Robert Jeffress - Putting First Things First - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. When you bow your head in prayer, what's the first thing you say? Maybe you thank God for the day's blessings, or ask for his direction on an important decision. Well, in Matthew 6, Jesus laid down some basic principles on how to pray to our father in heaven. And the way we should begin our conversations bears particular significance. My message is titled "Putting First Things First" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
How many of you remember the old Arabian folktale Aladdin? Remember the story of Aladdin? Aladdin was the lazy son of a Chinese tailor who stumbles upon this beautiful lamp, he rubs the lamp, and poof, Robin Williams appears, remember that? That's the Disney version of it, but it was a genie that actually appeared, and the genie said I'll grant you three wishes. I want you to suppose for just a moment that God were to appear before you and he would say to you I will grant you any three wishes you desire. If you could only ask God to do three things for you, what would you ask him to do? What would you really ask him to do? Don't give me any of those miss America answers like world peace and the end of starvation, no, what would you really ask God to do if you could only have three things?
Some people, if they were honest, would say I'd ask God for a bigger bank account. Some people would say I would want more obedient children, or a more satisfying marriage, or I'd ask God to remove some handicap or illness in my life or the life of somebody I care about. Now, there's nothing wrong with asking God for any of those things. As we saw last week, God said when we approach him in prayer, we ought to ask him for what's in our heart, there's nothing wrong with making personal requests to God, he's our daddy, he's our papa in heaven. But those items are secondary concerns compared to what should be on the top of our wishlist. What should be at the top of our list?
Jesus told us in Matthew 6, he said, "Do not worry then, saying what shall we eat, or what shall we drink, or what will we wear for clothing, for the gentiles eagerly seek all of these things, for your Heavenly Father knows what you need, and he knows you need all these things. But seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own".
Jesus said that our priority ought to be for God's righteousness and for his kingdom. Now, you don't see that concern among a lot of Christians today. Christian students looking for that first job, graduated from college, many times pushed by their parents, are looking for that job that pays the highest salary or offers the most perks without ever a thought of what would God have me do with my life? Or husbands and wives, many times Christian husbands and wives with alarming frequency are abandoning their marriage vows. Convinced that God is more interested in their happiness than he is in their holiness. You see this concern for the temporal instead of the eternal even in many churches today. Look at some of the fastest growing churches in America today, and look at the sermon series, and they deal with things like how to have a more successful home, how to earn a bigger salary, how to increase your self-esteem, and on and on and on. Not that there's anything wrong with those things, but according to what Jesus says, those are secondary concerns compared to what should be our primary concern.
Jesus said that the overriding desire of our hearts ought to be a pursuit of God to discover his will for our life, and to submit ourselves to his rule in our life. And we see that priority of our prayer life expressed in the passage we're going to look at today. If you have your Bibles, turn to Matthew 6. Last week, we began a series, prayers that really work, based on this prayer that we know as the Lord's prayer. Now, you know when God told Moses to build the tabernacle, he didn't say Moses, you go out and build whatever you want to build, use your creativity and give me the best thing you can offer me. No, he gave a pattern in Exodus 35 to follow, and in the same way, when Jesus was teaching us to pray, he didn't say just pray however you want to pray, remember the disciples said Lord, teach us to pray, and Jesus said pray in this way, not prayer this prayer word for word, but instead, I want you to follow this pattern in your praying.
Last time, we saw that Jesus said when you begin to pray, remember your relationship with God, our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. That word father, Aramaic for daddy, papa, remember, you have a God who's interested in the trivial details of your life, go to him in that way. But at the same time, remember, he's hallowed, that is, he is holy, that word means to be separate, a cut above anyone or anything here on earth. We're to remember that God is above us, he is our father, yes, but he is a holy, different God than anyone or anything on earth. And because God is holy, that only follows then that his priorities ought to be our primary concern, and you see that in this next phrase of the Lord's prayer, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Today, we're going to talk about what should be our priorities in our prayer life, and it's denoted by those two phrases, let's look at 'em this morning. First of all, the phrase thy kingdom come. When we pray, the first thing we ought to ask God for, now the only thing, but the first thing, should be for God's kingdom to come. When we talk about God's kingdom, what are we talking about? We throw that phrase around all the time, the Kingdom of God, what are we talking about when we talk about God's kingdom? Well, the Kingdom of God defined, I would define it this way, the Kingdom of God is where what God wants done gets done, that's the Kingdom of God. Back in the days when monarchies were more prevalent, a king's kingdom consisted of that territory over which he had absolute rule, where whatever he said he wanted done was done.
