For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17
The Graeco-Roman world into which Jesus was born hardly knew what to do with the narrow strip of land on the eastern Mediterranean which was then known as Palestine. When Romans built a gymnasium and baths at Caesarea, the Jews revolted. Eventually Caesar sent his legions, who subdued the rebellion. Then politicians discreetly forged alliances with Jewish leaders whose loyalty to Rome was unquestioned.
Herod the Tetrarch, a Jew by birth who was hated for his relationship with Rome, ruled Galilee during Jesus' ministry, so when vast throngs of people came to hear Jesus and He spoke of establishing the Kingdom of God, no wonder the Jews were nervous. This kind of talk could be considered sedition. But Jesus, striving to help men and women know that the invisible kingdom of which He spoke was within the hearts of men and women, told them, "The Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).
They didn't believe Him, nor did they understand. So how was His Kingdom--this invisible kingdom in the hearts of men--different from the kingdoms of the world? Good question. Among the many differences are five characteristics which clearly distinguish God's kingdom. First is that God's kingdom is a kingdom of joy. In his letter to Roman Christians who lived in the shadows of the imperial city from which the Caesars ruled the world, Paul explained, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).
"Joy," said someone, "is the flag flown over the castle of your heart when the king has taken up residence and rules from the throne of your heart." Remember? God's kingdom is an invisible one. It's within you. It's God's rule in your personal life. Some words, believes George Sweeting, were coined for use only by God's children and are understood in a spiritual context. He's right. Joy is one of them.
Surprisingly the word joy is mentioned over 200 times in some 40 references found in the Bible. Surprised by Joy was the title of his book when C. S. Lewis described his pilgrimage from atheism to faith in God. Jesus' instruction to seek God's kingdom was part of an address we call "The Sermon on the Mount," and it's begun with a series of blessings. Remember? "Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek," and so forth.
The blessing of God in the lives of those who are citizens of God's kingdom produces a deep-seated joy which isn't dependent on your health, your wealth, or your circumstances. It's based on your relationship with God who Himself has touched your life for the better.
Long ago the psalmist said, "In my presence [speaking of God's presence] is fullness of joy" (Psalm 16:11) which tells me heaven isn't a crying place. When David's relationship with God was broken by his sin with Bathsheba, he cried out, "Restore unto me the joy of my salvation."
When Jesus was here--even in the week prior to His crucifixion--he spoke to the disciples of having joy in the face of adversity. He said, "I have told you [what is to happen] so my joy may be in you" (John 15:11).
"Ask and you shall receive," he promised, "that you joy may be full" (John 16:24). Then Paul adds that joy is one of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in your life as a Spirit-filled believer.
There's more to follow in this series on the invisible kingdom, but suffice it to add that if you as God's child are joyless, you're missing something which God intends you to have, one of the most meaningful marks of those who are citizens of the kingdom of God. It's part of your heritage, so ask the Father to let it be yours today.
Resource reading: Galatians 5:22-26