Luke 12:33&34 “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
There are passages that are remarkably relevant and challenging for our daily lives. In these words the Lord Jesus is speaking of two worlds, this world of space and time, transient and uncertain, and the secure impregnable world of heaven.
ALL EARTHLY TREASURES ARE UNDER THREAT.
Our Lord speaks of three ways in which earthly riches can disappear.
i] Purses can wear out. The picture is of a money bag. It has been made out of pieces of leather finely cut, decorated and sewn together and you’ve put all your gold coins from the bank inside it and you are walking home holding your purse tightly. Unknown to you the threads have broken at the bottom of the bag, and one by one as you go on your journey along the path home your pieces of gold are falling out one by one so that by the time you’ve got to your front door there are merely one or two coins left. All your savings, all your treasure, is gone because the container in which you were keeping your gold had simply worn out, and you weren’t aware of it. But there is a purse or a wallet that never wears out.
ii] Thieves can come near. They are no longer bad people whom you’ve been reading about it in the local paper, breaking in to other people’s houses and stealing their valuables. They have come into your house and they have taken your jewels and laptops and watches and the money being kept to pay quarterly bills. Maybe they deceived their way in; evil men claiming to be working for the electricity board, and they ransacked your house. You feel sick. I remember two girls, students who were a part of our congregation, living on the promenade and a thief broke into their house through a narrow bathroom window. This man not only took all that was valuable but he found a bottle of wine, took a drink and then poured the rest of the red wine all over the bed. How violating of all that is pure and good! One feels sick at heart at the fallenness of man who can act like that. Thieves can come near, but there’s a place with no thieves at all..
iii] Moths can destroy. One of the things that people in ancient times considered to be an earthly ‘treasure’ was some fine clothing. There was a man named Achan at the time of Joshua who stole from the city of Jericho a wedge of gold, pieces of silver and a beautiful Babylonian garment all of which he hid under his tent. Elisha’s servant Gehazi was also bought when his eyes caught a glimpse of magnificent Syrian clothing brought by Naaman the leper. It was a sign of status for a person to wear a garment made out of silk or finely embroidered material – and men and women are the same today. Fashions in those days didn’t change as rapidly as today and if it were an expensive garment then it could be worn throughout your life. But the problem with garments was that they were subject to being attacked by moths; it is still possible today, though much less than yesteryear because old garments were all made of natural fibres. The ancients would seek to take great care of them with their equivalent of mothballs in tightly shut cupboards but little insects could get in and they devoured their costly garments. Then when the owners went to take them off their hangers and dress up they found them threadbare or full of holes because eggs had been laid in the garments’ folds. The grubs that had hatched had been munching away at the cloth. Maybe Jesus had seen his mother’s anguish in Nazareth when she had taken a garment out of her cupboard for a wedding, maybe at Cana of Galilee, to find it unwearable because of what moths had done to it. In other words Jesus is warning us now of the devastating impact that natural calamities can make on our prize possessions, but there’s a place without any moths or mould.
So what is Jesus saying? Certainly he is pointing out to us what we already know, that it is possible for us to lose all the most valuable things in life. We have read of men, or even known them, who once had health, wealth and beauty but who subsequently lost all of that. They won the weekly lottery and died in despair a few years later. Jesus is certainly saying that, but of course he is going beyond that and confronting us with the end of our lives, with the fact of our dying, and that that event is going to strip us of everything that we have striven to attain.
2. THERE ARE INEXHAUSTIBLE TREASURES IN A PLACE CALLED HEAVEN.
There is another world and Jesus describes it as a place of complete safety – where purses don’t wear out, treasures are never exhausted, a place that is utterly impregnable to the most sophisticated super-thief and where no moth can lay a single egg and destroy. It is not to be found in this world. It is nowhere in this world. It is not Fort Knox; it is not the Tower of London where the crown jewels are kept. Nowhere in this world is absolutely safe. This treasure is in heaven. It is your treasure, but it is in heaven, and it is totally safe for ever. Now we are surrounded by people who have totally rejected the concept of heaven. They are uninformed and uneducated about the possibility of heaven. They are determined to believe that when you die that is it. Your whole existence is extinguished; it is snuffed out, and you are no more. The final credits role as the whole story is over and then FINIS comes up on the screen. The end. This purposeless life has come to its conclusion and it is all over. There is no more.
