The Kingdom of God and His Righteousness

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, you will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious 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: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 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. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
– Matthew 6

In Matthew, the Lord’s prayer is given in contrast to how the gentiles pray. The gentiles heap up empty words hoping to get the attention of their gods. Later, after the prayer and an interlude on fasting, he comes back to the gentiles again: they worry about tomorrow, what they shall eat and drink and wear. Instead of being like that, don’t worry about tomorrow. Seek his kingdom and his righteousness and all the rest will follow. This is remarkably similar to the content of the prayer taught earlier.

The Lord’s prayer opens by petitioning for the coming of the kingdom. It then asks for the needs of today, just today. Finally it covers matters of righteousness. And that’s it. Kingdom, needs of today, righteousness.

If we are trying to figure out how to fit all the things that we normally pray for into this framework, it doesn’t work. It leaves one wondering how that prayer helps us learn to pray. But if instead we think of it as a lesson in what is worth praying about, it makes sense. It dovetails neatly into the teaching later in the chapter.

Even when we pray, we should be focused on kingdom and righteousness. Job concerns, health problems, travel mercies — those should not be the focus of our prayers. Those are the things the gentiles worry about. God knows what we need. He knows how to take care of us. What he wants to hear us ask for is kingdom and righteousness.

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Hath God said?

Matthew chapter four is a horrible chapter break. It makes us think of the temptation of Jesus as a distinct thing from his baptism. But the narrative has no pause. When Satan starts tempting Jesus, it is about the thing that just happened.

Jesus was baptized by John and when he came out of the water, the Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove and a voice came from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son.” Then Jesus followed that dove into the wilderness and after forty days, Satan shows up and starts saying, “If you really are the son of God….”

The very point of temptation is whether or not Jesus believes what was just proclaimed from heaven. Maybe he didn’t hear straight? Maybe the dove was just some random bird and he has been wandering out here for forty days and nights starving for no reason? Satan wants him to put it to the test. Just command that these stones be made bread. Find out. If you really are the son of God, you’ll be able to do that.

But Jesus knows his history lessons. After Israel was baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, they too were led into the wilderness and were hungry. Moses recaps this in Deuteronomy 8.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

(There’s the part that Jesus quotes to Satan, refusing the temptation. It continues.)

Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.

So Jesus is hungry in the wilderness and Satan suggests this means that he isn’t really God’s son. On the contrary, Jesus points out, this is how God treats his son. This is what one should expect, if one were a son, and so Jesus will wait for God to speak the word and his hunger to be sated.

Satan tries another tack. Jesus won’t prove he is the son of God by wielding authority, so he wants him to make God prove it. Jesus just said that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God, that he would wait for God to speak the word. Well, here are the words that have come from God’s mouth that promise life. He has already spoken about this. So make him prove it. We are here in his house, you can jump down right in front of him. If you really are his son, then he will send his angels and they will save you. He said so. The word has been spoken.

Jesus rejects it with more Deuteronomy. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” It’s from Deuteronomy 6:16: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” Which is a reference to Exodus 17.

And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

The sons of Israel were saying, “Is God among us or not?” Satan wants Jesus to ask, “Am I the son of God or not?” Jesus is having none of it. God already proclaimed from heaven that he is his beloved son. Case closed.

And then Satan changes tack. He stops questioning whether or not Jesus really is the son of God. And I don’t think it is because he has given in and conceded the point; it seems rather to me that he is proceeding as if he, Satan, has won the argument. Fine. You can’t prove it. You don’t know. You probably heard thunder back there in the Jordan. You’d like to think that you are the son of God and he will exalt you to his right hand in due time, giving you the heathen as your inheritance and the ends of the earth as your possession, but probably not. You can’t prove it and you have nothing to show for it. But see all this? All these nations? All this glory? I can give them to you. I can make you the king of kings and lord of lords. I can give you the ends of the earth as your possession. And I can do it right now. You want to be God’s son and rule over the whole earth? You can. Right now. I’ll give it to you. Just bow down and worship me and I will make you my son and my heir, and you will have it all.

What Satan is promising at the end is certainty. You in fact can have what you want and you can have it right now and you don’t need to be left in any doubt.[1]

But our Lord rejects him, of course.

And then angels do come and take care of him. God does speak the word and his hunger is relieved.


1. Jesus does get the kingdoms of the earth and their glory in the end. It is promised in Psalm 2 and it happens in Revelation 11.

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The Son of David

I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing.
I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.
I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.
A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person.
Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer.
Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me.
He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.
I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.
– Psalm 101

Jesus is the Son of David. And Jesus is the Son of God. And the Son of Man. And the Christ. Now, David was also the Son of God. It’s a title for the king of Israel, Son of God. Hence it’s use in the enthronement psalm, psalm 2. And Christ means anointed; David was also anointed; David was also a Christ.

