TITLE: Nothing more -- nothing less -- nothing else!
SERMON IN A SENTENCE: Jesus Christ is king -- and calls us to allow him
kingship over our lives.
SCRIPTURE: John 18:33-37
CHAPTERS 18-19: THE CONTEXT
We can really understand vv. 33-37 only if we look at them in the context
of chapters 18-19 which include the following:
THE BETRAYAL AND ARREST OF JESUS (18:1-11)
Simon Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest's slave (v. 10). Jesus
repairs the damage and tells Peter to sheath his sword. That is
significant for our Gospel lesson, where Jesus tells Pilate, "My kingdom
is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers
would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews" (v. 36).
At his arrest, Jesus demonstrated that he intends no violence to Rome
(Pilate's primary concern).
JESUS BEFORE THE HIGH PRIEST (18:12-14, 19-24)
This is confusing. Who is the high priest, Annas or Caiaphas? There is
supposed to be only one high priest, and the appointment is supposed to be
for life. Annas is the high priest who questions Jesus, but Caiaphas is
the high priest for this particular year (v. 13. See also Luke 3:2; Acts
4:6). The explanation is that the Romans, reluctant to invest one person
with too much authority, forced changes of office. Annas served from 6 to
15 A.D., and was replaced by Caiaphas, who will serve until 36 A.D.
Annas, however, retains authority in the eyes of the people.
"Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have
one person die for the people" (v. 14) -- more Johannine irony. Caiaphas
intended to say that it is better for one person to die than for many to
be led astray, but he inadvertently points to the propitiatory nature of
PETER DENIES JESUS (18:15-18, 25-27)
Craddock says that this is where the real trial is taking place. In the
trial before Pilate, Jesus moves inexorably toward his glorification but,
in the trial around the charcoal fire, Peter (and the church) are being
tried and found wanting (Craddock, 481).
JESUS BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN (Matt. 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71)
The Synoptics give detailed accounts of Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin,
but this Gospel gives only short mention of Jesus' appearance before Annas
and Caiaphas (18:12-14) -- and no mention of the Sanhedrin.
Brown explores several possible reasons why John might eliminate the
Sanhedrin trial and emphasize the Roman trial. He reminds us of the
strong opposition to Jesus by those whom this Gospel characterizes as "the
Jews," and talks about other figures in this Gospel who "neither refuse to
believe nor fully accept Jesus for what he really is" (Nicodemus, the
Samaritan woman, and the man healed at the Pool of Bethesda). He
concludes that Pilate is "another representative of a reaction to Jesus
that is neither faith nor rejection. Pilate is typical.of the many
honest, well-disposed (people) who would try to adopt a middle position in
a struggle that is total.. Pilate's story.illustrates how a person who
refuses decisions is led to tragedy" (Brown, 864).
This has preaching possibilities. Most people today are not tempted to
oppose Jesus, but only to ignore or to marginalize him. Jesus warns, "So,
because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you
out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:16).
JESUS BEFORE PILATE (18:28-32)
The Jews "did not enter (Pilate's) headquarters, so as to avoid ritual
defilement and to be able to eat the Passover" (v. 28) -- more Johannine
irony. They are bent on killing an innocent man, but are fastidious about
Pilate, ostensibly the most powerful man in the city, finds himself
obligated to shuttle back and forth between the accused and the accusers
-- thus revealing the power that the Jews have over him. Earlier, Pilate
had gotten off to a bad start, offending the Jews by raiding the temple
treasury and displaying idolatrous symbols -- so he must now be
extra-careful of Jewish sensibilities. A Jewish revolt would call
Pilate's leadership into question, so he finds himself under pressure to
meet their demands (Barclay, 278-280).
When Pilate asks the nature of the charge against Jesus, they specify no
charges, but answer only "If this man were not a criminal, we would not
have handed him over to you" (v. 30). Under such circumstances, Pilate
should release Jesus. When he suggests that the Jewish leaders judge
Jesus according to their laws, they respond, "We are not permitted to put
anyone to death" (v. 31)-- making it clear that their goal is Jesus' death
-- and that they expect Pilate to do the work for them.
