+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are four parables in this morning's Gospel reading. Each one of them makes a different point about the Kingdom of God. I looked back over the years of sermons I've written on this section of Scripture and found that I’ve almost always preached on the 2nd parable, the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. That parable differs from the one we’re going to look at this morning, the parable of the hidden treasure, in that, it’s about God’s love for His Church. When finding the pearl of great price, that is, when finding the church, the one He would be pleased to take as His bride, God went and sold all that He had, namely, His own dear Son, to buy the pearl, to buy you and me. In expounding the 2nd article of the Apostles Creed, Luther described what God did for you in such beautifully poetic language...
"(My Lord) has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, delivered me and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with silver and gold but with his holy and precious blood and with his innocent sufferings and death, in order that I may be his."
The parable of the hidden treasure, while seemingly similar to the parable of the pearl of great price, has a different application. Unlike the parable of the pearl, which was about the merchant who sought the pearl, this one is more about the nature of the hidden treasure itself and the value placed on it by those who (quote) “find it.”
“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.”
Everyone likes a good story about hidden treasure. It sort of gets our adventurous juices flowing. You don your imagery fedora and you envision yourself on an Indiana Jones type quest, looking for an illusive treasure that has evaded generations past. Or, if that’s not your idea of a treasure hunt, maybe you dream of buying a simple little painting from an estate sale only to discover that it was mounted and framed over a priceless work of antiquity.
Everyone likes the idea of finding hidden treasure. No one though, I should think, wants the treasure of God’s Word and Sacraments, that is, the treasure of the Gospel, to be hidden from them. In fact, people tend to call “foul” on God when they’re told that the Gospel is, in fact, a hidden treasure, hidden, as it were, from the reason and senses of men! I mean, if God really wants to save the world from its sin, shouldn’t He make the Word, the message of that salvation, easily accessible? Understand, I don’t mean easily accessible in the sense of availability. In an American context, the Scriptures are exceedingly available. But, wouldn't you expect God to make the Gospel, the message of salvation, easily accessible in the sense that anyone who looks for it could find it and possess it?
While that may be a common expectation people regarding the Gospel, the truth is, the Gospel is a hidden treasure. Notice what the Scriptures say about the death and resurrection of Jesus for the world. Right before His trial and crucifixion Jesus prayed to a His Father. He said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will." And then again, St. Paul, who preached the Gospel with a conviction and fervency virtually unmatched in the annals of history, said, "I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints."
The point is, the Gospel is hidden in the sense that it is a mystery, a mystery that is found, as the hymn says, “when we sought it not.” Consequently, the Bible is filled with examples of people who “found” the Gospel and salvation when they weren’t even looking for it. Consider the woman at the well, for instance. You can read about her in John, chapter 4. She came to the well seeking earthly water but, in the providence of God, she found, if you will, the water of life. She “found” the treasure even though she didn’t recognize it as treasure.
Or, how about St. Paul? When he set out on the Damascus road he wasn’t looking for the hidden treasure of the Gospel. In fact, he was intent on persecuting Jesus and His Church. Far from godly, his mission and motives were demonic. And yet, along that road “he found” the Gospel. Key, of course, in these examples of people finding the hidden treasure is the work of the Holy Spirit, who, as Luther reminds us, “calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts and sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith.”
The point being, God's Word is "spiritually discerned" and cannot be understood or believed without the help of the Holy Spirit. As the Scriptures say, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."
So, the Gospel of Jesus' life, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, for life and salvation is hidden, so that, it might not be found, but that it may be revealed to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Again, while some may cry "foul" and accuse God of unfairness, the Gospel is hidden in order that no one, having "found it," can boast in himself. Listen again to what Paul says in that regard. "God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
When the man in parable "finds" the hidden treasure "in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Certainly the Gospel can't be bought and the parable isn’t suggesting that it can. But, having received the Gospel as a gift, having been lead to it by the Holy Spirit, the one who possesses it recognizes it’s luster and it’s priceless value such that he is willing to give everything he has in order to keep it.
Paul, a man who “found” the Gospel quite by accident, wrote about the change God worked in his life in terms of what he valued and treasured. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
There is a letter, a character in the Arabic alphabet called "nun." The character is equivalent to the English letter "N." The symbol has become important of late because it's popping up on the businesses and homes of Christians in the Middle East. Mind you, the business and homeowners are not the ones who are putting the letter on their property. Members of the Muslim terrorist group called ISIS are the ones putting the "n," the “nun” on the businesses and homes of Christians. The "n," in this case, stands for Nazarene. Christian businesses and homes are being marked and the people who work and live in them are given an ultimatum. The choices are three. You can convert to Islam. You can flee the country and forsake all your property and possessions. Or, you can die.
“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.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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