May 19, 2015

May 17, 2015 - Matthew 6:19-21

Theme: The Heavenly Treasure of our Ascended Lord

Dear fellow redeemed, “Apply your heart to instruction, and your ears to words of knowledge. Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches (Proverbs 23:12, 24:3-4).” The riches we follow after today are from God’s wisdom as recorded in Matthew 6:19-21:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

With the coming of Ascension we mark the end of another Easter season in the church year. Obviously, we always keep the thoughts of Easter close to our hearts regardless of what time of year it is. But for a while now, we will focus on other portions of Scripture. Each year around Easter, we take time to study the all-important and timeless truths which God reveals through His risen Son. Certainly, when we think of everything that God tells us about the resurrection, we easily see why we spend several weeks on it.

In his famous chapter of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us everything we gain through Christ’s resurrection and everything we lose without it. Through the resurrection:
  • ·         We have God’s grace and forgiveness
  • ·         We have purpose in life
  • ·         We have God’s promise to bless our work in His name
  • ·         We have victory over sin and death
  • ·         We, too, will be raised to life one day  
  • ·         We bear the image of Christ, instead of the image of Adam

On the contrast, without Christ’s resurrection, or if Christ’s resurrection is not true:
  • ·         Our preaching is in vain
  • ·         Our faith is in vain and empty
  • ·         We are false witnesses
  • ·         We are still dead in our trespasses and sins
  • ·         We will not be raised either
  • ·         And, we are of all men the most pitiable

The implications of the resurrection are clear, both ways. No one can be neutral on this topic. Either you believe it or you don’t. This is why we spend so much time on studying and remembering Christ’s resurrection, because it is the pinnacle of our Christian faith. But even though Christ is risen, and all of the fruits of His resurrection apply to us, He is not here in bodily form today. We might well wonder, what’s the point of the resurrection, of Christ coming back from the dead, if He’s not here today? As important and fundamental the resurrection is to our faith, it would mean very little to us without the rest of God’s Word. This is where other portions of God’s truth, particularly what we are to be doing now that Christ is risen, enter the scene and fill in the rest of the details. And the event that starts it all is the Ascension.

As a festival of the church year, Ascension is not often given the attention and fanfare that Easter is. With all the weight and authority of Easter still fresh in our minds, we can imagine why. Any festival or doctrine that follows in its wake is sure to seem lesser. But most of the problem lies with us. Often we don’t think much about the Ascension of Christ and what implications it has for our lives like we do with Easter.   

We know well the effects of denying Easter, but do we think about the effects of denying the Ascension? Are there any effects? Does it matter what we believe about where Christ is now or what He is doing? There’s a reasons that the Bible speaks clearly and definitively about Christ’s ascension, because it matters greatly. Easter deals with what Christ did, Ascension deals with what He is doing now. You really can’t have one without the other. In this sense, Easter and Ascension are very much like Christmas and Epiphany.

Christmas is the other major festival on the church calendar; really the only thing that can rival Easter in anticipation and celebration. And much like Ascension, Epiphany follows behind Christmas and is largely forgotten by many. But what would the birth of Christ really mean if He was not also made known to the world as the Savior of all people? That’s precisely what we celebrate on Epiphany and many are quick to forget it, or at least to take it for granted. But just like Easter and Ascension, you can’t have one without the other. Take one away or lose its meaning and significance and the other becomes useless.

So as we think about Ascension, what exactly is Christ doing now? When we seek an answer to this question in the Bible, we see a resounding theme that is presented. Christ is at the right hand of God the Father. The imagery of being at the right hand of God symbolizes power and authority. With this thought we understand that Christ has resumed His full power and is using it to help us out here on earth today.

David prophesied of this power when He wrote in Psalm 16 of the Messiah: For You will not leave my soul in the grave, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. 11 You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:10-11). There we have the connection again between the resurrection and the ascension. Christ would not stay in the grave, but He would be exalted to the right hand of the Father. David wrote again on this subject in Psalm 110, further describing the work of Christ at the right hand of God: The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath. 6 He shall judge among the nations (Psalm 110:1,5-6).

Peter continued this theme as he preached about Christ on Pentecost Sunday, even quoting from Psalm 110 and proving that it was speaking of Christ by saying: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33 "Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. 34 "For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: `The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, 35 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."' 36 "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:32-26).”

