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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART TWENTY-ONE

PRESENTED ON 12-06-08

 

       As covered in the last several sermons dealing with the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us that when we give to the needy, pray or fast, we are not to do so to be seen by others.  We are not to do acts of righteousness with the purpose of bringing attention to ourselves. All that we do must be done for the glory of God and not our glory.  Jesus moves from this discussion to the all encompassing view of behaving in such manner as to store up treasures in heaven and not on earth.

        Matthew 6:19-21: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

       The context would appear to suggest Jesus is talking about personal possessions such as physical things that can deteriorate due to oxidation which causes rust and the activity of moths that can eat away at clothing.  Personal possessions can be stolen by thieves.  The Greek word translated treasure actually means “a place in which goods and precious things are collected and laid up.”  The word refers to a receptacle where in which valuables are kept.  

       Matthew 2:11: On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

       Matthew is actually saying the Magi opened their treasure boxes wherein were the precious commodities of gold, incense and myrrh. 

       Jesus is not saying we can’t have nice things.  He is saying we are not to store up nice things. We are not to hoard them.  To hoard is to accumulate, stockpile and amass things over and beyond what is necessary.   We are not to be taken up with collecting nice things so we can glory in our depth of possessions.  It is very common for us humans to want to collect stuff and store it up.  It seems to give us a sense of power and security to have a lot of stuff in store.  This often comes to light when we have to move.  We discover many “treasure boxes” which we virtually forgot we had.  Much of this kind of storing up is done because we simply fail to give or throw things away that which we no longer have use or need for. 

       When we store possessions because we get some kind of sense of power or security from having those possessions, our possessions become our focus.  That is were our heart is and that is the main point Jesus is making.

        For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

       God wants us to have our heart on things that have eternal significance.  When it comes to physical possessions, what has eternal significance is how we handle our physical possessions.  How we use physical possessions will manifest where our heart is. Jesus gave a parable that provides insight into this matter of storing up treasure boxes of goods. 

       Luke 12:15-21: Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, `What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, `This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '"But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

       The man in this parable was a successful farmer. His land produced such a good crop that he didn’t know what to do with all the food.  But instead of sharing his crop with those less successful, he stored the food in treasure barns for himself.  These treasure barns became his ticket to totally self-indulgent living. This man was totally self-centered.  He was totally absorbed with self.  His heart was totally focused on self survival and entertaining the self.  He did not give so much as a thought about the needs of others.  

       Notice that Jesus said, "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."  The sense here is not that it was wrong to store up some things.  The sin was that this man stored up things and was not rich toward God. His entire focus was on himself.  God expects us to be prudent and exercise foresight in providing for ourselves and our families.  God expects us to be productive and take care to insure our needs and the needs of those we are responsible for are met.  What God does not want is for us to have our entire focus on ourselves.  Our primary focus needs to be on the things of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus made this very plain in His closing remarks to this section of His Sermon on the Mount.

        Matthew 6:33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

       The “all these things” Jesus is referring to are the physical things of this life that we have need of as is plainly seen in the proceeding scriptures of this passage.  God knows we need certain things to survive.  Those things, however, should not be our focus. God is concerned about where our focus is.  Is it strictly on insuring that we personally get all are needs met or is it one of seeing that the needs of others are met as well.  In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, what does it mean to first seek the Kingdom and the righteousness associated with it?

       A man came to Jesus asking what he must do to enter into life.  Jesus told him to obey the commandants and then Jesus recited several of the commandments governing human relations.  The young man replied that he had kept these commandments but wanted to know what else he needed to do. Here is Jesus’ reply.

       Matthew 19:21-22: Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.  

       Jesus didn’t tell this man to sell all his possessions. He didn’t tell him to become destitute, take a vow of poverty, join a monastery or become a ward of the state. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give to the poor.  This man had great wealth.  He apparently had much more than he needed to meet his needs and the needs of his family. Jesus was simply telling him to share his wealth with those in need.  This apparently was more than this man was willing to do.  He went away sad because he had great wealth.  He had treasure boxes filled with precious things and it was these possessions that held him captive.  It was in his possessions where his heart was. 