Some scholars note that the Jewish leaders will kill Stephen (Acts
7:54-60), and wonder if the Jews are, in fact, allowed to execute those
who violate their religious laws. Other scholars believe that the stoning
of Stephen was a mob action rather than a legal action.
"JESUS OF NAZARETH KING OF THE JEWS" (19:15, 19)
The emphasis on Christ the King continues in chapter 19. Pilate has tried
to get the crowd to let him release Jesus (18:38b-40), and has had Jesus
flogged in the hope that the flogging will satisfy the crowd (19:1-7).
The crowd, however, frustrates Pilate at every turn, demanding Jesus'
crucifixion (19:6, 15) and impugning Pilate's loyalty to the emperor
Pilate strikes back verbally, saying to the crowd, "Here is your King!"
(19:14) and asking, "Shall I crucify your king?" (19:15). Then the crowd,
which demanded Jesus' death because "he has claimed to be the Son of God"
(19:7), responds in the most astonishing fashion. "We have no king but
the emperor," they say (19:15). In other words, they criticized Jesus for
putting himself in God's place but themselves now put the emperor in God's
place. Pilate, by necessity loyal to the emperor, finally gives up and
turns Jesus over to be crucified (19:16).
But Pilate has the last word. He has an inscription posted on the cross
in three languages that says "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews"
(19:19-20). The chief priests protest, asking Pilate to change the
inscription to read, "This man said, I am King of the Jews." Pilate
responds, "What I have written, I have written" (vv. 21-22). Earlier,
Pilate asked, "What is truth?" (18:38). Now, with Johannine irony, Pilate
posts the truth for all to see.
VERSES 33-35: ARE YOU THE KING OF THE JEWS?
33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked
him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on
your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35Pilate replied, "I am not a
Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to
me. What have you done?"
"Are you the King of the Jews?" (v. 33). More irony! Pilate has only one
legitimate concern, and that is whether Jesus poses a threat to Rome. If
Jesus is assuming the role of king, that is a treason -- punishable by
However, "Pilate (is) incredulous. This man a king? ...One glance at his
prisoner (is) enough for the governor to discern that it (is) fantastic to
see Jesus in this role. Hence his incredulous question" (Morris, 679).
The irony is that Jesus is, indeed, a king, but one who poses no threat to
Rome. Readers of this Gospel, privy to the rest of the story, know this.
We want to interrupt and say, "Yes, he is a king, but not as the Jewish
leaders are portraying him!"
"Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" (v. 34).
Before Jesus can answer Pilate, he must know the meaning of Pilate's
question. Is Pilate asking if Jesus intends to challenge Rome for power
in Judea, or is he simply serving as a mouthpiece for the Jewish leaders?
Jesus' question makes it clear that he understands the behind-the-scenes
politics -- that others have, indeed, have told Pilate about him -- that
they have enlisted Pilate to do their dirty work -- that Pilate,
presumably the most powerful man in Judea, has allowed himself to become a
lackey to their interests. Jesus' question also reverses their roles --
Jesus becomes the interrogator.
"Pilate replied, 'I am not a Jew, am I?'" (v. 35). Pilate has little
respect for the Jewish people, so his question has a scornful tone. "For
the Fourth Evangelist, 'the Jews' represent the world's resistance to the
revelation of God in Jesus. Pilate anticipates a negative answer to his
question, but the trial will show that in fact Pilate is 'a Jew,' that he
belongs with those who reject Jesus" (O'Day, 817).
"Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me" (v.
35). Pilate confirms that others have, indeed, initiated this action. No
charges have been brought. The Jews have complained only that Jesus is
evil (kakon -- translated "criminal" in the NRSV) (v. 30). Pilate does
not know why the Jewish leaders want to kill Jesus, but he understands
that there is more here than meets the eye. He wants to expose the hidden
agenda, so he asks Jesus to explain what is going on.
VERSES 36-37: MY KINGDOM IS NOT FROM THIS WORLD
36Jesus answered, "My kingdom (Greek: basileia) is not from this world. If
my kingdom were from this world (Greek: kosmou -- from kosmos), my
followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." 37Pilate asked him, "So you
are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was
born, and for this I came into the 0world, to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
Jesus confirms that he is a king, but assures Pilate that Rome has no
reason to fear him. Jesus' kingdom (basileia -- used in 3:3, 5 for the
kingdom of God) is "not from this world" (Greek: kosmou -- from kosmos).
