This post was written by Aubry Smith and taken from Bible Study Magazine
When I was 13 my mom had a seizure in the middle of the night. After multiple tests and exploratory surgeries, the neurologists diagnosed her with terminal brain cancer. She had four months to live. As my siblings and I prepared our goodbyes, nearly every church in the county was praying for my mom’s healing.
A year later, the same team of doctors declared my mom in remission. Many people in our small community, convinced of God’s power and His hand in this miracle, came to faith. I was one of them.
It seemed too good, and then it wasn’t. A few years later she began forgetting things. She began telling cashiers at the grocery store personal information and bought the same vacuum cleaner every week. Her surgical scars suddenly opened, and an infection spread through her skull, nearly killing her. After a year in the hospital and countless surgeries, one-third of her skull was permanently removed. Now in her 50s, she lives in an assisted living residence, remembers very little about her life, and cannot function on her own.
Rather than undergoing the quick death of brain cancer, she now suffers the slow death of dementia. The miracle that brought me to faith years ago now brings me to a spiritual crisis. Why would God provide a miracle only to allow even more suffering later on? In John 11, Jesus attends the funeral of His friend Lazarus. Although Jesus was aware that Lazarus lay dying, He intentionally delayed His arrival so that God would be glorified (11:4). Lazarus’ sisters and their fellow mourners all assert that Jesus could have healed Lazarus and spared them their suffering (11:21, 32, 37). In response, Jesus calls Lazarus—rotting and wrapped in burial linen—out of the tomb. Many believe, and God is indeed glorified.
What we are not told is when or how Lazarus died again. There’s no account of him being whisked up to heaven like Enoch or Elijah, so we must assume he died later on. We’re also not told the fate of the others Jesus healed. Did they ever get sick again? They surely died too.
Jesus preached that the kingdom of God is near. He showed us what that kingdom is like: the dead are resurrected, the sick are healed, demons are powerless, creation is restored, and God is worshiped. In his resurrection, Lazarus bore witness to God’s kingdom and power. Was God any less present or powerful when Lazarus died the second time?
We see glimpses of the coming kingdom, but it is not fully here yet. Death has not yet died; sin and brokenness still abound. Sometimes miracles—signs of the coming glory—break into our world and show us that the kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus. But when suffering remains, we wait for complete restoration upon Jesus’ return.
Jesus’ response to Lazarus’ mourners is one of hope. They desire resurrection and life for their brother. Jesus draws them to Himself, saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die” (11:25, emphasis mine). Jesus, the Suffering Servant, is the God who suffers alongside His people. Although He knows that this is not the end for Lazarus, He is “deeply moved” by Mary’s anguish and the sight of His beloved friend’s tomb (11:33, 35, 38).
My mom’s miracle showed my community that God is near and that His kingdom—one without disease or mental illness—is coming in fullness one day. But her dementia reminds me that it is not yet fully here, pushing me to lean into Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who weeps with me as I wait.
Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT).
Some years ago, I did a word-study of the Greek word that is translated as “repent” in our English Bibles. As I result of this study, I came to a shocking conclusion: Most of us who call ourselves Christians, have NOT truly repented at all! This is mostly in part because of a mis-interpretation which has led to a misunderstanding, and therefore a misapplication the biblical concept of repentance.
Let me show you what I am talking about. When I was first introduced to the concept of repentance as a young Christian, I was taught that to repent means to be ‘godly sorrow for your sins.’ However, I would discover later on, that this definition is based on a faulty interpretation and misunderstanding of what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10. The apostle wrote: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (KJV) Here are the same verses in one of the more recent versions; the ESV: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Now, here’s the thing that most people have missed about what Paul said. Paul DID NOT SAY godly sorrow or godly grief ‘was’ repentance. He said godly sorrow or godly grief ‘works’ or ‘produces’ repentance! Godly sorrow/grief and repentance are two different concepts; they are not synonymous! They are not the same!
