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Zechariah’s Story

Luke 1:5-25, 57-80

During this month I plan to share the Chrismas stories — not the ones written by Charles Dickens or sung by Gene Autry. No, I want us to go back to the Christmas stories written by Dr. Luke. When the Holy Spirit moved him to write his Gospel, he consulted a number of witnesses to the events of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection.

Today’s story is that of Zechariah. We don’t know whether Luke interviewed Zechariah himself. He probably got his information about Zechariah from Mary, who was related to Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth. Zechariah’s story is not directly about the birth of Christ. It’s about the birth of Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist. But when we tell our children and grandchildren about Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, the angels, the wise men, and the baby in the manger, we often include this story, and rightfully so.

Zechariah’s story belongs to the Christmas story because it was one of unfulfilled faithfulness(5-7).

5 During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. 7 But they did not have a child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both very old.

Zechariah and Elizabeth had grown old together, faithfully doing the work assigned to them, but Christmas had never come for them. As a priest, Zechariah served many families with many children, but he never had the happiness of raising a child himself. He and Elizabeth went year after year watching other families enjoy the wonderful process of physical and spiritual growth in their children. But they always watched others, never experiencing the joy themselves.

No doubt some people wondered if Zechariah of Elizabeth had been guilty of some secret sin that kept her barren and them both unfulfilled. But they knew that they had been faithful, “both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.” But they were old now, and well past their “use by” date.

Politically, it didn’t seem like God was doing much for Israel. They were still under the domination of the Roman empire, and Caesar insulted Judea by making a foreigner their king. Herod was an Idumean. He was a puppet of Rome — a man so cruel he had to order a large group killed on the day of his death so that there would be mourning. It had been a long time since Judea had been ruled by one of David’s descendants. It didn’t seem like Christmas was coming for the nation either. But it was.

Zechariah’s story belongs to the Christmas story because his date with destiny finally came (8-11).

8 Now while Zechariah was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the holy place of the Lord and burn incense. 10 Now the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to him.

There were so many priests at that time that they had divided themselves into 24 groups and took turns officiating at the temple. Zechariah had probably made the trip to Jerusalem many times. He had no reason to believe that this time was going to be any different than the others. He had never seen Gabriel before.

Incense was a symbol of prayer. We are told that outside there was a crowd of people interceding as Zechariah presented the incense inside. Everybody was praying, but we don’t know how many were actually expecting anything to happen. Zechariah was probably praying for his nation. After all, he was a priest, and that was part of his job. He was busy at work, and he liked being busy at work because it took his mind off his personal sadness. It is just at that very point in time — “too late” — when God chose to bless old Zechariah.

But Zechariah’s blessing came with tremendous responsibility (12-17).

12 And Zechariah, visibly shaken when he saw the angel, was seized with fear. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John. 14 Joy and gladness will come to you, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.”

The name Gabriel is a lot scarier in Hebrew than it is in English. A Geber is a young, strong man, the kind of man who is fit for battle. Gabriel was God’s soldier, who stands guard in the presence of Almighty God. Anyone who saw this angel would naturally be visibly shaken and seized with fear.

But thankfully, the news Gabriel comes to share that day was good news. His prayers would be answered, and he was going to have a son. Finally, he would have the chance to experience the joy and gladness that he had only witnessed in others in the past. Elizabeth was going to bear a son — and not just a son. He would be a son who will be great in the sight of the Lord. He would be one of the few — the proud — the Nazarites. They take a vow never to drink alcohol, and he would take that vow.

John would be his name because he would be a sign to everyone that Yochanan — Yahveh has been gracious. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. The phrase in Greek is ek kolias — from the uterus. This was fulfilled literally because when Elizabeth met Mary, John jumped inside her. So, if anybody wants to argue with you about what the initial evidence of being filled with the Spirit is, just take them to Luke 1:41.

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

John recognized his Savior even before he was born. He gave his mother a kick, and She was filled with the Spirit too. He dedicated his life to turning many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. He served as “forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.”

It was Zechariah’s responsibility to raise that young man for that tremendous task. To whom much is given, much is required. That’s how God’s gifts work. When Christmas comes for us, we are blessed. Then we are responsible for blessing others.

Even though he was blessed, Zechariah struggled with unbelief (18-25).

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well.” 19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will be silent, unable to speak, until the day these things take place.” 21 Now the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they began to wonder why he was delayed in the holy place. 22 When he came out, he was not able to speak to them. They realized that he had seen a vision in the holy place because he was making signs to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was over, he went to his home. 24 After some time his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months she kept herself in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me at the time when he has been gracious to me, to take away my disgrace among people.”

Zechariah was tempted to do what Gideon did — to test God to see whether or not he would be faithful to his promise. He misunderstood the story of Gideon. God did allow Gideon to ask for proof, and he gave him the proof. But Zechariah did not need any more proof than what he was going to be given — the child himself.

Gabriel told Zechariah that he would be silent until his words would be fulfilled.

Zechariah overcame the consequences of his unbelief (57-66).

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they wanted to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother replied, “No! He must be named John.” 61 They said to her, “But none of your relatives bears this name.” 62 So they made signs to the baby’s father, inquiring what he wanted to name his son. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they were all amazed. 64 Immediately Zechariah’s mouth was opened and his tongue released, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 All their neighbors were filled with fear, and throughout the entire hill country of Judea all these things were talked about. 66 All who heard these things kept them in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the Lord’s hand was indeed with him.

When the time finally came, Zechariah and Elizabeth were both able to proclaim that God had been gracious to them. They did it by naming their son Yochanan — Yahveh has been gracious. Zechariah’s unbelief had resulted in his being temporarily unable to speak. He had lost the opportunity to brag about the boy. You better believe that they both made up for that lost time after he was born.

Zechariah’s experience led to praise for God (67-75).

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and has redeemed his people. 69 For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 He has done this to show mercy to our ancestors, and to remember his holy covenant — 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham. This oath grants 74 that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, may serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him for as long as we live.

Zechariah understood that whatever role John would have, it was just the beginning. The Messiah was coming, and God’s salvation was coming with him. He praised God not just for what he had done, but also for what he was going to do. You and I need to learn the same lesson. It is one thing to praise God for our personal salvation, bought by the blood of Christ. But we also need to catch a glimpse of the fact that our story is just part of the bigger story. Our blessing is part of the bigger blessing of a people redeemed for eternity and a new creation.

This section is also remarkable in that it mirrors many of the kinds of prayers that Zechariah and the other priests would have prayed in the temple. But with one difference. These words are prayers turned into praises. It is not “God, come help” but “God has come to help.” It is not “God raise up a leader from the house of David” but “he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.”

Zechariah’s experience also led to prophecy about his son (76-80).

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High. For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. 78 Because of our God’s tender mercy the dawn will break upon us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 80 And the child kept growing and becoming strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he was revealed to Israel.

All those months while Zechariah was unable to speak, he was preparing to announce this prophecy that the Lord gave him about John. The dawn of a new day was coming, and John was to prepare his people for that dawn.

John the Evangelist wrote about this in his Gospel. He said “A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:6-9).

When I read the story of Zechariah, it comforts me by reminding me that no matter how long I have waited for God to answer my prayers, he has not forgotten them. Even if I have had moments of unbelief, I know that one day I will testify that God has been gracious. No matter how long we wait, it is never too late. Christmas is coming. The dawn of a new age has come, and someday Christ himself will come. He will right every wrong, and answer every prayer. He will make all things new. Until that happens, our only job is to remain faithful, even if our desires are not yet fulfilled. We learn to do that from Zechariah’s story.

the battling seeds

the battling seeds

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An Advent meditation excerpted from “Christ as the Seed of the Woman” by Daniel Moore, in Meditations for Advent, 1884.

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt
bruise his heel. ” — Genesis. 3:15.
“That through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil .” — Hebrews. 2:14.

