we have any of these assurances, or love for Christ, or joy in God’s glory, is because Jesus made himself poor, that we might be made rich.
So I’ll close by asking you this very simple question: What do you want?
What you want will define who you are. It will either make you a prisoner to fear of losing what you love, or it will free you to delight in the one thing no one can ever take away from you.
Desire the kingdom, brothers and sisters. And trust God to provide for the rest.