CLAIMING THE PRIZE Matthew 13:44-52 Theme of the Month Life Together: Church and Community
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Sharp
Lead Pastor, English Congregation Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church, Vancouver, British Columbia
Sunday Sermon for 29 August 2010
Scripture Passage Matthew 13:44-52
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 44
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. 45
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 47
“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. 51
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” 52
It is a true story—no matter how much like a fairy tale it may sound. A totally unsuspecting man literally stumbled on the world’s largest diamond—all 3,106 carats of it. It happened in Premier Mine #2, near Pretoria, South Africa, in early 1905. This amazing stone was then sent in an ordinary cardboard box to England. One hundred and five stones were cut from this diamond, known as the Cullinan diamond. Two of the largest stones which it produced, the 530-carat Star of Africa and the 317-carat Cullinan II, are part of the British crown jewels. Nowadays there are a lot of people who dream of winning the lottery or striking it rich at the Casino or maybe being left a large inheritance in some distant relative’s will. To our modern ears it may sound strange, but in the Old Testament and Jesus’ time people dreamed of finding treasure buried in a field or at least discovering a precious stone lying in the road. The reality is that commerce and banking were not as sophisticated as they are today. There were no offshore banks in the grand Caymans; no unnumbered accounts in Switzerland. So people who wanted to secure their wealth buried it in the ground. It gained no interest, but at least it was secure. Unfortunately, some of these people died before reclaiming their wealth. So there it lay just waiting for someone to discover it. In our passage Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like that. It is like treasure hidden in a field which someone stumbled upon. And in that day, finders were keepers—that was the law. No matter how unethical or unfair it may sound to us, that was the law. And so the lucky finder in our story, in order to secure his new found wealth, hid the treasure all over again in that same field. Then joyfully he took everything he had and sold it to buy the field. Then the treasure was his. And as if to emphasize his point Jesus added, “The Kingdom is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. In his search, he finds one of unsurpassed value. So pure and awesome, the finest thing he has ever see, so he too sells everything he has to purchase that pearl.” This, Jesus says, is what the kingdom of God is like—buried treasure—like a pearl of great price. It is like finding that one thing that is of such overwhelming value that you are willing to give whatever you can to make it your own. Jesus says that the life that God offers in Christ is like that. It is abundant and rich, it is precious and awesome. It is something that is worth your all. As we look at these two stories I want you to notice first of all that this treasure Jesus describes is just waiting to be discovered. The kingdom of God is not something we enter someday when we die. The kingdom of God is here and now. It is a present reality just waiting for us to discover it. In West Texas, Pastor Cindy’s old stomping grounds, there is a famous oil field known as the Yates Pool. During the depression, this field was a sheep ranch owned by a man named Yates. Yates was not able to make enough money on his ranching operation to pay the principal and interest on his mortgage, so he was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes or food, his family, like many others, had to live on a government subsidy. Day after day, as he grazed his sheep over those rolling west Texas hills, he was stressed out, weighed down and greatly troubled about how he would be able to pay his mounting bills.
Then a crew from an oil company came into the area and told Mr. Yates that there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a wildcat well, an exploratory well, and he signed a lease. At a little more than a thousand feet, they struck a huge oil reserve, giving eighty thousand barrels a day. In fact, thirty years after the discovery, a government test of one of Mr. Yates’ wells showed that it still could produce more than a hundred thousand barrels of oil a day. And Mr. Yates owned it all. The day he had purchased the land, he received the oil and mineral rights. And yet, he had been living on relief—a multimillionaire living in poverty. What had been the problem? He didn’t know the oil was there. He owned it, but he did not possess it.1 Jesus says to us that the Kingdom of God is something like that. You and I already have it within our grasp (cf. Luke 17:20-21). It is there waiting to be discovered. But many of us are living impoverished lives, spiritually impoverished lives—not knowing that the Kingdom is ours if we want it. Anthony De Mello is a great story teller and in one of his stories he tells a story about some people who were on a raft off the coast of Brazil. They were dying from thirst—because it is salt water, ocean water is undrinkable. But what they didn’t know, though, was that the water they were floating on was fresh water. A nearby river was coming out into the sea with such force that it went out for a couple of miles, so they had fresh water right there where they were. But they had no idea. “In the same way,” says De Mello, “we’re surrounded with joy, with happiness, with love. Most people,” he concludes, “have no idea.”2 Other people are like the king who went mad and moved to the cellar of his palace. There he sat in the midst of the rags and bones which he clung to as his treasures. His advisors urged him to leave, reminding him of all the rooms in the palace that were full of real treasures. But the King wouldn’t budge. He preferred to live in illusion. So do most us until something better comes along. Like the king’s friends, Jesus wants to awaken us to the truth that there are glorious treasures— treasures of freedom and purpose, acceptance and compassion, joy and happiness, awesome treasures to be had if we will only leave our illusions that life outside of the Kingdom of God is real life. And that’s true. There are a lot of hurting, shattered, desperate, empty people in this world, and perhaps in this church and in your acquaintance for whom the treasure is just waiting to be discovered. Notice, secondly, in the parable that this treasure brings the finder great joy. How would you feel if someone appeared at your door with a huge check because you had won some contest or the lottery? Have you learned your “happy dance” as the government’s lottery commercial
James Hewett, How to Live Confidently in a Hostile World, Wheaton, IL: Word Publishing, 1989, p. 177.
