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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Lord Jesus Teaches us how to Handle Treasure
Text:LD 42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 8th Commandment (Stealing)
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-03-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 119:5,6                                                                                         

Hy 3:1,2  [after Athanasian Creed]

Reading – Matthew 6:1-24; Matthew 19:16-30

Ps 62:4,5,6,7  

Sermon – Lord’s Day 42

Hy 40:4,5

Ps 73:8,9

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, have you ever been on a treasure hunt? It’s a big thing when you’re a kid: making treasure maps, following the dotted line up to the big black X, digging and dreaming, imagining that here pirates once stashed all their gold and jewels.

As we get older, most of us leave our childish ways behind, and we don’t find the same excitement in hunting for treasure that isn’t really there. Yet beneath the surface, part of that youthful longing remains—it just takes on a different shape. For we still desire wealth. We still hope to get our hands onto riches.

That’s the reality behind the eighth commandment as we learn about God’s holy will for our possessions. In this world, there is treasure and wealth. There are material things to set our hearts on, objects we devote our energies to having for ourselves.

So what do we seek and search for? Christ tells us that this isn’t child’s play, but a very serious matter. He says we all stand at a crossroads. Whether rich or poor or middle class, we stand between a choice for earthly treasure, and a choice for heavenly. What direction do we go?

And if heavenly treasure is what we seek, this changes how we handle the earthly things in our possession. With God showing the way, we learn not to fall into the trap of greed or the dead-end of materialism. We learn how to use even our temporary earthly goods for serving and building up his Kingdom. This is the theme of our study of the eighth commandment, which we look at with the help of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount:

The Lord Jesus teaches us how to handle treasure:

  1. rightly seeing our treasures on earth
  2. earnestly seeking our treasures in heaven

 

1) rightly seeing our treasures on earth: Jesus starts with a much-needed warning. He says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt 6:19). Never let earthly wealth become your security!

If we looked at Jesus’s audience that day, we might be able to see how necessary this warning was. For it’s very probable that many in that crowd on the mountain were quite poor. Most people in Palestine at his time lived from month to month, with few thoughts for the future. They were almost solely dependent on how the crops did each year, and they had very little saved for coming days.

And Christ knows that people who face this kind of poverty often dream of treasure, often yearn to possess a fortune, or at least more than they had right now. Oh, to be wealthy and financially secure! To be reliant no longer on the unpredictable weather, and on the will of cruel masters, or on charity, and to have enough for today and next year.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Christ’s words of warning spoke directly to his audience—and they speak to us as well. We’re not poor, but we would probably all prefer to have a little extra money in the bank. It would help us to get by in the leaner times when they come. Having more would prepare us for those unexpected costs like car repairs and weddings and medical bills. Overall, having more money would probably lower our anxiety levels, and a few “treasures on earth” would make our time here more enjoyable.

So what sort of treasures are we talking about? In Christ’s day, there were different kinds of wealth that circulated in people’s daydreams. They didn’t wish for big campers, or for valuable antiques, or for bags full of bitcoin. No, they hoped for earthly treasures like fancy clothes, barns full of crops, and heaps of silver.

Fancy clothes were desirable, because fine clothing was an important symbol of status. What you wore on your person said a lot about your position in life. Clothing advertised to everyone that you were successful and wealthy and well-connected.

We know that Christ is referring to clothes, because He says that this kind of earthly treasure can be destroyed by moths. Someone might have a lot of fancy clothes stored away, and he might take pride in them—but just like that, a cloud of moths can get into your wardrobe. A most insignificant creature can turn all that outward prestige into nothing, because now your clothing is full of unsightly holes, it’s tattered and useless.

Doesn’t that so often happen to earthly treasure? We still like stylish clothing like Converse shoes and tailored suits, but we have other status symbols too. Certain models of car. A well-appointed house. The newest technology like the iPhone 13, or whatever they’re up to. In today’s society, these are the things that say you have arrived. They announce you’re successful.

Now, Christ won’t take away anyone’s nice set of clothes. He probably wouldn’t deny anyone a car or house either. But how do we see these things? Is this what we value? Do we let ourselves take pride in how much our house has increased in value, and how driving our car makes us feel sophisticated?

More to the point, have we gotten these goods at the expense of more important things? Have we ignored the heavenly treasure? The Lord’s warns us directly: Don’t seek the stuff that will disintegrate. Your camper will wear down, your handbag will go out of style, and your house will come to nothing. Remember you have a far more lasting inheritance!

Another coveted possession high on the list for Jesus’s listeners would have been barns full of crops. For if the weather was good, and yields were strong, you could have plenty of wheat and barley stored away. Next year there could be a drought, and the following year a war, and you’d still be fine! This was your security, your insurance.