While God created the kosmos, the kosmos is "locked in persistent
rebellion against its creator (1:10, 11). It is the sphere of darkness,
of rebellion, of blindness, of sin" (Carson, 594). Jesus seeks, not a
kosmos kingdom, but a Godly kingdom. He cites the lack of resistance by
his followers as evidence that he seeks no kosmos kingdom.
Jesus could have fomented a revolution. His band of disciples is small,
but many people are drawn to him. They are unhappy with the Roman
occupation, and await only a leader to organize them. Pilate has three
thousand soldiers under his command, but only a few hundred are in
Jerusalem at this time. If Jesus wanted to make trouble, he could have
In fact, there was some small violence associated with Jesus' arrest.
Simon Peter struck the high priest's slave with his sword, cutting off his
ear. Jesus responded by repairing the damage and telling Peter, "Put your
sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has
given me" (18:10-11). This is a recurring Johannine theme. Jesus is not
the victim of treachery, but is walking a God-directed course -- drinking
the cup that the Father gave him to drink. No victim here! The Father is
in charge, and the Son is faithfully executing the Father's will.
"My kingdom is not from this world." Like Jesus, the church today has
much moral authority but little kosmos authority. The church is always
tempted to seek kosmos authority -- to ally itself with kosmos power.
When it has done that, it has usually lost moral authority -- has found it
impossible to hold both moral and kosmos authority simultaneously. In
most places where the church has held substantial kosmos power
historically, the church is marginal or dead today. The church does best
when emulating the Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head (Matt. 8:20)
and who brought sight to the blind, helped the lame to talk, cleansed
lepers, made the deaf hear, raised the dead, and brought good news to the
poor (Matt. 11:5). Just as Jesus' power was in the cross, so the church's
most effective witness is in service and sacrifice to people in need --
and not in political connections, spectacular productions, or great
"So you are a king?" (v. 37). Hearing the word, kingdom, Pilate goes on
high alert! Even though Jesus has said that his kingdom is not of this
world, Pilate is concerned that the word kingdom might reflect a political
entity. His question probes the possibility that Jesus might be a
political threat -- invites Jesus to reassure him one more time that he is
Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for
this I came into the world, to testify to the truth" (v. 37). In the
Gospel of John, Jesus has much more to say to Pilate than in the
Synoptics, where he answers only, "You say so" (Matt 27:11-14; Mark
15:2-5; Luke 23:2-5). In verse 37, Jesus says, "You say that I am a
king," (much the same as his response in the Synoptics) but then he goes
on to spell out the meaning of his kingship.
First, Jesus says, "For this I was born, and for this I came into the
world" (v. 37). The Prologue to this Gospel says, "In the beginning was
the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.. And the Word
became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as
of a father's only son, full of grace and truth" (1:1, 14). Verse 37
restates these Johannine themes: Incarnation -- glory -- truth. Other
than 7:42, which says that the Messiah will be descended from David and
come from Bethlehem, v. 37 is the only reference to Jesus' birth in this
Gospel. This Gospel is more concerned with Jesus' true origin than his
birth story. Yes, he was born of a woman, but the greater reality is that
he comes from God.
Second, Jesus says that he has come into the world "to testify to the
truth." Truth is a major theme of this Gospel (1:14, 17; 4:23; 5:33;
8:32, 40, 44; 14:6, 17; 15:26; 16:7, 13; 17:8 17, 19; 19:35). "This is
not the abstract concept of truth over against falsehood, but the
religious truth that we have seen throughout this Gospel, a truth closely
related to Jesus' person (14:6)" (Morris, 681). Jesus is full of truth
(1:14). The truth makes us free (8:32). Jesus tells the truth (8:45-46).
He is the way, the truth, and the life (14:6). He testifies to the truth
(18:37). When Jesus departs, the Spirit of truth will come to be with us
"Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (v. 37). This
restates the theme from chapter 10 of the shepherd and the sheep who
listen to the shepherd's voice (10:4-5, 16). The sheep will not listen to
a stranger, because strangers are not trustworthy. They listen for the
shepherd's voice, because the shepherd has words of truth and life. Those
who listen to Jesus' voice are his disciples.