The Christian view is very different. Heaven is the throne of God. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven.” Peter so beautifully simply and plainly, in words that are almost all of one syllable; “Jesus has gone now into heaven, and is at the right hand of God” (I Pet. 3:22). In other words, heaven may be defined as the place where God most fully makes his presence known to bless. You understand that God is present everywhere, but he especially manifests his presence to bless in certain places. In the Garden of Eden before the fall, again when he met with Jacob at the bottom of a staircase to heaven in Bethel, when he came to speak to Moses on Mount Sinai, when he met with Solomon at the opening of the Temple, when he met with Jesus, Moses and Elijah and three apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration, then those places were filled with the glory of God, but the greatest manifestation of God’s presence to bless is seen in heaven, where he makes his glory known, and where angels, other heavenly creatures, and redeemed saints all worship him in his presence.
So heaven is a place; we insist on that, not just a state of mind. But someone may wonder how heaven can be joined together with earth. Clearly the earth is a place, a planet that exists at a certain location in our space-time universe, so where is heaven? The New Testament teaches the idea of a location for heaven in several different ways, and quite clearly. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the fact that he went to a place seems to be the entire point of the narrative, and the message that Jesus intended his disciples to grasp. Remember the way in which he gradually ascended even while speaking to them: “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9; cf. Luke 24:51, “While he blessed them, he parted from them”). He was on his way somewhere. He was not disappearing into nothingness was he? The angels exclaimed, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). It is hard to imagine how the fact of Jesus’ ascension to a place could be taught more clearly.
We come to the same conclusion when we read the account of Stephen’s death. Just before he was stoned, he, “full of the Holy Spirit, gazed, into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55-56). He didn’t see mere symbols of a state of existence. Rather his eyes were opened and he saw a spiritual dimension of reality which God has hidden from us in this present age, a dimension which nonetheless really does exist in our space/time universe. It was within that space and time that Jesus got to his feet, from being seated on his throne, to meet and greet Stephen. There in heaven our Lord lives in his physical resurrection body, waiting even now for the time when he will return to earth. If we are going to have resurrection bodies like Christ’s resurrection body – and that is the unreserved, mighty declaration of the magnificent I Corinthians and the fifteenth chapter – then heaven will be a place, where we will live in glorified and transfigured resurrection bodies, never to become weak or to die again. We will inhabit a specific place at a specific time, just as Jesus does now. There is a Man, a real Man, in the midst of heaven, and he is to be surrounded by an innumerable company of real human beings with bodies just like his, glorified resurrection bodies. You know the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth . . . I believe in the resurrection of the body.” Where did the Creed get those words from? You remember the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, the sister of the recently deceased Lazarus; “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world’” (Jn. 11:23-27).
Then shortly after Jesus says to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2). Christ speaks of going back from his existence in this world to the Father, and then returning again, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (Jn 14:3&4). Heaven is even now a place, though its location is unknown to us and its existence we cannot see with our natural senses. That is not so difficult a concept is it? I think it is very simple because we are simple people. We are told by scientists about something called ‘dark matter.’ They say that ninety per cent of the universe is matter in a form that cannot be seen, maybe massive objects such as black holes, or maybe subatomic particles that rarely interact with ordinary matter. Scientists talk about ‘dark matter’ and they believe in what cannot be seen. We don’t mock that concept though it is unimaginable. We talk of heaven on the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ who rose from the dead. So heaven is a place where we are told to lay up for ourselves treasures.
