Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Great Surprise—The Message of the Sermon on the Mount

Part Five: Surprising Supply

Matthew 6:19-34

I make no secret of my fondness for Maui.  It’s a place that seems like the millennium has already started.  The weather is perfect almost every day.  The people are friendly.  The beach beckons.

I’m not the only person who thinks so.  Maui is thick with celebrities who either have second homes there, or have even moved there full time.  Oprah has a 60 acre estate near Hana.  Willie Nelson lives on the north shore.  Kris Kristofferson, Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson live as much of the year as they can on the island.  Clint Eastwood and Tom Selleck have estates there.  And rocker Sammy Hagar, who’s better known for his home in Cabo San Lucas, also has a place on the garden isle.
Why are they there?  Well, they’re there because they has a gazillion bucks and can afford it, and because in this island paradise, they get a chance, in their mind, to enjoy the good life.  

So what do you need to enjoy the good life?  Well, a view of the Pacific from you Maui estate is nice, but just about everybody would say that a full bank account, a full fridge and a closet full of nice clothes is just about essential to the good life.

One theory that is well, inflicted on college students is the Hierarchy of Needs from Abraham Maslow.  As he first formulated his theory back in 1954, there are five levels of need that people have:

1. Biological needs - food, drink, shelter, etc.
2. Safety needs - protection from elements, security, etc.
3. Belongingness needs - family, affection, etc.
4. Esteem needs - self-esteem, prestige, etc.
5. Self-actualization needs - realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, etc.

Notice that food, shelter and clothing comes first!  

But one of the criticisms of Maslow is this—how do we account for people—the “saints and martyrs”—who are denied the needs of the body, denied safety, denied tangible belonging—who have great peace of mind, a strong sense of satisfaction and have all the  appearance of profound fulfillment?

Way back, the Greek philosophers struggled with the question of the good life and how to get it.  Aristotle spoke of a concept called eudaimonia: “good spirits.”  It means living well, living virtuously, living happily--thriving.  It stresses moderation and balance.

What makes the Biblical concept of the good life so different from the idea of the good life of the philosophers is that the Biblical concept is God-centered.  It’s shalom: life at peace and at peace because the reality of God has come to the center of life.

In an earlier post, I said that one way to view the Sermon on the Mount is that it is Jesus’ way of describing the good life.   His approach to the good life is to recognize the world as it is: a world that is broken, incomplete, and sometimes even hostile to the people of God.      

So even in the opening blessings, the Beatitudes, we have reference to hunger and thirst and mourning and poverty, and the good news of Jesus is that the kingdom of God is available to us even in the midst of these things.

So also is righteousness available to us, and so also is transformation of heart, which so much more important that our mere external deeds. 

Jesus consistently digs down to the real person, the heart, and how that stands open before God.  Let even your good deeds be known only to God; deeds known to people may get your praise, but deeds known to God get heaven’s reward.

In a sense, in today’s passage Jesus expands on that business of heaven’s reward but He takes it and expands it into a wonderful teaching about the good life and God, and how He rewards. 

So I want to look at Matthew 6:19-34 today under three headings: treasure, trust and trajectory.  What is the real treasure and how does that work?  Trust: the good life has at its center a trust relationship with God.  Trajectory: what is your life all about?

Treasure (Matthew 6:19-24)

Treasure--here or in heaven? (19-20)

Here’s a good life question: what about money, wealth and possessions?  Look at verse 19-20:

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

In ancient times, you often stored accumulated wealth in the form of precious metals (silver and gold) and in the form of luxurious clothing which you would lock away in a secure location.  The problem with that is that no secure location is completely secure.  Clothing could decay into worthless rags.  Thieves can break in and steal precious metals.  You can also lose money the old fashioned way: bad investments, foolish spending and loss of new income. 

But be careful to note that Jesus isn’t saying that poverty is the road to happiness!  My dad used to say that, “Money can’t buy happiness, but poverty will break your heart every time.”  Jesus isn’t anti-wealth: He just wants us to make sure we handle it carefully, and that we spend our lives relocating our wealth.  Don’t store up treasures on earth.   Do store up treasures in heaven. 

This is consistent with that pattern from the first half of this chapter where Jesus tells us that deeds done in earth’s view gets earthly reward, and that deeds done in heaven’s view gets heaven’s reward…deeds like giving to the poor, prayer and fasting. 