And there’s many more portions of Scripture that reinforce the importance of Christ’s ascension, as certainly evidenced by Christ Himself through our two Scripture readings today. All of these thoughts bring us to the verses of our sermon text. In this section from Matthew 6 Jesus was not preaching about His ascension. This sermon came earlier on in His ministry, before the full realization of His death, resurrection, and ascension were impressed upon the people. So why do we focus on these simple thoughts on Ascension Sunday of all days? Why is it important to keep our focus on heavenly treasures? The answer is that it is precisely the ascension of Jesus that shows us why our focus must continually be on heaven.

One of the most profound things that John the Baptist said in witnessing about Jesus being the Messiah was this, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said,`I am not the Christ,' but,`I have been sent before Him.' 29 "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 "He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:29-30).” By these statements, John clearly portrayed his razor sharp focus on Jesus. Just as the friend of the groom keeps his focus on the groom during the wedding day, so John kept his focus on Jesus. His faith led him to follow where Jesus was and what Jesus was doing, regardless of what obstacles were in the way. There was nothing that was going to deter John from seeing and focusing on Jesus, even himself, as he confessed so boldly that he would gladly become insignificant for the sake of his Savior.

The same should be true in your life. By faith, you see Jesus with the same intimate friendship that John did. Faith in Christ leads you to forsake all others, even yourself, at the sight of Jesus. Gazing upon Jesus and His glory is a powerful thing. It was so powerful that at the ascension it led the disciples to gaze up into heaven like aimless fools, dumbfounded at what to do next now that Jesus had left. God had to send angels down to tell them to get going and start preaching. The powerful attraction of faith to Jesus is strong in our lives too. And so, with the knowledge of the ascension, namely that Christ is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, we shift our focus to heaven, so that we may continue gazing upon our Savior. When it comes to the things of this world, we follow the advice of our text: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. 21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The simplest reason why we accumulate our treasure in heaven is because that’s where Jesus is. If Jesus wanted to set up an earthly kingdom He could have. But instead, He taught that His kingdom was not of this world. If Jesus wanted to put a high priority on earthly wealth, He had every right to; but instead He taught that the kingdom of God is in the heart. And if Jesus wanted us to lay up treasures on earth, He would not have ascended into heaven. It is faith in Jesus that leads us to invest our interests into the same place where He now resides and reigns, in heaven. Jesus also said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3).” That’s another insight into what He is doing now, at the right hand of God. He is preparing heaven by overseeing the work of His Church through the ministry of His Word. He ascended so that He could do this. He is in heaven now because that’s His kingdom. What higher calling could we have than to keep our focus on the same?

But how often is our focus on heaven? How often do we desire to see the groom like John did? Do we accumulate treasures in this world or treasures in heaven? Sadly our focus on heaven is often like our focus on Christ’s ascension – it’s lacking!  Jesus means it when He says that “where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” He has assured us of the power He now wields through His ascension so that we can have confidence in investing our time in heaven. He wants you to keep your focus on His spiritual kingdom so that your heart stays focused on Him. When we get into this we begin to see how vital the ascension is. The ascension is what keeps us sharp and steady as we use the accomplished blessings of Easter to stay in the faith. The ascension is a continual reminder that our treasure resides in heaven, not in anything of this world. But we also realize that we have greatly discredited and abused this treasure.

When we examine our hearts we find ourselves lacking in many ways. Not only do we forget the importance of Christ’s ascension and what it means for our lives today, we also spend too much time accumulating treasure for this world. It’s become so common in our affluent society to hasten after wealth that we often become immune to the inherent danger. We’ve all been desensitized when it comes to acquiring material possessions that we often don’t think about what problem they pose to our faith. A quick examination of our time and activities reveals a major blind spot.

Examine yourself now when it comes to accumulating treasure. How much time do you spend in worldly things, the temporary things which Jesus says are destroyed by “moth and rust?” Now, compare that to the time you spend hastening after heavenly things; acquiring treasure in the Lord’s Word. If you’re like me, the result is horrendously disproportionate. I’m not only unequal in my use of time between God and material possessions; I’m completely out of balance in the wrong direction. And very often, even when I’m treasuring up the Lord’s Word, my thoughts stray to the things of the world. I’m putting time in for the Lord on the outside, but my heart betrays me when I think of the next thing I’d like to buy, or the next show I’d like to watch, or the next pleasure I’d like to fulfill. Is it the same for you? How much do you treasure the Lord? How focused are you on Him in heaven?