“The two seeds are severally contending for empire: and neither can have a throne, except on the overthrow and destruction of the other. The Seed of the woman avowed this to be His purpose from all eternity. To this end came He into the world, -to crush, to break, to overturn, to abolish. “For this purpose, the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

“See a fulfillment of the prophecy which has respect to the bruising of the “ heel” of Messiah, in the wounds, and scars, and stripes, which Christ was to endure in His lower nature. These began with His life and only ended with His life. From the first day of our Lord’s manifestation, the seed of the serpent began to contrive against Him his deadly plots. First, Herod was set on destroying the child Jesus in infancy. On commencing His public ministry, the Holy One has to sustain those forty days’ fierce encounter in the wilderness. On coming to His own city Nazareth, the maddened populace is stirred up by Satan to “cast Him down headlong” from the brow of the hill. (Luke 4:29). And, in all the subsequent trials and insults, endured by the Blessed Saviour, we see the work of the subtle serpent of evil, devising new plots and agencies to bruise and distress the human soul of Christ. He moved Herod to mock, Pilate to scourge, and the priests to revile, and the rabble to shout. He was with the false witnesses who accused, and the apostate disciple who betrayed, with the thief who cast railing in His teeth, and with the heartless soldier who pierced His side. Yes, behind all this machinery of evil did Satan plant himself. Mistaken, short-sighted, utterly suicidal as his policy was, it originated in that sentence promise of Paradise. It was so “written in the bond.” Our salvation had been an imperfect thing without it. All that was mortal in the Incarnate One, all that was capable of suffering, all that belonged to the nature which He had assumed, was to be bruised, insulted, dishonored, shamed. Hunger pinched Him. Thirst distressed Him. Fatigue wearied Him. Pain rent His limbs, and anguish cast down His soul. Oh! it was indeed the sharpness of the serpent’s tooth He felt, when, out of the deep agony of His spirit, He cried out: “ Father, save me from this hour.” But instantly the thought occurred: “For this cause came I unto this hour.” (John 12:27). The Scripture had said that thus it must be: “Thou shalt bruise His heel. But then, blessed be God, the Scripture had also said: “It shall bruise thy head. “And here the triumph of Divine mercy culminates. The two parts of the sentence are found to be correlative: that is to say, it is the very bruising of the heel of Messiah, that leads to the crushing of the head of the serpent. For how stood the case? The head of Satan, that wherein his great strength lies, consists in his having the power of death, — a death of which the sting is sin, and the strength is a violated law. But the bruised heel of Christ has rendered both of these powerless. His submission to all the experiences of the Incarnation was a perfect satisfaction to all the demands of the law, and His death upon the cross provided an infinite propitiation for all sin. Hence, as the Apostle argues in his Epistle to the Hebrews, Christ has purchased salvation for every man by tasting death for every man. By making His righteousness ours, and our sin His, He casts in His lot with us. “For both He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one :(Hebrews 2:11). He has made us one, says the Apostle, to this end, “that through death,” that is, His own death, ” He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Here, then, we have the prophetic promise,— the sentence-blessing laid out in its complete fulfillment. Satan is allowed to bruise the heel of Messiah, but meanwhile, and in the very act of submitting to this bruising, Christ is Himself bruising Satan in his most vital part. He is casting out the god of this world. He is destroying him that had the power of death.


Narrow Lane by Michael Trolove is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0


Matthew 7:13-14 NET

The typical way of explaining the words of Jesus in today’s text is that when he talks about going through the narrow gate, he is referring to those who want to be Christians. All other religions take the wide gate and walk the spacious way to their own destruction. But there is a problem with that approach. These are the words of Jesus directed toward the apostles who had already sworn their allegiance to him as their master. Everyone that he spoke to had already committed themselves to enter his coming kingdom.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
14 But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

So, what Jesus is talking about in today’s text is two ways of trying to enter the kingdom: the hard way and the easy way. The gate to the hard way is narrow, so people are less likely to choose it. The gate to the easy way is wide. It is very popular. He warns that only those who enter through the narrow gate will find life on the other side. Those who look for the easy way in will find destruction. Eternal life is not something everyone is born with. It is conditional, the result of the right choice.

Look at what Jesus says after this:

  • “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves.” (7:15).
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ “Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!'” (7:21-23).

Leaders of the easy way are false prophets, but they look genuine. They prophesy and exorcise demons and do mighty works in Jesus’ name, and call him their lord. Jesus does not know them, and he didn’t send them, but they will be here claiming to do his will all the same. Inside they are wolves, not sheep.

