Last week we talked about the lost art of seeing heaven. Looking at Matthew 6:1 we focussed on why we find it easier to practice our righteousness ‘in front of others to be seen by them’, than it is to look for ‘reward from [our] father in heaven’.
This week we’re going to take a look at another passage in this same chapter of Matthew and talk further about heaven—but also about money.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (6:19-24)
We need to start by re-emphasizing a point that we made last week: heaven is not where we go when we die; heaven is God’s dimension of the world that we live in. We must avoid the temptation of thinking of earth as here and heaven as there in any kind of physical sense. If we don’t grasp this, we will fail to fully appreciate so much of what the New Testament teaches—not least this passage we’re looking at today.
Tom Wright, the New Testament scholar, offers a helpful explanation in his For Everyone commentary series on the book of Matthew:
As with other references to heaven and earth, we shouldn’t imagine [Jesus] means ‘don’t worry about this life - get ready for the next one’. ‘Heaven’ here is where God is right now, and where, if you learn to love and serve God right now, you will have treasure in the present, not just in the future. Of course Jesus (like almost all Jews of his day) believed that after death God would have a wonderful future in store for his faithful people; but they didn’t normally refer to that future as ‘heaven’. He wanted his followers to establish heavenly treasure right now, treasure which they could enjoy in the present as well as the future, treasure that wasn’t subject to the problems that face all earthly hoards. How can one do this? Learn to live in the presence of the loving father. Learn to do everything for him and him alone. Get your priorities right.
The next section in the passage we’re focussing on today helps to shed some light on what it means to get our priorities right. This is one of the trickier sections of Jesus’ teaching to understand. What on earth does Jesus mean by healthy and unhealthy eyes? The key to figuring out what Jesus meant is to actually do a bit of research into how the Jews in Jesus’ day would have heard this saying. And the Jews would have heard loud and clear what Jesus meant.
Let’s start by including the the translation David Stern offers in his ‘Complete Jewish Bible’:
So if you have a ‘good eye’ your whole body will be full of light; but if you have an ‘evil eye’ your whole body will be full of darkness.
Instead of healthy and unhealthy eyes as translated in the NIV, Sterne refers to a good and evil eye. And that matters. The phases ‘good eye’ and ‘evil eye’ had very clear and specific meanings to the Jews in Jesus’ day. To have a good eye meant that you were generous; to have an evil eye meant that you were stingy.
So, let’s re-read the whole section, but update the NIV version to include the meaning:
The eye is the lamp of the body. If you are generous, your whole body will be full of light. But if you are stingy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Having a good, healthy eye is about seeing the needs of those around and being generous in our giving towards meeting those needs. Having an evil, unhealthy eye means that we are blind to the needs around us and are greedy and self-centred.
Lois Tverberg expands on this in her book ‘Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus’:
Why is a person’s “eye” toward others so critical to Jesus? Because our relationship with money reveals our relationship with God. To have a “bad eye” is to cling to the little that you have, resenting those with more and refusing to help those with less. Your attitude shows how convinced you are that God is stingy, that he is either unwilling or unable to care for you. And it reveals how disconnected you are from the struggles of others. No wonder Jesus says that life becomes dark indeed when you’ve cut yourself off from both God and those around you.
On the other hand, if you’re radically convinced of God’s caring presence in your life, you’re also confident that God will provide for your needs — not just materially, but emotionally and spiritually as well. You may not be wealthy by the world’s standard, but you have a rock-solid understanding that what you have is enough, that ultimately your own situation is secure. The fruit is a generous attitude, a “good eye” toward others. How can your life not brighten when you think this way?
Shedding this light on having a good and evil eye immediately makes this section fit perfectly with the prior and subsequent sections where Jesus talks about treasure in heaven, and then not being able to serve God and money. All three sections in this short passage are about our attitudes towards money, material possessions, God, and others.
In essence, Jesus is challenging all of us who would listen to live lives that are God and other-focussed, lives that look for the reward - the treasure - from heaven rather than than from earth. He is calling us to be generous and other-centred rather than stingy and self-centred. And he warns us that the choice we face is either/or, not both/and. We can’t be generous and stingy, we can’t be other-centred and self-centred, and we can’t serve God and money. We must choose.
Let’s choose to rediscover the art of storing up treasure in heaven.
I was reading through a few sections of Matthew’s Gospel this morning when this statement from Jesus jumped out to me:
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (6:1)
It stood out to me because not many people—myself included—obey this! The truth is nearly all of us want to receive immediate and tangible recognition for when we do good things.
This is natural. Anyone with kids knows that your child isn’t very old before they’re constantly saying, ‘look at me’, for every new thing they start to do.
We crave appreciation. We long to be seen and to be noticed. The thought of doing something amazing and it not being noticed affects us to the point that we might never even attempt some feats if it were not going to be seen.
But Jesus isn’t saying that it’s wrong to crave this attention per se; he’s saying that we need to change the audience we look for that recognition from. Instead of seeking the attention and applause of those around us, we are to seek the eyes and ears of our ’father in heaven’.
