The longer I live in Rome the more aware I become of the immense riches of this city, the empire it once was, and in a religious sense, still is. A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Vatican Museum again with friends from America. I have forgotten how many times I have walked through it. Yet, every time I go, I am always amazed to see the immense wealth that has been compiled and collected from all over the world. As I walk through the streets of the city, I see the wealth of both modern times and of ancient times.
There are symbols of power, status, riches, and comfort everywhere we look. It is not unusual to walk down an ancient street and see an expensive car pass by the ancient ruins. We see the elaborate cathedrals and homes that once belonged to the ancient elite families of this city. There are obelisks and buildings adorned with the name of an emperor or pope. We see the names of fashion designers whose clothes only the wealthiest of people could possibly afford. There are Italian flags that wave in front of incredible state monuments and buildings, at times adorned with the giant billboards and signs by corporations advertising how their products might help you become the better you, or provide you comfort and security, or fulfill your greatest need.
We are surrounded by symbols of both ancient and modern riches. We are reminded of the people who had dedicated their entire lives to achieving such wealth, success, comfort, and status. And today we see people who are spending themselves in pursuit of the same kinds of riches. At times we hear stories of what it ultimately cost someone in their pursuit of wealth. Maybe it was their marriage, their children, their friends, their possessions, their reputations, their comforts, only to be left broken and hopeless as they watch all their honest or dishonest work crash to ruins, claiming victims in the collapse.
It is the Sweet Life! A successful and stable job, financial freedom, an amazing wardrobe, a happy family, a happy you. These are the idols of this culture, are they not? And people spend their lives trying to obtain them. Once they have laid hold of them, they do whatever is necessary to keep them, worshipping their new masters that give them status, wealth, comfort, pleasure and security.
What about you? Do you desire status and power? Do you enjoy your comfort? Do you seek pleasure? Security? Wealth? What is it that you treasure most in this world and to what do you look to obtain it? Perhaps you already have it. What do you do to maintain it? What would it take for you to walk away from it all?
What if I told you that there was something far greater than all of the combined wealth in the entire world? Worth more than all of the historic wealth the city of Rome and the Roman Catholic Church?! Worth more than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo combined! Worth more than the CEO of Amazon or Alibaba combined? A wealth so great that if those men could truly see it, they would be willing to walk away from everything they have built up for themselves. Would you want to know what it was?
What if I told that acquiring this wealth does not cost anything? Now you really want to know what it is, right? Well, it’s true, the greatest wealth does not cost anything. Sounds too good to be true, right? It is true! But there is only one way to see it.
Is seen by faith
The greatest wealth can only be seen by faith, the kind of faith we read about in our next section of Hebrews. So, let’s open our Bibles together and read from the 11th chapter of Hebrews. Let us read from verse 23 to verse 28.
“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.” (Hebrews 11:23–29 ESV)
Verse 26 tells us that Moses had discovered something far more valuable than all of the riches of Egypt, because he was looking to the reward…Moses had a different sight. He was able to see something that could not yet be seen, because it was not yet realized. However, it was already worth far more than the empire that stood before his eyes and all of the riches it contained. How is this possible? What allowed him to see the greatest wealth? It was the eyes of faith!
By Faith Moses saw with new eyes. He had been given true sight to see something far more valuable than any worldly status (v. 24), more fulfilling than any worldly pleasure (v. 25), and much greater than any worldly comfort (v. 27). With the eyes of faith, what Moses found as most valuable was not temporary possessions, but an eternal promise. It was a promise that God had made to his forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A promise that through Abraham’s line God would rescue sinners and restore the lost members of God’s family into an eternal kingdom.
By Faith, Moses and his parents boldly denied the decrees of a king. By Faith Moses rejected the status and wealth of an empire. By Faith Moses was willing to suffer alongside and for his people. Moses did what most would consider as foolish, dangerous, strange, and scary…to deny power and status and riches for something not even seen?!
Friends, to be clear, earthly wealth is not evil, positions of power are not bad, desiring comfort is not sinful. And there are God-given pleasures in this life that we should enjoy. But they all fail in comparison to that which is most valuable in this life and the next. It is the person of Christ, and the promises of God. Pray and ask God to give you the eyes of faith to see it.
By Faith, Moses refused to enjoy the sinful momentary pleasures of this life, in order to honor a Holy God and the heavenly King he would get to enjoy in the next life. Through the eyes of faith, what Moses could see as most valuable was not the power that could be given by a finite pharaoh, but the reproach of an infinite person, Jesus Christ, in and through whom the greatest riches are found.
Doesn’t cost anything
The greatest riches can only be seen by faith. And the greatest riches do not cost anything. You cannot pay anything to obtain it. It has already been acquired by the One who paid it all. By Faith, Moses looked to a reward that was ultimately secured in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of God’s Son.
By Faith, Moses defied an empire and led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, because the Son of God would one day defy death and lead God’s people out of slavery to sin (Hosea 11,1; Matt. 2:13-15). Moses refused the riches of an earthly kingdom, looking to the One who, according to Philippians 2:6-8,…
“though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6–8 ESV)
Friends, the greatest wealth is found in knowing the Son of God, Jesus. In Him alone can you experience the forgiveness of sins and the eternal life God has provided for those who repent and run to Jesus by faith. He laid down His life for sinners, shedding his blood on a cross in the place of sinners, and in doing so He secured an eternal wealth for God’s people. You need not do a thing to obtain this wealth because it has already been obtained in the work of Jesus. And it is a wealth that will never fade away.
