Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church last Sunday. Outline of theological emphasis comes from Dr. Gibb’s Concordia Commentary series Matthew 11:2-20:34.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all he had and bought it.” Such beautiful words, but what do they mean? Why did Jesus tell this parable and the parable of the treasure hidden in a field on the occasion that he did?
We know that Jesus used parables as a teaching tool about the mysteries of God’s kingdom and heaven. Some have called parables Earthly stories with heavenly meanings. But parables are more than a bunch of stories that make understanding God’s kingdom easier.
They are intended to encourage and build up faith. Jesus recognized how difficult it is to live in God’s kingdom in the fallen world we live in. The parable of the treasure in the field and the Pearl of Great Price contain elements of hiddenness. The treasure is buried, the pearl needed to be discovered.
Jesus knows the difficulty we face, He knew the temptation the disciples had of falling away. In response to the difficulty, in response to the hiddenness of God’s kingdom he tells parables of comfort to believers describing how precious we are to him. Parables describing his great love for us where he paid all to obtain us.
The parable of treasure and the parable of the great pearl start with the memorable formula: “The kingdom of heaven is like… In every instance in the gospel of Matthew where Jesus begins a parable with “The kingdom of heaven is like” the main character or central thing described in the parable is always Jesus. The parables all describe the how Jesus brings the kingdom of God to the world. The parable of the pearl of great value is no different.
In the past the church often assumed that the pearl of great value represents Jesus, and we as believers give up everything we have in order to obtain Him. Recognizing that He is worth more than anything else in the world. In a basic sense it is true that God’s kingdom is worth more than anything else we could have or desire.
But nowhere else in the scripture is it the case that people can make a financial transaction to possess God. God is not our possession. We are God’s beloved possession. Instead the rest of scripture indicates that Jesus sold all he had to buy us. He paid for us with his precious blood. Jesus did not hesitate, out of love for us, the pearl of great price he gave up his life on the cross.
We as the church are the treasure that is buried in the field and purchased with eager marvelous joy. We are hidden among the world, we are the wheat hidden among the weeds.
As a child I like to collect things. Baseball cards, comic books, action figures. A common wishful thinking daydream of mine was that I would some day find an old crate or lock box in a dusty attic somewhere, maybe left behind from a previous owner of a home, maybe somewhere else. In my daydream that box would contain old baseball cards from say the 1920s or 30s, and maybe some old valuable comic books.
Now as an adult I realize that finding such a treasure would only be of limited value to me, and would only bring temporary joy. Now I know the real treasures of this world are not what we can find, but instead true treasure is God finding us and showing us His perfect love.
God knows how precious we are. Because of God’s love we have become a treasure, beloved for eternity.
The small daughter of a famous artist was once asked which child was her mother’s favorite. The little girl replied: “She loves Jimmy the best because he’s the oldest, and she loves Johnny the best because he’s the youngest. And she loves me best because I am the only girl.”
Parents have their own imperfect way of loving each child best. Even more so, God loves us personally, no matter what our life experience is or what we have accomplished in life. Jesus wants us to recognize that we are all precious in His sight, all the pearl of great worth.
When you know someone loves you, it makes you feel your worth so much more. Even more so we feel our worth knowing that we have such worth in God’s eyes.
If young men and women in our churches could understand what great worth they have, how different might the decisions be that our youth make. If youth were properly taught what a treasure they are to Jesus, how much less would be the temptations of the treasures of popularity with peers, material pursuits and pursuits of vanity.
If parents understood the worth they are to God, how much more confidently and joyfully might they raise their children in the faith! How sad that the joy of God’s kingdom is so often hidden among us.
We considered earlier how parables bring to light truths that are hidden. How unlikely and improbable that the kingdom of our living God should be hidden. God made the world and yet His kingdom is hidden in the very world He made. The hiddenness is because of the reign of sin.
Because of sin some people do not see it, some people go on about their lives completely content to be without God’s kingdom. Right before our gospel reading for today is the parable of the weeds- which describes how the wheat is hidden among the weeds. True believers are hidden among the weeds of unbelievers, and all will be harvested at the last day.
Even we as God’s people also experience the hiddenness of His kingdom. Sure we see the glory of God in worship and in the gifts of forgiveness. But also so many disappointments and deep hurts within our lives and within the church. One theologian noted that the church is the only army that goes after its own wounded.
Just where is this glorious kingdom of people worshiping the Lord in joy and thanksgiving? Too often it is hidden.
In our Old Testament reading we hear how the people of Israel are not more numerous than other people. In other words they are not stronger, or more powerful. There is nothing about them that makes them better than any other peoples of the world. By outward appearance they are just like anyone else, maybe even less noteworthy. What is special about them is hidden.
Yet because God has chosen them as a people of his own possession. What is hidden among them is the great treasure of God’s love. This treasure is what makes them so special. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord 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.”
The treasure of being God’s people is what makes us blessed.
Though God’s kingdom may feel to us as if it is hidden. God’s Word makes clear that we are a people of His own possession. Bought by Jesus, there is nothing hidden or secret about the inheritance we have. In fact nothing can take us away from this heritage.
From the beginning God planned for us to be his treasured possession: We heard from our reading in Romans the details of how God gave spiritual birth to us and preserved us.
“because God foreknew us he also predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son… those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
We are God’s treasured possession, We confessed earlier in the service these words of Psalm 125 “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore. The Lord surrounds and protects his treasured possession. How beautiful those words are.