Sermon 08-07-2022: “If Christ Is Your Treasure”

August 17, 2022

Scripture: Luke 12:32-40

I’m a fan of a podcast called This American Life—which is also broadcast on public radio. Each week they choose a theme, and reporters go and find interesting, real-life stories related to that theme.

Years ago, the theme and title of one episode was “Blackjack.” More specifically, it was about what’s known as “counting cards” while playing blackjack. Nothing I’m about to say, I hope, will be construed as an endorsement of gambling. I’m opposed to it. I think it’s terrible. But according to the producers of this show, if you learn to count cards—which is difficult to learn—but if you learn to do it, you can “beat the house” and win money. So, from the perspective of card-counters, you’re not placing your faith in “Lady Luck”; you’re simply believing in math and applying it to the problem of blackjack. Also, contrary to popular belief, counting cards is not illegal; but casinos have the right to ask you to leave if they suspect you’re doing it.

Many of you remember that Tom Cruise movie Rain Man. If so, you may recall the scene in which the autistic savant Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, learns to count cards, and he goes with his brother into a casino and wins lots of money.

So… with all this in mind, this episode told the story of a young Christian man who knew how to count cards in blackjack. And he, along with some other Christian men and women from his church who also knew how to count cards—they formed an “investment club.” They took their clients’ money, and in exchange they promised a certain return on their investment. These card-counters would take for themselves a modest salary of $30,000 year. 

Sounds fishy, doesn’t it? 

Except… the surprising thing is, it worked. Their clients who took the risk and invested with this card-counting group received the promised return on investment. Everyone was happy… except for these Christian card-counters. After a few years of flying around the country, for free, at the casinos’ expense, being put up for free in the most lavish penthouse suites of these casino resorts, the group decided that playing blackjack for a living and counting cards was an incredibly boring way to make a living. So they called it quits after a few years.

Still… it worked… And keep in mind: this is a secular, public radio program and podcast. The producers weren’t trying to make Christianity look good. But they ended up doing so. Because the reporter said that a card-counting group like theirs could only work if its members didn’t lie, cheat, or steal—if they trusted one another. It could only work, he said, if its members were able to handle large sums of money without succumbing to the temptations that greed presents. 

These Christians, to their great credit, were able to handle large sums of money without falling victim to greed. Good for them!

But they are the exception, not the rule. In fact, in today’s scripture, Jesus wants us to face the difficult and inconvenient fact that most of us Christians cannot resist this temptation of greed. 

Money and wealth are spiritually dangerous. Money and wealth are potentially very harmful for our souls.

Can I confess that I wish Jesus weren’t talking about money for a second week in a row? I don’t like when Jesus meddles in my financial affairs, do you? This must mean that what he has to say about money and wealth is pretty important. It must mean that we needto hear his message. 

I want to make three points about today’s scripture: It’s about money. It’s about much more than money. And it’s also about grace.

But first, Point Number One, like it or not, today’s scripture is about money. Let’s look for a moment at Jesus words in verse 33, perhaps the most difficult verse: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” 

If we’re honest with ourselves, these words may trouble us. “Does Jesus want us to take these words literally?” I mean, I hope not… None of us, as far as I know, has ever gotten rid of all of our possessions, right? Are we disobeying Jesus?

Well, let’s confine ourselves to Luke’s writings: to this gospel and the sequel to his gospel, the Book of Acts. In Luke 18, for instance, we have the Rich Young Ruler, who asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus tells him, in words similar to to the words he speaks to all of his disciples in today’s scripture: “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”1

But consider Jesus’ response to another wealthy man, in Luke 19: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he…” Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector, and once he got converted, he voluntarily gave away 50 percent of his fortune. And Jesus was perfectly okay with that! Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.” 2

In chapter 4 of Luke’s sequel to his gospel, in the Book of Acts, we meet a man named Barnabas. We’re told there that he “sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” 3 Presumably he kept his house and most other possessions. 

And still later in Acts, we meet a wealthy businesswoman named Lydia. When she gets converted, we’re not told what she sells or gives as an offering, but we are told that the new church in Philippi meets in her home—which, given her occupation, was likely spacious and well-appointed. And we know for sure that Lydia didn’t sell her home and give the proceeds to the needy; otherwise the church couldn’t have met there!

So… to one wealthy person, Jesus requires that he give it all away. To another, Jesus seems happy with fifty percent. Another wealthy person is faithful selling only a field. And another wealthy person—we don’t know, except she keeps her likely expensive home.

