This post is a rough transcript of a sermon Matthew gave at our church in Eureka, MT on August 13. It has been edited from the recording above.
Turn with me to Luke chapter 18:18. “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Have you ever asked this question? Somewhere deep in the heart of every man, woman, and child is the recognition that this life is not all we were made for, that there is an eternity beyond this temporary life, and that there is a door by which we may enter it. Jesus responds:
Lk. 18:19 … Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. 20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. 21 And [the young man] said, All these have I kept [or observed) from my youth up.
“v22 Now when Jesus heard these things…” We are told in Mark that Jesus beholding him loved him. It was from that love that Jesus confronts this young man with the truth of his condition, and with the great need of his soul, in these words: “One thing thou lackest…”
I’ve always been struck by this verse. How would you feel if you knew, if Jesus told you there was only one lack in your life between you and eternal life? Not 100, not 10, just one thing. That sounds pretty good on first glance, …until we recognize the meaning of Christ’s words. For but just one lack can prevent us from receiving eternal life. How so? Let’s listen to Christ’s words:
v22 “… Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [Mark adds “come, take up the cross”], follow me. 23 And when [that young ruler] heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. [Mark tells us “And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” …] 24 And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
“How hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of heaven” – The Greek word translated “hardly” means impracticably, that is “impossible in practice to do or to carry out.” Jesus is not speaking to a secular businessman. He’s not addressing the godless monopolist. He is telling us, commandment-keepers: the things you own can keep you out of heaven.
Jesus does not confront this young man with how he made the money, whether he worked diligently in a legitimate business. The testimony of this young man is that he kept the commandments, including not stealing and not lying. But there’s a problem, for when this young man was confronted with the great need of his soul, he turned and went away sorrowing. Why was that? What was going on in his heart, what is the mechanism by which a commandment-keeper, like us, can see the doorsteps of eternal life and not enter in?
Cares of this life/world
In Luke chapter 8 Jesus tells a parable that speaks to the heart condition of this young man: the parable of the soil. We remember there are four types of soil:
- Pathway, birds ate, never germinated
- Rocks, germinated, but immediately withered
- Thorns, germinated and grew, but choked
- Good ground, germinated, grew, and bore a harvest
It is the third soil I want us to pay attention to as Jesus reveals the meaning in Luke 8:14: “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.”
For us, as for the young man, the Word that has been sowed in our hearts has germinated, it hasn’t immediately withered, we are not the pathway or the rocks. The defining distinction between the third and the fourth soils is whether the “cares and riches and pleasures of this life” prevented bearing fruit. “Cares and riches and pleasures of this life” do not prevent the germination of the seed; they prevent the maturation and fruitfulness of the seed of the Word. And how do they do this? By choking the Word.
In order to understand how cares choke the Word we need to understand what a care is. So:
What is a care?
The Greek word translated “cares” means divided (Jesus uses the root of this word when He said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand”). This word means divided in the sense of distraction: divided attention, competing interests, limited resources. Cares are that which divides our thoughts, concerns, anxieties, solicitudes, provision for whatever is being cared for.
Ok, but what does have to do with riches and our young friend? Just this: Every treasure brings with it the obligation of concern, that is a care. Intrinsic in every treasure is the burden of care. Our heart cares for our treasures, which is why where our treasure is, … there our heart will follow.
It is hard for a rich man to enter heaven, because the burden of care is so great. Every treasure he must care for is another little thread tying his thoughts, dividing his concerns, his attention to this earth. And there’s only so much soil, only so many threads in your heart, only so many moments in a day.
Mk. 4:19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
The cares of this life choking the Word, Jesus tells us, is a unique problem of those who have received the Word, but have made insufficient room for it to grow and fruit in their lives. The Word is like little plant, requiring attention, concern, care. But other things entering in choke it.
Choking means restricting respiration. What is the breath of the soul? Prayer. If you are too busy to pray, you’re choking, and you need a spiritual Heimlich maneuver to remove whatever is blocking, whatever is preventing open and clear respiration with the breath of heaven.
But prayer is choked not just when it doesn’t happen, but when it is not heartfelt, when it is not urgent, when it is not spoken in full recognition of our desperate need. If we do not recognize Christ as the only one who can supply our lack when we pray, we are just as surely choking as when we don’t pray. I fear many of us today have walking hypoxia: we can function as though nothing is wrong when we’re about to die.
