When you study Creation and the Garden of Eden, a good question to ask is: “Why did God plant the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?”
The answer is this: faith in the Triune God is a tried and tested thing.
Do you confess the truth of the Word of God in what you say and do—or not?
Do you bear the weight of the cross God gives you in patient faith—or not?
God taught Adam. Adam taught Eve. Eve was deceived and gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
The fault wasn’t with God or His Word. The fault was Man’s failure to hear the Word of God and do it.
Today, Jesus says, “Do not be anxious” (Matthew 6:25).
And today, six feet away from everyone else, behind masks and piles of Clorox wipes, we say, “Yes Lord.”
“Do not be anxious,” and we say, “Yeah right.”
Context will help us.
Matthew chapter six is the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter five, Jesus establishes His authority as a teacher, repeating the phrase, “But I say to you” six times (cf. Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.”
Jesus speaks with authority, establishing both who He is and what the Law of God is: commands not suggestions—deserving the wrath of God and not a slap-on-the-wrist.
And just so we all know exactly how high the bar has been set, Jesus says, in the last verse of chapter five: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Then, in Matthew chapter six, Jesus shows some of what that looks like.
He says, “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you” (Matthew 6:2).
He excludes from perfection the trumpeting of your own achievements. God doesn’t share glory, and we shouldn’t want Him to.
Then Jesus says, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues…that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5).
So we pray in our rooms, door shut, to our Father who sees what is done in secret, will rewards us.
And we pray outside our rooms, doors open, that all the world would one day see God face to face—whether anyone ever sees us or not.
“And when you fast,” Jesus says, “do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:16). So we mix our fasting with joy, that the practice of our faith is not a burden to others.
And, finally, Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19).
It’s all fleeting. It’s all vanity. It’s all for naught.
Buy the new iPad if you want. Or rejoice that you live in the house your grandfather built. And—to you—both of those things will be meaningless in either a thousand years or tomorrow, if that’s when Jesus comes.
There’s nothing wrong with owning a new iPad. There’s nothing wrong with being humbled by and thankful for living in the house your grandfather built. But those are not the treasures Jesus tells us to lay up.
“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” Jesus says. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (cf. Matthew 6:20-21).
Only now do we come to the first verse of today’s Gospel lesson: “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 [mammon]” (Matthew 6:24).
And mammon is the better word.
It’s the word Jesus actually said, for one, and it conveys more than currency, which is the point.
There are two ways: the way of life and the way of death. You can follow both God and mammon as easily as you can follow a road that forks.
It’s either/or. God is neither fooled nor mocked.
So after all of that, Jesus dares to say to us, “Do not be anxious.”
From our perspective, it’s like He doesn’t remember anything He just said.
The command to be perfect followed by commands that are already nigh impossible, and Jesus tacks on, “Do not be anxious”?
Again—as it was in the Garden—the fault’s not in the Word but in our failure to hear the Word rightly.
Telling a child the rules is a completely different thing from telling a child to obey the rules.
Any child can learn the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). But no child naturally does.
Any child can learn Ephesians 6:1, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” But no child naturally does.
In whatever vocation God has given you, you must learn the rules—and do them. What an obvious thing!
It’s not enough for the Christian to know he must give to those in need, friend or foe, sharing the bounty God provides.
He must also do it.
It’s not enough for the Christian to know he needs to pray about it, he must also pray about it, humbling himself under the holy name of God, hoping for God’s will to be done and trusting that it is.
It’s not enough for the Christian to think that fasting is okay—if you’re in to that sort of thing. Rather, Christians are in the habit of setting aside the wants of the body for the needs of the soul, storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth.
It’s not enough for the Christian to hear the Word of God. He must also do it.
James writes, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
And Jesus says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).
But when Jesus says, “Do not be anxious,” we are, at first, anything but comforted.
He doesn’t leave us with those words and the demands of the Law. He argues, from least to greatest, so we would be comforted.
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?…Therefore, do not be anxious” (cf. Matthew 6:26-31).
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these will be added unto you” (cf. Matthew 6:33).
The wrong way to say that is to say, “God is out there, go find Him.” Or, the popular variants of that, “It’s up to you. Just decide. Just pray about it. Let go and Let God.”
The right way to say that is: “Look at the birds of the air: they do nothing, yet our Father in heaven feeds them. And the lilies, how they grow. They don’t work, yet glorious Solomon was not arrayed like even one. You are worth more than the birds. You are worth more than the fuel for our fires” (cf. Matthew 6:26-31).
“Therefore, do not be anxious.”
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and HIs righteousness, and all this will be added unto you.”
And to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness is to call a thing what it is.
It is God who seeks, brings back, binds up, strengthens, and feeds—not you.
You are the poor, miserable sinner who was lost and is now found. Who was dead and buried and found, covered, purchased, won, raised up, and forgiven.
In the Parable of the Buried Treasure, Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).
God searched the earth. He found you, precious in the sight of the Lord, made in the image of His Son.
He covered you. Gave all that He had—His Son, His only Son—and in joy—purchased and won you away from sin, death, and satan.
“Do not be anxious,” Jesus says.
It is God who seeks, brings back, binds up, covers, buys, and raises up.
It was you who was lost and is now found.
Do not be anxious.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 15 Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt