“What’s the number one thing Jesus talked about?” — the preacher shouted in a classic you-should-know-this tone. Lucky for me, I was sure I knew the answer. After all, I had grown up in the church hearing every week about the love of God, the cross of Christ and the hope of spending eternity in heaven. As the preacher allowed a few seconds of silence to let the guilt build up for those who didn’t know the answer, I smirked and prepared to mouth the words along with him. “The number one thing Jesus talked about was” — and then he said something that nearly knocked me off my pew — “the kingdom of God!”
The kingdom of God? I hardly knew anything about that. I’d heard sermons my whole life about faith in God, the forgiveness of sin and being a part of the church. And Jesus talked more about the kingdom of God than all of those?
At that moment it was as if Conviction walked into the room and looked me in the eye; and then its friend Crisis came and sat next to me for an extended talk. How could I have spent a lifetime hearing about Jesus yet never studied or paid attention to the one thing Jesus talked about most? The kingdom had no place in my theology, my church life, or my perception of what it meant to be a Christian. That day was the beginning of a journey for me, a quest to understand the meaning of the kingdom of God, why it mattered so much to Jesus, and how it might affect my life.
In the weeks, months and years that followed, I searched the Scriptures and became convinced the preacher was right. Jesus couldn’t stop talking about the kingdom of God. When Jesus began his ministry, the first words out of his mouth were, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). But this message of God’s reign was not only the beginning of his ministry. Christ proclaimed the kingdom of God in his preaching and demonstrated it in his miracles and healings. Jesus was crucified as the king of the Jews (Matt. 27:37), he was raised from the dead as the king of the world (Eph. 1:20–23), and then he gathered his disciples to teach them for 40 days about — guess what? — the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
Jesus gave his followers many commands, but there was only one thing he said to seek first.
“Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33).
This is the one thing that changes everything. According to Jesus, what matters most in life is the kingdom of God.
Excerpt from Seek First: How the Kingdom of God Changes Everything (Zondervan, April 2019) by Jeremy Treat (’01, adjunct professor of theology), pastor/elder and pastor for preaching and vision at Reality LA. For more on the book, visit SeekFirstBook.com.