Eleventh Sunday after Trinity August 23, 1998
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
In the name of Christ Jesus, who made Himself very poor on earth that we might become eternally rich in heaven, dear fellow believers in Him, dear fellow redeemed.
Several years ago in college, I took an accounting class at the university in Eau Claire. One of the first things we learned was the difference between liabilities and assets. If you have any debts or bills that you owe, these are your liabilities. If you own any property or have a certain amount of cash in the bank, these are your assets. We can add up our total assets by estimating the cash value of all our property plus the dollar amount of our checking, savings, and other investments. People have developed all sorts of ways to estimate the value of material things. But putting a price tag on something like your natural abilities, your freedom, your family, your own life? That’s impossible to do. They say that all the chemicals and compounds in your body are worth less than $20. But you know that your body is far more valuable than $20. Your body is the creation of God and the dwelling place of your soul. And your soul, Jesus says, is worth more than anything. “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26)
So in light of the big picture, material things like money and property are really not worth much. They’re going to be destroyed on Judgment Day. Money and property will cease to exist. But your soul lives on. Your soul is the most valuable thing that you have, assuming, of course, that your soul is part of the kingdom of God. The two parables of our text have something in common. They portray Christianity as our #1 treasure. In very colorful terms Jesus shows you and me a great truth:
First of all, we should realize what the kingdom of God is all about. The concept is really very simple. God is the King who rules in the hearts and the lives of you and me. God is the King, and we are the citizens; we are His loyal subjects who follow the directions of our heavenly Leader. Naturally, we know the route and the final place where the King is taking us. The Lord wants to bring us to His heavenly palace. Meanwhile, we have His kingdom with us here on earth. The King will bless His citizens with all that they need, especially for their souls. Your membership in the kingdom of God is no trivial thing. As Jesus points out, it’s your greatest asset. Let’s be sure to realize its tremendous value.
Jesus portrayed our Christianity, our salvation by grace, our relationship with God as a treasure in a field and a pearl of great price. Back then, the pearl was the most valuable of all the precious stones, much like diamonds are today. Jewelers make it their business to measure the value of certain stones and determine the price that each stone is worth. We too can act like the jeweler and estimate the value of our heavenly treasure. We can add up the benefits that we get as members in God’s kingdom.
We start with the forgiveness of sins. God can’t be your King, until your sins are gone. So the very first move that God makes is the act of forgiveness. Through the wondrous death of Christ, God has made us clean. He has canceled the guilt and the penalty of all our sins. God has declared a permanent peace treaty that will put your mind at ease. Sin will always create a wall of conflict between us and God. Sin will always build up the tension of hatred and fear. But God’s forgiveness will undo the conflict, remove the hatred, and replace the fear with faith. Forgiveness from God will start a chain reaction of blessing whose value we cannot fully measure. When God forgives you, you get the promise of eternal life attached to that forgiveness. When God forgives you, He offers Himself—all of His power, all of His resources, all of His wisdom to guide and bless your life on earth.
The treasure that we get from God is infinitely valuable. Just think of it: forgiveness instead of judgment, His love instead of His anger, peace with God instead of fear, heaven instead of hell, hope instead of despair. When the man found the treasure in verse 44, his heart was filled with joy. We can have the same reaction. Remember the slogan of a few years back? “Happiness is… (dot-dot-dot).” Happiness is… knowing that God loves you in spite of your sins. Happiness is knowing with great confidence that you will spend eternity in the perfection of heaven. Happiness is having a Savior who will be everything that you need. If we can appreciate the great value of our spiritual treasure, than our happiness will never depend on the uncertain things of this world. Our happiness will be anchored on the solid ground of our heavenly wealth in Christ.
You can estimate value based on benefits. You can also estimate value on the basis of cost. With most assets that we have, we invest the time, effort, and money to acquire this possession. But that is not the case with your spiritual treasure. It was free for you, although it cost the Savior dearly. The price of your salvation was enormous. Jesus not only suffered intense pain and physical death. He experienced the torments of hell in our place. He endured the wrath of God, poured out on our sin. God had to die because of what we did. Don’t ever forget that! It’ll help you realize the tremendous value of the greatest asset that you’ll ever have.
Generally speaking, we treat our dearest possessions with respect and care. Keeping our property in top condition will become a high priority. We make the effort because we don’t want to lose what belongs to us. The two individuals in our text had the same attitude. Once they recognized the value of the treasure and the pearl, then getting and having that thing became the all-important goal, to the exclusion of everything else. You can tell by their actions. They sold everything to buy this one thing. That illustrates the way we need to think as believers. The kingdom of heaven is our greatest asset. So we make that kingdom, we make our Christianity the top priority in our life.