But what happens? Christ says this treasure can “rust” (v 20), or literally, He says it can be “nibbled,” it can be “eaten away.” Farmers tell stories about how even massive silos full of grain can be devoured by a plague of rats, or ruined by worms. One day you open the barn door, and you find only piles of ruin and waste. What once gave you security is an empty confidence.

This is how it can go with what we’ve stored up. We had our nest egg, and we thought we’d built up some financial security for the future. And what happens? It’s eaten away by drastic losses on the markets. Or it’s nibbled away over time, destroyed by our wastefulness. Those earthly treasures have shown themselves to be unworthy of any real trust.

Cold, hard cash was another treasure that people hunted for, like a bag of gold coins or a collection of silver denarii. And instead of taking it down to the Bank of Israel, you would make a hole in the wall of your house and you’d hide it where it couldn’t touched by drought or plague. But even this earthly treasure is only passing. For Christ says literally that “thieves might burrow in and steal it” (v 20). Just when you thought your wealth was secure, someone comes along and steals it away.

Two thousand years later, and not much is new under the sun. You hear a story once in a while about an investor who is entrusted with millions of dollars by his clients. They think their savings are safe with him, and he’s guaranteed that they’ll grow, but two years later, he has fled the country and there is nothing left.

Maybe none of us would fall for the lies of a swindler, but the lesson still applies. If we build our security on money and material things, we forget that everything can come crashing down in an instant. “Stolen away” by an early death, “stolen away” by poor decisions—lost, simply because earthly treasure is inherently vulnerable. It gives no guarantee.

So why would we ever make money or possessions so important? Why do we still love to attach so much value to these things? As He does throughout his Sermon on the Mount, Christ puts the human heart under examination. This is about what goes on inside us. For right after warning us about the nature of earthly treasure, He teaches us this general principle, one we’ve looked at before: “The lamp of the body is the eye” (v 22).

It means that the eyes of a person are intensely revealing. They’re a window to the soul. Our eyes can reveal not just our emotions, but they can reveal our priorities. For what do we look at most often? Where do we often scroll to, on our devices, or in our minds? This says a lot about what’s important to us. For first the eyes look, and then the hands move into action.

For when we’re excited by those earthly treasures, and we believe their promises, we get carried away. We become trapped by our greed, or our jealousy of others. And perhaps we don’t lose our money in economic downturns or through poor decisions, but we actually see our money keep growing and our assets increasing.

And as we keep looking at our net worth, we can’t shake that sense of security. This stuff is the stuff we can count on. And then having much, we start to accept the world’s thinking that as our income goes up, our lifestyle is allowed to go up.

When our priorities get skewed like this toward material things, there’s a difficult truth that needs to be faced. Christ puts it starkly: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” (v 24). In our lives, something will always come first, to be in charge and control. Our hearts will always bow down to one god, before all others.

Everyone is a slave of something, we all serve one master above all. And Christ says the options are limited: “God and Mammon” (v 24). Mammon doesn’t just mean “money,” but it’s a broader term for an earthly thing. Simply put, it’s the “stuff” of this world, the things competing for our loyalty and attention.

Already in the Garden, the devil singled out one fruit, attractive to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom. It was the original Mammon, typical of all Mammon. This he put before us, to divert us from doing God’s will. And it’s what continues to make faithfulness to the Lord alone so hard.

Probably not many of us identify with the rich man of Matthew 19, that man whom Jesus told to sell all that he had and give to the poor. But we’re actually a lot closer to him than, say, the woman who gave her last two pennies at the temple. We have so much. In terms of our material wealth and opportunity, it has been said that people like you and me are in the top 5% of the entire world. Billions of people have to make do with so much less.

Satan then has a lot that he can use for hindering us, distracting us, entertaining us so avidly that we’re not serving Christ. This is why Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:23-24). In short, carrying all that earthly baggage, dragging along all that treasure, can hinder us from entering God’s kingdom! Will Mammon be our Master?

So do we need to be guilty about our gold, miserable about having money? Is the Lord Jesus totally negative about such things? Jesus never said that money was unimportant. He never told us to throw away our wealth. Instead, Jesus presses each of us to consider carefully what we use our possessions for.

And so Christ puts us at a crossroads in our treasure hunt. How are we going to take care of earthly possessions? Will we waste them on selfish living? Hoard them greedily for ourselves? Or will we use them for good? Use them for God? That’s the bright side, as the Catechism asks: “What does God require of you in this commandment?” (Q&A 111). And that is our second point,

 

2) earnestly seeking our treasures in heaven: Probably most of us seek value for our dollars. We don’t want to waste our money, so we try acquire the things that will last. We do our research, read the reviews, comparison shop, and only then make our purchase of a reliable car, sensible clothes, and quality tools. We want quality!