3. HOW WE LAY UP TREASURES IN HEAVEN.
i] By investing in eternity. That is what Jesus means by laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven. I am doing everything with heaven’s glories in sight, to enjoy its pleasures more and more, to take as many people as I can with me to that blessed place. I am laying hold of the life of heaven every day. I am supporting with my money all those men and women who are also stockpiling for heaven. They are preachers; they are missionaries; they are children’s workers; they are book-shop managers; they are student workers; they are labouring for Christ to take people the gospel in order to bring others with them to heaven. I help them so that when I get to glory there will be many more rejoicing in sins forgiven in the presence of Christ. What riches in glory will be mine when I see them there. You know the hymn, “The sands of time are sinking . . .” There is this verse about a little town called Anworth by the Solway, the town where Samuel Rutherford’s church was situated, where he was the preacher. The verse says;
Fair Anworth by the Solway, to me thou still art dear,
Even from the verge of Heaven, I drop for thee a tear.
Oh! If one soul from Anworth meet me at God’s right hand,
My heaven will be two heavens, in Immanuel’s land. (Anne R. Cousin 1857)
What potentiality there is in the Christian life. I am doing all I can to take eternal souls with me into glory. There they will shine like diamonds in the crown of Christ. There will be even greater glory for me after having looked on my Saviour to then see his people, an unfading treasure in heaven. Jesus is telling us to invest our money in the souls of people whom someday you will hug in joy and thanksgiving when they step on the shore of heaven. How many, in whom I have invested time and praying and effort and money, will be standing there to greet me when I enter into his presence? My parents invested their lives with me and before me to one end, that I would go to heaven and they would be there to greet me. Send your money on ahead by investing it in the lives and souls of men and women in our town and Principality and in Kenya who may hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Proverbs 19:17, “He that has pity on the poor, lends to the Lord.” Your pity for the poor is a loan, and God will pay you back. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Invest in that divine approval. Again there is another way in which you show you are laying up treasures in heaven.
ii] By setting your mind on things above. It begins when you receive the teaching of Jesus Christ that I have just given you. He tells us about this wonderful place, heaven and kindles a desire in our hearts to be theret. “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple”(Psalm 27:4). I want you to hear the exhortation of Paul to the Colossians. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Cols. 3:1-3). Now you grasp those exhortations of Paul. He is concerned about our minds and our thinking and the impact that should have on our daily living. He exhorts us to, “Seek those things which are above.” Not the things on the earth, but the things which are heavenly; he is talking about the ambitions that Christian believers have. They are still human and they still have their ambitions. They want to do well in their lives. They want to succeed academically, and in their businesses, and in their relationships with the fellow workers and their neighbors and their families. There are things for which their souls long absolutely desperately. Yet Paul is saying, “Watch your ambitions! What is your ultimate goal?” And he is saying to us, “Do not let it be the things on the earth.” Why? Because of what you are; you died to the dominion of sin and unbelief. That unregenerate unbelieving man you once were is no more. Now let your affections be controlled by what you are. You have been crucified to the world, and so this earth does not contain your treasure. Your priority is not anything that this world can afford.
What is it that we are seeking first of all – the prizes, the prestige, and the treasures that this world can offer? Are we seeking only economic security, pleasure, prosperity, the education of our children? Where are we laying up our treasures? “Not the things that can slip through the holes in our bags; not the things that thieves can steal and that moth and rust can corrupt, not the treasures of this life, but the things which are above.” And what is above? Christ, at the right hand of the throne of God. Isn’t that part of the answer to this question of priority? I am seeking the glories and securities of heaven. I am seeking the Christ who is above.
