The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost September 14, 2008
2 Kings 4:18-37
1 Corinthians 8:1-6
4, 347(1-4), 404, 347(5-6)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Jesus said], “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 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. 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! 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.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, through whom heavenly things become our treasure:
When we see somebody walk into a store we can make some educated guesses about what they may not be looking for. The person walking into the Dress Barn is probably not looking for fishing tackle. The customer pulling into Goodyear is probably not interested in fine china. The patron of “Whole Foods” is probably not in the market for a good cigar. Such judgments become a little trickier when we see someone going into K-Mart or Wal-Mart because those stores do have just about everything one could need, but we can still make some assumptions.
Even though many Christians might shop in these stores, they would be foolish to seek things pertaining to the Kingdom of Heaven there, unless they’re purchasing a Bible. If you are interested in obtaining everlasting life, I would hope you’d be shopping somewhere else!
Jesus wanted to make sure His followers knew what they were shopping for and what they were not shopping for when they came to Him and listened to Him. By following Jesus the disciples were going to obtain a treasure that cannot be seen, but one that will last forever. But Jesus needed to contrast that with all of the treasures that are sought but do not last. So in these verses Jesus urges us to SEEK THE TREASURES THAT LAST. We will learn from Jesus that I. Nothing is gained by fasting for appearances; II. Everything is gained in seeking treasures in Heaven, and III. These treasures are only gained in the service of One.
First of all, we are reminded that nothing in the way of lasting treasures is gained by striving to appear a certain way before men.
Jesus addressed a common form of hypocrisy of His day: fasting. The Bible mentions fasting often in both the Old and the New Testaments. It doesn’t really tell us the purpose or value of fasting, and God only commanded the Israelites to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement. But fasting was regularly done, even among Christians. Fasting is connected to the experience of guilt, shame, grief or severe trial. In a way it is a most natural thing to do when you are deeply grieved over your sins, or severely burdened with things that arise in one’s spiritual life.
Fasting was typically connected with prayer, but never in the sense that it somehow made God respond more readily to the prayers. It is a means of focusing our time of prayer—such as when Jesus was in the desert, or when the Antioch Christians fasted before sending Paul and Barnabas on their missionary way.
One thing that is meaningless in fasting is the opinion of your neighbors. The Pharisees had their own rules about things, including fasting, and they made sure that others knew about it. Jesus said they “disfigure their faces”—perhaps with ashes—“so that they may be seen by men.” [v.16] What He said, literally, was “they make themselves invisible to make themselves visible!” They would have their reward—they would be seen by men and thought of as great religious individuals, but the Lord would see their heart, and find nothing there to satisfy Him.
If you feel the need to fast in connection with your demeanor before God; if you feel that it is good to deny yourself some food or other pleasure to better focus on your prayers; that is fine, but think about where you seek your treasure. Are you doing this just so you can tell your fellow Christians “I was fasting the other day…,” or so that the Lord will better know the deep distress of your soul and earnestness of your prayers? He will respond and you will have your treasures in heaven. Meanwhile, wash yourself up and look your best for others, for you are God’s dear child redeemed by the blood of the Risen One—what, really, do you have to frown about?
With that, Jesus was finished dealing with some of the hypocritical behavior that He saw. He always concluded that hypocrites did have their reward before men, but it is obvious that this reward is short-lived and hollow. Now he goes on to the bigger issue of life: Where will we seek and find an everlasting treasure? Jesus shows us that everything is gained by seeking true treasures in heaven.
If it is foolish, as Jesus would say, to seek the admiration and honor of men by acting like a religious person, it is also foolish to seek the things of this life that are so easily ruined, that decay, or that can be stolen. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” [v.19] Are those the things that our eyes land on and are fastened to? “The lamp of the body is the eye.” [v.22] Our real priorities and values shine in the things we instinctively focus on.
What kind of treasure are the glitzy things of this life and of this world? What treasures are they? What can you buy at Wal-Mart that you can take with you to Heaven? What clothing or car or remodel of your house is there that won’t someday go out of style, or wear out? What riches are there that can never be taken from you or lost in this life? The love of these things is all darkness. If your eye sees only the darkness, how can the rest of your being do any better?
What about what some people would say are “higher things?” What if we set our heart on working for world peace, or the end of hunger, or to raise our cultural sense through music, art, or literature? These may well be noble and useful goals for people in this life. Yet everything we do, even what seems good and wise, still comes under the scrutiny of God whose Son will judge all things. If we do things that seem good but are contrary to His Word, or if we do them out of human pride, they won’t get very far in the final judgment will they?
Jesus has a better objective. Let the lamp of your eye settle on heavenly treasures. Let us become enchanted by the riches of God’s grace. Let the Kingdom of Heaven be the dominion that captures your heart. In the face of our sinfulness and rebellious natures we have the forgiveness of sins. In the face of death in this life and the judgment we have eternal life. Whereas we were once separated from God by sin, we are counted righteous and acceptable before God for Jesus’ sake. We can approach God in prayer. We can labor to show the love of God in Christ and make known His salvation with everlasting results. We will meet the results of our faithful labors in Heaven. We live in the truth. We sing praises to the God from whom all blessings flow. We are heirs of all that Jesus has received from the Father. We know that even the troubles and sorrows of this life serve our eternal good. We have God’s inspired Word to study and explore. We have this life as redeemed people of God, to live and use to His glory.
If your eye lights up at the thought of engaging in these heavenly treasures, your whole being will follow. You will find peace, righteousness, and joy in the things the Holy Spirit teaches you. You will walk in the truth. You have everything to gain by seeking the things that come from Heaven, all packaged up in Jesus, your Savior.
Lasting heavenly treasures, or fleeting earthly pleasures? Ultimately, Jesus emphasizes that it all comes down to considering the masters whom we obey, for heavenly treasures are only gained in the service of the One.
“You cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus concludes. [v.24] The word mammon refers to earthly goods and material things, but Jesus personifies it. He speaks of mammon like it is a god—a figure to be worshiped, feared, and served. Can you serve mammon? We can and we do whenever the mammon-things—money, goods, earthly pleasures—capture our heart and desires. For thirty pieces of silver what did Judas do? For an evening of carnal pleasure what did David do? After the conquest of Jericho, a man named Achan kept back some of the goods of the city and hid it. What happened to him? God forsook Israel until he was found and stoned. Paul wrote to Timothy and cautioned him: “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:6).
What can Mammon give you if you set your heart on “him”? Nothing that endures. What has God already given you, through the gift of the Savior Jesus Christ? Righteousness before God so He’s not against you; peace with God so we can be steadfast against all of life’s storms; and joy in the Holy Spirit—a joy that taps into the Kingdom of Heaven and a fountain that will never dry up.
If you are going treasure-seeking, seek the things that will last. Seek what will be profitable. Seek what will bring lasting joy. Seek these in the service of the Lord, the God who gives us all things. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.