Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 1:1–6:21
March 9, 2011
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Each year on Ash Wednesday, these words of Jesus close out the Gospel lesson appointed for this day as we enter into the season of Lent. And how true the words of our Lord are! That which we value most – our treasure – will be the thing that our heart dwells on. So, what is our treasure? What is it that our heart dwells on and longs for? Money… power… security… physical appearance… approval… good grades… success… If you’ve given up something as a Lenten discipline such as chocolate or sweets, then you might find yourself dwelling on and longing for that right now. Jesus cautions us about putting our hope and confidence in things that will deteriorate and fade away. Money, even when invested wisely, can be here today and gone tomorrow. Needing the approval of others for our own sense of security is a dangerous game to play. Even when we eat all the right foods and get plenty of exercise, our physical appearance will change as we age. Even when we do all the right things, there is no guarantee that we won’t have to face illness and disease. All of the things that we are prone to desire and long for do not last. That is the point Jesus is making here: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20). So, let’s talk about real treasure – Lenten treasure. That is the theme for the message on this Ash Wednesday. May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus has some pretty convicting words for us in that Gospel lesson. He strips away all pretense and exposes that other false treasure that people of faith especially can come to rely upon, and that is ourselves and our own efforts in matters of faith. We can come to think of ourselves as pretty darn good because of what we’ve done for the Lord: good works that we want others to notice and be impressed by; prayers meant not for the Lord’s ears but for the ears of those who may be so fortunate to hear us; fasting that is more about showmanship than sorrow for sin. Is it possible that our spiritual treasure could actually be warped and twisted into something that in the name of God completely obscures God and puts us in the center of attention? Yes, it is possible, and it happens all the time.
This season of Lent that we are entering into today is an opportunity for us intentionally and purposefully to examine our hearts and probe deeply that question: where is my treasure? Our heart and our treasure are inextricably intertwined. Today’s Scripture lessons speak clearly about matters of the heart. “Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents over disaster” (Joel 2:12-13). What is near and dear to our heart makes us passionate and enthusiastic. If we’re going to return to the Lord in this Lenten season, it cannot be half-hearted; just sort of putting in our time and going through the motions. That is an offense to God – coming before the Lord saying we are repentant of our sin, when in fact we’re not repentant at all. Before God, our hearts are dead within us; cold and lifeless.
Recognizing how deeply imbedded sin is in the fabric of our lives – in our very nature itself – our prayer can only be the prayer of the psalmist: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). It is precisely then, when we recognize that before almighty God we are but dust and ashes, and that we have no claim on God – it is then that light begins to break upon us and the words of the psalmist are fulfilled in us: “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The work of God’s Law strips away whatever false treasure there is in our lives that we try to hide behind. The work of God’s Law that accuses us and convicts us of sin is absolutely necessary so that our hearts, being cut to the quick, may be prepared to receive the true and lasting treasure, the treasure of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
My friends, this is Lenten treasure – treasure that will not fade away or deteriorate in this life or in the life to come. It is timeless and eternal. It is the good news that “For our sake [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Through the blood which Jesus shed upon the cross, we have been declared “not guilty,” and set free from sin and death and hell. In Christ, we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The treasure of our faith in Jesus is literally more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:7). In the weeks ahead we will be focusing on this Lenten treasure of faith as we look at Old Testament figures: the faith of Noah, the faith of Abraham, the faith of Moses, the faith of the Israelites, and finally Jesus, the perfecter of our faith. Join us on Wednesday evenings for the Lenten journey that begins today.
May the rich treasure of Jesus’ suffering and death that has reconciled us to God be our strength and joy throughout this Lenten season. Amen.