This morning we’re looking at the last of the 3 Ts: treasure. The little kid in me comes out whenever I say treasure, and images of pirates and ships and treasure chests quickly come to mind. I grew up on stories of Black Beard and hidden treasure and maps to hidden gold. There’s something about gold and treasure that grabs our hearts, we love to dream abut it, of striking it rich. This is why Vegas does so well, it taps into the desire for instant richness and being able to live in the lap of luxury without having to work any more. One young man once told me that church life and following Jesus can be boring compared to the excitement of Vegas and the rush of winning.
Jesus talks about money and treasure a lot; his focus is on souls and relationships, on wise living, on what’s at the heart of the kingdom of heaven. People fight over money all the time, it’s one of the main stresses in many marriages. Money is often used as a source of power or control; it can be used to bribe and tempt people into doing things that they know aren’t smart or right. A lack of enough money can lead to people to do things they know they shouldn’t, but feel they have no choice because otherwise they might not eat or have a home.
We deal with money everyday, so we need to be aware of its power over us and the great good that it can do. Luke tells us a certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is an honest question from a wealthy young man who has everything; he’s part of the upper-class has wealth, power and influence, but no peace in his soul. When other people look at this young man, they see someone that God must love a whole lot to have given him all the wealth and prestige he has, so why would he be worried about eternal life? Still, he has a sense that there’s more to life than wealth, so he turns to Jesus, the great rabbi, with this important faith question.
Jesus doesn’t answer the ruler’s question, instead asking him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good--except God alone.” There’s a whole other sermon right here! Then Jesus says, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.” If you’re just listening to Jesus here, you’d think that eternal life is about doing good stuff, but Jesus is always deeper than that. When the ruler tells Jesus, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” Now we see Jesus get to the heart issue, “You still lack one thing, doing good isn’t the thing to get you eternal life, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Then comes one of the saddest moments in the entire Bible, “When he heard this, he became very sad, the Greek can also be translated, he became deeply grieved, because he was very wealthy.” His wealth just became a barrier between him and Jesus. Jesus warns us in Matthew that you can’t serve both God and money and to store up treasures in heaven, because where our treasure is, that’s where our heart is too. His wealth isn’t the issue, it’s his faith and trust in his wealth that creates his deep grief. His focus is on what his wealth gives him instead of what Jesus is offering him. He can’t see that his wealth has become a set of chains wrapped around his heart, preventing him from becoming free to completely trust in and follow Jesus. We don’t find out what happens after this meeting, but this rich ruler may the only person in the gospels to turn down a personal invitation from Jesus to follow him.
Many people believe that we need to work hard to build a strong bank account so we can retire and not have to worry. One of my bank’s financial advisers suggested a $1,000,000 was enough. That blew my mind. Others have said a half million is enough, but that means that our entire working life is focused on building our bank accounts instead of being Jesus’ presence here. David Platt writes, “It makes me wonder if we have subtly, dangerously, and almost un-knowingly guarded our lives, our families, and even our churches from truly being affected by God’s words to us in a world of urgent spiritual and physical needs around us. Jesus wept over those in need. He was moved with compassion for the crowds. He lived and loved to bring healing and comfort to the broken. He died for the sins of the world. So why are those of us who carry His Spirit not moved and compelled in the same way?” Jesus went to the cross, not so that we could have big bank accounts, but so that we could become free from sin and how it causes us to love in and trust things more than Jesus. Does our wealth blind us to the needs of our neighbours; can it become a barrier between us and our neighbours in need? Our wealth is a blessing that helps us to bless others, to model Jesus’ generosity.
I understand being wise with our money. My parents grew up in The Netherlands during WW2 and my father’s stories of not having enough to eat and the fear of not surviving shaped the rest of his life. He was always afraid of not having enough. He taught us to work hard so that we’ll always have enough. Success meant having financial security. The problem is that this made it hard for him to really trust God to provide for us. I learned that same fear from my parents, even though they never deliberately taught us to fear not having enough, it still seems to slip into my soul when the future becomes cloudy and uncertain. My parents loved the Lord and taught to trust in Jesus for our daily needs, but there was always that tiny bit of fear inside, a fear many of us can relate to. We trust God to provide and yet find it hard to completely trust God with all our stuff. The question then becomes, “If we can’t trust Jesus to provide for our physical needs, how can we trust him then with our souls?” Now working hard is good, yet the reality is that there are people who work hard who go hungry. God fills the Scriptures with calls to be generous and bless the poor, the widow, the orphan to remind us that we are all in life together.
Most people want to be generous, they like the feeling of knowing that they’ve helped someone else, even if only in a small way. But often fear and doubt prevents us from being really generous. As Randy Alcorn writes, “Too many of us are bored with our Christian lives because we don’t see the daily opportunities for adventure granted us by our sovereign God…. One afternoon, I bought lunch for a stranger at a pizza place (I left my credit card with the cashier while I ate and told her to use it for whoever came in next). As I saw the stranger smile, this thought came to me: God has me here today, not for a random act of kindness, but to fulfill His ancient plan and purpose. He prepared in advance for me to buy lunch for this man at this place and time.” This is why we need to be wise in our giving, deliberate in planning our giving and still open to the moving of the Holy Spirit to recognize moments to be generous and bless others.
It’s wise to do most of our major giving in a thoughtful, planned way. But even unanticipated giving is not ultimately random. If you believe that God’s in control, then being somewhere at a certain time when a specific person is also there that we can bless, in a small or large way, is not random, but arranged by God. Our call is to follow Jesus, love others, serve our community and share our faith. Following Jesus and trusting him is a life changer; freeing us from fear to shape our hearts and lives around Jesus. We’re given treasure to expand the kingdom of heaven here on earth and invite others to follow Jesus with us so they can also experience the life changing freedom Jesus offers when we accept his call to follow him and trust his leading and grow our treasure in heaven instead.
Rosemary Jensen reminds us that, “Our treasures are the gifts that God has given us to use for His glory. Our treasures consist of time, talents, energy, creativity, and material wealth. Of course, all these belong to God anyway. In fact, we owe our whole lives to Him in gratitude for what He has given us in Christ Jesus.” I wonder if the best cure for boredom is one people don’t normally think about: giving more time, money, and energy to God’s Kingdom work. Something to think about this week.