These false prophets are a problem because they will appear within the visible church. If they actually represented other religions, we would not be tempted to listen to them. But they will come to us in sheep’s clothing. Some will actually be convinced that they are true believers.

How will we know a true Christian leader from a false one? Jesus also answered that question:

  • “You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.” (7:16-20).

The leaders of the easy way will look like any other tree of the orchard, but the fruit they bear will be bad. The lives of those they lead will be disobedient and ungodly. That is how they can be recognized. The promoters of the easy way will end in destruction – by fire. The people who follow them will suffer the same fate. They will have built their houses on the wrong foundation, and it is only a matter of time in a world of rain, floods, and winds before such shoddy workmanship will be revealed.

Our Lord wants us to seek his kingdom the hard way, not the easy way. We see that in today’s text.

The wide gate is the default (13c).

Jesus said that “the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” In modern terms, it is the default — the choice that everyone makes unless presented with some reason not to. This would be no problem if the gate one chooses does not matter. But it does matter. The default gate leads to a spacious road — a road where there is plenty of room for lots of people to travel on. Unfortunately, the destination of that road is destruction.

There was a large crowd listening to Jesus as he preached the sermon on the mount to his apostles. Many of them were considering committing their lives to Jesus and becoming his disciples. He was warning them that simply deciding to follow him was not enough. There would be many hard choices that they would have to make. Life as a Christian would not be easy. They would be tempted to casually accept Christ as their savior, and then live their normal lives otherwise. Jesus warned them that the Christian life is not a normal life, and if they tried to stay normal, it would lead them in the opposite direction, no matter what they professed.

That is his message to you and me today. The default gate is always accessible. There are no obstacles to it. It is the easiest choice to make, and the life it promises looks like the best of both worlds. We can get our names on God’s list, but can still live like we want to.

But the problem is…

Those who enter the wide gate will be destroyed (13b).

The future destiny of those who are looking to enter the easy way is clear and plain. Those who look for the easy way in will find destruction. Eternal life is not something everyone is born with. It is conditional, the result of the right choice.

Jesus is not the only one who said that the fate of the lost is destruction.

Paul says that they are “objects of wrath ready for destruction” (Romans 9:22). He says their “end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19). He says they “will undergo the penalty of” permanent destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

Peter agrees with Jesus and Paul on the fate of the lost as well; He says that “the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:7).

Now with all this evidence in favor of what Jesus said about the fate of the lost, it might come as a surprise that most churches and most preachers are afraid to say what I just said. They insist that when Jesus and Paul and Peter talk about destruction they mean something else. Don’t believe it. Destruction means destruction. The second death is a second death, which will be permanent because there will be no resurrection from it. That is why choosing the right gate is so important.

The narrow gate is difficult to enter (14a).

Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is difficult.” We have been studying the commands of Christ for many months now, and we can all agree that once we know what Jesus actually commanded, obeying those commands will be tough. He tells poor and suffering people to rejoice. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells ordinary people to influence the world when the world wants us to just be like them. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells ordinary Christians that their righteousness has to exceed that of religious professionals. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to reconcile with those who make us angry. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to stop lusting and be faithful to our spouses. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to be true to our word. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to love our enemies. It’s hard for us to do that.

The narrow gate is difficult to enter, but unfortunately…

The narrow gate is the only way to permanent life (14b).

He said, “the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” You and I have a choice. It’s not a simple choice of claiming to be a Christian or not. Remember, everyone that Jesus was talking to in today’s text had publically committed to following him. But Jesus warned them that there would be false teachers who would try to trip them up. He warned them that there would be those who claimed to be sheep but were actually wolves. He warned them that if they wanted to build true Christian lives they would have to build on the rock, not the sand.

The narrow gate is the only way to permanent life. People will tell you that everyone has a permanent life, and the issue is where you will spend it. Do not believe that lie. Only one way leads to life. The other way — the spacious way — the easy way — leads to destruction. Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life. Two permanent destinies.

Paul spoke of those two destinies. He said, “the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). If you are not in Christ Jesus, you won’t have life. Your payoff is death.