So, to feel sorry for your sins is not the same as repenting, it’s just feeling sorry for your sins! But, feeling sorry for your sins ought to produce repentance! Feeling sorry for your sins ought to lead you to the act of repenting. So, that brings us to the question: If being godly sorrow for your sins is not the same as repentance, then, what does it actually mean to repent? Well, the Greek word that is translated as ‘repent’ has as its primary meaning; to change one’s mind or the way one thinks. Therefore, to repent is to change your mind or to change your thought process; repentance is a change of mind! True repentance is a change in ‘what’ and ‘how’ one thinks! This change of mind will invariably lead to a change in action, behavior and life.
Jesus’ first recorded public declaration is found in Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV) The Jewish people at that time were anxiously waiting for and anticipating the coming of the Kingdom of God (the rule, reign, and authority of God among his people on earth). What Jesus was essentially saying was this: “Quit thinking about the Kingdom of God in the future-tense and understand and live in view of the fact that the Kingdom of God has now arrived!” The message of Jesus for us today is for us to quit thinking of the Kingdom of God only as a place called Heaven in the future and start thinking of the Kingdom of God as a present reality!
Therefore, in view of what Jesus said, even most people who call themselves Christians still need to repent! Why? Because most Christians think of the Kingdom of God only as a place called Heaven, in the sweet by and by! But the message of Jesus is that the Kingdom of God is also a present reality on earth in the sour here and now! The message is: Repent! Quit thinking religion and start thinking Kingdom! We’ve got our hearts set on ‘going to Heaven,’ but Jesus told us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come!” We’re want to leave here and go there, but Jesus wants us to stay here, working and praying that the ‘there’ will come here! He prayed to his Father in the garden on the eve of his passion, concerning his disciples and us: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (Jn. 17:15 NIV) We need to repent, because we’ve been praying to the Father to get us out, while Jesus prayed to the Father to keep us in! We need to repent! We need to change our minds; we need to change our thought process! We’ve been thinking religion; but Jesus wasn’t about religion, Jesus was about the Kingdom! Jesus never told us to seek first religion; he told us to seek first the Kingdom! Religion is always about the past and the future ‘over there,’ but the Kingdom is primarily about in the present here! Religion allows evil to win in the present because of a faith in a future victory, but the Kingdom defeats the power of the enemy in the present and will ultimately destroy the enemy in the future! That’s why the enemy doesn’t mind us ‘having religion,’ because religion blinds us to the present reality of the Kingdom! The message to the church today is the same as the message Jesus proclaimed centuries ago: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” The Kingdom of God is not just pie-in-the-shy-when-you-die-by-and-by; the Kingdom is the present power and reality of God in the world right now! The Kingdom of God is not just later; the Kingdom of God is NOW AND LATER!
Have you ever heard of the proverbial expression that speaks of putting the cart before the horse? To put the cart before the horse is to have things out of order. It is the failure to put first things first! It is the act of trying to pull what should be pulling! To literally put the cart before the horse is an act that will only breed frustration and failure; for the cart has no power of its own! The cart cannot even pull itself! Therefore, the idea of putting the cart before the horse is absurd indeed!
Nevertheless, that is how many people are living today! They are living their lives, filled with frustration and failure because they are pursuing riches, fame, wealth, and prosperity, not realizing or understanding that those things are not ‘horses’ but rather, they are ‘carts.’ In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus is recorded as saying: “Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV) Now, just prior to this statement, Jesus had emphasized the point that if God takes care of and has made provisions for the lesser (the birds and the plants) things of creation, how much more will God take care of and make provisions for the greatest of His creation: humanity?
Let’s take a moment to analyze the text. In this section of the discourse, the KJV translation has Jesus discouraging the idea of “taking thought” in verses 27, 28, 31 and 34. The Greek word behind the translation has the connotation of worry, anxiety, or being anxious. Therefore, Jesus was not saying; don’t even think about those things, but rather he was saying; don’t be anxious, worried, or filled with anxiety about them! Isn’t it ironic that this is the very thing that most people are doing today? Doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies are getting rich because of people immobilized by anxiety, depression, diseases, and psychological disorders that can all be traced back to the fact that they are constantly worried and anxious about what they are going to eat, drink, and wear!
