The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
July 25-26, 2020
“The Kingdom Of Heaven”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Last week I was in Phoenix, Arizona, visiting my folks and other family. When I got back a number of you asked, “Did you have a good trip?” Visiting Phoenix in the summer is not the wisest move I have ever made. The low is around 90 in the middle of the night and then the warm-up begins. We were there during a 110 degree streak. Phoenix, when Denver is 5 below, in the middle of January, and they are 70 degrees, is perfect. But not in July. I know that when you called me to be your pastor it was not for my smarts but for my looks, right?
When I was asked did you have a good trip, I said, “I had a necessary trip.” The last time I saw my folks last October. My dad is 94 and my mom is 91. Their health, mainly their mental abilities, has lessened, considerably, over this past year. I needed to be able to see them. I needed to be able to see what they can do, and can’t do, at this change in their life. Was it a good trip? No, it was a sad trip. There wasn’t anything they couldn’t do in life during their younger years. But that isn’t true anymore. I didn’t have a good trip, but I had a necessary trip.
Many of you have read large sections of the Bible during your life. Though the Bible is long it could have been longer. Only certain things found their way into the Scriptures. Some stuff that happened, including some of the words and miracles of Jesus didn’t get in. God put in the Scriptures the events and words that He determined was necessary.
At the end of John’s Gospel we hear the concluding words to chapters 20 and 21 telling us the truth of God’s necessity of words, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) In the previous chapter John writes, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
Whatever got in the Scriptures God deemed necessary. Today I am going to hone in on the first three verses of our text. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46) The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl.
So, what does it mean? It must be about us searching for the great things in life, being focused, making the right priorities and then pursuing them, right? Then if we understand the spiritual element to it (this is found in the Bible, after all), then it must mean that Jesus and all of His graces are the treasure in that field or the pearl of great value. There is a hymn in our hymnal “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” that talks in glowing terms about the great worth of Jesus. In my Bible, in the footnotes, for the Concordia Self-Study Bible, it reads, “These two parables teach the same truth: The kingdom is of such value that one should be willing to give up all he has in order to gain it.” (Pg. 1469)
In that traditional understanding of these parables we are the man or the merchant and Christ is the hidden treasure or the pearl of great value. Recently I read a whole different explanation to what this parable means. I find it to be a necessary word spoken to our necessary condition. This explanation (Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs, Concordia Commentary, Matthew 11:2 – 20:34, Pages 711-721) has Jesus as the man or the merchant looking for the treasure or the pearl and we are the treasure or the pearl of great value. Now, that is different isn’t it?
To me, this is the whole picture of the necessary work of Jesus. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10) The whole idea of pursuing and purchasing is the crux of these parables. The idea of looking and finding, then selling all he has and buying it – the field or the pearl – is the whole story.
Isn’t that the whole account of Jesus and what He does for our salvation? The picture of us as the treasure and He as the seeker is clearly given in Luke 15 with the Parable of the Lost Sheep, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’” (Luke 15:4-6) We have a seeking God and we are the ones that He is seeking. The Nicene Creed, a composite of Biblical truth, speaks about the cost of His seeking and His finding of us, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. The third day He rose again according to the Scriptures.”
He pursues and He purchases. “He sold everything he had and bought it.” That’s Jesus. Everything He was and had He gave up to buy us. Two verses for you on this: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) The second: “[Jesus] being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)
Can’t you see that Jesus Christ sold everything for you? Became man, emptied Himself, death on the cross. We can see from all of Scripture that Jesus is the one who is seeking the one thing of great value. But tell me – are you the treasure? Are you the pearl of great worth? Hardly, right?
A few weeks ago I saw the bumper sticker on back of a Dodge Caravan that said, “I Used to be Cool.” I can just imagine that they used to drive a BMW convertible, then had a load of kids, and had to get that vehicle. Don’t worry – you can get that convertible back during your mid-life crisis. You’ll be cool again.
Do you consider yourself the treasure that the man or merchant in the parables pursues and purchases? You should. You are. That is how God looks at you. But it doesn’t have anything to do with who you are or the wonderful things you have done. It has nothing to do with the sticker on your minivan telling the world what you once were. In God’s eyes you are the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of greatest value. As my friend, Phil Johnson, told me 20 years ago, “God can never love you more and He will never love you less.”
Jesus spoke a necessary word to a necessary situation. The reign of God – His kingdom – is a reign of sacrifice and lowliness and service. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Whatever you are facing right now, this word of grace from Jesus is the necessary word for your needs. Are you frightened about life? Are you uncertain about what this week, next week, next month holds? Have you gone the wrong way in life? Have you made choices that bring you shame or regret? Then listen to the parables again. See the seeking God looking for you. Experience again what it is to be treasured. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
He sought you. He found you. He bought you. You’re His. Hooray. Amen!!