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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Seek First God and his Kingdom
Text:LD 34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 1st Commandment (God alone)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 98:1,2                                                                                

Hy 1

Reading – Matthew 5:1-12; Matthew 6:19-34

Ps 27:1,2,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 34, Part 2 (Q&A 94-95)

Hy 43:4,5,6

Ps 84:1,5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, there’s a pursuit that is common to all people on this planet. We want to be happy. How do you get happy? To be happy, we need the right people around us, a regular intake of pleasure, piles of money perhaps, a good amount of recognition and honour, and whatever else we think we need. In the United States it’s even one of their inalienable rights, that every person has been endowed by the Creator with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

We all think in a similar way: “I have the right to be happy. My personal happiness is really important—nobody’s allowed to take it from me.” So this is how we evaluate things, for ourselves or others; we say, “Well, as you long as you’re happy…”

But Jesus tells us something different. He says that happiness cannot be based on the things we see or have. “Actually,” He says in his Sermon on the Mount, “I’ll tell you who are happy. It’s those who are poor, those who mourn, those who are meek, those pure in heart, those who hunger and thirst for God, and those who show mercy. Even those who are persecuted for my name’s sake are counted happy.” 

How is it possible? Beloved, the key is found in the first commandment of God’s law: “You shall have no other gods before me.” More positively, the key is loving the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. “When you do that,” says Jesus, “everything else that you need will fall into place.” As He teaches later in his sermon, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Let’s look at the first commandment and Lord’s Day 34 in this light:

The first commandment: Seek first God’s kingdom!

  1. seeking God
  2. serving God


1) seeking God: When Jesus preached his sermon, He didn’t have a theme and points, like we’ve come to expect. Yet there’s no question that his sermon had a clear purpose. All his words were focused on the LORD God: how to know him, how to please him, how to draw closer to him. For this was the whole aim of Jesus’ ministry: to open up the road that leads back to God. Christ came to show how the perfect happiness we had in the beginning, long ago in Paradise—how that happiness can be restored.

“So how do we do that?” the crowds wanted to know. Here’s the surprising answer Christ gives: To seek after God rightly, we first have to look within ourselves. Christ tells us to look within, so that we see our sin. That’s the first Beatitude, the first “beautiful attitude.” Christ says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). To keep the first commandment, you’ve got to be poor. And Jesus uses a word for “poor” that means poverty-stricken, penniless: “Blessed is the person who’s absolutely destitute.”

To understand what that means, remember that Jesus was a good student of the Old Testament. So when Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor,” we’re pointed back to the Scriptures, to places like Psalm 34. There David says, “This poor man called, and the LORD heard; he saved him out of all his troubles” (v 6). That’s a regular theme in the Old Testament, the crying poor.

So who are the poor? The poor are those who call on God because they trust in God. The poor are people who recognize that they’ve got no resources to back them up, no strength in themselves. All they can do is depend on the LORD. That’s the first acknowledgement Christ wants us to make. Without God in our life, we’re destitute and helpless. We can’t enter the Kingdom unless He brings us in by his own free grace.

That’s not easy to admit. We’re all proud, and prefer to be self-sufficient. We don’t want to join the line for spiritual hand-outs—it’s embarrassing. We keep thinking that we can find happiness on our own. And what happens? God gets bumped down the list. We don’t forget him entirely, of course. But there’s a lot of other important things in our life, a lot of other priorities that get priority. We don’t want to admit our spiritual poverty, so we keep acting (or thinking) like we’re rich. “My money makes me rich,” we say, “My talents and abilities make me rich. I’m rich with opportunities, and I’m rich with friends. And it makes me happy.”

But are you really happy? Or would you be happy if you had just a little bit more? And what if it was taken away? Would your satisfaction with life continue, even when you lost your job or lost your health or lost your family? Jesus warns against this a bit later in his sermon, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (6:19).

We can hear Christ’s words being echoed in this Lord’s Day of the Catechism: Do not build idols, and don’t chase after false gods, which is when you have or invent “something in which to put your trust instead of, or in addition to, the only true God who has revealed himself in his Word” (Q&A 95).

All our man-made wealth and importance and security are passing away. There remains within us a God-sized emptiness, a massive hole: the need for God. And it’s only when you see that emptiness—when you understand how deep and how lasting that emptiness is—it’s only then that you’ll be moved to seek God, and to give him the first and central place. Then, Christ says, in our utter poverty we’ll be ready to receive all the treasures of the kingdom of heaven—and these are treasures that’ll never fade!

Christ keeps our eyes in the right place with his next beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (5:4). Again, He uses a powerful word. “Mourning” isn’t just the feeling of a passing disappointment, like when your favourite sports team loses or when you miss the bus. No, this “mourning” is like the crying at a funeral, mourning for the dead. It’s loud and unrelenting.

