Expository Sermon on Matthew 6:19 – 34
Bellevue SDA Church 2/17/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
To hear the audio for this sermon, click the triangular “play” button on the line below:
Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 6.
While you’re turning there, I’ll mention that this is another in a series of sermons I’m preaching this year on the very words of Jesus Himself. I call this series “Red Print,” because many Bibles have printed Jesus’ words this way.
In the last few weeks we’ve been moving through His Sermon on the Mount, and today we’re starting with Matthew 6, verse 19.
As I read through the last half of this chapter, it seemed to me that what Jesus is talking about in these verses is allegiance. After all, in the last couple of verses of Matthew six, He will tell us to seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness – in other words, declare allegiance to God’s rulership in God’s way of behaving.
So that must mean that there are other allegiances we might have to turn our backs on in order to pledge allegiance to God.
And the more I studied through this chapter, the more I realize how dangerous these other allegiances actually are. I found two of them. So let’s look at them this morning.
When I was in elementary student, I attended Sunrise Church School, a little Adventist one room school about a mile southeast of Redfield, South Dakota. There were never more than 12 or 14 students total in that little room, but every morning we got to our feet, put our right palms on our hearts, and pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And even though I was a little kid, I realized that this meant that since I was an American, I was not supposed to pledge allegiance to any other of the national flags of the world.
In our class one year was a girl named Judy, the child of missionary parents who were teaching at the Adventist academy three blocks away. I was tremendously impressed with Judy, because as I remember it, she had been born in Switzerland. And she had spent a lot of time in South America with her parents, and could probably speak Spanish better than she could English. We would always try to get her to talk Spanish to us, but she would give us an annoyed look. She probably was saying to herself, “What would be the use of that? They wouldn’t understand me, and they’d probably make fun of me.”
Anyway, Judy – whose parents had been born in America – got to her feet and pledged allegiance to the flag just like the rest of us. And I knew that I should never pledge allegiance to the Swiss flag or the Argentinian flag, but only the American flag.
Allegiance means you know how valuable what you’re pledging allegiance to is. And here in Matthew six, Jesus resolutely sets out to show us a couple of false allegiances before He reminds us of the true one.
Let’s find what’s the first false allegiance is.
Matthew 6:19 – 21 [NKJV]: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If you went to an Adventist elementary school, or had a lot of Bible training, these precious words are very familiar to you. We had a lot of moths in South Dakota, especially at night, fluttering frantically around the outside porch light. I don’t remember moths getting into our clothing, though I do faintly remember the smell of mothballs, those chemically treated white spheres mom put amongst our clothing.
But I do remember what rust did to everything. By the way, the Greek word translated “rust” is brosis, and actually means eating, like eating real food. Watching how rust works, somebody evidently decided to use that word to describe how rust eats away at iron. I don’t think that the South Dakota highway department use road salt as much as Minnesota’s did. If you owned a used car from any of those places – which I did at one point – you just knew that no matter how well polished your car looked on the outside, on the other side of those painted panels it would be brown and rusty and ready to disintegrate.
It struck me this week that maybe, as He spoke about moths and rust, Jesus may have been looking at His listeners’ clothing and seeing moth holes. Maybe farmers, pausing on their way to the fields to listen to Him for a few minutes, were carrying implements which were dark and jagged with rust.
Jesus’ point here, of course, was that we shouldn’t depend on these temporary things. So what might be the first shaky allegiance Jesus was warning us against? If you’re taking notes, what I’m about to say could be considered Sermon Point One.
I believe that the first allegiance Jesus warns us against is the allegiance to earthly investments.
There’s nothing wrong with earthly investments, of course. Jesus told other stories about a rich man who, before he went on a journey, gave large sums of money to his servants and urged them to invest them, and He commended those who did.
But here He seems to be talking to people who had the habit of totally ignoring God when they did their investing. Jesus told the story of another rich man, a farmer, whose crops had produced so well but he didn’t have anywhere to store the grain. So rather than investing that surplus grain to help the poor get on their feet, this farmer instead obsessed about how he was going to have to tear down his current barns and build bigger ones. In Jesus’ story, God came to that farmer in a dream that night and told him his time was up.
Just behind the courthouse in my hometown is the Spink County Museum. I’ve actually only been inside three or four times in my life. Part of the reason I’ve visited so infrequently is that it’s only open just a few hours a week. But the other reason I don’t go there when we’re in South Dakota on vacation is that whoever lets you in doesn’t just let you wander around and gaze thoughtfully at all of the exhibits yourself, but follows you around with what they hope is helpful historical background. Instead, I would prefer just to lean over and gaze at a weathered old jackknife, and wonder who used it, and what they used it for, and meditate on it in peace without a lot of chatter in my ear.
What’s so sad about museums like that, and also antique shops, is that you are gazing at items which once were the treasured possessions of people who now lie beneath gravestones. Here is this pretty, expensive, once-fashionable object, maybe ordered from an old Sears catalog, maybe even paid for on the installment plan, now separated from its loving owner and stored away in a large, dim room. Kind of depressing.
