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July 30, 2017

 

 

7.30.17                              Pentecost 8                   - Matthew 13:44-52 ESV

 

44[Jesus said,] “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. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

 

HOW MUCH IS HEAVEN WORTH?
 
In 1949 Jack Wurm was a 55-year-old, out-of-work, down-on-his-luck, failed business man, walking along a California beach after another disappointing job interview.  He was near the end of his rope.  By chance he spied a bottle in the sand, idly kicked it, and stooped down to examine it.  A piece of paper was inside, so he broke it open and read the handwritten note.  “To avoid all confusion, I leave my entire estate to the lucky person who finds this bottle and to my attorney, share and share alike. (signed) Daisy Alexander, June 20, 1937.”  At first Jack passed it off as a joke, but he kept the bottle and later mentioned it to a friend who had heard of Daisy Alexander when he served in England during the Second World War.  They did some research and learned that she was heiress to the vast Singer sewing machine fortune.  If Jack could prove the validity of the document, he might be entitled to half of her 12 million dollar estate.
 
Seems that Daisy (Singer) Alexander was an eccentric widowed recluse who lived in England.  She often tossed bottles into the water wondering where they went.  She died in 1940 leaving no will.  So Jack tracked down her attorney to claim the money, and the case began to wind its way through complicated court proceedings.  They even had an ocean current expert testify that a bottle dropped in the Thames River could float to the English Channel, then to the North Sea past Norway into the Arctic Ocean past Russia to the Siberian Sea, down through the Bering Straits into the North Pacific and end up on the west coast of the United States. He estimated the journey would take approximately 12 years.  Jack found the bottle on March 16, 1949, eleven years and nine months after the note was dated.  It was a bonanza in a bottle.  You can still read the article in a San Francisco newspaper online, although today people say it was probably an urban legend, a hoax.
 
In this gospel lesson Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to finding a treasure, a pearl of great value.  He leads us to ask ourselves: HOW MUCH IS HEAVEN WORTH?  And in these parables He answers: everything we have or else all is lost.
 
Chapter 13 of Matthew’s gospel contains seven parables told, apparently, on the same occasion by Jesus while He was teaching the people along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  We read two of them the last two Sundays – the parable of the sower, and the parable of the weeds.  All of them have to do with “the kingdom of heaven.”  This is God’s gracious ruling influence which He exerts on people through the good news of Christ.  By repenting of sins and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness, they have a new lease on life that gives peace now and pleasure forever.  Heaven is where this kingdom is fully realized. 
 
Such knowledge, such faith is extremely valuable according to Jesus.  It’s “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.”  (Obviously, so he could lay claim to the treasure.)  This was not as far-fetched as it may sound.  In troubled times with frequent wars and changes of rulers commonplace, wealthy people would often divide their money into three parts.  One they would use for business; another they would convert to precious gems so that they could flee the country quickly; and a third they would bury so that they could come back later and retrieve it.  If the person died, it was possible that no one would know where that treasure was buried.  So conceivably anyone could stumble upon it accidentally as the ground eroded and so on.  Sometimes archaeologists uncover caches of coins hidden beneath the floor of ancient ruins, untouched for centuries.  So the kingdom of heaven is like finding a buried treasure.
 
Or, Jesus said, 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 that he had and bought it.”  Again, the idea is that this pearl was so perfect, so precious, that it was worth more than everything the man owned.  You’ve heard about cultured pearls.  They can be manufactured artificially, too, but folks who know what they’re doing can stimulate an oyster to produce a particularly exquisite pearl.  For example, I read about a Japanese company that imports an extract from what are called “pigtoe clams” in the Mississippi to get the exact dye they want to inject into the oysters they farm for their exceptional black pearl quality.  You never know what will make something valuable.  Of course, the pearl of great price has become a literary metaphor for special wisdom.
 
The point of both of these parables, clearly, is that heaven is worth more than everything we may have on earth.  And we find out about it in the treasure map of God’s Word.  Whether that discovery is accidental or intentional, we ought to consider it more important, more precious than anything else we may possess in this life. 
 
Is it, for you?  Perhaps you were fortunate to grow up in a church-going family, in which case you just sort of happened upon the gospel of salvation by coincidence.  Not that it was hidden in the church (although it can be in some, as Luther found out), it’s just that we may not appreciate that it’s there for some time.  But one day it dawned on you.  Something clicked.  You realized what a treasure this is, how essential it is to set your priorities around this discovery, so that everything else becomes secondary to having a share in the kingdom of heaven. 
 
Or maybe you have been searching for this good news.  You didn’t know much about the Bible growing up or started looking for answers elsewhere.  In the quest for understanding, for the meaning of life, one day you met someone who presented the gospel of Jesus to you.  And a light bulb went on.  You recognized the beauty of it for the first time.  Like a pearl of great price, you saw the wonderful way God has put together His plan of salvation, layer by layer like a satiny pearl.  And you knew this was what you were looking for.  You just had to have the comfort, the peace of being sure you’re going to heaven all because of what Jesus has done for you, dying to remove your guilt, rising to renew your hope. 
 
How much is heaven worth?  Everything we have, when you look at it this way, isn’t it?  Nothing should come between us and our opportunity to grow in God’s grace.  We will want to make sure that this precious treasure, this priceless gem is ours to keep for a lifetime.  We will gladly express our gratitude to God for letting us find it, for making it available to us.  For without it, all is lost.
 
Changing metaphors, Jesus tells a fish story.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.  When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.”  Remember, Jesus was on a lakefront where fishermen may have been doing that very chore at the time.  And He interprets the scene: “So it will be at the close of the age.  The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 
 
This is the second time Jesus uses this expression in these parables – there’s a day reckoning, a division of mankind – some are saved, others are condemned.  Here the gospel message is like a huge dragnet cast into the world.  But not all will believe in Christ as the one who justifies them; they’d rather justify themselves.  So on the day of judgment they are still stuck in their sins, while those who have trusted in Jesus for forgiveness are declared “righteous,” not guilty.  Sadly, the “evil” ones will not get a second chance.  They will be thrown “weeping, gnashing” into the “fiery furnace.”
 
Not a pretty picture, but Jesus taught that there is a real hell.  He should know.  He sent the devil’s demons there.  You can’t have a heaven without a hell.  How would you know it’s heaven without something to compare it to?  Hell is what makes heaven worth so much because without heaven all is lost, even what one may have prized on earth.
 
That’s why it’s incumbent on those who have learned this truth, who have found this treasure, to tell others about it.  “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked, and the disciples said they did.  Then He said, “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”  One more short parable about treasure at the end where Jesus basically tells us that the student becomes the teacher.  Those who are disciples of Christ by faith in Him are being trained in His ways so that they can teach others to believe in Him.  Whether they use “old” tried and true methods or “new” innovative and creative ones, the object is the same: Show people what a treasure the kingdom of heaven is.  Share it, don’t hoard it!  Don’t wait and hope that they might chance upon it someday like Jack Wurm finding a message in a bottle (by the way, he never did get the fortune). So, we need to be direct, urgent in our witness.  Everyone needs to know that heaven is worth more than everything we have because without it, all is lost.   
 
Lord, help us appreciate what a treasure we have in Jesus.  Amen.