In order to be the blessing to the world which God would have his children, we need to pray and to watch unto prayer. Never should we be placed in a position where we shall be so pressed by care that we shall neglect the study of the Bible or fail to attend the prayer and social meeting. We are not to lose heaven out of our reckoning. The things which belong unto our eternal happiness, which make rich and add no sorrow, are not to be crowded out of our minds by any manner of responsibility.The Signs of the Times, September 4, 1893, Par. 9
There’s another spiritual symptom when we’re choking: our vision gets blurry. Turn with me to Luke 21:34: “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.”
What is surfeiting? Excess. These three, excess, drunkenness, and the cares of this life, cause a condition where we are not aware, we don’t perceive the nearness of the coming of the day of the Lord. As Bible students who are to recognize the fulfillment of the prophecies of Christ’s soon return, do you see why we should be so guarded against excess, drunkenness, and the cares of this life? We should all be asking the Lord to show us, does my life reveal excess; am I intoxicated, are my spiritual senses dulled; are the cares of this life tying my heart, thread, by tiny thread to this doomed planet?
The Devil’s free lunch
You see, the devil has a business model that was popular in the 1920s. This business model was to give free burgers to laborers. The burgers were very salty, so salty that you’d be parched if you simply ate them. So the bars that gave away the free burgers would offer cold beer, for sale, to help take away the craving they had created by the salty burgers. This led to the saying, … “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
I want to tell you, the devil has free burgers on every corner. Treasure that’s free, cheap, on sale, discounted, closeout… The only problem with the devil’s burgers is that they contain a salty flavor that makes it so easy to drink the devil’s beer. He wants us to be more interested in our earthly treasure than our souls, because he’s more interested in our souls than our earthly treasure.
Revelation 17 & 18 tell us that the “merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of [Babylon’s] delicacies,” and “the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” God warns us through the prophet John that the Great Harlot uses the abundance of her delicacies to move men down river to her plantation. She wants men drunk on the devil’s beer, drunk with the cares of this life, because we ate the devil’s burgers.
I want to plead with you this morning: beware of the devil’s burgers! I know they’re cheap, I know they’re readily available, … I know everyone else is eating them. But in the end they will rob you, intoxicate you with the cares of this life, and leave you drunk in the moment in this earth’s history when above all others God calls us to be alert.
I saw that Satan bade his angels lay their snares especially for those who were looking for Christ’s second appearing and keeping all the commandments of God [like the young ruler]. Satan told his angels that the churches were asleep. He would increase his power and lying wonders, and he could hold them. “But,” he said, “the sect of Sabbathkeepers we hate; they are continually working against us, and taking from us our subjects, to keep the hated law of God. Go, make the possessors of lands and money drunk with cares. If you can make them place their affections upon these things, we shall have them yet.[what chilling words] They may profess what they please, only make them care more for money than for the success of Christ’s kingdom or the spread of the truths we hate. …Early Writings, page 266
The devil’s burgers may be organic, all-natural, health burgers. Often there’s nothing wrong with the treasure our cares are placed upon, but for the fact that its salty aftertaste leads us to be drunken with the cares of this life. They lead us places we didn’t intend to go, to do things we didn’t intend to do.
A few weeks ago after Rachel found sidewalk chalk on sale for a few dollars, I sarcastically commented to her that now we just need to pour a few thousand dollars of sidewalk so the kids can use it. That’s how the devil’s burgers are.
So I repeat the appeal of Christ, “Take heed to yourselves [be on your guard], lest at any time your hearts be weighed down with excess, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.”
The cares of this life not only prevent our preparation for Christ’s coming, they are a means by which the fruitfulness of the Word in our lives is interrupted. Inspiration tells us:
Were all who profess His name bearing fruit to His glory, how quickly the whole world would be sown with the seed of the gospel. Quickly the last great harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come to gather the precious grain.Christ’s Object Lessons, page 69
Excess, intoxication with the abundance of Babylon’s delicacies, the deceitfulness of riches, and the cares of this life are special tools of Satan in delaying Christ’s return. The test of your heart and mine is, am I, are you, bringing forth fruit to perfection?
Luke 14:16 … A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: 17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
We live in the moment when the call “all things are now ready” is going into this world. Christ is ready to come, but waits for those who must be called. And how do they respond?
v18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. 19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. 20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.