About what should we be so distressed? We mourn our hearts, because they’re lifeless apart from the LORD, unresponsive to God’s Word. That’s our natural condition. And when we start grieving this condition in a true spirit of repentance, with a desire to change, God promises to give us rich consolation—the washing away of our sins in the blood of Christ. So seek God, to find grace that knows no limit. Seek God, to find a forgiveness without any grudges. Seek God, to start finding joy that is without end.

Jesus keeps building on his theme, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (5:6). The people in Jesus’ time knew about things like hunger and thirst. Back then, most people lived far closer to starvation than we ever have. If your crops failed, or the rains didn’t fall, your life was suddenly on the line. We don’t really know the meaning of hunger and thirst, because we just have to stop at the water fountain or visit the fridge or pantry. But in Christ’s time, hunger and thirst could be relentless companions. You had to do everything possible to find a new source of food or water.

That’s what seekers after God must be like, says Christ, continually searching out the LORD. Looking for him with urgency! So the first commandment asks us how much we long for fellowship with God. How much do you desire to be close to the LORD? Do you want it as much as a starving man wants food, as much as a person who’s dying of thirst craves water? Is this the #1 aim of your life?

I think we lose that longing for the LORD all too soon. It happens when we become comfortable with our position, spiritually speaking. We’re comfortable, because our devotion habits aren’t too bad. We do our part in church. We’ve got a decent knowledge of God. And then if we feel in need of a boost, we can always get a drink from the spiritual water-fountain, we can always get a snack from the Scriptural pantry. We carry on, quickly satisfied.

But we should learn to echo Psalm 63, “O God… earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (v 1). That should be our longing, a longing that comes from understanding that God is who we need, more than any other. Realize that the greatest necessity in your life is to have fellowship with him, to know the blessing of his grace, and to be in his presence.

Let’s think about this as a requirement of the first commandment: “That I rightly come to know the only true God” (Q&A 94). Notice how it describes a process. There’s a coming to know God, a deepening awareness of him.

It’s like how you come to know your children as their character develops, or as you come to know your spouse in a deeper way as the years go by. You’re not content to know them at a superficial level, when they were born and what’s their favourite colour. But whenever you love a person, you want to deepen your knowledge of them. It’s something that should increase. How is that with you? Have you grown lately in your knowledge of God? Do you know his character better? Or what delights him?

Unlike any other earthly thing, the knowledge of God brings satisfaction. Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for God “will be filled.” We come to see how sufficient is the only true God. Open the Word, and see again the almighty and gracious and glorious God. Open Scripture, and get to know the One who overflows in goodness! In the words of the Catechism, we should come to “trust in him alone… expect all good from him only, and love fear and honour him with all [our] heart” (Q&A 94). Expect all of it from him!

When He urges us not to worry about anything, Jesus underlines his words with this exhortation: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well” (6:33). The Lord says when our life is truly God-centered, we’ll find that there is really no need to worry about things like our food and clothing, our employment or retirement, politics or the economy.

Now, when we worry, we’re usually assuming that it’s within our power to do something about all these things. When we worry, we’re basically assuming that we can find security, and we can attain happiness, if we just think about it long enough. When we have some worry, it’s so hard not to rely on human ways and means to solve it.

But what’s the solution to our worries and anxieties? Says Jesus: Seek God! Seek him first! Because you’ve let the glory of the LORD fill your vision, and because you’ve seen how great He is! See how the LORD can handle every concern, whether that’s about the church, or your health, or about the condition of your family. See how God knows what you need before you ask him. If we seek him, He’ll take care of the rest. If we hunger and thirst for him, He’ll fill us. And He’ll give all we need to serve him.


2) serving God: When a new leader takes power, people line up with resumes in hand. They want a job, because it’s an honour to work for someone in a high place. That’s how it is in the Kingdom too, where the risen Lord Jesus is our King, the Son of God is our Saviour. We want to serve him! The Catechism says that’s our obligation in the first commandment: Knowing God, we must “submit to him” (Q&A 94). We say to the God of glory, “Here I am, your humble servant. Give me something to do. Please put me to work in the Kingdom.”

And in his Sermon, Christ also shows the attitude we need if we’re going to serve God. He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (5:5). This is a text often mocked and misunderstood; I remember a T-shirt I once saw: “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing.” Nobody  wants to be meek today, spineless and subservient.

But there’s more to meekness. The Greek word used here often describes a domesticated animal, like a dog that is trained to obey your words of command. By nature, we all want to be “off the leash” and do whatever we want. We think that it will lead to happiness, but it’s only going to kill us. Yet by his Spirit, God can help us be meek. Not weak, but disciplined—controlled for a purpose.