The problem we have with this is that most of us can’t see the father. Neither can we see heaven. If our friend says, ‘well done’, it’s something we can feel immediately. Getting that reward from the father instead doesn’t seem real.
This betrays a major problem all too many of us struggle with: we have lost the ability—if we ever had it—to see the other, heavenly dimension—God’s dimension —to the world we live in. We see only what we can see with our physical eyes; we hear only what we can hear with our physical ears.
It is because we have lost the ability to see heaven that we seek the applause of those around us.
Heaven you see is not somewhere we go when we die; heaven is another dimension to this world that we live in. There are so many distractions in our physical, material world that we all too many of us have become blinded to this other dimension.
Heaven is real. It’s just as real as the physical realm we so easily sense. But our seeking of applause and recognition from those around us highlights the fact that we don’t ’see’ heaven. We might believe in it intellectually, but we don’t experience it in any true sense. Our behaviour betrays us.
The challenge for us all is to regain this lost art of seeing heaven; of seeing the other dimension that’s right there, just hiding behind a thin veil waiting to be discovered. We need eyes to see and ear to hear.
All too many of us have an intellectual faith in God rather than an experiential one. We believe the doctrines of the Christian faith, but we don’t know God. We believe we’ll go to heaven when we die, but we can’t see heaven’s dimension hear and now.
How do we change this? How can we learn to see both the physical and heavenly realities that both surround us? How can we develop a connection with the father so deep that it feels more natural to seek his applause than that of those around us?
When we look at the life of Jesus—the one guy who better than anyone brought heaven and earth together in his everyday life—we see someone who was a real man of prayer. He didn’t just say prayers or prayerful sounding words. He talked with the father. Early in the morning, during the day, late at night. His whole life emerged out of a life of prayer.
For Jesus, prayer wasn’t about endlessly making requests for his needs to be met; it was about hearing from the father. We too need to seek a life of prayer that is communion with God rather than reading out a list of things we want God to do for us.
Prayer should be about connecting to God, getting his perspective, hearing what he’s saying, seeing what he sees. It’s about slowing down and seeing God’s dimension to the world around us. It’s about seeing heaven. And it’s about asking that what we see in heaven would come to pass in or physical world.
So why don’t we take this opportunity today to seek the father afresh in prayer? Why don’t we ask that he would give us eyes to see and ears to hear the realities of heaven that are currently hidden from us?
As Jesus himself said just a short while after the statement quoted earlier:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (7:7)
It’s easy to conclude that the resurrection of Jesus was the moment that Jesus became king. But as we saw on Friday, it was in his death that Jesus was enthroned. The resurrection simply added a dramatic confirmation to the new reality - the new kingdom - Jesus was inaugurating.
The resurrection was a conclusive statement that Jesus’ persecutors had no idea what was truly going on. They thought they had brought the life of a religious troublemaker to a shuddering halt. They completely failed to see the role their actions were playing in a much, much larger story.
In short, they failed to see there were powers at work they had no idea of. Little did they know they were involved in an epic battle between light and darkness, life and death.
In the moment of his death, it’s easy to imagine Jesus’ persecutors - and the dark, shadowy powers working through them - celebrating extravagantly. They thought they had won. They thought their power and control over people was safe and secure. They thought the status quo had been maintained. How little did they know. Having inadvertently enthroned Jesus as king by crucifying him, Jesus’ resurrection on that first Easter Sunday morning then ensured a fatal blow was dealt to death itself.
Of course, it’s easy to miss what’s happened and think nothing has changed. Fatal blow to death itself? Yeah, right. People still die every day. It’s so easy - and understandable - to mock both the so called defeat of death and indeed the idea that Jesus rose from the dead.
Today, countless people sneer at these ideas. How can intelligent people believe such nonsense? Dead people don’t rise from the dead. Death is still clearly a plague affecting all of humanity. It’s all a load of rubbish. And so on.
It reminds me of the story in the gospels where Jesus goes to the home of a family to pray for a sick girl only to find them all saying that she’d died before he got there. ’She’s not dead,’ he said, ’she’s sleeping’. And they all laughed. He was clearly deluded. And then he simply raised her up to the astonishment of everyone.
So many of us today are like that family. We scoff at the idea of any possibility other than the immediately obvious. And yet Jesus consistently invites and challenges us to see additional dimensions in our world.
The obvious viewpoint is that death still reigns; that dead people stay dead. Of course it is. And of course Jesus rising from the dead was an impossibility. That’s kind of the whole point. Jesus calls people to see deeper, less obvious realities. And that takes faith.
The story of the resurrection is the story of the defeat of death itself. Not immediately, but ultimately. Death has been fatally wounded and day by day, step by step, new life is spreading. The kingdom of God is coming. How? Through everyone who chooses to see that there’s more going on than meets the eye. Through everyone who sees in Jesus someone who was more than just any other human being. Through everyone who decides to follow in his footsteps and carry on the work Jesus started, bringing new life and hope and healing and forgiveness to all who embrace it.
It’s Good Friday today. For many people this means next to nothing. It’s a day off work. Whoop! But it is a day loaded with meaning. It’s a day that exists to help us remember the horrific, bloody, agony-inducing, sacrificial crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.
