Listen to it:
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“All these things Jesus said to the people in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable” (Matthew 13:34, ESV). Jesus does not use parables as cute sermon illustrations in order to make His point. Parables can only be understood by those who have been given ears to hear. So Jesus said to the disciples, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11, ESV). If you are not a believer in Jesus, the parables will be mysteries shrouded in secrets wrapped in riddles. They do not quite make sense to our limited minds; they are off just that much from our everyday experience. We have heard of a Sower who cast His seed recklessly on all kinds of soil, giving pearls to pigs who have no use for the Word of God. We have heard of a strange Farmer who sowed good seed in the field, only to find that His enemy attempted to sabotage His harvest by sowing weeds. Instead of pulling the weeds and running the risk of uprooting the wheat as well, He allowed them to grow together until harvest. Evil seems to be tolerated by the God of creation, even in the midst of His people. And today we hear of a Man who finds treasure in a field and buys the whole field in order to gain that treasure; and of a traveling Merchant who sells everything for the sake of a single, valuable pearl; and of a drift-net that catches good and bad fish together, which are then separated. “Have you understood all these things?” (Matthew 13:51, ESV).
If we take today’s parables by themselves, the easiest interpretation seems to be that you are the man in the parable. You have discovered the treasure of Jesus Christ, hidden in human flesh, and, out of your joy, you have given up everything to follow Him. The pearl of great price is the Gospel, which you have heard and for which you have sold all your belongings in order to hang on to that one most valuable thing. You have, haven’t you? You have put everything in second place to Jesus; you evaluate all that you do in the light of God’s Law-actually, you don’t even need to evaluate what you do because, since you are a new creation, you simply do what love requires in every circumstance. You won’t allow anything to come between you and your God; not family, not work, not pleasure. You have given up everything to make sure that your treasure is in heaven and not on earth where moth and rust destroy. You would overcome any obstacle, push through any problem, deal with any difficulty, to make sure that that singular treasure, that precious pearl of the forgiveness of your sins remains untainted and uncontaminated. That’s you, isn’t it? It’s not me, either. Which means we’re in trouble. Because if this parable is about us and we do not give up everything that we call our own and loosen our grip on everything that is not Jesus, we will be among the wicked weeds that are burned and the foul fish that are thrown away.
But perhaps we have made a mistake if we believe ourselves to be the treasure hunters. Jesus has one subject in these parables: the Kingdom of Heaven, the rule and reign of God in Jesus over and among His people. Let’s take another look at the parables from the last couple weeks. First, the Reckless Sower: who is the Sower? Jesus. And who are you in that parable? The growing plants, grounded in the good soil of the Word of God and His forgiving gifts. In the second parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus Himself gives us the interpretation, so we don’t have to guess: who is the Sower? The Son of Man, Jesus. The field is the world, and who are you? The good seed, the children of the kingdom (Matthew 13:37-38). In between, we had the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. The Sower of the mustard seed is the same as the Sower in the other two parables: Jesus. The mustard seed is His seemingly insignificant Gospel, which grows into a tree large enough for all nations, the birds that nest in its branches. You, the children of the kingdom, are some of those birds who find yourselves perched in the great, growing realm of Christ’s reign. It is Jesus who, like the woman, puts His forgiving leaven into the world and pushes it into every unleavened corner. And you, the Church, are the means by which that leaven is expanding into the whole world. And in our last parable for today, we see God’s net gathering all people at the close of the age and they are separated, the good from the bad. Believers are the good fish, whom God keeps for His own. In all these parables, it is always God who is working. Jesus is working out the will of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Father’s will is that the Son be born a man in the world, spreading the seed of the Gospel in every place, until that time which He has chosen to bring this mixed and muddled world to an end and gather His own into the full glory of His Kingdom. We are always the plants, the wheat, the birds, the leaven, the fish, who are simply blessed, given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. We have nothing to do with the planting, or the growth, or the harvesting, or the gathering.
Why, then, would we think that Jesus suddenly reverses Himself in these two short parables and makes us the actors? We give ourselves far too much credit. We, with our meager memories, have forgotten the actual role we play in the drama of creation and redemption. Not only do you not give up everything for the sake of the Gospel, you have no desire to do it. Not only do I not sell everything for the sake of the one pearl of great price, I have every intention of hanging on to my poor imitation pearls instead. You have hidden yourself well in the ground of this world-so well that people would rarely guess that you don’t belong here. I have submerged myself in the watery depths of this ocean of a world-so well that I blend right in with the other inhabitants of the sea. You are not the seeker and I am not the merchant. We have this strange habit of assuming that since we are sitting here in this building on Sunday morning, because we have our names on some church roster, that we have chosen this way. We put ourselves in the place of the Sower, rather than the seed. We forget that He foreknew us, that He predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He called, justified, and glorified us. It is God, and not us, who works all things together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-30). We are the lost ones who need to be found.
There is a Man who comes seeking, a Merchant who comes searching; One who comes digging, uncovering, opening, gathering. And this God-this God who is not against us, but for us in Jesus Christ-has not spared His own Son but gave him up for us all. He gives everything. The Son emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant; He gives Himself into flesh and buries Himself in enemy territory, among those whom He sought. And He knows exactly where we are: where you are and where I am. He knows the dark dirt under which you have buried yourself. He knows the fathoms of water under which I have tried to lose myself from His sight. He knows because He is God, Yahweh, and because He is a Man, Jesus. And it is this God-Man, Jesus, who gives up all He has, who sells His very Body into the hands of sinful men for your sake and mine. He gives His Body to be broken and His Blood to be shed. Jesus, from His joy, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2). And you are now His blood-bought treasure, His perfect pearl for which He has given all that He has. The Song of Solomon says, “If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised” (Song of Solomon 8:7, ESV). For the love of you and every person, Jesus offered all the wealth of His House, and He was and is despised for it. But you are the children of the kingdom, with ears to hear. So hear the Word of God your Savior: “You are a people holy to [Yahweh] your God. [Yahweh] 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. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that [Yahweh] set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because [Yahweh] loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8a, ESV). He has chosen you, and He will continue to work until the close of the age to gather His created people, wherever they have buried themselves, under His reign. And we continue to pray, as always, “Thy Kingdom come.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/23/08