By Pastor Glenn Pease
A purchasing agent had been given a bottle of rare old scotch for the holidays. It was a gift typical of the values of our day, and symbolic of the kind of happiness implied in the phrase, "Happy New Year!" He carefully pushed his precious package into his pocket and headed for home. On the way into the house he tripped over a child's toy wagon and tumbled head over heels. He landed on a patch of ice and slid into a tree. The first thing he felt was something warm trickling down his leg. "O no!" he groaned, "I sure hope that's blood."
The thing that makes a story like this funny is the shocking truth of it. The truth that many men do value the bottle so highly that they would sacrifice their own blood rather than it. Their own blood they would rather lose than see the loss of a bottle of booze. Many will try to really live this year by getting all they can out of a bottle. The poet describes one-
A dashing young fellow named Tim
With his mind by wine made dim,
Drove his car with a great deal of vim.
Said he, "I'm renouned
For covering ground."
But, alas, now the ground covers him.
Others will not be so foolish as to gamble their life away like this on New Year's Eve. They have to much to live for. They intend to really live in the coming year. They anticipate acquiring all the good things of life that will bring happiness. Their value system says, the best things in life cost money, and so to really live all you need to do is get more and more of that stuff which is tender when you have it and tough when you don't." Every little bit helps to boast us to the level of real living. Again the poet has captured the essence of this philosophy.
Ah, life is suddenly brighter, sweeter,
Fortune no longer fickle,
Here's time left on a parking meter
From somebody else's nickel.
For many the joys of the coming year will be in relationship to the gaining of more possessions. All of this is fine, but the facts of history and contemporary life, plus Scripture, all bear witness that this road does not lead to happiness. On the contrary, it leads to much anxiety. Jesus knew this and gave warning against the system of values that keeps you in a constant stew over things, even essential things like food and clothing. Get wrapped up in this system and you become a slave, and destroy real living.
One of the oddest things about modern life is the number of people who are spending money they haven't got for things they don't need to impress people they can't stand. It is a futile way to seek happiness, but millions will continue to try in the coming year. Others will seek by involvement in innumerable trivialities to find happiness. Horace Walpole has written, "When a great empire is in its decline, one symptom is that there is more eagerness upon trifles than upon essential objects."
Dean Briggs of Harvard experienced an illustration of modern devotion to trivia. He observed a group of Americans who were on their first visit to Rome. Morning after morning opportunities of a lifetime awaited them in the Eternal City. The Forum, the Coliseum, St. Peter's, and the whole city fabulously rich in historical association. Yet, each day they settled down in the hotel for a long morning of bridge. "What business had such people in Rome?" he asked. The coming year is filled with infinite potential for expanding our horizons and launching out on fresh new trails of discovery, but masses will be content to settle down and be preoccupied with respectable trivia. This is real living according to them.
To dine, to dance, to call, to break
No canon of the social code,
The little laws that lackeys make
The futile decalogue of mode.
How many a soul for these things lives,
With pious passion, grave intent,
While God in gracious bounty gives
The things that are more excellent.
These are the things we want to consider this morning. Not the trifles of the world, but the tremendous gifts of God. Jesus shows us a more excellent way to really live. Jesus offers an alternative to the futile value systems of the world. There is a choice to make that makes a difference. All of the choices the world offers come to the same blind alley and dead end. Every choice is a loser. Any decision you make on the level of the world's values will not lead to real living. They are all unsatisfying, and will lead you to feel like the hen pecked husband whose wife gave him two ties for Christmas. One was a bright green and the other a brilliant yellow. At the risk of ridicule he wore one the next day to try and please her. He chose the green one and came down to breakfast. His wife looked at him and said, "So you don't like the yellow one huh?" His alternative was really not a choice, for either choice would lead to the same end, and so it is with the world's values. They all fail to bring real happiness.