The point is clear: Jesus is not laying down a law for Christians everywhere to follow. Not even close! Besides, if we’re Christians, we’ve been set free from the law. Jesus has fulfilled the Law for us. Inasmuch as we have made idols out of money and possessions, which breaks the first two commandments; inasmuch as we have lied and cheated to acquire more money, which breaks the eighth and ninth commandments; inasmuch as we have coveted what other people possess, which breaks the tenth commandment, we can be confident that Christ has suffered and died for those sins on the cross. That’s good news! 

If we were still under God’s law, we would all be in trouble. But Christ has set us free from it—including setting us free from its curses, its penalties,and its punishments. This means that what we do now for the Lord is no longer motivated by fear of breaking the law;it’s motivated by love. Out of love for Jesus, kindled by his Spirit who now lives within us and has written God’s law on our hearts, we Christians will now learn to obey the Law, but we will do so from the hearts, not out of fear of punishment. I hope that makes sense! 

I talked about tithing last week, and said that the biblical standard of giving to the church is a tithe—ten percent. And I said I wanted every church member and regular attender to give at least a tithe. But we don’t give the tithe because “it’s the law,” and we’ll face consequences if we don’t do it; no, we give a tithe because why wouldn’t we want to give a tithe? Jesus is worth that and infinitely more to us!

And besides that, notice in verse 33, Jesus says, “Sell your possessions.” He doesn’t say, “Sell all of your possessions.”

So far as we know, Jesus only asks one person to do that—the Rich Young Ruler. And he does so because he looks into the young man’s heart, he perceives the idolatry that’s in there, he discerns that this young man’s wealth was an obstacle preventing him from entrusting his life to Jesus… because this man finds it safer and more prudent to entrust his life to his wealth. And Jesus knows that unless or until he gets rid of this idol—his wealth—he can never make worshiping and loving and following Christ his top priority. And he can never be saved.

Jesus is not laying down a law for us to follow; he’s offering soul-saving medicine. As hard a pill as it was for the Rich Young Ruler to swallow—and we remember that the young man couldn’t do it; he walked away heartbroken, because he couldn’t obey Jesus’ command… but as hard a pill as it was for the Rich Young Ruler to swallow, Jesus our Great Physician was the one prescribing this pill… Because he knew what the man needed to heal him of this deadly spiritual disease.

And in v. 33, Jesus is offering medicine for all of us disciples. And Jesus’ medicine is this: For the sake of our own spiritual health, our lives need to be characterized by generosity: by exchanging worldly goods for eternal goods… giving up worldly values for the values of God’s kingdom—the things that our Lord values… Indeed, our lives need to be characterized by increasing obedience to Jesus, even when it’s hard, because he’s more than proven that he knows what he’s talking about. He’s more than proven that we can trust him. 

Years ago, before Easter, I led an in-depth Bible study examining the historical evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe wholeheartedly that we have precisely the kind of historical evidence we should expect to have… if Jesus really was resurrected from the dead. Of course, simply proving that we have that evidence won’t save anyone; we still need to be born again through faith; but by the end of this study, I thought I had done a nice job making a historical case for the bodily resurrection of Christ. We don’t believe it simply because “the Bible tells me so.”

And at the end of the study, I said to the group, “So… Jesus really was resurrected. What is that fact going to change in your life?” 

And my point was, if Jesus really was resurrected, it changes literally everything… It ought to. It means, for instance, that when he says difficult things—as he does in today’s scripture—we may rightly say, “That’s hard.” We may even say, “I don’t want to do that.” But then we also say, “As hard as this teaching is, why wouldn’t I do it? After all, who am I going to trust? Am I going to trust myself—my own intuition, my own intellect, my own worldly wisdom, my own so-called ‘common sense’? Am I going to trust what my Twitter feed or Facebook page tell me? Am I going to trust those angry hosts on cable news? Am I going to trust what Hollywood tells me? Or… Am I going to trust in the One who was resurrected?”

Here’s a good rule of thumb: When we’re deciding how to live our lives, and we’re not sure what to do, it always pays to listen to the man who was resurrected!

I’m just asking you to follow the logic. If Jesus was really resurrected, as most of us believe, then why on earth wouldn’t we trust him, even if what he says is difficult?