But I think that this gets to the point of what Jesus was saying. Don’t pledge allegiance to the treasure you can hoard in your storage unit or your safety deposit box at your bank. Either they – or you – can vanish unimaginably quickly.
Instead, Jesus’ advice is exactly the opposite.
Verses 20 – 21: . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
So, how do you lay up treasures in heaven? In at least a couple of ways. Even before God dictated laws to Moses after the deliverance from Exodus, long before that, in Genesis 14:20 it says that Abraham paid tithes to the priest Melchizedek. God’s plan of returning tithes and giving offerings is a fair and systematic and hugely powerful plan to enhance the work of heaven on earth.
As I mentioned during last week’s sermon, I don’t look at the treasurer’s records to see who gives what. I never have. But when I look into this week’s bulletin, I see that our church budget offerings – which go to pay the expenses of our local facility – have outpaced our expenses by about $20,000. And though the treasurer gave me no names, he told me that part of that surplus is a large donation from someone or some family, I don’t know who. This is a very tangible way of laying up treasures in heaven – in other words, donating to a facility and a program which is devoted to turning people’s eyes in heaven’s direction.
There are additional ways of laying up treasure in heaven. We possess not only treasure, but time and talent as well. Wednesday night at prayer meeting someone told us about a family who worked hard to prepare and deliver some Valentine’s Day baskets to individuals who had not been on the list a couple of months back. This took time, and treasure, and maybe even talent. And people who maintain such an attitude will never fall prey to allegiance to earthly investments.
At this point here in Matthew six, Jesus introduces what I used to think of as a side topic. He’s been talking about laying up your treasures in heaven, and a little further down the chapter He will talk about not serving two masters, and not worrying. But right here, starting in verse 22, He seems to be straying off the subject.
Verses 22 – 23: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
This verse used to confuse me a lot when I was younger. For one thing, I couldn’t understand how the lamp of the body was the eye. My eyes did not shine out light like a lamp does.
A few years ago I suddenly realized that I was probably going to need cataract surgery. As I would look around me, things looked pretty normal, until I realized that as I was driving in my car, I could not read any of the green-and-white street signs until I was actually going through the intersection right underneath them.
So I went to the eye doctor, and he told me that I had cataracts in both eyes. And I very sensibly had those cataract-corrupted lenses removed, and the fancy plastic ones inserted. If you’ve ever had that done, you know how amazing the experience is. After my surgery—once my eyes had cleared up–I would walk outside, and it would look like the entire planet had been run through a car wash. Everything seemed bright and crisp and gleaming. In fact for a while, I went around telling people that I would be glad to hire myself out to read distant license plates if they needed it.
Before my cataract surgery, you could say that my eyes were bad. It wasn’t to the point where my whole body was full of darkness, but it was an inconvenience – and getting to be more and more of a dangerous inconvenience. But since the problem had been worsening quite gradually, I didn’t really notice that it was an issue – until I tried to read street signs and navigate my way through town.
So what do I do with this “eye being the lamp of the body” passage?
I think the whole issue is that Jesus wants us to see clearly, spiritually speaking. Put some kind of marker here in Matthew six, because we’ll be back in a moment, but let’s turn over to Revelation chapter 3. Because the last of Revelation’s seven churches was having eye trouble. And this same Jesus – the one who is speaking to us in Matthew six – this same Jesus had some earnest optical advice to that church.
Revelation 3:14 – 19: “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
As you can see, the Laodiceans had a lot of problems. But Jesus’ to solutions had to do with, first of all, treasure. “If you want gold, buy that gold from Me,” He says, “and you will be truly rich. And put some eye salve in your eyes, so you can see.”
What’s so chilling is that that church in Laodicea thought it was doing fine. Those church members thought they were spiritually rich, and they thought that they had indeed laid up the proper kind of treasure. But their lukewarmness, their laziness, had dreadfully blinded them. As Jesus said in Matthew six, their whole body was full of darkness – great darkness.
Let’s go back to Matthew six again, and look at one more kind of false allegiance, and then we’ll find out Jesus’ solution to this issue.
So here comes another false allegiance so many people have:
Matthew 6:24: “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. You cannot serve God and mammon.
“Mammon” is an Aramaic word meaning “money.”
When you look at verse 24, about not being able to serve two masters, at first it’s kind of hard to figure out what Jesus is saying. After all, nowadays someone might have two separate jobs, or even three. Is that wrong?
But this is totally different from the servant-master setup back in Jesus’ time. When you were someone’s servant, you were expected to be totally loyal to that master. You were not on an hourly wage. In fact, you weren’t on any wage at all. He gave you food and a place to sleep, but that master basically owned you, and you were expected to be “on call” at any hour of the day or night. You didn’t live in your own house five blocks away, or crosstown. You lived in the master’s house, or somewhere right there on his estate.
Now under these conditions, imagine what would happen if you decided to also become the servant of another master. Let’s say that new master lived a few blocks away, and he also considered you his servant. This means that he expected you to be “on call” to him, 24 hours a day.