Jesus offers us an authentic alternative, and it is one that really makes a difference for both now and eternity. I stress the now, for it is a common error that supposes Christianity is a religion of hope for the future only. A kind of pie in the sky on high by and by when we die sort of hope. This is only one aspect of the truth. Jesus came to bring part of the pie of eternity into time. He came that we might have life now, and life more abundant. Doctor Zhivago said, "Man is born to live, not to prepare for life." He is right, and it is a false view that says we are here on earth just to prepare for eternity. Life does not begin in eternity. Even eternal life begins now, and now is the time to really live. Jesus gives us the alternative that leads to really living now in verse 33. First notice that it is-
I. AN AUTHENTIC ALTERNATIVE VALUE.
Jesus is stating his system of values in contrast to the values of the Gentiles where the heathen, or in our context the value system of unbelievers. Jesus has been talking about the material aspect of life-the life of physical needs. He says this sums up the level on which the world seeks. There time and energy; their thought and skill, are devoted to the physical. Jesus says that God knows we need these things, but notice he does not condemn the search for the necessities of life. He knows that we cannot live without food and clothing, but he says we are not to put these things as number one on the list for life. Instead, we are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, then all these things will be added unto us. To really live we must put God even before the necessities of life.
Jesus does not eliminate the physical. He just puts it in its proper place. He adds it on to the primary values of the spiritual. He makes it the caboose instead of the engine on the train of life. Jesus recognizes the physical, but makes it clear that it is not primary. The value systems of the world are not false values, but they substitute the good for the best. They fail to make a distinction between what they live by and what they live for. Jesus puts the emphasis on what to live for. He stresses the goal and purpose of living, and not the mere mechanics of it. One author helps us see the difference by listing some examples:
"We live by meat and drink, but we live for the things
that pertain to the mind and heart. We live by the prose
of life, we live for its poetry. We live by the money which
we earn at the daily task, but we live for the things which
money cannot buy. We live by the hour, the day, the week,
and the year, but we live for eternity....We live by toil, but it
it for service. We live by the tangible things, but we live for
The world's value systems get twisted around so that people end up living for the means rather than for the end. The result is they have no goal and no purpose, and, therefore, no real living. Jesus says put first things first. Put the ultimate in its proper place and all of life will fall into place. The alternative value that Jesus says we must put first is the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not heaven. Heaven, as Henry Drummond said, is only the capital of the kingdom of God. His kingdom extends anywhere where his authority is bowed to, and his will obeyed. The kingdom of God is where God reigns. His reign is universal in nature, but when it comes to man we enter rebel territory where God is often not reigning. We seek the kingdom of God when we seek to conquer our rebel spirit and submit to God. It is when we surrender our lives to be channels of his love and service that we seek the kingdom. We seek the kingdom when we seek to be Christlike, and to be filled with the Spirit so as to bring forth the fruit of the spirit. We seek the kingdom when we allow God's will to reign in our hearts and lives. This is the authentic alternative value Jesus says will lead to real living in the coming year and for eternity. Next notice that it is also-
II. AN ABSOLUTE ALTERNATIVE VALUE.
Jesus says to seek first the kingdom of God, and not second or third. God will not play second fiddle to anyone or anything. He demands first place, for he would not be God if he did not. An absolute cannot be reduced to the relative or secondary and remain an absolute. God must remain God, and, therefore, he must demand the position of first place in our lives. If we really want to live, we must yield the throne of our hearts to God. If there is one single factor that will bring more unhappiness in the coming year than all others, it will be selfishness-the reign of the capital I upon the throne.
C. S. Lewis pictures Satan instructing his servants, and he says, "Above all, get the earthly creature, man, thinking of himself, of what happens to him instead of what he ought to be doing. Take all sense of purpose and dedication out of his life, and he will become the obedient servant of hell." All of us will face this decision time and time again this year. Will I let self and pride take the throne and give the devil the victory, or will I say, "Get thee behind me Satan," and put the kingdom of God first? There is no middle ground. If God is not first, he is not God, and you have some other master. Jesus did not say that you ought not to serve God and mammon, you must not, you dare not, but rather, you cannot. It is impossible to serve two masters. God must be first as an absolute value, for he will not share the throne. He is Lord of all, or not Lord at all.
