Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Imagine for a moment that today you are going to die. The doctors have told you that there is nothing more they can do. Your family stands around your bedside helpless to prevent your death from coming. It no longer matters how much money you have, how expensive your house is, or the kind of car that you drive. The supremacy of your education and the prestige of your job are now meaningless. You have only a past to consider in this life, and no future on this earth. But as you lay there in bed a song from childhood keeps going through your mind: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”
Now imagine something else: Jesus has returned to judge the living and the dead. You now stand before Him and see Him with your own eyes. And as you stand before Him, you fully understand why He is the most valuable treasure you have in all of life. On account of what you have believed about Him, your eternal destiny of eternal life or eternal damnation will be sealed. For Jesus says: “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Our greatest joy is knowing that we will not be thrown into that fiery furnace of damnation. We will live, and by God’s grace alone, we attain heaven’s great riches of forgiveness, salvation, and life everlasting. At that moment, nothing—absolutely NOTHING else—will matter. Nothing but our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Today in the Gospel lesson, Jesus tells a series of “kingdom parables”. You know the ones: Where He says what is the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God is like. Over the course of His ministry, Jesus described the kingdom in many ways. Today we will focus on the two short kingdom parables – the hidden treasure, and the fine pearl. We will consider questions of ultimate value. And we will be reminded of what and who are truly priceless, and how.
I suppose that just about everyone has seen some of those credit card commercials by now, the ones that list off the price of several items or activities. They’ll say things like: “Gas for the car, $40; airline tickets, $800; beachfront hotel, $600.” Then, after a short pause: “Spending a tropical weekend getaway with the family—priceless!”
Then comes the final line: “Some things in life can’t be measured; for everything else, there’s MasterCard”. It’s not a bad series of commercials, because it makes us think—at least momentarily—about what is valuable to us.
Take the man in this first parable, who found the hidden treasure in the field. That treasure, what was it? A stash of gold, you think? Maybe some precious jewels? How about some ancient artifacts? It really doesn’t matter, because this is a parable and the specifics within it aren’t so important. Rather, the crucial thing is the point that Jesus was trying to make. The point is: It was so valuable to the man that he just HAD to have it. He sold all that he had. He gave up his total net worth, and exchanged it for the field and the treasure that was hidden within it, and presumably, ended up a very wealthy man.
Likewise, in the second parable, there was a merchant looking for pearls. The man knows value when he sees it. Then he finds one that is just the perfect shape, just the right color, and of a size that makes it valuable beyond his greatest expectations. When he finds that one pearl of great value, he liquidates his portfolio so he can get his hands on that precious jewel.
Now, one interpretation we could draw here, and one I’ve seen on numerous occasions as I’ve read Bible commentaries and sermons, is that the kingdom of God is what is of ultimate value. That being a follower of Jesus, having faith in Him, being baptized, hearing His Word, receiving Him in the sacrament—that these things together are more important than ANYTHING else.
Seeing it and understanding it that way, we might conclude that our faith—which holds onto God’s grace in Jesus Christ—is our greatest treasure. God is #1. Knowing Jesus is the most important thing. Amen. Great. We got it; we can all go home now, right? Well, wait just a minute.
I don’t know about you, but if we take this meaning of the parable, we are left with something other than a warm fuzzy feeling. This interpretation leaves things to your somewhat shady and weak abilities, and your often confused priorities. It ought to make you think, “If God’s kingdom is truly worth more than anything, even all my possessions, how come I don’t act like it is?”
In other words, “How come I don’t pray all that much? Why don’t I immerse myself in my Bible each and every day? How come I don’t fear, love, and trust in God above all else? Why do I take God for granted so often and so easily? How come I don’t love my neighbor as myself? Why don’t I give more generously and more joyfully to support God’s work, the work of that kingdom that I supposedly value so greatly? Am I taking this treasure for granted? Am I dragging the gift through the mud?”
Well, to all the “how comes” and “whys” we could very simply and correctly answer, “Because I’m a dirty, rotten, lousy sinner”. And to all the, “Am I goofing up?” questions, we could also truthfully answer, “Yes, absolutely.”
Does our sin ultimately disqualify us for the treasure? Does our failure to appreciate the treasure make us ineligible? Will we stand before the God’s judgment throne empty-handed, because we didn’t sell all our possessions in service of Him? No, we will not.
And why is that? It’s because there’s another way of looking at these two parables. A way that is more correct, both theologically and anthropologically. When we more rightly understand both our nature and God’s nature, we begin to see it. Instead of thinking of the treasure hunter as YOU, think of him as GOD. Instead of you being the merchant, think of GOD going through the marketplace.
Now the story is seen from a completely different angle, with different subject, and a different object. Now the treasure that is hidden in the field is you and me! Now the pearl of great price is the sinner who becomes a child of God!
And what does God “sell” to make His purchase? The better question is: Who? As the ultimate answer to every theological question is, from Sunday School right up to standing in front of God’s judgment seat, it’s Jesus. Jesus, God’s only Son. The Father’s greatest treasure, the sum of all His value, was sold to make us His treasured possessions.
Jesus paid the price, too. He too gave all He had, to make us His own.
You know how it goes; Luther put it this way in the Small Catechism:
“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 His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own, live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”
We have no value of our own. We are not worthy or valuable except in that God created us and loved us so. We bring nothing to the table; no merit, no worth. Scripture says the best we can offer God is as filthy rags; something that is pretty much useless, rejected, and suitable only for discarding in the trash.
But God sees us, even in our sin, as His treasures; His great pearls. To Him, we are worth even the humiliation and suffering and death of His own Son. And there at the cross of Jesus, He makes us into the treasures that shine with heaven’s brightness forever. What are you worth to God? Everything.
What would you pay or have you paid for a dream vacation? Thousands of dollars? What about the best luxury car on the market? Hundreds of thousands? What about your eternal salvation? What would you pay for that? Well, you can’t. Far beyond anything MasterCard could provide, only the true Master can provide that, and it is truly priceless!
With our first, superficial understanding of the parable—one that sadly still finds voice within many Christian churches—we could never have the kingdom anyway. Nothing we can do, nothing we can earn, nothing we can give up for the kingdom of God will buy our way into heaven. Only Jesus could pay the price. Even if we did, literally, sell everything we had and donate it to the Church; even if we went to live in the most dismal slums of the earth, serving the poor and the lepers, it still isn’t enough. We would still be lost, if we didn’t have Jesus.
But Christ has paid the full price. He has bought us back, and our value to God depends on HIM, not on US. This is why we can rest assured, knowing the treasure of God’s kingdom is ours forever. Jesus put it on HIS tab, on His account, and there is no credit limit there. His purchase will never be declined by the Father. His mercy will never go bankrupt. His love will never be repossessed. His deposit is more than FDIC insured; it is eternally trustworthy and true.
What a great treasure we have in these words of Christ. They illustrate to us the great value of belonging to His kingdom. They show us the value God places in us, and more importantly, the value we have in Christ. That value is shown in the ultimate price Jesus paid for us at the cross. May we always treasure Him who has treasured us beyond all comprehension. In the precious, holy name of Jesus, Amen.