Anthony D. Mello, Awareness, New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1992, p. 26. CLAIMINGTHEPRIZE 3
reminds us? How would you feel with such an unexpected win fall? Then, Jesus would say, you should know how it would feel to receive the Kingdom into your life. When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of heaven (the two terms are interchangeable), he was talking about the reign/sovereignty/influence/presence and power of God in human hearts. And the natural inclination of the person in whose life God reigns and is present is joy. And biblical joy is that deep down settled conviction and confidence that God is concerned about every area of my life and that because he is all is well and all will ultimately be well because God is in control. That is why the Psalmist writing thousands of years and out of his experience say: “In God’s presence is the fullness of joy, and at his right hand there is pleasure for ever more.” (Psalm 16:12). In other words, you don’t actually know real joy until you know God. There are intimations, hints, tastes of joy in life, but real joy is found only in a relationship with God. Now you and I have probably met people who claim to have been born again, to have had a lifechanging experience with Jesus—who claim to have experienced God’s grace in their lives—who will tell you they have become a follower of Jesus, a disciple—but they are angry and bitter people and lacking in both compassion and love. When you meet people like this you have to wonder if they have confused a particular kind of emotional experience with the surrender of one’s life to God. Because the Bible makes it clear that where God is, there is light—where God is, there is love—where God is, there is joy. Now here again, we have to be careful. There are many people today—pastors, writers, celebrities in many fields—who are announcing a Kingdom without the King, a religion without God, a spirituality without the Holy Spirit. It is a religion that is supposed to make you feel good and warm all over, offering a kind of Jacuzzi Jesus. A faith that doesn’t ask too much of us and easily baptizes and anoints and doesn’t threaten our personal or societal desires and plans. That is dangerous because it is a false gospel and a false hope. The next time you hear someone talk about being spiritual, ask them if they are talking about living under the rule of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And we could add, the God of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel. Ask them if they are talking about the God who said, “You shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not bear false witness.” Ask them if they are talking about the God who came into our world in Jesus Christ, who came into our world with all its pain and joy. Ask them if it is the God who says, “You shall love Me with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” For only when that God reigns in our lives, influencing us and directing us, and transforming us is there real salvation and true happiness. There are some very unhappy people in our society and even in church who claim to have found a power within—a spiritual power—a source of peace—but if you get closer, you discover that
they are not talking about God at all—at least not the God we know in Jesus. And the truth is that where God does not reign, there can be no lasting joy. For you see, this Kingdom Jesus brings and calls us into is a package. It isn’t a buffet line or an a la carte menu. The person who decides to follow Jesus can’t pick and choose what to put on his/ her plate, rejecting some entrees as indigestible or too salty or too sweet—“I’ll take the forgiveness and salvation, but leave the discipleship and accountability and service.” The Kingdom of God is what Jesus lays before us. And he says that if we reject it, we will starve. To live in the Kingdom of God is to embrace a life of trust—it is believing that the Creator of this world loves each of us individually and unconditionally; it is believing that the God we know in Jesus has given us a pattern for living that leads to harmony with one another and with the One who is the Source of Life; to live in the kingdom of God is believing that because of what Christ has done for us that our lives have eternal significance; it is believing that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have access to God here and now. Do you believe that? Do you really believe that? Do you also believe that because God is with us nothing can ultimately defeat or destroy us? Do you believe any of that? Do you believe all of it? Then you should have joy that the world cannot take away. The treasure of the Kingdom is available, Jesus says, here and now—just waiting to be discovered. Appropriating that treasure brings us great joy. But note one thing more. This kingdom can only be ours if we are willing to give everything we have to own it. This is not legalism. It is not a denial of grace. It is a simple fact. This is the deal. The Kingdom cannot bring us joy if we try to only purchase part of it— forgiveness without accountability and discipleship; pleasure without pain; service without sacrifice; love without vulnerability; acceptance without caring for those around us. Again, it is a package. You will not find real joy if you hold part of your life back from God’s reign, God’s control and direction. God must rule in every part of your life or he doesn’t rule at all. Nothing is off limits—my home life, my relationships, my habits, my finances, my speech, my lifestyle— nothing is off limits to God. A person cannot be truly