John spoke of those two destinies. He said that the “one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life” (1 John 5:12).

The author of Hebrews spoke of those two destinies. He said those who shrink back will perish, but those who have faith will preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:39).

Peter spoke of those two destinies. He said that those who are born again will be resurrected and receive a permanent inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-4). But the ungodly will experience destruction (2 Peter 3:7).

Now that we know what is at stake, let us return to the command of Christ highlighted in today’s text.

Christ commands us to enter through the narrow gate (13a).

Suppose you have decided to become a Christian. That is a good thing. You want to enter the kingdom that is coming down from the sky. That is a good ambition. Jesus warns us that there are two ways to take, the hard way and the easy way. The easy way will be a well-beaten path, a wide gate, and a spacious road that lots of people have taken before you. It will not make any demands on you other than what you claim. You claim to believe in Jesus — there will be many others on that road who make the same claim. You want to be a good person — lots of good people take that road.

It would seem to me that if we are really serious about entering the kingdom we would follow the instructions of the king. The king tells us to stay away from the wide gate. He warns us to stay off the spacious road. Actually following Jesus is going to be a tight squeeze. Staying on the narrow road is going to be a hard thing to do. But our king commands it.

When he returns, king Jesus is going to gather all the nations before him. He is going to “separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32). He will know every soul. He will determine who has taken the easy way, and who has taken the hard way. He will put the true sheep on his right, and the goats on his left. The goats will be condemned to the permanent punishment of the second death. The sheep will inherit permanent life. The choices we make today will determine which destiny we will experience.

Brothers and sisters, don’t take the easy way. Enter the narrow gate!



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Matthew 6:19-24 NET

19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Jesus wants us all to obey his commands and teach others to do so. So far, in Matthew six, we have seen Jesus highlight three commands. By following these three commands, we display the righteousness associated with the kingdom of which Jesus is the king. When we display that righteousness, we show that we are sons of the Father in heaven. We can also influence the world around us to join the kingdom.

Unfortunately, the hypocrites have hijacked each of these commands. They give to the needy, not because they have the Father’s compassion for the needy. No, they give so that they can be praised by others. They give in order to get a reputation for being generous. They also pray — or at least look like they are praying. They give long, repetitive public prayers. Their motivation for praying is the same as their motivation for charitable giving. They pray in order to be seen praying. Their words are designed to impress the human ears who hear them. The hypocrites even fast in order to impress other human beings with their humility. They are proud of their fasting because it makes them look so spiritual.

Now, the reason that I gave that summary of the first eighteen verses of Matthew six is that Jesus is continuing the same line of thought in this section of his sermon. He is not introducing a new subject. He is still talking about those hypocrites. He is still warning us not to do what they are doing. Every good deed they do is for their own personal enrichment.

You know what a hoarder is. A hoarder collects stuff. He has piles of stuff in his garage, in his closets, and stacked all over his house. Wherever he goes, he gets more stuff. He is obsessed with accumulating stuff. He’s not collecting this stuff for someone else. He is hoarding it for himself. He can’t seem to give away any of his stuff. It’s not for the needy, his stuff is for himself.

The hypocrites were hoarders. Their motivation was always self. Even the things that people are supposed to do for God, these hypocrites insisted on doing for themselves. All their daily decisions were being made on the basis of how it could benefit them personally. When they gave to others, it was to benefit themselves. When they prayed and fasted, it was for their benefit. God had nothing to do with it.

All the stuff done for self is temporary (19-21).

Jesus is not just talking about collecting money here. But he uses that language because what happens when people just want to get richer and richer is a perfect example of what he is talking about. If you spend all your time and make all your decision based on how big it is going to make your bank account, the best thing that can happen is that you keep most of your money until you die.

Jesus warns his apostles not to accumulate for themselves treasures on earth. Back in Jesus’ day, people did not put their money in banks. They invested it in things that they could store in their houses, or in money they would hide in their houses. But the moths got to the stuff, causing it to become worthless. The stuff would decay, causing it to become worthless.