And David was the man after God’s own heart. God really liked David, and apparently liked the way he led Israel. He did sin and that grievously, but those were rather isolated incidents; he repented. In general, David cared about what God cared about.

Jesus takes freely of the psalms and applies them to himself. He seems to think they were written about him. But they seem pretty obviously to us to have been written by David about David’s life.

Now, if Jesus is the Son of David and is the inheritor of David’s office, then it would seem to follow that Jesus would face many of the same kinds of situations that David did. He would have David’s same responsibilities. He would have enemies like David had enemies. And if David was the man after God’s own heart, then he cared about the same things that Jesus does. And hence what was true of David is going to be largely also true of Jesus.

Psalm 101 paints a picture of some of David’s daily concerns in the office of King of Israel. Jesus probably has the sames concerns and care. He was sent, after all, not to bring peace but a sword. And it is he who baptizes with fire and whose fan is in his hand, who shall burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. And who shall abide the day of his coming? Or who shall stand when he appeareth? For he shall return as a thief in the night, and woe to that servant who is asleep at his coming.

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Back When We Were Sinners

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
– Romans 5:8

The proof of God’s love to us is that back when we were still sinners, he died for us. Ergo, we no longer are sinners. For by the one man’s obedience, the many have been made righteous, and hence no longer are sinners.

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Be Angry and Sin Not

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?
But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.

Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the LORD.

-Psalm 4 ESV

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do… Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
-Ephesians 4 ESV

So it turns out that when Paul says “be angry and sin not,” he is quoting Psalm 4. Both raise the specter of lies and then exhort to holy living. But where the psalm has “ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent”, Paul wrote “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” These don’t seem like the same thing.

First, a note. It seems that the hebrew — I don’t know a lick of hebrew, I’m just going on footnotes and commentary — that the hebrew word translated in the ESV as ‘be angry’ means more basically ‘tremble’. The KJV and others have “stand in awe” or “tremble” instead of “be angry”. The Septuagint, however, translates it as “be angry”. So it appears that Paul is quoting the Septuagint and that the fundamental idea in the psalm is getting worked up about sin, getting motivated to live a life of repentance. Fear seems like a more natural idea here, but getting angry about sin also works. “Have you been living a lie? Get angry about wasting your life that way and make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.” That kind of idea.

And if the idea being conveyed is about becoming impassioned against sin and corruption, then that makes perfect sense of “give no opportunity to the devil” and suggests a new reading for “let not the sun go down on your anger.” When Paul says that, maybe it is a figure of speech exhorting his readers to not let their anger against their own sin fade.

We talk sometimes about someone’s sun going down, meaning their their moment or power or glory has past. Jeremiah 15:9 uses the phrase this way. It is not clear that Paul means this, but it is an intriguing possibility that makes the passage flow quite nicely.

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The Fast I have Chosen

Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for man to afflict his soul? to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes? wilt thou call this a fast, an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.
– Isaiah 58

In a country of such abundance as the United States, it is hard to imagine the point of fasting. But if we were less rich, and there wasn’t always enough food to go around, the picture changes pretty fast. If you choose not to eat, that means someone else can eat more. Or if you choose not to spend money on food, then that money can be spent on something else.

And this seems to be the idea in Isaiah 58. God is disgusted with their fasts. Why? Because fasting isn’t about suffering. It isn’t some ascetic thing like self-flagellation. The point isn’t to make things harder for yourself. The point is to give more to others. Abstain from bread so that you can give it to others. Skip a meal so you can bring the pour of the neigborhood into your house and feed them instead. Pour yourself out for the hungry, says God, and then your righteousness will shine forth.

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Flattering Lips

Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face. For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue. Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.
-Psalm 5

In the psalms, David is not normally praying against Philistines. The enemies in the psalms are usually faithless Israelites, like Saul; they are men who sacrifice at the temple, swear by Jehovah, but say in their hearts that there is no God. I think that is the case here as well.

The crux of this prayer is that David wants God to listen to him and not to the prayers of his enemies. It starts with, “Give ear to my words, O Lord.” He moves on to note that God will not tolerate evildoers and how the lord abhors those who lie. He then contrasts such people with himself, who worships in fear. They, however, are different. There is no faithfulness in their mouth. They are just wickedness deep down inside. They are a walking tomb. And they are flatterers.

Whom do they flatter? He doesn’t say, but I think he is implying that they flatter God. Don’t listen to them, he seems to be saying. You love righteousness and righteous men. They are wicked and they just speak lies. Their prayers sound nice and all, but they are just flattering you. Don’t listen. Destroy them. Bring them down. They have rebelled against you; don’t tolerate it. But let those who do trust in you rejoice. Bless them and let them rejoice in you. Hear their prayers, defend them against these evildoers.

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