But here it seems that Jesus is broadening that out to the overall stewardship we have over the resources God has given to us.  The way that we store up treasure in heaven is to make those resources available to the work of God.  That starts with giving, but it doesn’t stop there.  If you have empty house or an unused car and a missionary family has need of a place to stay or a vehicle to drive when on home assignment, and you make that place available, that transfers some earthly wealth to heaven.   

We’re talking about total life stewardship here, and what Jesus urges us to realize that money and other resources used for the kingdom of God is never lost; it is transformed into eternal blessings for others and for us and that God sees that transfer and is pleased by it.  

What do you focus on? (21-23)

Jesus reinforces that concept in the mini-parable of the eye as the lamp of the body, vs. 21-23:

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.22 The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 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!

What are you gazing on?  What has your attention?  What has—as they say, “caught your eye”? 

Whatever we esteem as most valued is where our heart—our emotions, our attention—is invested.  And that is nearly always where we have actual money invested.  That’s not superficial.  After all, for most of us, money came to us through our own hard work, and our time, and the best application of our abilities.  It’s like we turn sweat into money.  Money is where we store our labor.  When you take that and store it somewhere else, it’s more than dollars and cents: it’s your life on the line.

So if your hare-brained brother-in-law wants you to invest in alpaca farms, you’re going to think twice.  That’s not because you’re a shallow materialist; it’s because that’s your sweat and brains on the line.

Jesus says, be careful of what catches your heart and your eye.  Make sure it’s worthy.  It can bless you, or it can poison you.  Then He goes a step further.   

It’s money or God (24)

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 NIV uses the word Money (capitalized).  In Greek, it’s Mammon.  It’s a name.  It’s the Aramaic word, brought over into Greek for wealth, here personified, so that Jesus is really sticking it to us: your master will either be God or this false God of possessions.  And it’s A or B and you don’t get to pick both—you can’t do it.  The Money God will let you down, I promise you.  So choose wisely.
That’s treasure.  Next comes trust.

Trust (Matthew 6:25-32)

Next comes one of the great highpoints in the teaching of Jesus.  There is something truly poetic and soaring about the next verses.  But in the poetry, Jesus is saying—since the good life means holding earthly treasure loosely, and turning it into heavenly treasure through giving and service, no doubt you’re wondering how you’re going to make ends meet.  Well, I want you to trust Me on this.  Let go of your need to control, your impulse to worry and your compulsion to have it all planned out.  Here we go, vs. 25-32: 

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

It’s amazing.  Stop worrying about “little things” like food, shelter and clothing. 

One of my wife’s favorite movies is It’s a Wonderful Life.  When the angel Clarence comes to help George Baily, they have this conversation:

George Bailey: I know one way you can help me. You don't happen to have 8,000 bucks on you?
Clarence: No, we don't use money in Heaven.
George Bailey: Well, it comes in real handy down here, bud!     

Jesus never once suggests that these things are unimportant—it’s just that they can’t take over our hearts.  And further, He promises that the heavenly Father—the one who knows you and loves you—will take care of you, even as He feeds the birds and clothes the fields.  How much more shall we, His children, be supplied?

Before we move on, we should make this note: Jesus is telling us to disregard worry, but He is not telling us to disregard work.  This is not an invitation to kick back, be lazy and say, “God will provide.” 

There is so much positive said about the value of work, and the vice of laziness in the word of God.  Jesus is not encouraging us to just kick back and do nothing. 

Exodus 20:9 reminds us, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work…”  Proverbs 19:15 says, “Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless man goes hungry.”  In 1 Thessalonians 5:10, Paul writes, ”For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’”

Maybe an illustration of this is here.  You may know the name John Ratzenberger.  He played Cliff Claven on Cheers and has done a lot of voice work in movies like Toy Story since then.  He loves to tell the story of how he was at Woodstock.   He wasn’t there for the music—he was a carpenter there:

I was at Woodstock—I built the stage. And when everything fell apart, and people were fighting for peanut-butter sandwiches, it was the National Guard who came in and saved the same people who were protesting them.  So when (they) wanted to build a Woodstock memorial, I said it should be a statue of a National Guardsman feeding a crying hippie.

Let’s move on! 

So, Jesus says, be careful with treasure.  Move it from earth to heaven as rapidly as possible!  Don’t worry, you can trust that the Father will see to your needs.  And finally, this is all part of the trajectory of your life, which we read about in vs. 33-34:

Trajectory (6:33-34)

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

A question that Tom Bandy poses to leaders in his church in Toronto is, “With my first breath and last penny, will it be ‘me first’ or ‘God’s mission’?”