       In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is saying, don’t accumulate treasures on earth which will deteriorate and be of no use to anyone.  Use what you have to facilitate the love of God and in so doing you will build treasure in heaven which is to say you will be pleasing to God. God wants us to invest in Kingdom living which is living directed to meeting the needs of others. In following his statement about your heart being where your treasure is, Jesus says this:

       Matthew 6:22-23: "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

       Jesus teaches that our eye acts as a lamp to the body.  If this lamp is bright our body will be full of light.  If this lamp is dull we will be full of darkness.  What does this have to do with the theme of this passage which involves having our heart where are treasure is?  A bright lamp is going to facilitate our ability to see things clearly.  What Jesus wants us to see clearly is that our heart must be in building up treasure in heaven which means we are to focus on meeting the needs of others with our wealth and not just ourselves.  Having a dull lamp will cloud our vision of this principle and result in our placing all the focus on ourselves rather than others.  Jesus followers this up by saying the following:

       Matthew 6:24: No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

       The Greek word translated money in the NIV has the general meaning of wealth or what is trusted in.  Jesus says we cannot serve both God and wealth.  We can’t say we serve God which is to say we are in agreement with His will that we focus on storing up treasure in heaven and then spend all our time storing up treasure on earth.  In Luke 16, Jesus makes some rather interesting comments as to the handling of wealth.

       Luke 16: 1-8: Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, `What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.' "The manager said to himself, `What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg-- I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?' "`Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied.   "The manager told him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.' "Then he asked the second, `And how much do you owe?'   "`A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied.   "He told him, `Take your bill and make it eight hundred.' "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

       The manager in this story was not doing a good job managing his master’s possessions. He was about to be let go for his miss-management. He knew he better do something to insure that when he was fired he would have some place to go where he would be welcome.  So he went around working out deals with those who owed his master money.  This put him in a good light with his master’s debtors and even his master complemented him on his shrewd dealings.  Jesus doesn’t say whether he still got fired.  The point of the story was to show the need to behave wisely with the wealth one is responsible for.  This manager apparently had not dealt wisely with his master’s possessions.  However, when called on the carpet for his indiscretions, he came through and at least recovered some of his master’s wealth and in the process make himself look good in the eyes of his master’s debtors.  Now Jesus says something very interesting. 

       Luke 16:9:  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

        This is virtually the same as Jesus saying we should store up treasures in heaven. Jesus is providing a visual picture of the effects of sharing our earthly wealth with those in need.  He uses the visualization of those helped by us welcoming us in heaven in appreciation for our meeting their needs in a time of necessity.  Jesus goes on to say:

       Luke 16:10-13:  "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?  

       Here Jesus contrasts worldly wealth with true riches.  The wealth of this world is very temporary.  It is subject to moths and rust and thieves. It decays and returns to dust.  Yet it has a temporal purpose.  It is to be used to provide for our needs and the needs of others who may not have the wealth necessary to meet their needs.  The worldly wealth is to be used wisely and honestly.  It is not to be squandered.  That includes using it with discretion relative to those in need as well.  It is not to be indiscriminately given to those who refuse to work or make no effort to provide for themselves.  Apostle plainly taught that those who won’t work should not eat.  But for those truly in need, as Christians we are to be a beacon of hope, a light shinning brightly. 

       Jesus said, if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?  This is a key statement.  Jesus is virtually saying that the property we have is not our own.  All we have belongs to God.  God is the owner of temporal wealth.  As owner, He has the right to determine how it should be used.  He has determined that it be used in such manner as to meet the needs of His creation.  He has determined it be used to glorify Him and not us.  He has determined that it be used to express His love, compassion and mercy. Jesus finishes this teaching by repeating what He said in the Sermon on the Mount.    