In verse 32, Jesus says: “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” The reference to the ‘gentiles’ was a reference to people who were outside of the covenant that God had with His people. In other words, Jesus was saying to his followers: “When you constantly worry and are anxious about these things; you are acting like people who are strangers to the covenant! You are acting like people who are heathens! You are acting like people who don’t know God! You are acting like orphans who don’t have a father to take care of them!” In view of that statement, it is interesting to note that much of what is being heard in some church-circles these days is really just worldly talk in religious dress! People in the world are anxiously pursuing wealth and riches while many people in the church are ‘faithfully’ (I say this with tongue in cheek!) pursuing Divine favor and prosperity! But Jesus said to his followers in this text: “If you are anxious and worried about your survival; you are acting like unbelievers!”
Then he said, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Now, here’s an interesting point: Jesus said that your heavenly Father knows that you need them all, but he didn’t say you should ask your heavenly Father for them! Instead he said: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The ‘but’ served as a contrasting conjunction. Jesus was saying that instead of anxiously pursuing the things that the people who don’t know God pursue, his followers were to pursue or seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. He was saying that the believer should seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness with the same intensity that people who don’t know God seek food, shelter, and clothing!
Seeking or pursuing the Kingdom of God and His righteousness should be the believer or the follower of Jesus’ first and far-most priority! Now, Jesus was not talking about seeking to get the Heaven! The term; ‘Kingdom of God’ in the context of the passage is not a reference to Heaven, but rather it is a reference to the authority, rule, and reign of God in a person’s life! It is a reference to the government of God. The term ‘righteousness’ refers to the state of a person being as he ought to be, in right-standing. Jesus was saying that our first and far-most priority should be to seek, that is, find and experience the rule and authority of God; the government of God in our lives and to be in right-standing with that government or authority. We’ve made it so ‘religious’ but actually, Jesus is talking about government! To be ‘righteous’ is to be in right-standing with the Kingdom (Government) of God. To be ‘righteous’ with the government of the United States, means to pay taxes and obey the law of the land. Therefore, Jesus said, our main pursuit and priority should be to seek the rule and authority of God in our lives and to seek to be in a state of right-standing with that rule and authority. When we do that, ‘all these things will be added.’ All what things? The things that the people who don’t know God are seeking and pursuing!
Now this is where we have really placed the cart before the horse! Jesus said that if we would seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, all the things needful for life would be added unto us! According to the Bible, all the things that many people in the world today are seeking and pursuing, should actually be seeking and pursuing them! Instead of us seeking and chasing after blessings; blessings should be seeking and chasing after us! Deuteronomy 28:1-2, Moses said to the people: “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.” (ESV) Do you see that? He told them that if they faithfully obeyed the voice of the LORD (If they sought the Kingdom of God first) and were careful to do all his commandments (sought to be in right-standing; His righteousness) …. then all those blessings would come. . . and overtake them! If the blessings were to come upon and overtake them, it would not be because they were pursuing the blessings, but rather because the blessings were pursuing them! We’ve got it all wrong! We’re putting the cart before the horse, because what most of us are chasing is supposed to be chasing us!
Another case in point is found in Psalm 23:6, where David said: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (ESV) We normally think of the word ‘follow’ in this verse as a passive shadowing or tagging along. But the Hebrew word for follow; ‘radaph,’ in this text is an aggressive word! It means; to be behind, to follow after, pursue, chase, persecute, run after. This is not a picture of goodness and mercy following after David all the days of his life like innocent little puppies wagging their tails. No! This is a picture of goodness and mercy, pursuing and chasing after David like two ferocious dogs trying to catch their prey! Again! We are not supposed to be chasing after the blessings; the blessings are supposed to be chasing after us!
