Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Priority of His Presence

Therefore do not worry, saying “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear … But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31, 33)

Jesus spoke these words in His “Sermon on the Mount” (which I like to call “The Sermon of Heaven on Earth”). But they are reminiscent of the words spoken by Haggai the prophet to the governmental and religious leaders of Judah. Judah was the southern portion of the divided kingdom of Israel. After years of exile in Babylonian captivity, they were finally allowed to return to their homeland (though still under foreign rule).

Work on the restoration of the temple at Jerusalem began, but then stalled for about 15 years because of Persian politics. In that time, the Jews apparently were content to do without it. They had their lives to lead and personal concerns to attend to. They had gotten used to the way things were under the Babylonian system, thinking the way the Gentiles think. And the house of the LORD went neglected.

But the temple of God was never about a building, it was about a presence — the Presence. It was God’s dwelling place among His people, His home on earth. It was the place they knew they could always find Him. To be content without the temple was to be content without the presence of God in their lives.
So God spoke to His people by Haggai the prophet: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4). He challenged them to take a good long look at themselves and the shape they were in: “Consider your ways.”
You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.
(Haggai 1:6)
In neglecting God, they were ignoring the source of their provision and prosperity, their sustenance and security. God challenged them again to take a hard look at themselves and then to do something about it. “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified” (vv. 7-8).

This was on the first day of the sixth month. By the twenty-fourth day of the month, work on the house of the LORD resumed. Three months later, the word of the LORD came to them again:
Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid — consider it: Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you. (Haggai 2:18-19)
This was not the day things began to change for them — that happened three months earlier, when they decided to make the glory of God their priority. But this was the day the change was confirmed and began to manifest: “From this day I will bless you.”

On this same day, God spoke once more, this time with powerful prophetic force that signaled the time of full and final deliverance for His people.
I will shake heaven and earth.
I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms;
I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms.
I will overthrow the chariots
And those who ride in them;
The horses and their riders shall come down.
(Haggai 2:21-22)
By the time of Jesus, they were still waiting for this prophecy to be fulfilled, for the kingdom of God to be established on the earth. It is hard for me to imagine that Jesus did not have the word of the LORD through Haggai in mind when He spoke these words in His sermon on the mount:
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:25-33)
The way of the world is to worry about how we will eat, what we will wear, where we will live. It is the mindset of Babylonian captivity. It is a system that is passing away because the kingdom of God has come into the world, in fulfillment of the ancient prophecy.

Our job now is to seek His kingdom (that is, His rule and reign) and His righteousness (that is, His way of doing and setting things right) — the priority of His presence and glory in everything we do. When that becomes our focus we will not have to worry about anything else; God will take care of us. Keep your eyes on King Jesus and follow Him.