MATTHEW 6: 19-21

NOV 4, 2012





            Sixteen years ago I had coronary bypass surgery.  Five years ago I had a minor, minor heart attack.  As a result, I think a lot about my heart.  So does Trudy.  In fact, every night as we jump into bed she asks me, "Did you take your medicine?" 

            We should all be interested in our hearts whether or not we ever had coronary bypass surgery or a heart attack.  We should especially concerned about our hearts if we smoke or sedentary or if we have a genetic predisposition to heart disease. 

            Jesus, of course, was also very concerned about our hearts.  Listen to his words from his Sermon on the Mount, beginning with Matthew 6:19-21.


            Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 


            We are in the third and final week in our sermon series Striking It Rich.  In the series we have been pondering the immeasurable riches we have in Christ.  Two weeks ago we looked at the immeasurable riches of Gods grace.  Last week we looked at the inheritance God has prepared for us since the foundation of the world.  Today we look at the spiritual riches we can send ahead of us to heaven.  As we do, lets take a closer look at four of Jesus' words. 

            Let's begin with the word "moth."  Maybe you know the answer to the question  posed by Regis Philbin on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.  He asked, "For one-million dollars, what insect got into the works of the world's first computer causing it to short out and in the process started the use of the phrase "computer bug?" A) Moth, B) Roach, C) Fly, D) Japanese Beetle.

            A 25-year-old California man sat in the "hot seat" and agonized over the answer.  The suspense mounted and finally the guy said, "Gee, Regis, I think I know this one. The answer is A) Moth."

            "Is that your final answer?"

            "Yep, it's my final answer."

            Dramatic pause.  "You're right!  You've just won a million dollars."

            Of course, in Jesus' neighborhood they did not have computer bugs, but they did have moths, and those moths wreaked havoc with people's clothes.  As it sometimes still is today, an individual's position in society was very much reflected by the clothes they wore.  Elaborate dress indicated that a person was of high rank, while plain garb showed someone to be of lesser rank.  The old adage, "Clothes make the man" was certainly true in first century Judea.  Of course, even the finest clothing was subject to moths, and Jesus reminds them of that very fact.  There is nothing permanent about the treasure of clothing.

            So that's one word Jesus uses.  How about another?  How about the word "rust?"  What does rust do?  Well, it eats away at metal just as moths eat away at clothes.  Jesus' reference could have just as easily been to worms or rats or mice or other assorted vermin that eat away at the corn and grain stored in great barns, but he didnt.  He chose rust.  Even sturdy objects, seemingly indestructible objects made of metal, are susceptible to erosion.  Obviously, there is nothing permanent about the kind of treasure that can rust away.

            Then there is the word "thieves"  that Jesus uses.  What treasure would thieves go after?  Today, one of the big things is high end phones.  Our son-in-law, Matt, who is trying to make it in Hollywood as an improvisational comedian, moonlights by teaching art and drama at a local middle school.  Last Friday one of the kids in his class stole his iPhone.  Matt did not have insurance for the theft, and because he still have six months on his phone contract, it would have cost him $600 to replace his phone.  The principal heard what had happened, and put the fear of God into the kids in his class.  She brought them into her office one at a time, grilled them, and the third kid broke down and confessed the crime.  He hid the phone behind a storage shed at the school and Matt got it back. 

            They didn't have high end phones back then, but Jesus lived in a day in which life savings might be deposited under the bed in an old sack, and houses were hardly constructed with security in mind.  In Palestine the walls of many of the houses were made of nothing stronger than baked clay and burglars would literally dig through walls and pilfer a prized possession.  As much as we may enjoy them, there is nothing permanent about our prized possessions.

            The last of Jesus' words I want us to note is the word "treasure."  Jesus says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  Now, there is a big difference between possessions and treasures.  A possession is something we own and we have lots of them: coats and cars, televisions and toasters.  A treasure, on the other hand, owns us.  A treasure impacts our heart.  It can impact our heart positively like exercise and diet or a treasure can impact our heart negatively like smoking and fried food. 