So then, it is because we are out of order, it is because we have placed the cart before the horse, that our lives are filled with frustrations, anxieties, worries. For just as the cart was designed to be behind and pulled by the horse and not in front of the horse, so were the necessities and the abundance of life designed to be added unto us as we seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first and far-most in our lives.
One day, as Jesus was teaching, some little children wanted to be near him. But the disciples, being annoyed by them, pushed them back. When Jesus saw this, Jesus said: “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.’ And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands upon them.” (Mk. 10:14-16 NASB)
I read that text the other day and I realized that most of us are too grown for the Kingdom of God! Let me show you what I’m talking about. Do you remember when we were children, how it seemed like nothing was impossible? We believed we could fly! We believed we could reach the sky! We believed we could go to the moon! We believed that anybody could grow up to be the President of the United States! However, as we grew older and began to experience the “realities” of life, we lost our unlimited quality of belief and our lives began to be defined and limited by limitations. Now, that presents a problem in the matter of the Christian faith because there are no limitations in the Kingdom of God! Yet, many “Christians” are hampered by and live with and in limitations everyday because they have lost the “child-like faith” they used to have that allowed them to believe in what they couldn’t rationalize or figure out. Their “grown-ness” has robbed them of the belief they once had that anything was possible!
But Jesus said we must receive the Kingdom of God like a child in order to enter it! Now, when Jesus said this, I don’t think he was just talking about entering into the pearly gates at death. No! I think, when Jesus talked about receiving and entering in the Kingdom of God, he was talking about experiencing the benefits and blessings of the Kingdom of God! I believe he was talking about living in the Kingdom of God as a practical reality in our present, everyday lives! It takes child-like faith to do that! It takes child-like faith to act on, rely on, and count on something that the rational mind can’t rationalize! That is why so many people are missing out on the present-day realities of the Kingdom of God! In their rational minds, they can only process the future realities of the Kingdom of God! But the according to the Bible, we will not just enter the Kingdom of God when we die; we’re either in or out of the Kingdom right now! Paul wrote to the church at Colosse: “Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (Col. 1:12-13 ESV) Note that Paul said the deliverance from the domain (kingdom) of darkness and the transfer to the kingdom of his beloved Son (the Kingdom of God) was not something that God was going to do, but rather something God had already done! According to the Bible, those who are saved are in the Kingdom of God right now! But it takes faith; child-like faith, to accept and enter into that reality!
That brings me to my next observation about child-like faith! Children believe any and everything their parents or adults tell them! (At least they used too! Too many children today have even lost that child-like faith because they are exposed to too many adult “realities” too soon and/or they are trying to grow up too quickly!) I remember getting into an argument at school with some other children because of something my mother told me, that I took to be true, but it really wasn’t! (It wasn’t so much that my mother lied to me, but she understood that there were some things children didn’t need to know until they got older.) But I believed it, simply because my mother told me it was so! Now, as easy as it was for children of my generation to believe their parent’s word, simply because their parents said it, it is so hard for many of those same “children” today to believe God’s word, simply because God said it! Back in my day, we never questioned our parents! Whenever my parents told me to do something, I never dared to ask them; “Why?” But we are an “enlightened” generation now! Our children ask “why” and because we want to bolster their self-esteem and make them feel respected and valued, we waste so much time and effort trying to explain why! But even after we explain why; they still don’t understand! Our parents were much smarter and wiser than us! They knew, at such a young age, children don’t have the capacity to understand certain things and that trying to explain would only serve to further confuse the child! So,why is it so hard for us to acknowledge that the things of God are beyond our limited human capacity to comprehend and understand? Why can’t we just trust God, simply because He is God?
