I heard someone use the phrase, “Monkey Trap” to describe the method used to capture monkeys, so I did what many of us do when we need to learn something… I went to YouTube and typed “Monkey Trap.” To be clear, I had heard of the phrase before and understood what it meant, but I never looked for a video that actually showed how it worked.
One of the videos that was listed showed a man put something in one of the holes of a hardened termite mound, and he did this in a way that the monkeys in the area could see. He did this because he understood that the only way the monkey could remove his hand from the hole was if he let go of whatever it grabbed, and he knew that the monkey would most likely be unwilling to let go of whatever he grabbed.
In the video, one of the monkeys walked up to the hole and reached into the hole to take what the man placed in the hole. Once the monkey tried to leave the mound, he could not because of his clenched fist and his unwillingness to let go of the thing in his hand. While the monkey was freaking out because it could not get it’s hand out, the man walked up to the monkey with a rope that he used to tie around the monkey’s neck to take him into captivity.
For whatever the reason, the monkey would not let go of what was in its hand because it had to have the thing the man put into the hole. The problem was really a problem of perspective and perception. Perspective is, “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something.” It is a point of view.” Perception is, “a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.” It is the way you think about or understand someone or something. Your perception is often affected by your perspective.
Jesus’ sermon is one for the Christian, and it is a sermon that is designed to get you in the right perspective to change your perception.
Before we dive into Matthew 6:19-24, I need you to understand what the word, “Hermeneutics” means. Hermeneutics is the method used for understanding the Bible. It is a system used for interpreting the point that the biblical authors had for any given scripture passage. When someone refers to a name, word, phrase, or verse as the “hermenutical key” of a section of scripture being studied, they are saying that name, word, phrase, or verse is the key to understanding the context of the verses that surround it. I believe the hermeneutical key (or linchpin) to understanding our passage this morning (Matthew 6:19-24) is found in verses 22-23, which states: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” I believe that these verses are the key to understanding verses 19-21 and verse 24.
When you read Matthew 6:19-24, it sounds as if verses 22-23 do not belong in the passage. In fact, if you take verses 22-23 out completely, it makes Jesus’ statement on treasure and money sound better. But, if you are able to see how these verses fit together, it will open up Jesus’ teaching in a much more helpful way.
We Need Healthy Eyes (vv. 22-23)
What does Jesus mean by a good eye versus a bad eye? Does he mean the same thing that he means in verse 21 regarding the heart? In the Bible, the heart is a reference used to refer to the core of a person’s being. We see the use of both the heart and the eyes in this way in Psalm 119:36-37, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” Maybe Jesus is saying that a healthy eye, like a spiritually healthy heart, will lead you in the right direction. But the way Jesus’ disciples and those listening to the Sermon on the Mount would have heard his words: “…if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” was different than the way you may hear his words.
Again, I cannot stress enough how important it is to remember that Jesus was deliberate in his word choice in everything he said on earth, especially in his Sermon on the Mount. The phrase, “…if your eye is bad” should not be understood in a physical way like being nearsighted or farsighted or blind. The Greek word for “bad” is ponēros, which literally means “evil” or
“wicked.” Literally, the phrase Jesus used is “evil eye” which was a Jewish idiom signifying a jealous, envying, or resentful spirit. It is to look at what others have that you do not have with envy and discontentment. So, what about the healthy eye? The Greek word Jesus uses for “healthy” is haplous which can be translated sincere. It is a person that has no ulterior motives. Jesus is contrasting the healthy eye with the evil eye; the healthy eye signifies a generous spirit that looks at the treasures of this world and the money of this world with the right perspective.
Okay, now we have to do one more thing before we move onto the verses before and the verses after our Lord’s statement on a healthy eye verses a bad eye. Remember what Jesus said about the Law and the Prophets early in his Sermon on the Mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). The book of Deuteronomy is part of the section of the Old Testament called the Law. In the Law, it was required that all of Israel forgive the debts owed every seventh year in light of God’s promise to bless them in the land that he gave them. The seventh year was a year when a person’s debt was canceled. I want you to listen to Deuteronomy 15:9-11, and see if you can hear what Moses wrote in Jesus’ words:
Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, “The seventh year, the year of release is near,” and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:9–11)
Would it surprise you that the Hebrew people were not very good about obeying God’s command to forgive any debt a person had against them every seventh year? The inheritance that God gave Israel included land, but that was not the best part of their inheritance. Israel was told what the best part of their inheritance was in Deuteronomy 7:6-8,
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:6–8)
This is why the Hebrew people included in their worship songs words like the ones we see in Psalm 16:5, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot…. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:5, 11). The best part of Israel’s inheritance was that they got Yahweh!
Do you see now why Jesus said: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness” (Matthew 6:22–23)? The guy in Deuteronomy 15 who is unwilling to cancel the debt of his brother, does so because he does not understand or comprehend what it means to have God as his inheritance. So, with Deuteronomy 7 and 15 as our backdrop, let’s move on to the rest of our text.
We Need a Right Perspective to See the True Value of Earthly Treasures (vv. 19-21)
In these verses you have three sets of contrasts: In verses 22-23, it is the healthy eye in contrast to the evil eye. In verses 19-21, it is earthly treasures in contrast to heavenly treasures. In verse 24, it is God in contrast to money. In these verses, Jesus is speaking to the Christian. Martyn Lloyd Jones said of these verses: “The great secret of life according to our Lord is to see ourselves and to conceive of ourselves always as children of our heavenly Father. If only we do that we shall be delivered immediately from two of the main temptations that attack us all in life.”