You want the good life?  It won’t be had through being a part-time Jesus follower.  Putting God’s kingdom first isn’t some terrible burden to bear that takes the joy out of life: it’s the road to life at its best.

Running all though this passage is the theme of anxiety versus trusting in God.  We have anxiety over our treasure.  We have anxiety over our health.  We have anxiety over our status.  We have anxiety over our creature comforts.  Jesus tells us that we can set anxiety aside and instead, instead of those things consuming us, have this one thing consume us: God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.  And the promise of God is this: do this, and “all these things will be given to you as well.”  What things?  Food, shelter, clothing, all that stuff, the treasure and the security it provides—that’s “all these things.”

I want to know—what does “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” mean in tangible terms? 

Some translations of Matthew 6:33 says that when we put the kingdom first, all we need will be “added” to us.  I want to use the word ADD to flesh out what seeking the kingdom first means in tangible terms:

A: availability
D: devotion
D: delight


When Paul Revere had his midnight ride to warn that the British were coming, he could ride knowing that the Minutemen would be available.  On a moment’s notice, they would drop everything.  Why?  They saw their new nation as their highest earthly priority. 

When there is a kingdom need, are you available?  Really, please don’t tell me that you’re seeking first the kingdom if you start making excuses. 

Our attitude should be like that of Col. Paddy Flint.  He was an eccentric but brilliant commander during the North Africa during the Second World War.  On the side of jeep and on the side of his helmet, he had these letters painted: AAA-0.  That stood for “Anything, Anywhere, Anytime, Bar Nothing!”  AAA-0!  That’s available!

Are you available?  Richard Foster said that if you’re not seeking the kingdom first, really, you aren’t seeking it at all.


Notice Jesus says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”  When we seek God, it’s not just our outward deeds that are affected.  Sure, it’s seen in deeds, but as usual Jesus penetrates to the heart and says, “Want the good life?  It’s also found as you go hard after God.”  It’s a lot like the fourth beatitude (Matthew 5:6):  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  We’re talking about a passion for God Himself, as in Psalm 42:1:  As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”  When you want God as much as a dehydrated deer wants water, then you’re on to something!

So, we have availability, devotion and now we add…


The Sermon on the Mount is kind of like the giving of the law on Mount Sinai.  A new era opened on top of a mountain.  But one way that the Sermon on the Mount is completely unlike the law is the element of joy that pervades the sermon.  Jesus is not laying down a bunch of hard to achieve rules on His followers: He’s pointing at an open door and urging us to go through. 

Isn’t it a delight to know that there is a God who makes a treasure known to us that will last forever?  That He will see to our creature needs—food, shelter and clothing? 
We don’t have to live in worry and fear; God really will take care of us.  Here is where you can find the good life: when you trust the Heavenly Father.  You can’t separate or divide the Good Life from the Good Lord.

Let me illustrate it this way.  Think of an old movie western.  Near the end, the good guy and the bad guy stand facing each other at opposite ends of the only street in town.  The local folks, knowing what will happen, clear the street.  They slam doors and shutter windows.  The general store hangs up a "closed" sign.  Only two men remain outside.  The wind blows a cloud of dust from the street.  A dog barks in the distance.  With another gust of wind a tumbleweed tumbles between them.

Where do tumbleweeds come from?  Do they germinate on the tumble, grow on the tumble, and die on the tumble?  No; in the spring, they grow as thick, green bushes.  When the spring rains stop, their roots cannot find enough water to sustain them. They wither and fall over.  Eventually, their shallow roots are no longer able to keep them anchored to the ground.  They literally dry up and blow away.

Mesquite trees, which can grow in the same area, are just the opposite.  Even after a prolonged drought, if you cut one down, it grows back.  If you cut down what grows back, it will grow back again.  You could dig down five or ten feet below ground, cut it down, and burn the stump.  You would soon have a mesquite grove as dozens (if not hundreds!) of severed roots sprout.  A significant difference between tumbleweeds and mesquite trees is in the roots.

The life without God, or God on the edge, or knowing Christ but not making Him central, is rootless.  You’ll end up as a tumbleweed.  Jesus is inviting to mesquite living, trusting in, attached deeply the source of life and joy and purpose.  Put it that way, it seems simple—an easy choice.  So seek His kingdom and His righteousness first, and all this other stuff—He’ll see you get what you need, He will!  That’s the Good Life.

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