There are those who try to live under a dual monarchy and give equal time to God and some other ultimate value. They deceive only themselves, and die never having really lived. This is the case we see in the life of Jesse James. There is no doubt about him doing good and kind acts for people, but his goodness is a perfect example of the kind of goodness the devil himself would perform. Self was on the throne through it all, and there was nothing of the reign of God. He once road into a ranch in Iowa with his brother Frank, and when he noticed the woman was upset as she fixed them a meal, he asked her what her problem was. She told him the mortgage was due on their farm and they couldn't pay it. They were about to lose everything. Jesse asked her who the landlord was, and how much they owed. She told him where he lived. They left immediately and brought back a receipt paid in full.
It was truly a noble deed of kindness, even if the money was stolen, but the story does not end there. When the landlord headed for the bank to deposit the money he was robbed, and I will leave it for the clever ones among you to guess who the thieves might be. This act of kindness cost him nothing, and he was only satisfying his own ego. The world is filled with self-centered goodness and deceptive virtue. These will not lead to life, Jesus says that the kingdom of God must be the primary driving motivation of our lives if we want God's best, and want to really live. Jesus offers this authentic alternative and absolute value, but we must make the choice.
A young usher led a guest down the isle and said, "Are you a friend of the bride or groom?" "I'm a friend of both," he replied. "I'm sorry," said the youth, "But you have to choose a side. I haven't any instruction on where to seat neutrals." As it is in the wedding ceremony, so it is in life-there is no place for neutrals. It is God or mammon, life or death, sin or salvation. First the kingdom, or first self is the choice. Choose you this day whom you shall serve, for we are at the crossroads of another year. We will either choose the world's value system, or we will choose the value system of Christ, and really live.
Arthur Robinson said, "What it all comes to is this-Christianity, true Christianity, is the only thing that will work, and the only thing that will last."
Would you have a New Year in your life,
Full of blessings unnumbered for you?
It may be had for the taking, beginning
For in Christ are all things made new.
Would you have a real happiness day after day,
With a peace that the world cannot give?
Let Jesus come into your heart to stay,
And you'll then begin really to live.
For the things of this world will all pass
Their luster will fade and grow dim;
But the joy of Christ Jesus will last you
You will find "Happy New Year" in Him!
If we are only involved in the trivial and temporal aspects of life, we exist on the level of the animal kingdom, and we miss God's intention for man. If we live for the eternal and permanent, we exist on the level of the angels. Man is between the animals and the angels, and he can choose to live on either level. Wesley Ford said, "To live is to be involved. To live most usefully is to be involved in behalf of the highest; therefore, we surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ..." Frederick Shannon said, "Men are missing their true selves, with all their possible enrichments, because they have capitalized the unessential and minimized the fundamental." You cannot be a slave to the temporal and be a king of the eternal. The motto of the librarian is,"A book out of place is a book lost." You may have a place in your life for the kingdom of God, but if it is buried under a number of other values it is as good as lost, and you are missing God's best. If you put things first and God second, you lose both.
A noted unbeliever once said, "I have all I can do to take care of one world at a time, and so I propose to take care of this life and let the future take care of itself." He got a great cheer, but he ought not to measure everyone by his own defective yard stick. Just because he couldn't handle more than one world at a time does not mean everybody else was afflicted with a like weakness. Christians must seek first the kingdom of God, but still take care of the things of this world for which they are responsible.
A father and his boy stood at the window of a pet shop to pick out a puppy. Finally after looking them over the father asked, "Have you picked one yet son?" "Yes dad, I have," he said as he pointed to one little puppy furiously waging his tail. "I want the one with the happy ending." All of us want a year with a happy ending, but more important yet we should want a life with a happy ending, and all the happiness we can squeeze into the middle as well. Jesus wants his followers to have the best, and that is why he taught them the values to live for which will guarantee a happy ending.