“As pants the hart for cooling streams when heated in the chase
So pants my soul O God for Thee and Thy refreshing grace.” (Psalm 42. 1)
Christ I have, Christ I enjoy, in the privileges of Christian faith and son-ship, but I want the same Christ more! I want Him all! I am pressing on for the prize, the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. What is it at the right hand on high? Spiritual blessings in heavenly places. When I see him I shall be like him for I shall see him as he is. Your real treasures are there and no one has been able to take Jesus Christ from you nor ever will separate you from his love. You’ve always had this great Prophet teaching you, this compassionate High Priest praying for you, this King protecting and keeping you. No one can ever take you from him or he from you. What lies before you is your Saviour, an open-ended joyful encounter with him. You are aware that your treasure is in heaven, you go on keeping a heaven-centred mind, and people see that you have invested in a that glorious and real heavenly world. You are one of those people whose hearts have been in heaven long before you’ll arrive there.
On one occasion Matthew Henry the preacher and Bible commentator was robbed of everything that he owned, but it did not devastate him because he wasn’t keeping his treasures on earth. He wrote words of thankfulness in his diary. What did he have to be thankful about after losing everything to robbers? He said,
I thank you that I have never been robbed before,
I thank you although they took my money, they spared my life;
I thank you although they took everything, it wasn’t very much;
I thank you it was I who was robbed, and not I who was the robber.”
That is the response of someone whose mind is set on heavenly things, whose treasures are all in heaven. One more thing; the mark of a person who lays up treasures in heaven is generosity to the poor in this world.
iii] By giving to the poor. The criticism you hear about those who think much about heaven is that they become, “so heavenly minded that they become no earthly good.” It is not so. It cannot be so. It has not been so in the history of the church. The men and women who fought for the freeing of slaves, and the protection of children, and the improving of industrial conditions were full of thoughts of heaven. So it is in our text. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk. 12:33&34). Jesus exhorts us not to forget the poor but to give to them, and yet at the same time he charges us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. Two related activities
I want to be very practical. This is not a lovely thought. This is command to every Christian here; “Give to the poor.” What are we going to do about the poor? Isn’t Jesus telling us to get involved with the poor? Writing a cheque for the relief of the poor can only be the beginning, the first step. Do you know any poor? Do you speak to any of the poor? Do you pray for any poor? Do you help any poor? Why not? Why are we all shuffling in our seats? Why are we making excuses? Why are we saying, “Yes, but . . .” Are we seeking to justify ourselves?
We are living in days of increasing recession and though I am no prophet I believe we are going to see more beggars and homeless people. I have to fight the flesh whenever I see homeless people. I have been ripped off more than all of you I think – I may be wrong. Why do I automatically think they want money for alcohol? They come to the Manse. One man wanted money to buy a ticket to Preston, and when I told him that I would meet him at the station and buy him a ticket then he got very angry with me and threatened suicide. I would have paid £30 in buying a ticket for him but he wanted money, ten pounds, there and then. However, I wouldn’t give it to him so that he could buy a bottle of whisky in an off license when I left him.
Is it right for me to always assume the worst, though? Judge not that you are not judged. I understand that giving money to strangers on the pavement might make you a bit uneasy. If I am in the house then Iola can make a couple of sandwiches for them when they knock my door while I talk to them in the front room. Is that where it ends? We’re called to be channels of God’s grace. We get to swallow great gulps of the Living Water daily and we long that the world should be irrigated with it. What ways can we become aqueducts to the homeless poor whom we may never see again? It’s not a mark of weakness or idle curiosity to stop and talk to them. It’s not being ‘strong’ to ignore them and walk on by. It is being indifferent.
Let me tell you how one Christian woman responded to this exhortation to give to the poor. I am not saying that you must do it as she did, but she thought about these words of Christ, and many other words in the Bible about our duty to the poor. She was the mother of a friend of mine and a few years ago h found a line of full bags in the boot of his mother’s car. When he asked her about them, she told him that they were all for the homeless. He thought she might be taking them to the Salvation Army. No. They were for the homeless people that God would bring to her . . . right into her path as she went about her daily life. Curious, he had her explain to him what his Christian mother was doing. She met them in town; she spoke to them and then she went back to her car and brought a bag and gave one to the poor person with some appropriate kind words.