        Luke 16:13:  No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." 

       We are to serve God, not money.  Many people serve money.  All the focus is on accumulation of wealth.  The get principle is the leading dynamic by which people live.  Even during this time of the year when the focus is on giving, quite paradoxically, there is just as much emphasis on getting.  When people get back to work after Christmas you don’t hear asked “what did you give for Christmas,” you hear “what did you get.”  It’s the human mentality.  After Jesus made the comments he did, the Pharisees sneered at Him

       Luke 16:14-15: The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.

       Unfortunately, what is often highly valued among men is the accumulation of wealth and the failure to use such wealth to the glory of God.  This is the attitude largely responsible for the economic mess our country currently finds itself in.  The greed factor is alive and well.  Unfortunately it leads to a great lack of individual and collective wellness.   

       Now some have looked at Jesus’ teaching about storing up treasure in heaven as Jesus saying that what we do in this life is what qualifies us for eternal life.  They look at what Jesus said in Matthew 25 about those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, gave clothing to the needy.  These are the  ones accepted into eternal life while those who did not do these things are thrust out.  Therefore, it is concluded we must do these things to gain eternal life.

       Let it be clear that the doing of good deeds and the righteous handling of the wealth God has provided for us is not what gains us eternal life.  The scriptures are clear that it is faith in the sacrifice of Christ that facilitates eternal life.  Faith in Christ involves believing that we are forgiven of our sins because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Our righteous acts can’t pay the death penalty for sin.  Only the sacrifice of Christ can and did do that.  

       With that being said, however, what is often overlooked is that our faith in Jesus is defined by our response to what He taught and what He stood for.  What Jesus taught is the Law of Love.  What He taught is doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.  What He taught was to love our neighbor as ourselves.  What He taught is to use the temporal wealth God has given us to meet the needs of others.  If we are not making every attempt to do those things, how can we claim to believe Jesus let alone claim to love Jesus.  Jesus said if you love me you will keep my commandments.  He asked how can you call me Lord and not do the things that I say.  Apostle John said that to say we love Christ and not keep his commandments is to be a liar.

       It is a virtual oxymoron, a contradiction, to say we believe in Jesus and love Jesus and not behave according to what He taught.  Does this mean we will or must respond perfectly to what He taught in order to be granted eternal life?  Of course not!  His sacrifice makes up for our failures.  But to say we believe in Jesus and routinely ignore what he taught as to how we are to behave is to negate such professed belief in Jesus. I can’t emphasis this strongly enough.  To profess faith in Christ is to do what He said to do. 

       The Christian community and its leadership places a great deal of emphasis on salvation through what Christ accomplished on the cross and rightly it should do that.  That is the foundational message of the scriptures.  Jesus came to die for the sins of humanity.  Jesus also came to introduce humanity to the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is not just something we enter into in the future.  It is a here and now system of righteous living.  The Kingdom of God is all about how we relate to each other.  It is all about righteous human relations.  Jesus Christ came to pay our penalty for sin.  He also came to provide us with a model for living that if followed will bring the kind of results Jesus talks about in the Beatitudes.

       The Sermon on the Mount is all about Kingdom living.  It is all about what our attitude should be toward God and man.  It is all about what our conduct is to be as believers in Jesus Christ.  We are to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first and foremost in our lives.  To seek the Kingdom and the righteousness of God is to seek to conduct ourselves within the framework of the Law of Love.  That framework includes using the wealth God has provided us in the best possible manner to not only provide for ourselves but to provide for those in need.  Jesus taught we are to love others as we love our selves.  We certainly do all we can to love ourselves and then some.  That is how we are to love others.  That is what seeking the Kingdom and the righteousness of God is all about. 

       Jesus ended this section of His Sermon with the injunction in Matthew 6:33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

SERMON TWENTY-TWO