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Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 13:44-52

Click here for mp3 audio – 45 Sermon for Pent 6

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

We’re on the third of three Sundays hearing Jesus’ parables.  Jesus says three times today that the kingdom of heaven is like this or that, a treasure hidden in field, a pearl of great value, a net thrown into the sea.  Remember, Jesus is teaching in parables to describe the kingdom He has come to reestablish.  The parables are not just morality plays written in everyday language but rather descriptions of what the situation on earth now looks like because Jesus, God’s own Messiah, has restored the rule of God in Israel and the world.  It’s vitally important that we start here because otherwise we cannot possibly understand the radical totality of what God has done in Christ Jesus.

Remember the context.  Jesus is doing kingdom work but the people do not understand Him.  Jesus has been healing but they don’t understand that we weren’t created for sickness and disease and that God is now directly intervening to restore people.  He’s been casting out demons but they don’t understand this too is part of His mission to restore the rightful rule of heaven in the midst of God’s creation.  He’s been reordering the religious laws like the Sabbath but they don’t understand that he has the authority to do precisely that and again restore God’s will for people.  So he tells these parables so those who have ears to hear might truly hear.  To his disciples, he is like a master of a house revealing treasures both new and old.  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.”  “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.  This is Jesus’ kingdom work.  Do you understand these things?

The first two parables really are a pair that go together.  “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.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”  Jesus doesn’t give us the explanations like He has the last two Sundays.  We’re left on our own.  Let’s see how we do.  The man in the first parable who finds the treasure is?  Yes, us—that’s how we typically read it.  The treasure is the Gospel.  The parable is that once a man finds the Gospel, he sells all that he has in order to have the Gospel for his own possession.  Second verse just like the first.  We should be like the merchant searching for pearls and now that we’ve found the most beautiful pearl ever, the Christian pearl, we should sell all that we own to buy it.  Right?  That’s no doubt how you’ve heard these parables taught.  Jesus is trying to motivate the disciples to take their faith and lives of discipleship seriously and He’s trying to get them to grow in their commitment to following Him.  These parables are about the cost of discipleship.  Except…  Except that those interpretations do not agree with the rest of what we read in the Bible and they do not agree with what we understand Jesus to be doing—really what God is doing through Jesus—to reestablish His kingdom on earth.

The standard reading about the cost of discipleship does not match with the rest of what we read in Scripture.  Tell me, Christian, what, exactly, have traded so that you may have the kingdom of heaven for yourself?  As it says in the notes of The Lutheran Study Bible I included in the bulletin this week, “we inherit the kingdom by grace through faith in Christ, who purchased and redeemed us with His precious blood.”  We are not able in any way to purchase the kingdom of heaven or anything else for our own salvation.  The Scriptures are clear on this.  God acts to save His children solely by His grace in Christ.  And so these parables are not about what we do to have the kingdom for our own possession but rather what God is doing through His grace in Christ.

We’ve already had two Sundays of parables.  In the parable of the sower, who was the central figure?  The sower was.  Who’s the sower?  That’s right it was Jesus.  In the parable of the weeds, who was the Master who saw to it good seed was sown in the field and would make sure that the weeds were separated, bundled and burned at the harvest?  Right again, it was Jesus.  And so we see this common feature of kingdom parables that when there are multiple characters in a parable, the one in the central position always represents God and so the parable is about what God is doing to bring about His kingdom.  So, look at these parables this morning.  The same line pops up in both of them.  “He went and sold everything and bought.”  This is what Jesus did.  He gave up everything and bought the hidden treasure.  He sold all and bought the pearl of great value.  Paul puts it this way, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Co 5:21)  Jesus Himself says, “the Son of Man came to give His life as a ransom in exchange for the many.” (Mt 20:28).  Jesus is describing Himself has our substitute, the one who stands in our place under God’s wrath for sin, and we stand in His place as God’s beloved children.  He has “purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”  The Small Catechism gets it right.  Jesus’ entire ministry, ending in His sacrificial death and resurrection is the act of purchasing that buys us into God’s blessed kingdom.  And so we should see the man in the parable of the hidden treasure and merchant in the pearl of great value as Jesus or possibly God the Father, but definitely not us.  The parables are always about what God is doing to restore His rule in the world and so this parable is too.  God gives up all He has to buy His treasure, His precious pearl, for Himself.