If the moths and rust did not get to it, the thieves would. Thieves would break into your house at night and find where you have hidden your stash. Then all that work would be for nothing. If it wasn’t thieves, it would be unemployment, bad investments, sickness, or family needs, or the government. Either way, that stash was not going to last.

But Jesus recommended laying up treasures in heaven. He was not talking about tithing as such, although tithing is not wrong. He was talking about all the things you can do to serve God and honor him. Some people take this passage to mean that all the money you invest in God is being reserved for you up there. That’s ridiculous. When Jesus returns, all the money in the world is going to be worthless. Money is for this age, not the next one.

I’m reminded of that story of the rich man who had a wheelbarrow full of gold bars, and he asked permission to bring it with him into the new Jerusalem. The Lord gave him permission, but then all the people gathered around him. They wanted to know what he planned to do with all those paving stones. The streets were already paved with gold!

All the stuff done for self turns your light into darkness (22-23; cf. 5:14-16).

Jesus had already taught his apostles that they are the light of the world. He said that a city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, he said, let your light shine before people so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

Now, he is returning to that subject. He tells the apostles that their eye is the lamp of the body. If then their eye is healthy, their whole body will be full of light. But if their eye is diseased, their whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

We see through our eyes. If something interferes with our eyes and keeps them from seeing, it will not be just our eyes that are turned dark. Our whole person will be blinded.

The word translated “diseased” in verse 23 is the Greek word πονηρὸς, which is just a generic word for “bad.” An eye can be bad if it is diseased, but it can also be bad if its owner chooses to focus on the wrong thing. If you are driving and you choose to focus on your cell phone instead of the road, it doesn’t matter how well you see. A bad eye is one that is focused on the wrong thing.

What Jesus is telling us is that if we are not being the light of the world as he called us to be, then the world will not have any light, and neither will we. Selfishness puts out our light. The light is God’s love. When we show God’s love by giving to the needy, God’s light shines through us. When we choose to hold on to our hoarded stash, the light goes out.

It is not just giving though. All the stuff done for yourself turns your light into darkness. Praying to be seen, fasting to be seen, everything we do for ourselves is flicking the switch.

Your eye is the lamp of your life. If it focuses on your stuff, then all that stuff will block the light. If your light does not shine, then people who need the Father will not find him

All the stuff done for yourself can prevent you from serving God (24).

Jesus says “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

The word translated money here is μαμωνᾷ, the name of the Syrian god Mammon. It represents stuff people waste their lives on. The word sounded like the Aramaic for “what (ma) you trust in (amõn).” In the end, we serve what we trust in. Jesus warns his disciples that trusting in a closet full of treasures is a stupid thing to do. Trusting in a reputation for good deeds is a stupid thing to do. Trusting in a reputation of spirituality is a stupid thing to do.

You may join a church, and call yourself a Christian, but your daily decisions are based on your loyalty to your real master. We accumulate treasures in heaven every time we love others with God’s love and compassion, putting their needs above our own. We accumulate treasures in heaven every time we seek God in prayer when nobody else is watching. We accumulate treasures in heaven every time we give up what we want in favor of getting what God wants.

What we have to understand is that when we signed on to be part of Christ’s coming kingdom, we declared that from now on, Jesus is going to be our king. We have no other master. We may have a whole bunch of bosses, but we can only have one master. Previously, the self was on the throne. Now, there’s a new king.

Our master is the one that we are serving. Every choice we make has to be informed by his wishes — his commands. We can obey the laws of the land — as long as those laws do not contradict his law. We can please our families as long as our families do not demand that we disobey him.

If we try to live for and serve two masters, we are always going to fail. This is especially true if the other master is essentially ourselves. Mammon — what we trust in — is a terrible master. It will force you to betray Christ. It will make you a hypocrite like it did the Pharisees. It will make you spend your entire life accumulating worthless stuff that has no eternal value.

But we do not have to live like that. We can choose to obey Jesus with every choice we make. We can choose to deny ourselves and take up our crosses, following him. Every step we take in following Christ gets us closer to our eternal inheritance. That is what it means to accumulate treasures in heaven.