It’s not hard to see the way of the world. Just go down the street to Chick-fil-A. For over a week now, traffic has literally been backed up with people headed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Permanent traffic guards are needed to direct people for orderly flow. People take time to go there; they adjust their busy schedules to make it happen; it’s important. And all for what? A piece of chicken? It’s not wrong in and of itself, and the food is good. But how come no one is clamoring to get to church? How come we have plenty of space in our parking lot and in our pews? Why aren’t cars backed up on our road, or at any other church for that matter? Why don’t people care about laying up treasures in heaven? Since when did chicken become more important?

But you say, “Well, pastor, I’m here on Sunday!” Yes, you are, and for that we all rejoice together; but remember, even the hypocrite was present in the synagogue with everyone else. Is Sunday the only day to invest in heavenly treasures? Can we only view Christ at the right hand of God through the lense of congregation and sanctuary? How have you invested your time this week? How much time was spent watching TV, surfing the internet, posting on facebook, relaxing with friends; or anything else when compared to gaining treasures through the Word of God? Did you spend more time eating physical food this week or spiritual food? How often has your Bible been used when compared to your favorite electronic device? Yes, you’re here today and I’m thankful for it. But are you with the Lord every day for the majority of the day, or are you in life’s drive through lane, adjusting and planning your schedule for things that have an expiration date? When’s the last time you adjusted your busy schedule to accommodate the Lord? Do you plan your work hours, your school classes, your hobbies, and your entertainment around time with God? Have you ever caught yourself saying, I can’t make it to church, or Bible study, or this particular church project or fellowship activity, because of something else that’s going on: a job, a sporting event, a social gathering, or a class? Do you sacrifice your spiritual treasures upon the modern altar of busy schedules?

If we’re honest with ourselves, then we’d have to confess our faults and our misplaced priorities. We’re reminded of how God brought the same indictment to His people through the prophet Jeremiah: “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. 9 "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, 10 "and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say,`We are delivered to do all these abominations '? 11 "Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it," says the LORD (Jeremiah 7:8-11).”

There’s a connection between God’s house and treasure isn’t there? These words remind us of when Jesus Himself had to cleanse the temple of God from the merchants who had turned it into a den of thieves, an action that, as Jeremiah prophesied, was as wicked as: murder, stealing, committing adultery, and idol worship. Why do you think Jesus said a few verses after our text, “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 possessions (Matthew 6:24).” Substituting God’s word and will for the things of this world strikes right at the heart of the first commandment. How many in our day and age have taken up the worship of material wealth, bowing down at its altar day after day, eventually letting it take the place of God’s own house? How many of us have fallen victim to the same?  

We should remember that God tells us our own hearts are now His temple and the Holy Spirit dwells there. Does Jesus need to cleanse your heart like He did Jerusalem’s temple? How many merchants have desecrated God’s house in your heart? Is true worship taking place there, even on Sunday’s in this sanctuary?

The answer and the solution rests in Jesus’ ascension. He says it here in our text: Invest in treasures in heaven. Make that a priority. Focus on Him, because that’s where He’s at. The writer to the Hebrews tells us: Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured the cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne (Hebrews 12:1-2). There’s the same connection. Jesus laid down His life for you, He rose again from the dead to destroy death, and now He sits at God’s right hand. Keep your eyes on Him! Focus on heavenly treasures, the very purpose of His ascension. But in order to do that, you have prioritize. Laying up heavenly treasures means that the job, the hobbies, the classes, even the friends and family will take a back seat to God’s Word. You cannot serve two masters.  

With Jesus in your place you have more than just the ability to accumulate spiritual wealth. You also have grace and forgiveness. But grace and forgiveness are not just an excuse to keep on hastening after whatever you want, much like the Israelites said to Jeremiah when they did whatever they pleased and said, “We are delivered from all these abominations!” No, grace and forgiveness are powerful, remember? They are not an excuse or a hindrance, nor are they a crutch and license to continue in the greed of your sinful flesh. Grace and forgiveness come from Jesus, in heaven, at the Father’s right hand, with power and authority.

That’s why we remember the ascension, because Christ now works on your behalf with that power and authority. And that’s the only thing that can change your life. That’s why faith in Jesus is called a “transformation (Romans 12:2)” and a “regeneration and renewing (Titus 3:5).” Faith is not stagnant or dead. It is living and powerful just as our ascended Lord is, and it always looks to Him in heaven. This is your Ascension treasure. Keep  your eyes focused on that. Amen.  

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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