Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What This Country Needs

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. --Matthew 6:33

It took me a long time to ask the obvious question:  why should I seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness?  Why can’t I just do whatever I want?  Does my obedience make God feel good such that He will subsequently look after me?  Does my obedience make God love me, or love me more?  Could it be something else?  Is it possible that God knows my true need better than I do? 

God does not tell you to seek righteousness so He can love you.  He tells you to seek righteousness because He loves you. 

Righteousness is sometimes defined as the state of moral perfection required to enter heaven.  That is somewhat of a circular definition.  To be righteous, or upright before God, is to enter heaven.  The Hebrew word at the root of it all is sedeq.  This usually gets translated in the Septuagint as dikaiosynÄ“ (so I am told).  According to the New Dictionary of Theology (Wright, Ferguson, and Packer), “It thus denotes not so much the abstract idea of justice or virtue, as right standing and consequent right behaviour, within a community.”

Jesus said, “For God so loved the world …” – why not stop there?  The Lord could have just said, “We’ll call it good, and everybody is all right.”  That’s not the way it works.  Man is destroyed for the lack of righteousness -- not by God -- by the lack.  Both the libertine and the legalist miss the point Christ is making -- in His words, in His death and the shedding of His blood.  

One of Jesus’ parables is about a wedding feast to which many were invited.  The invited guests refused the invitation, so the king sent out his servants to gather in the poor, the strangers, and the homeless that the abundance might not go to waste and that the marriage would be joyously celebrated.  Since these people were not necessarily properly clothed, the king even provided for that.  He probably gave them the opportunity to bathe, and he gave them new, clean wedding garments to wear.  So the king is walking around, enjoying the great feast, making sure everybody is having a great time.  But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. (Matthew 22:11-12) 

By this parable to which the covenant of marriage is central, Jesus shows us the covenant side of righteousness.  To be part of the covenant community is both a gift and an obligation.  If we would accept the offer of life, we must also accept the appropriate garment, of righteousness.  To enter into the covenantal relationship we must put off our old clothes and “put on Christ”. 

The deepest need of the creature is the Creator, and, possibly, because He created us, the Creator – no, I am too fearful to say He needs us; He loves us more than we can comprehend.  That is enough.  He wants the best for us which can only be ours if we can be upright before Him.  But we are broken, weak, marred vessels, wandering beggars along the roads.  He calls us who are covered in grime and the filthy rags of our unrighteousness.  He says, Come in and we will clean you up, and robe you in righteousness that you may enter.   For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.   (2 Corinthians 5:21)

We do not need better marketing, more gadgetry, faster connections, more hybrids, more tolerance for wickedness, more celebrations of decadence – not even more money, more jobs, and better politicians.  Our deepest need is for righteousness.  Ease, comfort, convenience, pleasure – these things are sought and when they are obtained, we quickly find they are not enough. 

Yet if we would simply hunger and thirst for righteousness, we would be freely, abundantly, and everlastingly filled. 

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