In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to say that. We would simply know it and do it. But as long as we live on this earth, we have our sinful nature. And because of that sinful nature, there will be distractions of all kinds. Our spiritual needs will have to compete with many other interests and goals. It is not second nature for us to think that God comes first. We have to be told that. We have to be reminded. And even then, our flesh does not give up. Your flesh wants to pursue money and material things. Your flesh wants to be a workaholic. Your flesh wants recreation and pleasure. Now don’t get me wrong. Money and work and recreation all have their place and their function in our lives. They are part of God’s blessings. But if our business, if our hobbies, if our relationships becomes the #1 thing that we pursue, then our flesh is taking over. You can always tell what is most important to you. Just ask yourself: what do you think about the most? What do you strive to get the most? Whatever it is, that activity or that goal has become your top priority.
However, you should know: if your #1 concern is something other than Christ, then spiritual weakness will surely follow. Spiritual loss will eventually set in. Why do you think the Bible has so many warnings about materialism, pleasure seeking, loving people more than God? Those things are said, because there is danger to our souls. If we fall in love with earthly things, we lose our hold on heavenly things. We can’t have both. We possess one or the other. That’s why Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
So your list of priorities is very important. The needs of our soul and our relationship with God—that has to be at the top of the list. Everything else must move down to the second, third, and fourth place. I hope we understand what this means in practical terms. It means that work and play will not become more important than church. It means that fun activities will not take the place of prayer and Bible study. It means that you stop and think of what your soul needs first, and then you think about the needs of your body.
Besides, didn’t God make a promise? Didn’t God say, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” God has promised that if you pay attention to spiritual matters and make Christianity your #1 concern, He will see to it that you lack nothing during your time on earth. Let’s make it our prayer and our goal that we trust God’s promise and focus on spiritual matters as the most important cause and concern that we have.
After all, good results are sure to follow. Remember what happened in the parables. When the two men sold their belongings, they were able to buy the treasure as their own possession. So also, when you make God’s kingdom your top priority, the result will be this: you will keep God’s kingdom as your greatest possession.
At this point we need to review some Biblical truth. We know, for one thing, that salvation is never automatic. The Bible does not teach that once you’re saved, you’re always saved. It is possible to lose our faith. It is possible to drift away and let go of the forgiveness and the salvation God has given. If it happened to us, we could never blame God. We could only blame ourselves. But let’s also remember that God has given us a way to hold onto our treasure. God has supplied us with a spiritual life support that will not fail, if we put it to use. Christ has said that if we stay under the influence of His Word, then His Word will set us free. And if we keep on using the Lord’s Supper, then our faith will grow stronger and survive on the sheer power of God’s forgiveness.
This point is well drawn out in the first parable, verse 44. Notice that the treasure was in a field. Well, the treasure of our salvation is contained in the field of God’s Word. We find and keep our treasure only in the place where God has put it. God has put your salvation in the Gospel. God has buried, so to speak, your forgiveness in the Sacrament. These are the special tools that are so necessary to forgive our sin, create our faith, bring us into the kingdom, and keep us as members in the kingdom of heaven.
You may know from experience how certain possessions and property are what we call “high maintenance”. They require a great deal of upkeep. Well, your faith is “high maintenance.” Your soul needs to be fed. Your relationship with God depends on regular contact with God’s Word. If we stay away from the Gospel, our faith will only starve and shrivel. But if we make the effort to hear the Word and use the Sacrament, then the Gospel will do something wonderful. The Gospel will produce a stronger connection with God and a stronger grip on our heavenly treasure.
Now let’s make sure we have this understood properly. It takes effort to come to church. It takes effort to read and study the Bible. You have to make the time. You have to put other things on hold. You have to concentrate and pay attention to the message. These things have to be done. But we should never think that our efforts become some work that we do to satisfy God and earn His favor. We don’t come to church to make a deal with the Lord. We come to receive His gift. The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” If we end up making the effort to hear the Word, it is entirely the working of God that has caused us to do it.
We need our King to lead the way. He points our attention to Christ and the sacrifice that was made for us. He puts the spotlight on Jesus in the Bible. With Christ as your Savior and God as your King, you have everything that is truly valuable. May God help us to see the tremendous worth of our treasure. May the Holy Spirit keep us focused on spiritual needs as our top priority. May the Word and the Sacrament be the key to success, the power that keeps Christianity and salvation as our greatest and dearest possession. May the kingdom of God forever remain as our #1 asset. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.