happy or know the fullness of God’s gift of the kingdom if he or she makes only a partial commitment. This is one reason so many married couples don’t make it nowadays. One member didn’t make a complete commitment in the first place—only a partial, conditional commitment. And this is also the reason there are so many unhappy Christians: they never did lay it all—who they are, all that they have, all they hope to be, on the altar of God. Back there in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6:21 Jesus said that where a person’s treasure is, there is his/her heart. You may think that Jesus was only talking about money when he said that. He wasn’t. Jesus cared about bringing people into the Kingdom, into a lifetransforming relationship with God. He knew that where we make an investment, where we make a real, costly commitment, we have a concern. Keith Emerson is an Anglican priest who tells about a friend of his, another priest, who invested some money in the stock market. Every day after that he would pore over the financial pages looking for better investment possibilities. He had never shown the slightest interest in any of this
until he had placed something he valued there—namely his money. He eventually took this to an extreme. One day out of the blue, he wanted a group of his fellow priests to go with him to a Wendy’s restaurant for lunch. When they got there, he encouraged them to order as much as they wanted, but then he scolded them for being too generous with things like ketchup and napkins. It wasn’t until a week later that they discovered that this priest had purchased some stock in Wendy’s. He was encouraging everyone he knew to go there to eat so that his investment would flourish. What had once been unimportant to him was now a principle concern because it involved his money. He had made an investment. The reality is that where we have no investment, we have no concern. That’s true of our home life, our church life and especially our relationship with God. God asks each of us to make an investment of our lives, our talents and gifts, and our possessions. God asks us to take everything we are, everything we own, everything we hope to be and own and lay it on the altar of faith. If we acknowledge that it all belongs to God, including the very life that courses through our bodies, then, in exchange for that level of commitment, God gives us a treasure greater than the Cullinan diamond, greater than the Yates oil field and greater than anything you can conceive of. It is a gift that money can’t buy. It is the gift of unassailable joy. And it is waiting for anyone who would receive it. In his book The Compassionate Christ Dale Oldham compared the attitude that many people have about the Kingdom of God to a yapping dog that resided in his neighborhood. The dog was always chasing a cat that lived next door. Whenever he saw the cat, he would go after it as if it were his only aim in living. So long as the cat ran, everything was great. But occasionally the cat would stop suddenly and face the dog. Then the dog would put on the brakes and act as if the whole thing were only a joke. Evidently the cat was to be chased but not to be caught, and if the cat insisted on being caught, then the dog was shocked and became uncomfortable. “Too often,” Oldham says, “we have pursued the Kingdom of God in this same spirit. We have cried out in a burst of enthusiasm so long as we have been pursuing the Kingdom, but most of us would be greatly shocked and uncomfortable if we were actually to catch up with the Kingdom.” I think that we would be shocked and uncomfortable, because we would discover that we really didn’t want to pay the price. It was all a game. And yet, deep down inside we realize, if we understand what Jesus is offering and we really know our hearts and our needs, that the Kingdom of God is what we are all really seeking. A connection with God which is life and joy and fulfillment. Earlier in the service we sang a song with these words: Each day I pray, Your kingdom reigns On earth and heaven through Your grace I will love and worship You always With all my strength, heart, and soul …….. CLAIMINGTHEPRIZE 6
I will follow You through fire and rain proclaiming Your saving grace I will set apart all that I am To serve the one who came to save Powerful words, but did we mean it? In these parables and in his life and message Jesus says we don’t have to chase the Kingdom. It’s already here. It’s already available. It is ours if we want it. We have already won the prize—all we have to do is claim it. All we have to do is let God reign without reservation in our hearts; be willing to lay our lives and our all on the altar and commit our lives and future to Christ. If we do that, we will discover a joy that the world cannot know and that it cannot destroy.
Reflection Questions 1. What are your thoughts, reactions, questions about today’s scripture passage? 2. In what ways is your experience of the kingdom a here and now experience? 3. What are some of the reasons people prefer to live in illusion or spiritual poverty rather than claiming the gift of the Kingdom that Jesus offers? 4. Would you agree with the description of joy given in the sermon? 5. Would you agree that “only when God reigns in our lives, influencing us and directing us, and transforming us is there real salvation and true happiness”? If so, why is it that people resist placing their all on the altar? 6. How would you rate your commitment to living out the life of the Kingdom? How invested are you in the kingdom life? 7. What questions, thoughts, reactions do you have to this sermon?