Children not only have unlimited faith to believe in what is possible and to believe whatever their parents or adults tell them, they also have unlimited imagination! Do you remember having an “imaginary” friend when you were a child? No one could see or talk to them but you! You saved a spot for them at the dinner table and you talked to them all day long! However, as you got older, you forgot about your “friend” and no longer talked to them. You focused all you time and energy on the so-called real “friends” and your eyes could see. But have you ever stop to think that maybe God gave us the capacity to believe in an imaginary friend as a child in order to prepare us to believe in Him as adults? God is Spirit! God is immaterial! God cannot be felt or touched by human hands! Yet, God is real! God is more real than the imaginary friend we had as a child! In the same sense, the Kingdom of God is real! It is the rule and reign of God! It is the sphere of God’s influence and power in the world all around us! But it takes child-like faith and child-like imagination for us to enter in and experience it!
Now, before you dismiss the idea of the imagination having anything to do with reality. Think about what your imagination really is! Your imagination is the “image in your mind!” We really don’t function according to how things are, but rather we function according to how we “imagine” them to be! It is our perception (our imagination) that determines and shapes our reality! Everything we see, touch, feel, and experience in the physical was born in and produced by the imagination! According to the Bible, we were created in the image of God. Could one aspect of being created in God’s image mean we were created to use our imagination to create our realities? But in the process of growing up; we often lose the child-like capacity we once had to use our imagination! Thus in growing up, we often become too grown for the Kingdom of God! Too grown to have the faith and imagination required to experience the abundant benefits and blessings of the Kingdom of God. Too grown to live the abundant and fulfilling life God created us to live!
Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV)
But, it’s kind of hard to look for something when you not exactly sure what you’re looking for! It’s like when I was a boy, my father would often tell me to go and bring him a certain tool. Now, he had already previously told me the names of the tools and what they looked like, but being an unfocused little boy, of course I had forgotten his lessons. So, when he told me to go and bring him a tool, more often than not, I would end up bringing him the wrong tool because I didn’t know what I was looking for! Most of the time I would bring two or three, hoping that one of them was the right one!
That is the way it is with many people today in regard to the instructions of Jesus to seek first the Kingdom of God! They don’t exactly know what Jesus was talking about so they just assume Jesus was saying: “Try to live right and make going to Heaven your top priority!” But is that really what Jesus said? Is that really what Jesus meant when he said: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God?” I really don’t think so!
When we look at the preaching and teaching of Jesus, one of the things that is immediately obvious is the fact that he was obsessed with the subject of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven! The Kingdom was the main focus of his preaching and teaching. The mighty works and miracles he performed were all about demonstrating the power of the Kingdom! Most of the parables and stories he told were about illustrating what the Kingdom is like! In Matthew 4:17, at the start of his public ministry, we read: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV) It interesting that in most evangelical preaching, the theme is: “Repent, so that you might go to Heaven when you die!” But that is NOT what Jesus preached! When Jesus preached and taught about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, most of the time he was not referring to a place called “Heaven!” When Jesus preached and taught about the Kingdom of God, most of the time he was referring to the present rule or reign of God in the heart and lives of people! He was talking about submitting to God’s rule and authority!
So, when he said: “But, seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” He was saying; “Seek to make the rule, authority, and word of God your first priority!” He was also telling his disciples (and those who would follow him now) to seek the Kingdom of God with the same intensity and urgency that those who don’t know God (the Gentiles) seek food, drink, and clothing! In the context of the passage, Jesus wasn’t telling his disciples to make going to Heaven their main pursuit, he was telling them to make the authority, the rule, the reign, and the authoritative word of God the main pursuit of their lives! As they did that, all the necessities needed for life would be added to them as a matter of course, and of course, they would go to Heaven when they died!
There are many “would-be-followers” of Christ today who are seeking blessings, prosperity, health and wealth! But we are never instructed to seek those things in the Bible. In fact, the Bible teaches that those things would seek us as we make seeking the Kingdom of God our top priority! (See Deuteronomy 28, Psalm 23:6, Matthew 6:31-33) However, we can’t make seeking the Kingdom of God our top priority if we don’t know what the Kingdom of God is! We will be just like I was as a little boy, trying to help my father. I can’t count the number of times he told me to bring him a pair of pliers, but I ended up bringing him a pair of wire-cutters instead!