And this brings us to Point Number Two: Today’s scripture is about much more than money…

Because when I said earlier that Jesus isn’t commanding us in this scripture to sell all of our possessions and give all our money away to the needy, I hope none of us breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “Thank heavens! Because if Jesus were asking me to do that, that’s asking too much… If Jesus were asking me to do that, that’s too hard”?

Because if we breathe a sigh of relief, we’ve missed the point! Jesus wants far more than just our money! He wants our life… every part of it! He demands it. He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” The cross, remember, is nothing other than an instrument of torture and shame and death. He says, “If you want to save your life, you have to be willing to lose your life… for me.” He says that in comparison to our love for and loyalty to him, our love for and loyalty to anyone and anything else should look like hatred… by comparison. 4

So sure… our Lord lets us keep some of the money—which, we remember from last week, comes from him in the first place… which belongs to him in the first place… But even what he lets us keep is never ours to do with as we please! Jesus elsewhere says we are stewards managing someone else’s wealth and property.

So my point is, Jesus doesn’t want merely five percent or ten percent or twenty-five percentof our our money or possessions: he wants a hundred percent of our lives! If he has a hundred percent of our lives, we’ll happily give him however much of our money and possessions that he asks for! Whether that’s everything or, as in the vast majority of cases, something less than everything! It all belongs to him anyway!

So let me ask you: Does that sound hard? Are you still breathing a sigh of relief?

A couple of years ago, I got a call from a good friend who is also a very dear brother in Christ, not to mention a gifted singer and worship leader. In fact, he was leading worship at this new church he attended, in that church’s contemporary worship service. And he was really liking it! Until… the pastor of the church told him he could no longer lead worship any longer. My friend was heartbroken… and angry. So he called me out of the blue and told me all about it.

Here’s the backstory: my friend fell in love a few years ago. And he fell hard. Maybe for the first time in his life, I don’t know… But before you know it, he sold his house and moved in with his girlfriend. And when the pastor of this new church—the church where he was leading worship… when this pastor found out that he was living with his girlfriend—out of wedlock—he told my friend, “You can’t lead worship anymore. Not so long as you’re in this relationship!”

And that’s when my friend called me. He was angry, hurt… He didn’t know if he could remain part of that church anymore… But he was also wise enough to check and see if he was overreacting. So he called and asked me, “Brent, am I out of line here? What would you have done if you were my pastor? Would you have made the same decision that this pastor made?”

And I told him, perhaps to his surprise, that I would’ve made the exact same decision… that I thought his pastor did the right thing. 

I mean, I get it… an increasingly large percentage of Christian young people are listening not to what God’s Word teaches, but to what our permissive culture teaches, and they’re disobeying our Lord and disregarding his difficult teaching in the area of physical intimacy… and God knows they’re doing so whether they live together or not… Even still, I told my friend, for the sake of the souls in that congregation for whom my friend was supposed to be a role model, I don’t believe he should be a minister in that church while so flagrantly disobeying the Lord when it comes to his love life. When or if my friend repented of this sin, then we could talk about his being back in front of the church every week. 

Jesus says, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” So, yes, I told him…. the pastor made the right call. And I would have done the same thing.

I gently encouraged him to move out of his girlfriend’s house. And he didn’t know if he could do that. He didn’t know if their relationship would survive that.

But here’s what I think is the worst part of it—and I told my friend this, too: I gathered that his girlfriend was at most a “baby Christian.” Very young in her Christian faith. Or maybe not even a Christian yet. Either way, she would undoubtedly learn the most about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, not from the pastor at her church, but from this Christian man with whom she was living. And the message that he was communicating to her was something like this: “As much as I love Jesus, there are things that are worth more to me than being faithful my Lord Jesus—namely, my relationship with you. And I am so afraid of losing you that I’m not willing to do what the Lord clearly tells me to do in his Word. Being faithful to Jesus is not worth the risk of losing you.”

How do the words of Christ in today’s scripture apply to him? “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” My friend’s treasure was not money in this case. But this scripture is not mostly about money… It goes so much deeper than that!

It’s been seven years since I was personally shaken by a terrifying event in the news. You may recall the headlines. Twenty-one Christian men from Egypt were abducted by ISIS terrorists. They were led in chains down to a beach in Libya… on the Mediterranean Sea. The terrorists took turns beheading each one of these Christian men for one simple reason: because they confessed their faith in Jesus Christ. These men—these Christians—could have saved their lives, if they had simply renounced their faith. Then they could have walked away. But they refused. ISIS, of course, leaked the video online, which I didn’t dare watch… it’s horrifying. But it’s a fact that before the sword came down on each one of their necks, they shouted praise and thanks to Jesus their Lord.