But what is the treasure? What is the precious pearl?  If Jesus is the man who buys the field so He can have the hidden treasure and if Jesus is the merchant who sells all He has to buy the peal of great value, then what is the hidden treasure and what is the pearl?  You are!  You are the treasure that Jesus has searched for and given up all the glories of heaven in exchange for.  You are the pearl of great value that Jesus has sold all, even His honor to rescue you so that He might have you as His own.  You are God’s great treasure.  You are God’s precious pearl.

Go back to last week’s parable.  Jesus said you’re the good seed, the wheat that bears good fruit.  What is your destiny?  “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”  You are God’s precious possession.  That’s what He calls Israel throughout the Old Testament.  “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine.” (Ex 19:5)  “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.” (Dt 7:6)  Israel is God’s treasured possession.  You are God’s Israel whom He sent Jesus to rescue.  You are God’s treasured possession; you are His precious pearl.  He has searched for you and found you.  He has given up everything, even heaven itself to make You His own.  This is the nature of God’s love for you: you are His treasured possession.

There are people who hear these two parables today and yet do not hear the beautiful message of the Savior King come to rescue His great treasures and buy back His precious pearls.  They don’t feel treasured or precious.  They feel dirty, miserable, and unworthy of God’s love.  They do not feel like God’s precious.  Most of them are not here but some are.  Most don’t come to church because they feel they are too contaminated to be here.  They’ve had hard lives, lives where they have suffered through terrible things, terrible things done to them or they were forced to do terrible things or even did things that only now do they see were terrible and hurt others or themselves.  Soldiers after the heat of battle are often terrified of what came out them during the fight.  They did not realize they were capable of such hate toward other people.  Others are victims of another’s lust but now they bear the scars of the impurity and filth of another.  Still others have sinned terribly against someone and hurt them in terrible ways.  And yet these are the people Jesus gave up everything to buy for His very own.  In truth, none of us can look at ourselves too closely because the rot of our own sin would start peeking through the whitewash of our outward religion.  Jesus did not come to save those who needed no saving.  Jesus came to seek and save those who needed saving.  They are the ones precious to Him.  And sadly, these are but a few examples of the people who do not see themselves as the precious treasures Jesus says they are to him.

I think most people misunderstand Christianity, even many Christians.  If Christianity was a religion of spiritual ideas for good people, I couldn’t blame people for not wanting to be a part of it.  But Christianity is not about that.  Our faith is that God has broken into the world to fix it.  Look at what the critics of our religion say is wrong in this world.  If God were real, how could He let disease, famine, storms, and evil happen.  True.  All true.  And we look at Jesus.  Jesus, God’s Son, intervened in the world and healed the sick, and feed the multitudes, cast out demons and preached truth.  Jesus, God’s Son, intervened in the world and reestablished the order of heaven here on earth.  This is our faith even in the midst of what remains of illness and evil and the lies of the prince of lies.  This is our faith.  Jesus, God’s own Son has entered into our world to fix it, to restore the kingdom of heaven.

And yet, Jesus says, the treasure was hidden and when he finds it, he hides it again.  God’s kingdom is hidden, at least until the last day.  Unfortunately, those who wish God would intervene do not see how he has already begun to reign again in the world.  Even Jesus’ disciples often feel overwhelmed in a world that seems to be increasingly rebellious against the king.  And yet we are encouraged.  Yes, there is terrible opposition to Jesus as there was in his own day.  It doesn’t matter, because Jesus has gone through extraordinary lengths to secure his own for himself.  The man and the merchant did whatever it took, even to the point of selling everything he had.  So Jesus has done what needed to be done to possess his holy precious Church on earth even today.  Though we often may feel buried under the challenges and dangers created in our own flesh, by the those in the world around who know not their true king, and even by the great enemy and father of lies, there is no doubt among us that we belong to Jesus.  We have been bought.  In understanding this breathtaking outpouring of his grace toward us we are precious to him.  Secure in that confidence, we can continue to follow him all the days of our lives.

Jesus is teaching in parables what people have not understood since the beginning of His ministry of healing and casting out demons.  The parables are not just morality plays written in everyday language but rather descriptions of what the situation on earth now looks like because Jesus, God’s own Messiah, has restored the rule of God in Israel and the world.  The content of our faith is about what our Savior Jesus did in this world to make it right again.  He gave up all He had in exchange for His hidden, precious treasure, you.  We are the ones who need so desperately, His saving grace, His perfect self as our substitute on the cross for the punishment of our sins.  This is our faith.  Jesus, God’s own Son has entered into our world to fix it, to restore the kingdom of heaven.  He has already begun this great work and He will bring it to completion.  Amen.

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