In his Sermon, Jesus agrees with the wisdom of wise investing. For He tells us to seek the things that endure: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt 6:20). There is a bank that has guaranteed returns, even eternal. There is a cause that you can put your money into without the fear that it’s ever going to be lost. This heavenly treasure we seek is of a different quality, because it endures!

So how can we get this heavenly treasure, and “lay it up” for ourselves? Can we set up a monthly transfer to some heavenly account? How do we get rich toward God? Think again about the rich young man in Matthew 19. Notice the question he brings to Jesus: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (v 16). This man was looking for a solid investment, hoping to find a lasting security.

And what does Christ tell him? “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (v 17). It’s as simple as that. Jesus says, “Point your entire life in the right direction. Make sure that your life is about serving God and loving your neighbour.”

Trouble was, this fellow had a hard time loving his neighbour. It was a problem, because really applying this commandment would mean giving up his many possessions. And that’s the challenge Christ sets before him, “Go, sell what you have and give to the poor.” Do that, Christ says—and what? You’ll be poor yourself? You’ll be miserable until the day you die? No, “Do this,” Christ says, “and you will have treasure in heaven” (v 21). Give it away, and you will be richer than you ever dreamed! Give it away, and you’ll gain eternal life.

If we’re looking for treasure in heaven, then we have to hold loosely all our earthly stuff. And we shouldn’t be so possessive of our money and goods that we can’t share generously with the poor, or that we’re not willing to use it to build God’s Kingdom.

Christ said this in Matthew 6 as well, where He spoke about worshiping God through our financial gifts. He didn’t say that our dollars and cents are unimportant. He didn’t say that God cares nothing about these things. No, He said, “Present your gifts to God! Present your gifts cheerfully and sincerely, and God who sees it will reward you.”

So when Jesus talks about “storing up treasure in heaven,” He doesn’t mean some vague or mysterious activity. It happens in the ordinary choices of everyday. We store up treasure when we place God’s kingdom ahead of our own kingdom. We store up treasure when we share our money with those who are in need. We store up treasure when we give wisely and widely and generously so that the gospel can be preached here and elsewhere. As someone put it so well: The things that we give away become our treasure in heaven!

This isn’t buying our way into heaven. But it’s showing that our love for God touches every square centimeter of life. If our faith is real, then we recognize Christ as Lord of our savings account, and Lord of our job, and Lord of all the shiny things we buy—He is Lord of all! 

Not to say this submission is easy. It’s actually very hard, said Jesus, and the young man proved it. Because as always, the heart is the issue. Where was that young man’s heart? Where was his devotion? We’re pretty sure we know, because when he heard what he had to do, “He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (v 22).

Again, we can put ourselves into his leather sandals, for we face the same test. Many of us have been given a lot. And maybe we find it difficult to part with our money, because we worked hard for it, and we like the idea of all the nice things that money can buy. Or maybe we don’t see the good in being generous, because doesn’t charity so often go to waste?

Or maybe we haven’t given it much thought, and we just keep accumulating goods and saving money like we always have. But isn’t that a failure to steward what God has given, a failure to put it to good use? Isn’t that kind of like the servant who buried his talent?

Lord’s Day 1 says that we’re God’s servants, redeemed with Christ’s blood. So we actually have no “free” time. We actually have no “disposable income,” because it all belongs to him. It means we get to ask every day: What does God want me to do with his blessings? For the glory of God’s name, what does He want me to do with what I have and where I am? That’s our single-minded pursuit.

You know that history is full of people who were completely consumed by worldly wealth. As an example, think of the men of the past who were afflicted with “gold fever.” They crossed oceans, braved great danger, dug until their fingernails fell out—all in that obsessive longing to get their hands on the flakes of gold they saw every night in their dreams. For so many of them, the journey ended in disappointment.

Yet we should have the same attention for heaven’s lasting treasures, the same longing to be rich with the things of God! Think of how Jesus once compared the kingdom of God to a treasure that was “hidden in a field.” Christ says, “When a man found that treasure, he hid it again, and for joy over it he went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matt 13:44). That man made the Kingdom of God his all-consuming priority, his treasure. This is how we too, must live: fixated on the promises and the pleasures of knowing the Lord.

So how important do we make it? How earnestly do we seek the Kingdom? How much do the things of God fill your heart, from day to day? It’s a vital question, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). So where is your heart? What kind of treasures do you stockpile for yourself?

Christ promises that those who seek first God’s kingdom will always have a good return. For even as that rich young man sadly walked away, Jesus said, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for my Name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (19:29).

Think of what we’ll gain. When we serve and sacrifice for God as faithful servants, Christ says we shall receive “a hundredfold” in return! For the things we give up today can’t compare to the inheritance God has promised. These are the things that will never perish, spoil or fade away. So search for real treasure! Invest yourself fully in the Lord’s Kingdom, be rich toward God, and find your security in Christ alone!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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