“If he is single-minded, of ‘sound eye,’ he will choose rightly” (Albright, William F, David N. Freedman, and Christopher S. Mann. The Anchor Bible: 26. New-York: Doubleday, 1971., p. 82).

“A person decides what constitutes a treasure in life, and the heart and energies of that person will soon follow” (Anderson, William A. Gospel of Matthew. Place of publication not identified: Liguori Pubns, 1999., p. 26).

“Heavenly wealth (fellowship with God and the service of God) is incorruptible, and very different from the amassing of earthly riches, which so far from decreasing worry about the future, actually increase worry lest they be stolen or perish” (Argyle, A W. The Gospel According to Matthew: Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979., p. 58).

““Mammon” is a Chaldean word for the money-god. It is a word which speaks of the systems of materialism which are so very dominant in human experience. The disciple is to give undivided loyalty to the Master; mammon is to take a very inferior place” (Augsburger, Myron S. Matthew. , 1982., p. 92).

“The reference here is to the man who had hoarded up in his house a little store of gold, only to find, when he comes home one day, that the burglars have dug through his flimsy walls and that his treasure is gone. There is no permanency about a treasure which is at the mercy of any enterprising thief” (Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew. , 1958., p. 242).

“Thieves ‘break through (and steal)’—literally ‘dig through’—either by digging up a pot of coins that has been buried in the soil (a common way of safeguarding money; cf. Mt.13:44), or (more likely) by digging under the wall of the house. All this is cast in terms of the ways of the ancient world, where there were no safe deposit boxes and no police forces; everyone had to take his own precautions for protecting his goods. Often enough, all such precautions are vain; one way or another, the hoarded treasure is apt to disappear” (Beare, Francis W. The Gospel According to Matthew: Translation, Introduction, and Commentary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982., p. 182).

“Mamona is not inherently unrighteous; but it acquires this character when it is enthroned as a god, and receives monotheistic worship from those who possess it, who crave it (1 Tim. 6:9) and who steal it. Jesus later warns that ‘the deceitfulness of wealth [ploutou] will choke the word’ of the kingdom (Matt. 13:22) by convincing people that they will prosper more under wealth’s rule than under God’s. While love for God results in many a good (22:37-40), ‘the love of money [hé philargyria] is a root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Tim. 6:10; cf. 2 Tim. 3:2-4: [philargyroi, ‘lovers of money,’ versus philotheoi, ‘lovers of God’] and 1 Tim. 3:3 and Hebrews 13:5 [aphilargyros, ‘not loving money’]. (In Luke 16:14, immediately after the parallel to Matthew 6:24, Jesus calls the Pharisees philargyroi, ‘lovers of money’: which suggests that one important respect in which disciples’ righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees [Matt. 5:20] is their attitude toward wealth” (Chamblin, J K. Matthew: A Mentor Commentary. Fearn, Tain: Christian Focus Pub, 2010., pp. 442-443).

“Like the happiness it brings, earthly treasure is only for a season; it is destined to pass away” (Davies, W D, and Dale C. Allison. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Volume I: Introduction and Commentary on Matthew I-Vii. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988., p. 629).

“What a person covets or lusts after shapes his or her life” (Fair, Ian A, Stephen Leston, and Mark L. Strauss. Matthew & Mark: Good News for Everyone. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Pub, 2008., p.39).

“the single eye corresponding to the single (undivided) heart (v. 21)” (Green, H B. The Gospel According to Matthew in the Revised Standard Version: Introduction and Commentary. Oxford: University Press, 1975., p. 93).

“depending on where we put our hearts, we can become people of light before God or we can become useless people. When we devote our hearts to God, we can be useful people to God and other people” (Jong, Paul C. The Gospel of Matthew: I. Seoul, Korea: Hephzibah Pub. House, 2005., p. 197).

“Treasure on earth, such as clothing and linens, can be consumed by moths or insects or stolen by thieves. They also consume one’s attention and one’s heart. The lasting treasure is the heart centered on God, which cannot be dislodged” (Reid, Barbara E. The Gospel According to Matthew. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2005., p. 46).

“Matthew uses “treasure” as a metaphor for that which commands the allegiance of one’s “heart”” (Senior, Donald. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011., p. 87).