In a verse not included in the lectionary reading, Pilate asks, "What is
truth?" (v. 38).
This Sunday is known as Christ the King. The idea is that we should make
Christ king over our lives.
In our Gospel lesson today, the Jewish leaders, wanting to rid themselves
of Jesus, trumped up charges that he was setting himself up as king. Not
having authority to execute Jesus themselves, they hoped to persuade Rome
to do their dirty work for them. Their best bet was to persuade Pilate
that Jesus intended to set himself up as king -- as a rival to Rome. The
Romans didn't care much about Jewish theology, but they did care about
threats to their own power. If Jesus were setting himself up as king, you
can be sure that Pilate would be interested.
But Pilate was no fool. When he first encountered Jesus, he asked, "Are
you the King of the Jews?" Their conversation made it clear that Jesus
posed no threat to Rome. Pilate understood that there was something going
on that he didn't understand -- and that bothered him. He didn't trust
the Jewish leaders, and suspected that they were trying to put a fast one
over on him -- but he couldn't quite figure out what. He asked Jesus to
help. "Are you the King of the Jews?" he asked. I can imagine Pilate
scratching his head as he questioned Jesus. He must have asked himself,
"What in the world is going on here?"
In his conversation with Pilate, Jesus made it clear that he considered
himself to be a king -- but not in a way that Rome need fear. His kingdom
was "not from this world," he said.
It didn't take Pilate long to figure out that he had nothing to fear from
Jesus. In fact, even though we think badly of Pilate for allowing Jesus'
execution, we should note that Pilate was the best friend that Jesus had
that day. The Jewish leaders were trying to kill Jesus. Jesus' disciples
had abandoned him. Pilate -- and only Pilate -- tried to help Jesus.
-- First, told the Jewish leaders that he found no case against Jesus. He
considered Jesus to be innocent.
-- And then he tried to persuade the Jewish leaders to let him free Jesus
as a part of the holiday celebration, but the Jewish leaders chose
Barabbas instead -- and continued to press for Jesus' crucifixion.
-- And then Pilate had Jesus scourged -- beaten within an inch of his
life. It is hard to imagine that as a favor to Jesus, but I believe that
is how Pilate intended it. He thought that he could satisfy the Jewish
leaders by whipping Jesus. If he beat Jesus severely enough, perhaps they
would be satisfied -- would relent.
I believe that Pilate wanted to do the right thing -- and he could see
quite clearly that there was no reason to kill Jesus -- that Jesus was no
threat to Rome. As far as Pilate could see, Jesus was king over nobody --
so he tried to save Jesus -- tried several times. He was the best friend
that Jesus had on that terrible day. He was the only person who tried to
What Pilate couldn't see -- and the Jewish leaders couldn't see -- and
even the disciples couldn't see -- was that Jesus was a king -- that he
would rule over more people than Pilate -- or Herod -- or even Caesar.
-- None of them could imagine that billions of people would call Jesus
Lord. They couldn't imagine that people in unknown lands on far-away
continents would build great churches in honor of Jesus -- and hospitals
-- and orphanages -- and schools.
-- None of them could foresee that men and women all over the world would
fall on their knees to worship Jesus.
-- None of them could envision that Jesus' reign would really begin with
his crucifixion -- that his suffering and death would save the world.
-- And, if we had been there, we couldn't have imagined it either. We
live in the land of "biggest and best" -- but Jesus did his work by
becoming "littlest and least." It went against everything that Pilate
knew -- and it goes against everything that we know too.
But it worked!!! You have to admit that it worked! All through the
centuries, and all over the world, people have made Christ king over their
lives -- not in spite of the cross -- but because of it. It is
mind-boggling, when you think about it.
And those people -- the ones who made Christ king over their lives --
changed the world. Just stop and think about this -- Rome was the
greatest power in the world. Rome was famous for it roads -- its
aqueducts -- its Coliseum -- its great army. You can still go countless
places in Europe today and see roads and walls and buildings built by
Romans. Young people today still go to school to learn their language.
They were an amazing people, and had an amazing impact.