Again, notice these are not those who have no relationship with the King. They receive an invitation to the marriage supper. But: See my piece of ground, try my oxen, married a wife… They all had an obligation to their treasure.
I want to say this carefully: There are some that should not marry, for that marriage would prevent their preparation for the marriage supper of the Lamb. There are some that should not enter business, for that business would so absorb their attention that they would be unwilling to respond to the call of the Master, “go work in my field today.” There are some that should not buy property, for that property would become more important to them than time with the King.
It’s not wrong to be married; it’s not wrong to be in business; it’s not wrong to own property. But intrinsic in all treasure is the danger that our obligation to it, the cares of this life, will so choke us as to render us unwilling to answer the call of the King.
I don’t know what the King is calling you to do this morning, but I know He is calling you. Asking permission to show what is in our hearts. What am I allowing to grow in the soil of my heart? Is it making it hard to breath? Are you making the things of eternity subordinate to the things of this world?
What shall we do?
If you recognize the Lord speaking to your heart, that the cares of this life are choking you, what should you do? I can only repeat the divine prescription: Mk. 10:21 “Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”
But, but, but…, that wasn’t what Christ was really meaning, was it? Or, even if it was for that young man, I’m not rich, so it doesn’t apply to me. Yup, that’s it. I’m sure this appeal applies to someone, somewhere, but not anyone around here, and certainly not me. Right?
Sometimes it is not that Christ is unclear, but that He is too clear, that causes us to “misunderstand” His call. I recognize this is a dangerous sermon to preach. Not because someone will hear God’s call to sell all, take up their cross, and follow Him, but because someone will hear God’s call to sell all, take up their cross, and follow Him, … and won’t do it. That day in Judea a young man heard Christ’s call, stood on the threshold of eternity, and walked away. Today, another young man, or young woman, another successful man or woman, hears Christ’s call, and stands on the threshold of eternity.
The standard of being a disciple of Christ has never changed. All are called to be willing to leave all for the work of the gospel. Inspiration tells us ”Every soul is tested as to whether the desire for temporal good or for fellowship with Christ is strongest. … No man who makes any reserve can be the disciple of Christ.” DA 273. While not all are called to sell all now, the question to be settled in each heart is “What is God’s command? and what His promise? Knowing these, [let us] obey the one, and trust the other” DA 121.2.
I pray the Spirit of God is striving with you today. Please yield to the call of God to your heart. I want to finish with three practical applications:
1. Choose to refuse the world’s standards and service
There are many whose hearts are aching under a load of care because they seek to reach the world’s standard. They have chosen its service, accepted its perplexities, adopted its customs. Thus their character is marred, and their life made a weariness. In order to gratify ambition and worldly desires, they wound the conscience, and bring upon themselves an additional burden of remorse. …
The yoke of Christ is the only source of rest:
Mt. 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The yoke of Christ is the yoke of service. It is only in His service that we will ever find true rest.
… Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service and honor of God supreme will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet.Desire of Ages, page 330
We will either accept the perplexities of the world, or we will accept the principle of making the service and honor of God supreme. One burden is the path of thorns; the other the path of fruitfulness. Choose today to refuse the world’s standards and service.
2. Beware of covetousness
Jesus appeals to us, Lk. 12:15, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
Beware of the creeping, sucking, seductive, fashionable, popular, seemingly justifiable call of this world’s treasures. It’s so easy to adjust my standards and expectations and relations to treasure based on those around me. And just a little above me. If you’ve had the thought in this sermon, “but I’m not rich,” you are demonstrating the effects of covetousness.
Let me change your perspective: If you have a car, even if it’s not drivable, you’re in the top richest ~20% of the world; if you make MT minimum wage you’re in the top richest ~10%; if you make $30/hr you are in the global elite, top richest 1%. But covetousness blinds us to our riches, for it is the expression of a unsatisfiable heart, constantly craving more.
Do you know what it takes to starve out covetousness?
Constant, self-denying benevolence is God’s remedy for the cankering sins of selfishness and covetousness. God has arranged systematic benevolence [referring to tithing and systematic offerings] to sustain His cause and relieve the necessities of the suffering and needy. He has ordained that giving should become a habit, that it may counteract the dangerous and deceitful sin of covetousness. Continual giving starves covetousness to death. Systematic benevolence is designed in the order of God to tear away treasures from the covetous as fast as they are gained and to consecrate them to the Lord, to whom they belong.Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 3, page 548
Recognize you are in a battle to the death. Either covetousness will be starved to death, or covetousness will eat you alive. If you are not systematically, honestly returning to God what belongs to him in tithes and offerings, you are feeding a monster that will destroy you. You might think I can’t survive without that 10%, but I’m here to tell you you won’t survive with it. Beware of covetousness.