This would have been an absolutely impossible situation. If you’re a servant, you are devoted to one master, one household. You simply could not supply the same energy and time and devotion to an entire second household.
In that case, something would have to give. If the second master summoned you at the end of a hard day’s work for the first master, you would get really annoyed. You would get bitter against that second master, who was depriving you of your well-earned rest.
And Jesus brings home His point when He says, “You cannot serve God and mammon,” or money. In other words, you cannot be a totally loyal and devoted servant to both masters at the same time. A master has the right to tell you what to do and when to do it. And if God is your master, your Lord, that’s okay. As Jesus will say in just a few verses, God cares for you deeply.
But if you let money be your master, and you let money tell you what to do and when to do it, that will be disastrous. You will have moved God off the throne in your life, and replaced Him with a bag of cash.
The great majority of people, of course, aren’t worrying about where they’re going to invest all the extra cash they happen to have lying around. A lot of people are just barely squeaking by on their paychecks. A couple of days back I heard a statistic that over half of Americans have less than $1000 in their savings account. And that means that it’s easy to become obsessed about what Jesus will talk about in the next few verses.
Verses 25 – 27: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
Here comes a second false allegiance Jesus is talking about in this chapter.
I believe that the first allegiance Jesus warns us against is the allegiance to earthly investments, and a second is the allegiance to money-worries.
At first, those two allegiances might seem to be the same thing. Earthly investments often involve money, and worrying about how you survive to the next paycheck also involves money. And there probably is some overlap.
But the first group Jesus was talking about seem to possess treasure enough to decide where to store it up. However, the second group are so strapped for cash hat they’re worrying not about investing but about what they’re going to wear and what they are going to eat.
Glance at the end of verse 25 again: “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”
That brings to mind a heart-tugging radio interview I heard this week after the Florida school shooting. A reporter was telling how he was in a hotel where parents were gathering to wait for word about whether their children had survived. That reporter said (and these are his words) that he actually heard parents praying aloud that their children were lying mangled in a hospital. In other words, as the minutes went by and they didn’t hear from their kids, those parents feared the worst, and they were desperately hoping that their children were just simply alive, no matter what condition they were in.
Now, these parents had no doubt done their best to feed their children well, to dress them well, to make sure that they got the best education. Maybe they had started a college fund for them. But here in their hour of crisis, what was more important than all of that was life. Were their kids alive?
By the way, if you’re on our church email list, and if you checked it last night, you saw a link to an NBC interview with high school junior Samantha Gray. Samantha Gray is an Adventist, and is in fact a part of the Pathfinder team at her church. Samantha was hiding in a classroom with some friends, and in that interview she tells her story. If you go to our church website and look at the “Pastor’s Blog” section, I just uploaded it last night. As you’ll see, Samantha is a very poised and well-spoken young lady, even though she has seen many tragic things this week.
Here are the links. The first is the NBC interview, and the second is an article with the Adventist perspective.
Let’s move down to verse 31.
Verses 31 – 33: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
Notice, Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, God is the ruler. God is the master, and we are His servants. We are His children, of course, but since He created us, and knows what is best for us, He has the right and responsibility to guide us wisely, and we need to listen to, and then do, what He says.
And notice that Jesus also said to seek God’s righteousness. You can’t separate the two. If you try to seek God’s kingdom without God’s righteousness, that’s what Lucifer did. He tried to assume rulership over God’s kingdom. But he did not seek God’s righteousness.
So what does it mean to seek God’s righteousness? It means to look for it, to hunt for it. Back at my prairie school, at recess we sometimes played “Hide and Seek.” As you know, if you were the one who had to hunt for the others, you went out and looked for them. You didn’t simply wait and hope they would come to you.
And it’s the same way with God’s kingdom. When you “seek” something, you go out and look for it. You go to places where you will learn about God’s kingdom and righteousness, like this church, this morning. You don’t just sit at home hoping vaguely that God’s kingdom and righteousness will dawn upon you someday. Instead, as Jesus urges, you go and seek for it.
In fact, the Greek word for “seek” is zeteo. Here’s a list of its meanings. Notice how energetic and active a word it is: see, search or look for, try, attempt, strive for, want, ask, demand, require, expect, consider, deliberately examine, investigate. That’s how we should seek for the kingdom of God.
So I don’t know whether you are obsessed with earthly investments. I don’t know how many beats your heart-rate went up, or how far your jaw dropped, when the stock market took a dive a week or so ago. I don’t know if you are concerned about where you will be living in the next couple of months, or whether you can afford to stay where you are.
But I do know that your Savior, and my Savior, has told us that our heavenly Father knows what we need. And if we will relinquish all other unhealthy allegiances, and allow Him to guide us, then He will provide our needs. That’s a promise – and not any ordinary promise, but a promise made by our Creator and Savior.
How about you? Would you like to pledge full and complete allegiance to God, again or for the first time, this morning? Raise your hand if that’s your desire.