For example, the king of France, he had absolute authority over the country of France and all of France's territories, whatever he said was done. But the king of France had no authority over, say, great Britain, or over the United States of America, his kingdom was limited to the territory that was his. And in those days, many kings would wage war to increase their territory, to increase their rule. Now, when we talk about the Kingdom of God, we're talking about that area in the universe where God's will is done. Now, here's the $64.000 question, where is God's kingdom? Over what does God rule? Well, Psalm 103:19 tells us, "The Lord has established his throne in heaven, his sovereignty rules over all". God is sovereign, he is in charge, he is the monarch over the entire universe, isn't he? But in a very practical sense, there's one tiny corner of the vast universe where God has allowed a temporary rebellion against his will, against his rule, against his kingship, and that tiny corner in the universe where God has allowed a temporary rebellion against his rule is called planet earth, it's where we're living right now.
Now, the key is it's a temporary rebellion, it won't last forever. There is a day coming when Jesus Christ is going to return to earth, and he is going to finally rule over all of this earth. That is the Kingdom of God, and it is something that was prophesied in both the old and the New Testaments. When we pray about God's kingdom coming, we're talking about the rule of Christ here on the earth. In the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 7:13, God said to David talking about one of his descendants, "He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever". Or in Isaiah 9:6 and 7, we know those verses well, talking about Messiah, "His name shall be called wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the eternal father, the Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace, on the throne of David or over his kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore".
The Jews were looking for the Kingdom of God to come to earth, for that rebellion to be quashed, for the Messiah to rule in perfect righteousness and peace. In fact, the Talmud, which is the Old Testament commentary on the law, or the commentary on the Old Testament law, the Talmud said any prayer that does not include the Kingdom of God is no prayer at all. Every good Jew prayed for the coming Kingdom of God. Now, when Jesus Christ came, he came offering the kingdom. And you see that in the New Testament. Remember in Matthew 3, what was the message of John the Baptist? He said repent, turn around, for why? The Kingdom of God is at hand. He was saying get ready spiritually, the Kingdom of God that you've been praying for for thousands of years, it's just about here. Jesus Christ came to offer his rule on the earth. He said to the Jews, if you will submit to me, I will set up my kingdom here and now, I will reign in perfect justice and righteousness.
What did the Jews say about that? They said forget it, we're not interested in your rule. Remember in Luke 17:20 and 21, the pharisees came to Jesus, the pharisees said now, Jesus, tell us about the Kingdom of God? How do we know when the kingdom is actually here? What signs will accompany the coming Kingdom of God? Remember what Jesus said in Luke 17:21? He said the Kingdom of God is what? Now the King James says the Kingdom of God is within you. Now, I know I'll get letters on this, that's a stupid translation of that verse. That is a mistranslation of that verse. Think about it, was Jesus saying to the pharisees you evil pharisees, only look in you hearts and you'll see the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God is in your hearts? Of course not, no, the New American Standard, the NIV, have translated that preposition properly, Jesus said to them the Kingdom of God is in your midst, that's what the verse says.
The Kingdom of God is in your midst, in other words, Jews, quit looking for the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God is standing right here in front of you, I am the kingdom. He offered them the kingdom, Matthew 12 tells us, the Jews rejected the Kingdom of God. So how did Jesus respond to their rejection? Did he pack up his marbles and go home? Well, he went home, he went back to heaven, that's true, but he's coming back again. He's coming back again one day to establish his kingdom on the earth. One day, he's going to quash that rebellion, one day, everybody on the earth will follow the Lord's commands. That day is coming. It's a period of time we call the millennium, the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth before this world is destroyed and the new heaven and the new earth come.
Now listen, when the Jews rejected Jesus' offer of his rule on earth, Jesus didn't cancel the kingdom, he simply postponed the literal, visible Kingdom of God here on earth. And this is where people get mixed up, they think, some people, they think because the Jews rejected Christ, that somehow the Kingdom of God changed. In prophecy, we have people called amillennialist, people who don't believe in a literal thousand year reign of Christ on the earth. They believe that when the Jews rejected Jesus Christ, that somehow the Kingdom of God changed from a literal kingdom here on earth to a spiritual kingdom in heaven. And what they forget is this promise God made to Israel that one of Israel's descendants, David's descendants, would rule on the throne in Jerusalem forever, that was an unconditional promise God made with Israel. It is going to be fulfilled, believing Israel will experience the Kingdom of God. But now, God has simply postponed that coming kingdom.
Now on the other hand, pre-millennialists, those who believe that there is a coming kingdom, here's their mistake, many pre-millennialists. I'm a pre-millennialist, but here's a mistake they make, they are so focused on the future, they are so focused on that coming Kingdom of God where Jesus sits on the throne in Jerusalem, they forget that there is a present aspect of the Kingdom of God right now, and that's what Matthew 13 is all about. Today, Jesus taught in those parables in Matthew 13, the Kingdom of God, the literal kingdom has been postponed, but right now, the kingdom is operating in the individual hearts of men and women who are Christ followers. That is, right now, the Kingdom of God is here on earth, it's just gone underground. It's in the hearts of individual men and women who allow Jesus to rule, to sit on the throne of their life.