But Jesus has had even more impact. If you want to see the power of Rome,
you must look at the ruins and imagine the glory. But if you want to see
the power of Jesus, you have only to look at the countless men and women
-- alive today -- who have made him Lord over their lives. Pilate could
not have imagined it when he finally gave up and let them crucify Jesus,
but Caesar is dead -- long-since dead -- but Jesus is alive.
And Jesus has done great things for those who have given him their lives.
I remember reading about General William Booth, founder of the Salvation
Army. Booth had -- and is still having -- a huge impact on the lives of
down-and-outers all over the world. One day someone asked him his secret.
"I'll tell you my secret. God has had all there was of me.
On the day I caught a vision
of what Jesus Christ could do with the poor of London,
I made up my mind
that God would have all of William Booth that there was.
And if there is any power in the Salvation Army today,
it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart,
all the power of my will,
and all the influence of my life."
In other words, Booth made Christ king in his life, and Christ returned
the favor a thousand to one.
But the question today isn't what Pilate should have done -- or even what
William Booth did. The question today is about you -- have you made
Christ king over your life? Have you given him the adoration of your
heart? Have you given him the power of your will? Have you given him the
influence of your life?
It isn't an easy thing to do! If it were easy, we would all have done it
-- The truth is that we want to come to church when we feel like it -- and
put a few dollars in the offering tray -- and hope that Jesus will bail us
out when we get into trouble.
-- The truth is that we are willing to let Christ be king in our lives --
but not in all of our lives. We are willing to let him rule over
everything but our business -- or our use of alcohol and drugs -- or the
way that we spend money -- or our sex lives.
Letting Christ be king over our lives is hard -- so we tend to do a
halfway job of it.
In his book, Wake Up, America! Tony Campolo tells of addressing the
Southern Baptist Convention some years ago. They were having quite a
ruckus at the time over the inerrancy of the Bible. The
super-conservatives were insisting on inerrancy. The
just-plain-conservatives were advocating a more moderate position. It had
developed into a huge fight -- a civil war. When he addressed these
warring factions at the convention, Campolo said:
"I don't know why you're worrying so much about the inerrancy of the
After you prove that it's inerrant,
you're not going to do what it says anyway."
Campolo tells that story, and then he says:
"It's true. If you're supposed to be a pacifist,
if you're supposed to give your money to the poor --
you're not going to do all this stuff.
Wouldn't it be better if you agreed that the Bible didn't speak the truth
all the time,
and then maybe you could get out of some of these obligations."
I love that story! Listen to the punch line one more time!
"I don't know why you're worrying so much about the inerrancy of the
After you prove that it's inerrant,
you're not going to do what it says anyway."
The truth is that Campolo hit the nail on the head -- not just for the
Southern Baptists, but for all of us. It is hard, really hard, to do what
Jesus wants us to do. It is hard to make Jesus king over our lives. The
apostle Paul put it this way:
"I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15)
I figure that if the apostle Paul had that kind of trouble, so do we.
Making Jesus king over our lives isn't a one-time deal. It involves more
than one decision for Christ. Making Jesus king over our lives is
something that we have to do day-by-day -- even minute-by-minute. It is
something that we can do only by prayer and by the grace of God.
Let me offer you a prayer to pray. Bobby Richardson, second baseman for
the New York Yankees, prayed this prayer some years ago at a Fellowship of
Christian Athletes meeting. Someone in the group made a note of it, and
it is classic. Richardson prayed:
"Dear God, your will --
nothing more -- nothing less --
If you want a formula for changing your life, that's it! Pray that prayer
daily -- and then try to live it.
"Dear God, your will --
nothing more -- nothing less --
Make Christ king over your life -- and see what blessings he imparts. You
will never be sorry that you did.
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (BH #200-202; CH #91-92; CO #521; GC
#484; JS #463; LW #272; LBW #328, 329; PH #142-143; TH #450-451; UMH
#154-155; VU #334)
Joy to the World (BH #87; CH #143; CO #208; GC #343; JS #194; LBW #39; LW
#53; PH #40; TH #100; TNCH #132; UMH #246; VU #59)
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 6:25-33
VERSES 24-34: OVERVIEW
The Thanksgiving lection omits vv 24, 34. I have included them in this
exegesis, because I consider them to be an important part of this passage.