Christ is saying, “You’re blessed when you have your instincts under control for God. Happy is the person who doesn’t give in to every impulse—who doesn’t say whatever comes to her mind, who doesn’t need to click on every link, or watch every show, or eat anything that looks good—but happy is the one who has his desires and emotions under control.” That calls us to work on mastering ourselves. Because when you have your life in order, you can get to work for the Lord, serving others, being busy with the will and purpose of God.

There’s another important way of living if we submit to God and honour him: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” (5:7). Mercy isn’t just our casual pity, thoughtless charity, like dropping our loose change in the tin for the Salvation Army. Mercy is a deliberate act. It’s identifying with someone in trouble, coming alongside them and giving the help that’s needed.

And that’s exactly what God did for us. When Christ came, He identified with us, He saw things with our eyes, and He experienced all the brokenness of life in our body. He even suffered the terrible punishment for all our sin so that we could be forgiven. Christ says that this needs to become the tone of our life, “You have received mercy. Now show mercy.”

This is the opposite of what we’re inclined to do. When someone needs help, we tend to first think of the reasons not to show kindness: they did it to themselves, we’ve helped out before, it’s going to cost us. No, mercy doesn’t naturally. But the God-like attitude is when we strive to be full of compassion and patience.

“Blessed [also] are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (5:8). When Christ speaks of purity here, He’s referring especially to our motives, the incentives that move our hearts. And the truth is that even our finest and most commendable actions as Christians have their origins in our sinful hearts. You might give generously because you get the warm feeling of being a kind and generous person. Someone else might work in the church for his own prestige. Our motives sometimes reveal how God still doesn’t come first for us.

So the first commandment calls us to examine ourselves. Let’s think about it: Are we doing our daily work to serve the LORD? Do we seek God’s glory in all things? Are we serving Christ with singleness of heart? Jesus says, “Let your motives in the Kingdom be unmixed. Let your intentions be pure. Whatever you say and do, do it all for the right reasons.”

Jesus says that if we do, there’s a marvelous promise: The pure in heart will be able to “see God.” That’s amazing! Though God is invisible, living in unapproachable light, through purity of heart we can have a real understanding of who God is—we can see him! We can enjoy a true fellowship with the Father. Without holiness, we won’t ever see him, or ever be with him. But if we seek God, we must humbly submit to him and his Word.

After all this, it’s striking how Christ ends the Beatitudes. He ends with the promise of persecution. Christ even says it twice, with the last two beatitudes, like in verse 10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus was oppressed, and He makes clear that any enemy of his will be the church’s enemy too. Think of his words in John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” It’s a sure thing for citizens of the Kingdom.

I remember once that at a youth conference I attended—this was many, many years ago—the organizers wanted to have the theme, “It’s cool to be a Christian” or something to that effect. But someone older and wiser pointed out that it’s actually not cool. Being a Christian generally isn’t going to win you a fan base and a crowd of supporters. Rather, following Christ in this unbelieving world means you’ll face hardship, and you’ll have to make sacrifices. There will even be oppression!

As you get older, hopefully you’re a little less concerned about being cool. But as Christians we still want to be acceptable. You’d like to fit with this world, and not be singled out for being weird or politically incorrect. But don’t count on it. Says Jesus, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Does that make us miserable? Should that make us fearful of tomorrow? No, Christ says, “Blessed are you!” He makes it even stronger in verse 12, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad!”

We all need to know that serving God and his Kingdom, even at great cost, is the best kind of life. Walking with Christ is the only life that’s well-spent, well-lived. Because it’s the only pursuit that leads to everlasting glory. His is the only kingdom that stands forever. As Christ says to all who serve him, “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.”

We end with the words of Psalm 84. You could say that the Psalmist is pursuing happiness in this Psalm; he’s yearning for God, he’s crying out for him. And this means that the Psalmist delights in serving the LORD. He says to God, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (v 10). Just a doorkeeper! Someone to stand and watch, someone with a small and underrated task.

Which teaches us that God’s children don’t need glamour and recognition or any kind of earthly wealth or worldly happiness. We think we need it—we might even think that we have the right to be happy—but we don’t. The Psalmist says, “Make me a doorkeeper. Give me the least-paying job in the Kingdom. Give me the lowest position, the humblest place. It’ll be worth it, because I’ll have the privilege of serving my God.”

It’s so much better than devoting your life to yourself. It’s better than giving your energy to chasing idols, and better than wasting your life on false gods. Instead, take all that you have—take your job, your home, your family, your position, your strength and talent, and present it all to God. Present everything to him, together with the prayer that God will come first in your life.

What does that mean? In obedience to God’s commands, and in gratitude for his great love in Christ, forsake all creatures rather than do the least thing against his will. Endeavour to rightly know God, trust God, submit to God, and expect all good from him alone. Make it your aim to love, fear and honour God with all your heart. For then you’ll be happy—you’ll be blessed—in him!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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