And it’s not something that only Christians should take time to reflect upon. The fact that over two thousand years later one man’s death is still so embedded in the human psyche and so central to our history should cause everyone to pause and ponder.
Why do we remember this one man and his death in way like we do no other man? How has one man’s life and story spread to every corner of the globe? Why, two thousand years later, are there millions and millions of his followers across every continent and country of our planet?
I should add that, in case there are any doubters out there, the existence of Jesus is a historical fact. No credible historian - religious or secular - questions the fact that Jesus of Nazareth lived and breathed and walked and talked in our world.
That he existed doesn’t explain why he’s still remembered - and followed - today though or why his death is so hailed. The New Testament gospels stories (as told my Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) all build towards his death. The narrative of all four gospels all walk their readers towards the death of Jesus. And Jesus himself clearly knew that that was where his life was headed.
Some Christians may be wondering about the resurrection at this point. But I don’t want to jump ahead. It’s Good Friday today, not Easter Sunday. And the truth is that, unlikely as it may seem, it was through his death that Jesus was enthroned as king.
His persecutors thought they were mocking him when they put a crown of thorns on his head. Pilate had no idea how true it was when the sign he commissioned to put on the cross of Jesus read, ’King of the Jews’. Little did they all know that, inadvertently, they were simply playing their part in literally enthroning Jesus as the actual king over all the world. His death was the means by which the kingdom of God would come to all creation. Not immediately, as is abundantly clear, but it was the start. It was the moment that everything changed. Forever.
Today at Mosaic we are embarking on the start of a new series of conversations at our bi-weekly Sunday home-gatherings. The series is going to be focussed on some of the core, essential, and foundational questions about Jesus, church, faith, and the Bible.
This week we are going to be starting with the question Who is Jesus?
We’ll be exploring some of the historical evidence for his actual existence, the validity of the Bible as a valid source for information about Jesus, what some of the claims were that Jesus made about himself, what evidence there is to support what he said, and then also looking at the resurrection and the likelihood of that being something that actually happened.
For those of us who have been followers of Jesus for a while, we hope it will be a great refresher, reminder, and encouragement. And for those who are very much in the place of not being sure about who Jesus was and is, we hope this series will provide a great opportunity and space to explore and ask questions.
You can stay up-to-date with what’s happening with Mosaic and when we’re meeting via our Facebook page.
I believe the word gospel has been hijacked by what we believe about “personal salvation,” and the gospel itself has been reshaped to facilitate making “decisions.” The result of this hijacking is that the word gospel no longer means in our world what it originally meant to either Jesus or the apostles.
As many of you will already be aware, I help lead a faith community in Sheffield called Mosaic. Me and my wife, Rachel, started Mosaic back in 2006 for a few very simple reasons.
First and foremost, despite having grown up in and spent our lives as part of various different mainstream churches, we reached a point where we realised that church as we knew it was never going to connect with significant numbers of people currently outside of the church. We had an increasing sense that there was a large segment of society who would never go near a traditional church again (if indeed they ever had).
It wasn’t that there was no interest necessarily in faith, spirituality, or the person of Jesus; it was simply the case that there was a big drop in the level of trust in the traditional, mainstream church and its leaders. And, even where trust may not have completely eroded, there was an undeniable feeling that the church at large was no longer relevant and was disconnected from the realities of most people’s every day lives.
Starting Mosaic was and is our attempt at creating a safe place for people to explore and express faith in relevant, informal, non-traditional ways.
We don’t think that we’re better than other churches. And we don’t think that we’ve finally nailed down the right way to do church. In fact, we still think that we need the more mainstream, traditional churches as much as ever. In the same way that we are focussing on people who would never go near a mainstream church, there are countless other people who couldn’t imagine exploring faith in anything but a traditional church setup. We need both.
That said, we do - unsurprisingly - love what we’re doing with Mosaic and think we have created something special. We have a culture of genuine openness, inquisitiveness, community, and service. We have an environment where anyone is welcome and no one is expected or forced to believe anything. Questions are not only allowed, they’re completely welcomed. And, perhaps most importantly, we try not to be focussed only on sitting around talking about faith but also actively living it out through serving others.
Beyond that, we have tried build a community of people who don’t end up disconnected from reality and the rest of the world. It is very easy for churches to end up sucking people into more and more meetings and church activities and, before long, those people no longer have time for friendships with neighbours and colleagues or anyone else outside of church at all.
We actively encourage people to prioritise their relationships with people outside of our church community. Whilst we have plenty of events and activities that people could get involved with, there is no expectation at all the people should be going to everything that’s happening. In fact, if someone tried to go to everything, we’d tell them to get a life and make some other friends!
To summarise, we think that the church (in the broadest sense) is one of the key means that God has chosen to use as a way to communicate the astonishing news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and the hope that that has made available to all humanity. We completely see ourselves as part of that all-embracing, universal church whilst also sensing that we, like every other local church, have a unique role to play. We are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is our hope and prayer that through our messy, broken, diverse, incomplete mosaic, we might just be the space and community for some to safely explore love, faith, the universe, and the message of Jesus.