This reading forces us to go beyond "Thanks, God, for all my stuff!" as
our Thanksgiving message -- and properly so. The basis for thanksgiving
in this text is that the Father, who has demonstrated his generosity
throughout all creation knows our needs -- and, if we will seek first
God's kingdom and righteousness, "all these things will be given to you as
well" (v. 33).
VERSE 24: NO ONE CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS
24"No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and
love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot
serve God and wealth (Greek: mamona -- property).
Jesus does not state this as a warning, but as a fact -- doesn't say that
we shouldn't serve two masters, but that it just isn't possible. The
attempt to serve two masters will just frustrate us and waste our time.
"Love and hate do not refer to emotions, but represent the biblical idiom
for 'choose'/'not choose' (see 5:43). The point is that undivided service
can be given to one master only; if there is more than one, every choice
means a favoring of one and rejection of the other" (Boring, 210).
Nor is it possible to serve no master at all. Like it or not, we will
follow some guiding principle -- even if that principle is nihilism (the
belief that there is no objective or moral truth). If it is true that we
can truly serve only one master -- and Jesus and experience tell us that
it is -- then it matters greatly which master we choose to serve.
Mammon (Greek: mamona -- property, money, possessions). The NRSV
translates mamona as "wealth," but the KJV transliterates it (brings it
into the English language as a new word) -- Mammon -- a word that, when
capitalized, sounds like the name of a pagan god. The KJV approach has
much to commend it. While there was no religion in Jesus' day that
worshiped a god called Mammon, people in every age worship at Mammon's
altar. Today we call it Success or Promotion or Prosperity or the Good
Life, and use it as a sailor uses the North Star -- to set our direction
-- to guide our lives. Jesus says that we cannot steer both by that star
and God's star. Those stars reside in two separate parts of the heavens.
To try to tack between them will only lead us into the abyss.
There is no prohibition in this verse against possessing wealth, but a few
verses earlier Jesus counseled, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures
on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and
steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth
nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where
your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (6:21).
The problem is less in having mammon than in serving it -- giving it our
heart -- letting it rule our lives -- making it our top priority --
letting it stand between us and God. David counsels, "if riches increase,
do not set your heart on them" (Psalm 62:10).
While wealth tempts us to selfishness, it is possible to use wealth
unselfishly. Paul counsels the rich "not to be haughty," but "to do good,
to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up
for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that
they may take hold of the life that really is life" (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
The problem is that mammon snakes its tentacles around our hearts and
chokes our relationship with God. After his encounter with the rich young
ruler, Jesus observed, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of
a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt.
VERSE 25: DO NOT WORRY ABOUT YOUR LIFE
25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry (Greek: merimnate -- be anxious)
about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your
body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more
"worry" (Greek: merimnesete -- be anxious -- be apprehensive about
possible danger or misfortune). Jesus is not commending recklessness, but
calls us not to be distracted by worry. Worry disables; faith enables.
Anxiety with regard to Mammon is a soul-cancer that strikes the rich, the
poor, and those in the middle:
-- The rich person is anxious to invest well to get richer still -- to
accumulate houses, cars, art, clothing, and other possessions to advertise
his/her success -- and to protect these possessions against moth, rust,
embezzlement, accounting fraud, inflation, deflation, high and low
interest rates, and innumerable other threats. The energy required to
maximize profitability, even of a modest estate, is enormous, and there
are no guarantees. And, of course, death will sooner or later take it
away from us -- all of it. The more we have, the more we stand to lose,
and the more we worry about losing it.
-- The middle-class person is anxious about job security, health
insurance, car payments, house payments, tuition, the cost of child care,
leaky roofs, worn tires, and a host of other concerns.
-- The poor person is anxious about keeping a roof overhead and food on
the table. Poor people are more easily tempted by lotteries and
get-rich-quick schemes, because they have such desperate needs and so
Keep in mind that Jesus, even as he counsels people not to worry, is aware
of a cross in his future. He is not stoic about pain -- he will sweat
drops of blood in Gethsemane -- but he will also pray, "Not my will, but
yours be done" (Luke 22:42).