            And what exactly is a treasure in heaven?  And how can we store them up?  Well, Jesus doesnt explain, yet, I think we can safely say its anything on earth that has an eternal, positive impact.  The people who listened to Jesus there on that Galilean hillside, at least those who ever went to Sabbath School or the synagogue, no doubt looked at heavenly treasure that way.  Their rabbis taught them that heavenly treasure came from two sources: deeds of kindness and a good character.

            The early church operated on those two categories of heavenly treasure as well.  One of the major responsibilities those first Christians felt they had was in caring for those who could not care for themselves.  Story has it that, during the days of terrible persecution, Roman authorities broke into a church to loot whatever treasures they might find there.  They demanded of the deacon in charge that he hand over everything of value.  The deacon simply pointed to the widows and orphans being fed, the sick being nursed back to health and the poor whose needs were being supplied and said, "There, Sir.  There are the treasures of the church."[2]  Deeds of kindness are those things we store up in heaven.

            The other category of heavenly treasure in Judaism and the early church concerned good character.  One rabbi was asked if he would live in a heathen city if he were paid handsomely for his services.   The rabbi replied that he would only do so if he could stay in a home of someone who upheld the Law of God.   A saying at the time went like this, "In the hour of a man's departure neither silver nor gold nor precious stones accompany him, but only his knowledge of the Law and his good works."[3]

            Good deeds and good character: those are the stuff heavenly treasure is made of ... at least that was the thinking in Judaism and the first century church.  I would suggest a couple more.  I think storing treasure in heaven would also include introducing friends and family to Christ, so they also might inherit eternal life.  I would certainly want people I love sharing heavens joys with me.

            I also believe using our earthly possessions to advance Gods causes stores treasures in heaven for us.  When we give to the We Care Fund or to The One Great Hour of Sharing, we assist God in answering the prayers of a hungry child or a homeless refugee.  When we give to the ministry of this church we provide for worship and a place to educate Gods people in the ways of God.

            I'm sure you have heard the old story of the rich and famous man who died and went to heaven.   As he was being guided to his celestial home, he passed through one magnificent neighborhood after another and thought to himself how fitting it would be for a man of his position and reputation to live in one of the many fine mansions he saw there.  But the angel who was leading him did not stop at any of the magnificent mansions he saw; he stopped instead in front of a poorly constructed little shack.   "But wait," the man protested, "surely this cannot be my home."

            The angel replied, "I am sorry, Sir, this is the best we could do with the materials you sent up."

            Heavenly treasure ..."where moth and rust do not consume and where thieves do not break through and steal."

            When a fellow pastor, Bill Bouknight, settled his mother's estate, one of the things he received was a bar of silver.  He said it weighed ten or fifteen pounds and his father bought it in 1982.  When he took it a banker the banker told him it's current value was worth about half what of what his father paid for it.

            Bill laughed when he heard that.  He admitted that his dad's instincts concerning stocks, bonds, and financial investments were none too sharp, but when it came to eternal investments, he said, nobody was sharper than his dad.  His dad taught him that a principle was far more important than a profit, that a good name was worth more than silver or gold.  Most importantly, he taught Bill to place his elbows on the windowsills of heaven and to gaze lovingly and trustfully into the face of God.

            Maybe we could summarize Jesus message this way.  If clothes are a big deal to you, fine, but be aware that they are not going to last.  If accumulated possessions are important, okay, but make sure that you know someone someday may deprive you of them.  If having a lot of money means a lot to you, all right, but remember nothing guarantees you will keep it.  The next downturn in the economy may take your nest egg away.   Other things, however, like kind deeds and good character and introducing others to God and giving your possessions to serve Gods purposes, those things endure forever.  And they will build your heart, not destroy it.

            Let's think about that.  Amen.

[1] Thanks to David Leininger and his sermon Regis and Jesus. 

[2] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, (Westminster Press: Philadelphia) 244.

[3] Ibid.