Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 18:52 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you understood all these things? It’s a fitting question for Jesus to ask His disciples, since He’s explained one parable and they asked Him to explain another. Have you understood all these things: all these parables that I’ve spoken? Yes, they say. I don’t know if I believe their answer, but Jesus tells them that to hear His parables is to be discipled, learned, for the Reign of Heaven, in order to bring out what is new and what is old. Because these parables reveal the hidden treasure of God to those with ears to hear. Because the opposition is rising against Him, He has spoken to the people in parables throughout this chapter. But the word is nothing new. From the very beginning, it is this same reign and rule of God—how God rules over His Kingdom—that Jesus has not only been proclaiming, but doing. The first words of Jesus recorded by Matthew are, “Repent! The Reign of heaven has come near.” Which are the same words that John the Baptizer said before: The Reign of heaven has come near. This is the Reign that belongs to the poor in spirit and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. It is the Reign that will encompass everything, so Jesus tells His disciples to seek it first, and then everything else will come along with it. Outside this Reign of God in Jesus, everything will be death.
So Jesus comes, ruling in the way the parables describe—or, I should say, He describes in the parables the way that He rules. He comes bringing this great treasure, hidden to those whose treasure is in this age and in this creation. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. But who sees the treasure here? Who seeks it with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind? This treasure looks like nothing more than some rusted junk. It looks like it’s hidden in a weed-infested field worth nothing. Sin-filled flesh and sin-filled eyes see nothing here worth seeking, nothing here worth giving up everything, nothing here worth spending a life on. The Apostles and Prophets set before us all the treasure of God’s own wealth. They set before us the old and ancient treasure, and we say, no, we want something new. They give us the new, and we say, no, we want the old.
Who is content to receive the great treasure of God in Christ? We want something more, something less, something other, something different. We’re like the children Jesus describes, sitting in the marketplace: we played a happy song on the flute for you, but you didn’t dance. We played a sad dirge, but you didn’t mourn. It’s never enough for us. We are not satisfied to have whatever crumbs might fall from the Master’s table. We want the food from the thousand other tables we see around us.
The Reign of heaven, brought near in Jesus, should be our greatest treasure. It is deep and rich and inexhaustible. But how often we want the fools’ gold flashing in the shallows!
But that’s why Jesus doesn’t tell parables about us seeking out the treasure in the field and going with joy to sell everything to buy it. Instead, He preaches a foolish God to the so-called wise: a God who scatters the seed of His word in any and every place. A God who sows good seed and then refuses to rid the field of weeds until He’s good and ready to harvest it all. A God who plants His Kingdom like a tiny mustard seed. And we’re just supposed to believe that it will turn into a large tree. A God who hides His reign like a woman hides yeast in dough, waiting until it spreads throughout. A God who spends everything to buy that weed-infested field with some junk buried in it. A God who spends far more on a pearl than it could ever be worth. A God who throws out His net into the sea, and pulls up whatever might be floating around down there. These are the secrets of the Kingdom that Jesus reveals. Those who refuses to hear Him will not hear Him. Those who refuse to see Him will not see Him. Those who refuse to understand will not understand. They see junk, worthless treasure, and yet our God spends everything, even the precious life-blood of the Son in flesh, for the sake of acquiring what He wants to acquire. He has come to seek and to save what is lost in this world.
Have you understood all these things? Is there any worth in the treasure? Is it so valuable that Jesus just can’t resist? No, it’s not because you’re more numerous, better, holier, or because you’ve given up so much. There’s only one reason that Jesus acts in all these ways: because He loves you. He doesn’t love what’s already valuable; our value is because He loves us. We are not the pearl of great price because we’re worth so much. The great price is what Jesus pays, and everything He buys is worth every drop and breath He’s willing to pay. He chooses the fish. He chooses the wheat. He chooses the treasure and the field and the pearl. He chooses you to be a people for His treasured possession, valued and precious in His sight.
He loves, so He chooses. And you are the ones He has chosen to be conformed to Himself, glorified, and justified. You! And because He’s signed His own name to the ownership deed, there is nothing in this age and creation that can separate you from His love. With joy He gives His life and blood, His death and resurrection, His Word and Gifts, all for the sake of what—to, and in the world—looks like not much. But the value is in the eye of the Beholder, and everything depends on the fact that the Beholder is Jesus. And He who seeks, finds, buys, and keeps will gather His treasure into His arms, digging up the dead from the graves of this world and transforming them so that they shine with His own glorious light.
In the Name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/25/20