Jesus does not counsel us to be flippant about possessions -- to be
careless stewards. As his disciples, we assume a responsibility to help
the hungry and the homeless. Toward the end of this Gospel he will warn
that, on Judgment Day, God will count as sheep those who have taken care
of the needy and will count as goats those who have failed to do so (Matt.
25:31-46). He commands us "to take our eyes off our selves, off our
lives, off our own selfish anxiety with our desires for good things for
ourselves, and to look around God's world for a place where we can throw
ourselves into the cause of God's righteousness" (Bruner, 266). And, even
when helping the poor and vulnerable, we need not be anxious about the
potentially overwhelming scope of the task, but need only to walk in
faith, doing what we can and trusting God to do the rest.
"Unfortunately, covetousness (materialism) has achieved nearly cultic
status as a traditional American value, .under such euphemisms as 'the
good life' and 'getting ahead.. As Craig Blomberg.laments, . 'The
greatest danger to Western Christianity is not, as is sometimes alleged,
prevailing ideologies such as Marxism, Islam, the New Age movement or
humanism, but rather the all-pervasive materialism of our affluent
culture' " (Keener, 151).
VERSES 26-30: LOOK AT THE BIRDS OF THE AIR
26Look 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? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour (Greek:
pechun -- cubit) to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about
clothing? Consider the lilies (Greek: krina -- wildflowers) of the field,
how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon
in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so
clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is
thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you--you of little
Jesus first tells us not to be anxious, and then provides the rationale:
-- God, who gave us life, will provide for our needs.
-- God provides for the sparrow, who works but does not worry.
-- Our worry is futile; it does not accomplish anything.
-- God clothes the flowers beautifully, even though they are of minor
importance compared with humans -- God's sons and daughters created in
God's image. Jesus argues from lesser to greater -- a common type of
reasoning among the Jews of his day.
-- Worry is the mark of a heathen.
It is true that birds "neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns," but
that hardly makes them slothful or careless creatures. They build nests,
forage for food, and care for their young. We have an obligation to do
the same: to work -- to produce -- to avoid idleness and dependency (2
Thess. 3:6-13). Jesus "does not mean.that food, drink, clothing, and
other such necessities will come to the disciple automatically without
work or foresight. (He) addresses only the problem of anxiety about these
Speaking of birds, "Jesus does not say that 'their' heavenly Father feeds
them, but 'your' heavenly Father; the very Father in whom the anxious have
ceased to trust provides even for improvident birds" (Morris, 158).
Jesus does not promise affluence, but promises only that the Father will
provide for such basic needs as food and clothing.
"And can any of you by worrying add a single hour (Greek: pechun --
cubit) to your span of life?" (v. 27). A cubit is a measure of distance
rather than time -- the distance from fingertip to elbow -- roughly a foot
and a half (half a meter). In this context, however, it clearly refers to
time -- to lifespan. The irony, of course, is that anxiety does not
lengthen life but shortens it. Worry is a killer! It clogs arteries and
"Consider the lilies (Greek: krina) of the field.. Even Solomon in all
his glory was not clothed like one of these" (vv. 28-29). God does not
clothe his creatures in plain, unadorned, shapeless garments. Jesus uses
Solomon's glory to illustrate lavish, sumptuous dress. God created krina
to be even more lavish and sumptuous than even Solomon's Sunday best.
Krina can refer to any one of several wildflowers, including lilies,
anemones, poppies, and daisies. Krina are beautiful. In clothing them,
God used every color, texture, and shape, weaving them together to be
immensely pleasing to the eye. Not only are krina beautifully clothed,
but trees too -- and birds -- and butterflies -- and lions, leopards,
panthers, and cheetahs -- and horses and cows -- and koalas and kangaroos
-- and zebras and giraffes -- and tropical fish. God obviously enjoys
beauty, and expects us to enjoy it too.
The call here is not to forego beauty in clothing (or anything else), but
to forego anxiety about clothing (or anything else). It is good to enjoy
God's beautiful gifts, but it is not good to worry about them. Again
Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater. If God takes care of
wildflowers and grass, won't he also take care of his children.
VERSES 31-33: STRIVE FIRST FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD
31Therefore do not worry (Greek: merimnesete -- be anxious), saying, 'What
will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' 32For it is
the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly
Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the
kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given
to you as well.