To “lay up” treasures is literally to stockpile those treasures. Jesus said, “Do not stockpile for yourselves treasures on earth…”. Instead, “Stockpile for yourself treasures in heaven.” There is irony in what Jesus says here though. Look at what he says about treasures on earth. How lasting are the treasures of earth? Jesus tells us: “moth and rust destroy” and thieves break in and steal. In other words, your stockpile on earth will be eaten by moths, destroyed by rust, and taken by thieves. If thieves do not get what you gather, then the moths will eat up your clothing. And what the moths cannot eat, rust and decay will.
The treasures of earth Jesus is referring to are not just clothes, metals, and the stuff that thieves look for. Treasures on earth are the things that the world puts so much value in that have no lasting value. Beauty eventually fades, our bodies wear out, and death will take whatever fame you may have had so that few people will remember who you were. The thing that you can leave behind, such as your home, precious metals, or money also have a shelf life that will one day lose its value. There is a whole book in the Bible that addresses the fleeting nature of life and the things we acquire; that book is Ecclesiastes (note the final two verses of this book). This is one of the reasons the apostle John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15–16).
When Jesus says in Matthew 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourself…” The verb he uses in the Greek is in the present imperative, which is a statement of command. But it is not just any old command, because it is in the present imperative, Jesus is commanding us to be constantly vigilant in not stockpiling earthly treasures. In other words, he is telling us to fight against the temptation to stockpile treasures on earth. Why? Because, we like the monkey in the story I shared, will grab on to the stuff of this world and will not let go until the enemy comes along with his noose to keep us captive.
However, there is a type of treasure that moths, rust, and thieves cannot touch. Jesus commands us to stockpile those kinds of treasures. Again, Jesus uses the verb “lay up” in the present imperative, which is a command that we stockpile treasures in heaven with constant vigilance. Now many have read these words and have concluded that we must be busy living lives that please Jesus so that we can have more rewards in heaven. Now, it is true that we Christians will be rewarded in heaven for the way we live our lives on earth, but think carefully what Jesus is saying here. Here is what Jesus promised the Christian hours before his crucifixion: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1–3). That is not all that has been given to the Christian! It gets better.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5)
Here is another promise concerning what has been given to you dear Christian:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11, 16–18)
There is also coming a day when we will inherit heaven on earth after God makes all things new. On that day, the Christian will receive the kingdom of heaven without all of the things that hinder our joy on this side of eternity: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3–4).
Jesus told a parable later in Matthew that is really about the attitude of the one who discovers the treasure of heaven: “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). In his joy, the Christian discovers a treasure that is worth infinitely more than anything this world could offer. Jesus said, “For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21). Or, to say it a different way: “Your heart will follow whatever treasure you consider most valuable.” If you have the right perspective regarding what treasure is worth having, then you will have a right perception on life.
We Must Understand that Freedom Can Only Come Through One Master (v. 24)
So, where is your true treasure? If you say it is in heaven, what is it about heaven that makes your heavenly treasure worth having and keeping? This is where a correct perspective will give you a right perception about everything else. Is the treasure a bunch of rewards you will receive for living the Christian life well? Are you going to sell everything so that you can have crowns and rewards in heaven? I do not think so. There will be rewards in heaven, but that is not what makes heaven worth keeping and everything else you have worth letting go of.
So, what is it? What is it about heaven that makes living a life that honors Jesus worth it? I will read for you three scripture passages that will help you answer that question:
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” (1 Peter 3:18)
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1–4)
“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:12–14)
So, I will ask it again: What makes heaven a treasure worth having above all other things? It is the, “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4). It is the light momentary affliction that,“is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). What makes heaven… heaven is the One who will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:1-4), and the Christ who, “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18a). It is the life we now have in and through Christ (Col 3:2-3). The treasure that Jesus has commanded us to lay up is the one that has already been stockpiled up in heaven and is the inheritance that is yours. This is why it is worth following Jesus outside of the gates where it is dangerous because, “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).
Christian, the treasure that is in heaven, is yours. This is why it makes no sense to stockpile in treasures on earth when all that belongs to God is yours in Christ. Your heart can only go after one type of treasure. There is an enemy who wants you to be attracted to the treasures of earth to trap you and to ultimately rob you. Jesus came so that you can have life! This is why he said, “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” (v. 24). There is only one Master you were meant for, and it is through him that you can know and experience true freedom.
If you are a Christian, you are no baboon; you are a child of the living God. When you have the correct perspective by seeing all of life through the angle of the cross, your perception will compel you to hold the treasures on earth with an open hand as one who belongs to the King of kings and Lord of lords as a child of the God who owns it all. Permit me to close with something I read earlier this week: “The church is not a Trinitarian afterthought in response to man’s fall in the garden—quite the contrary. The church is the focused domain where all God’s presence, promises, and purposes are unveiled and eternally realized.”
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company; 1976); p. 351.
 Dustin Benge. The Loveliest Place (Wheaton, IL: Crossway; 2022) p. 15).