Those bags in the back of her car were full of all sorts of practical things that a homeless person could use: razors, socks, tins of peaches and a spoon, miniature chocolate bars, and other tiny things that might seem common novelties to us. To a homeless person who can’t carry loads of stuff, though, they’re a treasure. But sweeter than the fruit and chocolate was a tract that she had written and printed – a beautiful tract that came out of the heart of our once homeless King. He was very impressed with his mother. He looked at Mam with new eyes.
She was seeing homeless people begging on the streets as we do. You’re probably frustrated and thinking that anything done for them has to be big, involving cooked meals and buildings with beds and wardens. Or you are thinking that the Salvation Army can do something, and yet you’re glancing out of the corner of your eye at what the Lord Jesus has been saying to you here, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” and this is how she responded. I dare not simply respond by making excuses. My friend’s mother felt a burden.
How did she do this? She collected these items all the year. She had children and friends helping her. They saved the free things they got in hotels. They kept their eyes open for seasonal bargains. Pound Shops often have useful packages of small things, including mini first-aid kits. What do you put inside? I’m thinking of toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, soap, deodorant, hand lotion, bandages, soap, razors, comb, brush, nail clippers, flannel, hand towel, bars of raisins and proteins, cereal bars, pens, pencils, notepads, individual fruit or a pudding, a pound coin taped to a card, a New Testament, a tract/note, a scarf, Kleenex packs, mirrors, safety pins, socks, a knitted cap, gloves, sewing kits, aspirins, sardines. I am saying, “Get prepared for the effects of the recession on our town.” Jesus has commanded us to sell our possessions and give to the poor. “You do it,” he says, and that’s my only reason for troubling you today, and if your mind is fixed on a mansion in glory then you will seek to do something to help the poor in this world that they may join us as our brothers and sisters in the world to come. What am I doing about people who are sleeping out of doors in weather like this?
I know that last week one of you gave a room to a poor fellow whom you could not imagine sleeping outside through the night in the freezing weather we have known. I appreciate your doing that. You, as it were, gave a cup of cold water to someone in the name of Jesus and that will not lose its reward. One man, one night, and now bags of good things for the poor. That’s all I’m talking about. We start small . . . I hope I am not too old for this message. I wish I’d been challenged heard the poor when I was a young married, when I was choosing my lifestyle and seeking to be a cross-bearing servant of the one who had nowhere to lay his head. I don’t want it to be too late for me to give to the poor. I don’t want to have gone through life never having helped a poor person.
This is what Jesus is saying to us now, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” Let me remind you of some convicting verses that the Holy Spirit inspired? “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honours him” (Proverbs 14:31). “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed” (Proverbs 19:17) C. S. Lewis said, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s own or real life. The truth is, of course, that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending us day by day.”
4. WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS THERE WILL YOUR HEART BE ALSO.
Your treasure is the magnetic pole that pulls and draws your heart and makes it point towards it. Acknowledge that a certain thing is your treasure and when you are there you’ll find a lot of other things because we give our lives to what we treasure the most. You’ll come across your heart, and so your love, and your obsessions, and your thinking, and the issues of your life, and your burden, and your investment, and all that you really are – it will be there with what you treasure is. Just ‘home in’ on your treasure and you will discover all of that as well. Store your treasure on earth and your heart will be drawn to the things of this earth. Store it where Christ is and that will pull your heart there, towards heaven. So if the Lord Jesus Christ is your treasure then you will find your heart is there at his feet pulsing in love for him, and your joy will be full there in the presence of your treasure, and your peace, and your purpose in life and what is most important to you – it is all there alongside the one you treasure the most, the Son of God Jesus Christ. It is time to examine your real treasure, and that it is something utterly untouched by moth or rust or mould or thieves, because it is with Christ in glory. There is your heart, received and sealed by your Saviour.
5th December 2010 GEOFF THOMAS.