"Therefore do not worry" (merimnesete -- be anxious). The KJV says,
"Therefore take no thought," which sounds as if Jesus is prohibiting
planning, but that is not the case. The subject here is worry -- anxiety.
Jesus does not say that food and clothing are unimportant but, to the
contrary, reminds us that the Father -- the one who created us to be human
-- knows full well our need for food, clothing, and "all these things."
We don't have to persuade the Father about this, because the Father has
known it all along. We can take comfort in that fact, because the Father
is capable of meeting our needs.
The star toward which the Christian is to navigate is God -- God's kingdom
and God's righteousness. The promise is that the person who steers in
that direction will find blessings along the way. The promise is not
wealth, but essentials -- food and clothing. These two, food and
clothing, serve as a metaphor for all the essentials: air to breathe,
medical care, shelter, and all the rest.
The Christian who puts Jesus' counsel into practice can have a tremendous
witness. So many people are so worried about such petty things -- even
the brand names on clothing and cars. People who live prudently and trust
God to meet their needs stand in contrast to such anxious people. Their
peaceful demeanor draws people to them, allowing them to point those
people to Christ. Putting this passage into practice can be life-saving,
both for the person who does so -- and for those to whom he/she bears
"Gentiles" in this verse means "pagans" -- people outside the community of
faith -- people who know nothing of God -- people whose actions stem from
impure motives and thoughts. It is people such as this who ask "What will
we drink?" or "What will we wear?"
"strive first for the kingdom of God" does not mean first in sequence but
first in priority. It isn't that we are to strive for the kingdom of God
for awhile so that we may then be free to strive for other things, but
that we should keep the kingdom in the forefront of our concerns always.
VERSE 34: SO DO NOT WORRY ABOUT TOMORROW
34"So do not worry (Greek: merimnesete -- be anxious) about tomorrow, for
tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble (Greek: kakia) is
enough for today."
As noted above, this is intended to prohibit, not planning or preparation,
but anxiety. In the Parable of the Bridesmaids (25:1-13), Jesus makes it
clear that preparation is essential -- although the preparation called for
in that parable is spiritual in nature, and is not intended to secure the
cradle-to-grave physical security that we crave.
While planning and preparing, we can be sure that God is for us, so we
have no need to be anxious (Rom. 8:31). That does not constitute a
guarantee that God will endorse all our plans or open all the doors that
we want opened, but it is a guarantee that God will open the right doors
at the right times. Nor is it a guarantee that we will not suffer.
Christ calls us to cross-bearing discipleship (8:34), and many Christians
have suffered and even died for their faith. However, it is a promise
that, in life and death, we belong to God and, in life and death, God
provides for our needs.
"Today's trouble" (kakia -- evil, bad things, difficulties, troubles,
hardships) is enough for today." "Some scholars propose a soft or
optimistic interpretation of the verse: Tomorrow's concerns will take
care of themselves; today is all you need to deal with. Other
interpreters, however, find a cynical or pessimistic tone in Jesus' words:
It is bad enough dealing with today's problems; don't add on tomorrow's
before they get here! One way or another, the text advises us to live one
day at a time, and not to succumb to anxiety about the future" (Gardner).
This is a call to live in the present. While it might be important to
know our history so that we can learn from it -- and to plan for the
future so that we are not simply adrift on the sea of life -- we can be
sure that the Father who provided for us yesterday will also provide for
us tomorrow. We can be confident there is not something "out there in the
future that can destroy our basic worth as a human being, something
finally stronger than God's care, some silent killer shark swimming toward
us from the future" (Long, 76).
Come Ye Thankful People Come (BH #637; CH #718; CO #626; GC #564; JS #359;
LBW #407; LW #495; PH #551; TH #290; TNCH #422; UMH #694; VU 516)
For the Beauty of the Earth (BH #44; CH #56; CO #562; GC #572; JS #464;
LBW #561; PH #473; TH #416; TNCH #28; UMH #92; VU #226)
Thank You, Lord (CH #531; TNCH #559; UMH #84)
We Gather Together (BH #636; CH #276; CO #558; GC #571; JS #344; PH #559;
TH #433; TNCH #421; UMH #131)
similar hymn We Praise You O God (LBW # 241; LW #494; VU #866)