What courage! What a witness!

Where does that courage come from?

It comes from knowing exactly where your treasure really is… It comes doing precisely what you need to do in order to secure that treasure.

So these Egyptian men were willing to sacrifice their lives for the treasure that they found in Christ; whereas my dear brother I mentioned earlier, at least at that moment in time, was unwilling to sacrificehis love life for Christ! 

That’s a problem!

So Jesus doesn’t merely want a certain percentage of money… He wants a hundred percent of our lives.

Does that sound hard?

It should!

But this brings us to Point Number Three: Today’s scripture is also about God’s grace!

Jesus’ own twelve disciples prove how hard it is to be faithful to Jesus. Notice the parable that Jesus tells in verses 36 to 38, about servants in a house waiting for their master to return from a wedding feast. Jesus is talking about the Second Coming. Verse 37: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” Stay awake… and wait for Jesus to return… Yet the Bible shows how hard it is even for Christians, to do so. Think, for example, about the experience of Peter, James, and John—Jesus’ three closest disciples—in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night Jesus gave himself up for us. Jesus told them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 5 So Jesus goes off to pray, expecting them to do the same. 

He comes back to the disciples. All three are asleep. He wakes them up and scolds them: “You couldn’t stay awake for even one hour?” 6 Twice more, Jesus returns and find them sleeping.

And these were Jesus’ three closest disciples! There’s no question that these men were already saved; they had already received Jesus’ gift of eternal life. Jesus told them so earlier. But they failed to stay awake when Jesus came to them. They fell asleep. Three times, Matthew’s gospel says, they fell asleep.

And that friend I mentioned earlier, when he was living with his girlfriend, he too had fallen asleep. So I’m not suggesting that my friend was no longer a Christian; I’m sure he was. He was still saved. But he was asleep. And for all I know, he’s repented now. And just think how deeply embarrassed he would be—how deeply ashamed he would be—if the Second Coming happened, and our Lord found him in this sin…in this state of open rebellion against God! 

I promise I’m not picking on my friend; like him, I haven’t always been an alert and watchful servant, waiting for my master to return. And neither have you. We’ve fallen asleep… because it’s difficult to stay awake and alert.

We are a mess… as our Lord well knows.

Look at the very first verse in today’s scripture. Verse 32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

This compact little verse contains three images or metaphors to describe a Christian’s relationship with God: He is Father—and we are children. And by the way, not adult children with great maturity and independence… because elsewhere Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” God is a king, and we are his subjects. We serve at the pleasure of our king; what he says goes. This is not a democracy; he doesn’t even take a vote

But finally, Jesus calls us “little flock,” a title of great affection, but also a title of great dependence. This means that we are his sheep and he is our shepherd.

Sheep are notoriously weak, helpless, defenseless, and, yes, dumb creatures. Jesus even tells a famous story, a parable, about a sheep that gets lost. And when the good shepherd finds the lost sheep, he doesn’t even say, “Follow me back home.” He doesn’t even trust the sheep to stay out of trouble if the sheep is following right behind him! Instead he puts the sheep on his shoulders and carries the sheep home! 7

We are like sheep in this relationship, Jesus says. My point is, sheep don’t deserve a lot of credit for making wise decisions. They get yanked along by the shepherd’s crook. They wander into danger. They get lost easily, and when they do, they’re helpless to save themselves. But our Lord will graciously rescue us again and again… So long as we keep trusting in him.

I imagine that when a shepherd takes a shepherd’s crook and yanks his sheep by the neck, that hurts. But be sure that it’s a good kind of pain. And over time the sheep will learn and grow and become more obedient to the shepherd.

Something like that happens with us Christians. We call this sometimes painful process of growth and change and learning sanctification. God is perfecting us. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Sanctification is the way God does this. And in his book Mere Christianity,C.S. Lewis describes what this process is like:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. [God] is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command… If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into… a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though of course on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said

 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 1952), 205-6.

He’s making us perfect. And it’s supposed to be difficult. And it’s supposed to hurt a little.

But the payoff is immeasurable!

  1. Luke 18:22b ESV
  2. Luke 19:9 ESV
  3. Acts 4:37 ESV
  4.  paraphrase of Luke 14:26
  5.  Matthew 26:38
  6. see Matthew 26:36-46
  7. Luke 15:5

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