Life’s “One Thing”
Dr. Jim Denison
Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? It seems the Babylonians started the tradition 4,000 years ago, resolving to return borrowed farm equipment. I didn’t borrow any farm equipment this year, but nonetheless made a resolution I want to tell you about today. Most of you made one as well.
Why? Something in us knows that we’re not all we should be. Does anyone here believe that you’ve completely arrived? That you are doing all God intends you to do with the life he has given you? That your life has completely fulfilled its God-given purpose?
Can you define your purpose, your reason for being?
It’s imperative that we find our “one thing.” This William Barclay quote is crucial to my life: “A man will never become outstandingly good at anything unless that thing is his ruling passion. There must be something of which he can say, ‘For me to live is this.'” Do you know your “reason to live”?
What should your life purpose be this year? God’s word answers our question today.
Is God your King?
I remember my first sermon well. A Sunday night service at Calvary Baptist Church in Alvin, Texas, outside of Houston. Signs at the city limits tell you that it’s Nolan Ryan’s hometown. To my knowledge, no one has added to the signs, “And place of Jim Denison’s first sermon.” Remembering the sermon, I don’t blame them.
Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew was memorable beyond description. When we open the New Testament, these are the first public words we hear from his lips: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (v. 17).
This is the first request he taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
This was the substance and essence of his preaching and teaching. 108 times in the gospels our Lord spoke of the kingdom of God.
And he promised that one day he would return to consummate this Kingdom: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory” (Matthew 25:31). Revelation promises his glorious rule: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
So what is this “Kingdom of God?”
Jesus gave us its simplest definition in the Model Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). In other words, God’s kingdom comes wherever his will is done. Wherever he is King, wherever we serve him as our Sovereign and Master, his kingdom comes. When we do his will on earth as it is done in heaven.
The Kingdom of God defines everything that matters in our world.
The Kingdom defines God. He owns all that is, for “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). As creator, he is owner and sovereign of the universe. He can do whatever he pleases, for he is King.
The Kingdom defines us. We are subjects of this King before we are anything else. Every aspect of our lives is governed by this fact. Unlike a democracy, where the government affects us only in limited ways, a monarchy affects its subjects in every way. We are subjects of this King.
The Kingdom defines our world. This planet has fallen into rebellion against its King. Now there is the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world, and they are at war. You and I live in the kingdom of the world, but we live for the Kingdom of God. Our loyalty is to our King alone.
The Kingdom defines our success. Our purpose is to extend the full rule of Christ into as many lives as we can. We must be loyal subjects of our King, and lead as many people as possible to make him their King. This is how he judges and rewards us.
Building the Kingdom of God on earth was Jesus’ “one thing.” It should be ours as well.
How do you make him your King?
So, how do we make God our King? Our church teaches four priorities above all others: love God, live by his word, give to his work, and impact his world. Let’s think about each one in turn.
First, love God and he will be your King. The first and greatest commandment is that we “love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind” (Matthew 22:37). Enthrone him as your King every day, as the day begins. There is room on the throne of your heart for only one person. Put him there every morning.
Say with the Psalmist, “The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity” (Psalm 93:1-2).
Say with Exodus 15:18: “The Lord will reign for ever and ever.”
Say with Psalm 29:10: “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.”
Say with 2 Kings 19:15: “O Lord, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.”
Say with Zechariah 14:9, “The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name” (Zechariah 14:9).
Have you made him your King today?
Second, live by his word and God will be your King.
In our text, Jesus went to Galilee (v. 13), an area known for its enormous Gentile population and backwards culture. If you and I had been Jesus, we would have settled in Jerusalem, not Galilee. But our Lord went to Galilee in obedience to God’s word. The prophet Isaiah had promised seven centuries earlier that the Messiah would come to “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 9:1-2). And so he did.
You make God your King when you live by his word and will as Jesus did. Ask of every decision, what does Scripture say? What does God want? Invite the Spirit to lead you and he will. Live by the word and will of God.
Why? Because your King has a wonderful plan for his subjects: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). But he can only fulfill this plan when we allow him his way, when we make him our King.
Most of the pain you and I have suffered in life has come from rebellion against the Kingdom of God. Our sins or those of others. His plans are perfect for his subjects. So, be his subject. Live by his word.
Third, give to his work and God will be your King.
Earlier, our text says, “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison …” (v. 12). A year after Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist was made a prisoner in the Castle of Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea. He lived there for a year, until he was executed by Herod.
Why was John jailed? Because he spoke the truth about Herod’s adulterous marriage. Because he spoke God’s word in God’s will, whatever the cost. Because he gave everything to his King. And his eternal reward far outweighs its temporal cost.
Our King expects us to give to his Kingdom. Our time, talents, and treasure, our abilities and resources are all at his disposal. He is our Sovereign. We give our lives to his Kingdom’s work.
And last, impact his world and God will be your King. Jesus gave a “great light” to those “living in darkness,” in “the land of the shadow of death” (v. 16). His obedience changed his world. So can ours.
Help us extend the Kingdom of God into Dallas and around the globe. Make this your life purpose this year. And you will serve your King well.
My resolution this new year is to make God my King. King of my life, every part of my life, in every way. I invite you to make this resolution yours.
Here’s the most powerful way I know to make this commitment. On this first Sunday of the new year, I want us to hear again a faith statement we’ve heard before. It’s printed on Bible markers at the doors for you to take and use all year long. This is the way an African pastor, later martyred for his faith, made God his King. Let’s renew our commitment to our King by making his words our own:
I am part of the ‘Fellowship of the Unashamed.’ I have Holy Spirit power. The dye has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by his presence, lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal in heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go until he comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until he stops. And when he comes for his own, he’ll have no problems recognizing me—my colors will be clear.
Is God your King? Did you enthrone him today? Are you living by his word and will? Are you giving fully to his Kingdom’s work? Is your life extending his Kingdom into your world? Have you made God’s “one thing” yours?
If not, there’s time today to obey Jesus’ sermon: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent of putting your ambitions or possessions or pride on the throne of your life. Of putting yourself or another person where only God belongs.
Repent. Get off the throne of your life. And put Jesus on it. Crown him your King today. Bow before his Lordship. Make him your Sovereign Lord. Do it in humble gratitude. For your King wore a crown of thorns for you. He chose for his throne your cross. The Supper we receive today shows the price he paid to make you his subject and his child.
He chose to become your Savior. Only you can choose him to be your King. The God of the universe is waiting for your decision, right now.