If you must escape America for some reason, where would you go? Most of us only know the other way around. Every day, we hear about people trying to migrate to America to escape political or economic hardship. We all are immigrants or children of immigrants who paid a high price or even risked their lives to come to settle in this land of liberty and opportunity.
Even the Native Americans trace their ancestry to ancient China. It seems this continent has been a land of refuge for all people all over the world for thousands of years. It has been a shelter from tyranny, infamy, and catastrophe. It is truly the land of the free.
Still, we all know America is no heaven. Everyone has some complaints and concerns about the United States. Every election is a choice between the lesser of the two evils. Yet we all know there is no better place to flee to. Have you ever considered, if today you are not satisfied with the United States, where you would like to escape? Is there a better place you can go?
Yes, I’ve found one! It’s the best place in the world. You might think I am kidding. If you have traveled around the world, you know there is no place better than America. But I am not kidding. There is a better place, and if you know that place, you will go there immediately.
In fact, many people have already become citizens of that place. The good news is, you don’t have to leave America to get there. It allows dual citizenship. So, you can be a citizen of any country around the world and hold the second citizenship of that country. If you are already part of it, you know what I am talking about. It’s called the Kingdom of Heaven.
I am not talking about the place you go after you die, but where you can now live and experience heaven on earth. It’s a place free of stress and anxiety. It’s a place above ego. Once you become a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, you can walk on this earth with serenity, security, and certainty.
Let me give you an example. Years ago, I lived in Burma under a dictatorship. Many citizens went about their daily lives in fear of getting harassed or arrested randomly. They had to bribe the officers in order to get things done. Extortion was a way of life. However, I saw people from the American Embassy and their children freely travel and tour about in Burma without fear because they held the citizenship of the United States, a mighty nation that always protected their citizens.
They were in Burma, but they were not of Burma. Similarly, as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, you are in the world, but not of the world. You are protected from the evil of this world. In his final prayer to God after the last supper, Jesus said,
“I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:15–18).
As a citizen of God’s Kingdom, you are protected from evil, sanctified in the truth, and sent as an ambassador in this world. Like the U.S. ambassadors roaming freely in a totalitarian country, you also roam the earth without fear as an ambassador of heaven. Your body may not be free, but your spirit is free because you are a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
Today is known as Christ the King Sunday. In case you don’t know, it marks the end of the liturgical calendar. Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, which begins a new liturgical year. Are you excited to know Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner?
So, on this Christ the King Sunday, let us explore the invaluable benefits of becoming citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and how it sets us free from the burdens and bondage of this world.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to John 18:33-38. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate 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?” 36 Jesus answered, “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. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate 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 world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:33–38).
[This is the Word of the Lord! Thanks be to God.]
Jesus said that he was born to be the king, but his kingdom is not of this world. Pilate had trouble understanding it. I am sure we all have trouble understanding it when we hear about it for the first time. How can there be a kingdom without a land?
So, let us take a look at what Jesus’ kingdom is like. Jesus said from the beginning of his teaching ministry not to worry about worldly things,
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mat 6:33).
He wants us to make it a priority to seek the kingdom of God because when you belong to the kingdom, all your problems are solved. You must “seek” it because the kingdom is invisible and not a phyical state, but a spiritual state.
The English word “state” is perfect for explaining the kingdom of God. State means nation, country, or kingdom, and it also means a condition physically, mentally, or spiritually. We can say, “My body is in a healthy state,” “He has a peaceful state of mind,” or “She is in a joyful state of the spirit.”
So, if we translated Jesus’ word as, “Seek first the state of God,” then it’s much easier to understand. The kingdom of God is not a place but the state of mind, or precisely, the state of the spirit. That’s why Jesus said,
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Mat 6:31-33).
In other words, instead of being anxious about your physical state, prioritize your spiritual state. The good news is when you have a healthy spirit, every problem is taken care of. Our heavenly Father will give you your physical needs as bonuses when you take care of your spiritual needs. That’s the mystery many people find hard to grasp.
There’s a Burmese saying, “Only with a stiff stomach can you observe righteousness.” It means you have to meet the physical needs before seeking spiritual needs. It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
However, Jesus taught exactly the opposite. You must take care of your spiritual needs as your top priority, and everything else falls together providentially. It’s counter-cultural. If that is true, the whole world is wrong since we all get stuck at making ends meet before considering spiritual needs.