3. Lay up treasure in heaven
Heaven, brothers and sisters, is a real place with a real economy and real treasure. And Christ tells us you can really send your treasure there. And you must if you will enter there, for not only does our treasure follow our heart, but as Christ said in Mt. 6:21, where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.
As a people standing on the threshold of eternity we should not only be honest with God in our tithes and offerings, but we should be actively seeking for opportunities to exchange this world’s treasures for the treasures where moth and rust do not corrupt, and thieves don’t break in and steal (Mt. 6:20).
As Peter wrote, we should be a “peculiar people,” if for no other reason, because of our relation to treasure. We should not be motivated by what the world is motivated by. We should be making decisions with our treasure that the world is mystified by. Beware when your decisions make sense to someone who is living with no interest in going to heaven.
I am convinced that the work of the Church of God on earth will finish with no less sacrifice that marked its beginning. I want to challenge you with a statement I read recently that was very convicting:
Houses and lands will be of no use to the saints in the time of trouble, for they will then have to flee before infuriated mobs, and at that time their possessions cannot be disposed of to advance the cause of present truth. I was shown that it is the will of God that the saints should cut loose from every encumbrance before the time of trouble comes, and make a covenant with God through sacrifice. If they have their property on the altar and earnestly inquire of God for duty, He will teach them when to dispose of these things. Then they will be free in the time of trouble and have no clogs to weigh them down.Early Writings, page 56
I saw that if any held on to their property and did not inquire of the Lord as to their duty, He would not make duty known, and they would be permitted to keep their property, and in the time of trouble it would come up before them like a mountain to crush them, and they would try to dispose of it, but would not be able. I heard some mourn like this: “The cause was languishing, God’s people were starving for the truth, and we made no effort to supply the lack; now our property is useless. Oh, that we had let it go, and laid up treasure in heaven!” I saw that a sacrifice did not increase, but it decreased and was consumed. I also saw that God had not required all of His people to dispose of their property at the same time; but if they desired to be taught, He would teach them, in a time of need, when to sell and how much to sell. Some have been required to dispose of their property in times past to sustain the Advent cause, while others have been permitted to keep theirs until a time of need. Then, as the cause needs it, their duty is to sell.Early Writings, page 57
Do you believe that Jesus is coming soon? Do you believe the signs around us are increasing and that the last events of human history are approaching?
One of the primary responsibilities of a Christian property owner in the last days is to be regularly, earnestly asking God to reveal when you are to sell. Not to make a profit in a hot market, not to upgrade to a dream property, but to save yourself from being crushed by the guilt of what selfishness kept you from doing. If you own property and you are not regularly praying for the Lord to reveal when you are to sell your property you are preparing to be crushed by it in the time of trouble. God will not answer a prayer that is not made. I’m not here to tell anyone to go sell their house. What I am saying, is that we should be like the young man and ask the Lord, “what must I do,” …but don’t walk away.
I believe this principle applies to all objects, all earthly treasures of value or capacity for good. Inquire of the Lord, “when will you have me divest of this?” And He will be faithful to answer your request and show you when to sell. Now is the time that we should:
… be cutting down [our] possessions instead of increasing them. We are about to move to a better country, even a heavenly. Then let us not be dwellers upon the earth, but be getting things into as compact a compass as possible.Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5, page 152
At the end of Christ’s life, when He said, “I have finished the work, [Father], which Thou gavest Me to do” (Jn. 17:4), all he owned was four parts to his garments, perhaps sandals, belt, hat, and coat. And He gave even those up when He took His cross. He became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich (2Cor. 8:9), not in the things of this world, but in heavenly treasure.
This morning Jesus calls us, from the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, to a precious experience. A life that few today experience. A life of purpose and peace in our Father’s service. When our work on earth is done, we will, like Christ, have nothing, for it will all have gone into the work. But we will have gained everything, for he who has the Son has eternal life, and He will bring us unto Himself, and “on those peaceful [heavenly] plains, beside those living streams, God’s people, so long pilgrims and wanderers, shall find a home” GC 675.1. May we all be there in that day, is my daily prayer and fervent appeal! Amen