As you walk through the forum near here, you will be reminded of the mass wealth this city has known. But if you look closely, you will see steel beams and braces that have been mounted and fixed to the ancient and valuable riches of this city. These support systems are there to protect the integrity of these ancient treasures because of the work that is taking place around and under them. Let it be a reminder to us of the temporary nature of the wealth of this world. All of the hard work that was carried out to build and sustain these treasures will ultimately fail. The names of the people who constructed them will one day crumble.
Jesus tells us that while heaven and earth will pass away, the Word of God will never pass away. Brothers and Sisters, the greatest riches are not insured by an earthly institution, but by a heavenly promise that has been fulfilled in Christ. Our eternal reward will never crumble because He cannot fail. No manmade system is necessary to prop Him up, for not even death was able to stop Him. God raised him from the dead, guaranteeing our freedom from sin and eternal inheritance as His children.
Friends, the greatest wealth can only be seen by faith. The greatest wealth does not cost anything because Jesus already secured it. God graciously gives it to those who receive it by faith alone, to those who receive His Son by faith alone. But God’s grace is not a cheap grace. So be warned. Because while the greatest riches do not cost anything, it will ultimately cost you everything.
But it will cost you everything
The original audience who received this letter was at risk of losing everything. They were at risk of suffering persecution and being rejected by their own people because of their faith in Jesus. With Moses as an example, they were being encouraged to follow this great hero of the faith. They were being encouraged to see, by faith, that there is more value in suffering for the sake of Christ than in anything the world had to offer.
In Matthew 16:25, Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. You see, there ultimately is a cost to a life that walks by faith in God. As Moses grew in his awareness of who he was in being part of God’s people, He found himself in situations where he had to refuse the sinful tendencies and temptations of the culture in which he lived (v 25-26). And he did so with boldness.
Likewise, Brothers and Sisters, we are all called to mature in our knowledge of God through His word. Like Moses, have we grown in our understanding of who we are in Christ? We are no longer slaves to sin, but alive in Christ Jesus. Do we see Him as more precious than all of the world’s wealth? Like Moses, are we ready to refuse, in faith, the things that stand contrary to God?
In Christ, our values will often be in conflict with the values of this city. In a culture that values the pursuit of fleeting pleasures, we are called to be a people in pursuit of purity. In a culture that esteems comfort and power, often pursued through questionable means, we are called to a life of sacrifice and humble servitude. In a culture that values working to obtain both a temporal and eternal reward, we are called to trust in the work of the one who has already obtained it for us. In a culture that values finite possessions, we are called to value an infinite person, our beautiful Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Friends, have you counted the cost? There is a question of contentment here for all of us. I am not saying you need to reject your status, your wealth, and your comfort to follow Jesus. But what God’s word is telling us is that those who have faith to see the greatest richness and beauty of Christ would be willing to, if and when the time comes.
Brothers and Sisters, what we have in Christ is greater than any worldly status, because Jesus gives us a higher status as God’s children (v 24). The freedom we have from sin is far greater than any fleeting pleasure because God’s Spirit leads us into eternity in the presence of our good Creator (v 25). The joy we find in Christ is far greater than any carnal comfort, because Jesus gives us peace and courage, even in the midst of suffering (v 23, 27). When God called us out of slavery to sin and into a life of freedom, He gave us the eyes of faith to move forward. And even when the first step is all that we can see, He graciously reminds us of the death that once enslaved us, and He gives us the faith to move forward knowing our enemy has been defeated (v 29).
Breccia di Roma, may we walk in faith like Moses did, with our eyes on the reward. May we always remember what God has graciously done for us through His Son, and may we live in light of God’s grace. When culture says we are foolish, remember that God gives us confidence. When culture says it is too dangerous to live biblically, remember that God gives us courage. When culture thinks we are strange, may God embolden us.
Do you still want the greatest riches? By God’s grace alone, you will find it by faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. I pray that God would grant you the eyes of Faith to see and cherish Christ at the most beautiful treasure eternity has to offer. The Greatest Riches can only be seen by faith, it does not cost a thing, because it has already been acquired. But it will cost you everything.
Ending prayer based on Ephesians 1:3-14
“Blessed be you God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for having blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as you chose us as Yours before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before you. In Your love You predestined us for adoption to yourself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of Your will, to the praise of You glorious grace, with which You have blessed us in the Christ. In You we have redemption through the blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of Your grace, which You lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of Your will, according to Your purpose, which You set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in You, things in heaven and things on earth. In You we have obtained an inheritance, the greatest riches, having been predestined according to Your purpose as You work all things according to the counsel of Your will, so that we who hope in Christ might be to the praise of Your glory. Thank you for Your word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, our faith in your Son, through which we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, the One who guarantees our inheritance and leads us until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of Your glory.” May we be a testimony to your Son as we treasure Him above all others. Amen
(adapted from Ephesians 1:3–14 ESV)