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Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 13:44–52

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 8, Proper 12, series A
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Jul 30, 2017 

This morning, we heard Jesus tell four more parables.  The challenge of these parables is that a couple of these parables do not have an obvious explanation.  In fact, when Jesus finished the first three, He asked, “Have you understood all these things?” and They said to him, “Yes.” (Matthew 13:51) So it is entirely possible that Jesus never gave an interpretation of these parables.  Now that would be all well and good if the meaning was as obvious to us as it was to the disciples.  The problem is that the meanings of the first two parables that we heard today are not nearly as clear as we would like them to be.

The two parables are both very short, and the themes are similar: a man discovers something of great value and then sacrifices everything that he has in order to obtain the item of great value.  In the first parable, the item of great value is a treasure.  In the second, it is a precious pearl.  Despite the simplicity of the two parables, faithful theologians have come up with two possible interpretations.

One interpretation is that the Kingdom of Heaven is the item of great value … the treasure … or the pearl.  In this case, the parable teaches that we should be like the man or the merchant and give up everything to obtain the Kingdom of Heaven.

The other interpretation is that the Kingdom of Heaven is the main actor in the parable … the man or the merchant.  In this case, both the treasure and the pearl represent the Holy Christian Church.  The idea is that the Kingdom of Heaven suffered all in the person of Jesus Christ in order to redeem you … His treasure, His pearl of great price.

The fact that good, solid, faithful theologians can in all honesty come up with two valid, reasonable interpretations of these parables does illustrate one point.  Unless the Bible itself gives the explanation to a parable, we should not base any teachings on parables.  We can use parables to illustrate teachings that are clearly expressed in other parts of the Bible, but we should not rely on parables alone as a source for doctrine.

But what should we do with the parables that we heard from Jesus this morning?  Although I do not have the intellectual horsepower of the great doctors of the church, I am going to give you something to think about when you hear these parables.

Jesus began the first of these parables and said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.” (Matthew 13:44) This sounds like the Kingdom of Heaven is the treasure hidden in the field.  In that case, Jesus is indeed illustrating that the Kingdom of Heaven is precious.  In fact, it is so precious that Jesus went on to say, “Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) This implies that there is no price that is too much to pay for the treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now this would be great if it weren’t for one important detail.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1–3) Because our sin has corrupted our human nature, we do not recognize the value of the Kingdom of Heaven.  We are certainly not inclined to surrender everything in order to obtain it.  And even if we wanted to obtain it, we are not able to pay the price required by so great a treasure.  So, we are beyond hope.

But now we hear the second parable from the mouth of Jesus.  This time, Jesus began and said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.” (Matthew 13:45) In this parable, the Kingdom of Heaven is the merchant who searches for fine pearls.  With this parable, Jesus portrays the Kingdom of Heaven as the one who does the searching.  The Kingdom of Heaven is the Reign of God who searches for excellent pearls.  But what are these excellent pearls for whom the Kingdom of Heaven searches?  At another time, Jesus Himself said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) In other words, you are the excellent pearl.  In this second parable, Jesus is the merchant who sold all that he had … even his body to death on a cross … in order to obtain you … His precious Pearl.

So, although I do not have the intellectual horsepower of the great doctors of the church, I want you to consider the words of Jesus that we heard this morning.  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.” (Matthew 13:44) In this parable, the Kingdom of Heaven is a precious treasure … beyond anything that we could pay.  Never the less, in the second parable, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.” (Matthew 13:45) In the second parable, the Kingdom of Heaven searches for you.  You are the precious pearl for which Jesus Christ gave His all.

So, what difference does it make that you are the precious pearl of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Well, that becomes apparent in the next parable.

The Parable of the Net makes it very clear what will happen to all people on Judgment Day.  Jesus compared the people of this world to the contents of a net full of fish.  Just as a net gathers up all things from the water so Judgment Day will gather up all things.  Just as fishermen sort the contents of the net into trash and good fish, so God will send His angels to separate the evil from the righteous.  The righteous are those who have the righteousness of Christ through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith.  They are God’s valuable treasure – His precious pearl.  The evil are those who refuse the Holy Spirit’s gift and rely on their own righteousness for salvation.  They may be valuable and precious in their own sight, but that means nothing in God’s eyes.

The Bible tells us that we are sinful creatures.  The psalmist says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5) From this we learn that we are sinners the instant we come into existence at conception.  The prophet Isaiah says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6) From this verse we learn that nothing we do in our lives can change our sinful status.  The Apostle Paul tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23) From this we learn that no one can escape from this sinful condition.

From today’s parables, we learn that God still considers us precious in spite of our sinful condition.  We learn that God will spare nothing to ransom us from this sinful condition.  Instead, He will liquidate all His holdings in order to purchase and redeem us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to write, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18–19) From this we learn that the holdings Christ liquidated were paid in the currency of His holy innocent blood … a shedding of blood into death.

We know that Christ’s payment was sufficient.  He did not remain in the grave, but rose on the third day.  His resurrection assures us who believe that we are indeed God’s treasure … His precious pearl.  His resurrection assures us that we will also rise from the dead.  It assures us that we as God’s precious people will enjoy heaven with Him forever.  Amen



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