Does it mean if we worshiped God every day and delicious food and beautiful clothes just appeared in our homes? It’s obviously not what it means. We know John the Baptist ate locust and wild honey and wore a garment made of camel’s hair. It doesn’t appear appetizing or fashionable to us, and not even to his time.
What’s more important to consider is that he was beheaded. Most of Jesus’ disciples were persecuted and sentenced to death. Paul was also beheaded. Jesus himself was crucified. All these people sought the kingdom of God, but they did not get the things added to them as promised.
Of course, we believe they are well rewarded in heaven for their sacrifice, but what did they get when they were here on earth? Jesus said,
“Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” (Mat 8:20).
Then what are the immediate benefits of seeking the kingdom of God? The citizens of the Kingdom of God do have something in common—a purpose above self. The true meaning of life is found in knowing what you want to die for.
Pilate 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 world, to testify to the truth.” (Jn 18:37a).
Jesus knew what he was born for and what he would die for. His disciples also knew what they wanted to die for. For someone who has a divine purpose, food and clothes become secondary. Whether they are poor or plenty, they are rich inside. Paul said,
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 4:17).
In other words, the kingdom of God is basking in the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s the formula for true and profound happiness. King David described the kingdom of God in his Psalm,
“You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11).
Life is meaningless without knowing the path of life. That’s the main benefit of the kingdom. In addition, the kingdom is full of joy and eternal happiness. The closest place to it on earth might be Disney World for the children.
Talking about children, let’s talk about what qualifies you to become a citizen of the kingdom of God. You must become like children. Jesus said,
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 18:3).
The problem with being adults is that we have lost our childhood innocence. Everything is a calculation. There is no truth. Truth has become relative. Jesus said,
“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37b-38).
Pilate was confused. He wasn’t sure what truth was. For him, the truth is he would lose his job if he mishandled this case. His wife told him to let go of this innocent man. The chief priests wanted him to crucify Jesus. His boss, Ceasar, could fire him if there were instability in the region. Jesus said,
“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. 36a).
It seems it was the safest to kill Jesus since his followers would not revolt. For Pilate, truth is his survival and security of his position. That’s what happens when we grow older. Truth becomes conditional and relative. The reason children belong to the kingdom of God is because they have the truth. Jesus said,
“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (v. 37a).
Notice he said “belong to the truth” rather than “believe in the truth.” The word that translated to “belong” here comes from Greek, εἰμι (eimi), meaning “being.” Literally, it means everyone who “is” the truth listens to his voice.
Who can “be” the truth other than children? Children may misbehave, but they live the truth. Adults try to behave by deception and manipulation. Jesus was saying to Pilate, “You cannot judge me fairly because you have lost the truth. If you have the truth, you know what I am talking about.”
How can we become children? How can we restore our innocence to enter the kingdom? That was the mission of Jesus on earth. He came to redeem our innocence with his righteous blood. He embodies truth and is willing to exchange his innocence with our sinfulness. He said,
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
Most religions talk about what the way is and what the truth is philosophically, but only Jesus embodies the truth. The truth is not a “what” but a “who.” Pilate asked the wrong question. Instead of asking, “What is truth?” he should have asked, “Who is truth?” In fact, the Truth was standing right in front of him, and yet he missed it.
Only through Jesus do we find the way, the truth, and the life. We are reborn as an infant through him. Paul said,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17).
He said “in Christ,” indicating “belonging to Christ,” or “belonging to the Truth.” How do you belong to the Truth and become “in Christ?” It’s easy because he has already paid the price for you. All you have to do is to accept him as your King, your Lord, and your Savior. Paul said,
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9).
Notice it says, “believe in your heart.” Heart and spirit are used interchangeably in the Bible because it’s subconscious part of our being. So we often use “heart” to represent our “spirit.” King David wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10).
Like the Pharisees and Scribes, many people believe in their heads but not in their hearts. Intellectual belief does not transform a person’s life; only spiritual belief does. The difference is huge!
Do you know the distance between heaven and hell? It’s only 18” apart. It’s the distance between your head and your heart. On this side of eternity, we can never intellectually understand the mystery of the kingdom of God fully.
However, we can experience the fruit of the Spirit by being reborn as children through his redeeming blood freely offered to us and becoming citizens of His Kingdom. It’s a whole new world. So, let us all claim the free citizenship of the kingdom of God and live in heaven on earth!
That’s it for today, and I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I do. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.