Now, what's the benefit? I know we've been in a lot of heavy theology, here's the practical application, you don't have to die to wait and experience the Kingdom of God, okay? You don't have to die to experience the benefits of the Kingdom of God. We sometimes are so focused on the future when God will be ruling in perfect righteousness that we forget right now we can let Christ rule in our hearts. And to the extent, listen to this, to the extent you allow Jesus to have the final say in every decision of your life, you can experience heaven right now, you can experience the benefits of the kingdom. Right now, you can have a supernatural existence, you can have peace no matter what's happening around you, you can experience supernatural victory over temptation in your life, you can have contentment with your financial situation, you can have comfort in times of adversity, you can experience all of the benefits of having Christ be ruler by being willing to submit to him right now in your life.
Isn't that what 1 Peter 3:15 is about? We looked at it last week, Peter said, "But sanctify Christ as Lord". That word sanctify, make holy, set Christ apart as Lord, where? On some future throne in Jerusalem? No, sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, that's what the verse says. So when we are praying thy kingdom come, what are we praying for? That word come means immediately, quickly, and write this down on your outline, when we pray thy kingdom come, what we're saying is Lord, I am praying for the return of Jesus Christ one day to set up his kingdom here on earth, but I'm also praying for the reign of Christ in my life right now. Just as Jesus is on the throne in heaven right now, just as one day he's going to be sitting on a throne in Jerusalem here on earth, right now I'm inviting him to have the final say in every part of my life. That's what we're praying when we say thy kingdom come. The return of Christ, come quickly, Lord Jesus, come quickly, like John said, but also the reign of Christ in my heart right now, Christ, you have the final say.
Of course, that only leads to the next phrase, thy will be done. If we're really praying for God to rule in our hearts, then we're automatically saying God, your will is the final will in my life. What do we mean why will be done? In the Bible, the term or phrase God's will is used in three distinct ways, write this down. Sometimes, when we talk about God's will, we're talking about God's providential will. God's providential will is best defined as that secret plan of God's that determines everything that happens in this universe. The providential plan of God is the secret plan of God that determines everything that happens in the universe. And contrary to popular thinking among Christians, God doesn't have multiple wills. He doesn't have a plan A, what he really wants to happen, but if we mess up, then he's got a plan B, and if we mess up there, we got a plan C, then these open theists right now are saying God is always scrambling 'cause he doesn't know ahead of time the choices his creatures are going to make, so he's always changing his will to fit his creatures' will. Do you believe that about God? No, God doesn't have multiple wills, he has one plan that was made before the foundation of this world that governs everything that happens.
In fact, in Ephesians 1:11, jot that down, look at what Paul said, "Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to his purpose who works all things after the counsel of his will". It doesn't say wills, plural, it says will. All things God is working together to work according to his plan. Now, the key here in that definition is it is a secret plan. It is beyond our comprehension, Deuteronomy 29:29 says, "The secret things belong to the Lord". God's hidden plan is incomprehensible to us. But think about it, God's plan that governs everything that happens in the world and happens in your life, that plan, that will, has to be big enough to have included the rebellion of Lucifer in heaven, it included the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, it included the disobedience of Israel. After all, it says he's working all things after the counsel of this plan. It includes the rebellion of Israel, it includes tsunamis and earthquakes and other natural disasters, and if you have trouble accepting the fact that God's plan would include all of those things, as the scripture says, remember that his plan also included the torture and the murder of his own son.
Now, people say well, I just can't believe in a God who would permit as a part of his plan these horrible things happening. I don't care what horrible thing you cite as an example that God couldn't be in charge, nothing's more horrible than the murder of the only truly innocent person who has ever lived, Jesus Christ. But God's plan was big enough to include even that. I was reading this week about the Russian novelist Dostoevsky, and in one of his novels, he has one of his characters ask his Christian brother this question, I'll paraphrase the question, the question is suppose you were the architect of the universe, you were constructing a plan that would encompass all of humanity, and the plan that you were constructing would result in the happiness of every woman and child for all eternity. You're constructing this plan, and it's a plan that will result in the eternal happiness of every man and woman and child throughout eternity, the only catch is your plan necessitates the torture and murder of a little girl.
One little girl in history has to be tortured to death for this plan to take effect. Would you give the okay for such a plan? If you knew that in the end, every man and woman and child throughout history would be happy? The Christian brother in this story says no, I couldn't do that. The fact is, most of us couldn't do that, could we? And yet, that's what God did for us. God has this plan where all of his redeemed will live with him for all eternity, but that plan was built upon the torture and death of the truly only innocent person who ever lived, Jesus Christ. And yet, God gave his okay. That's beyond our comprehension, that is God's providential plan.