Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 13:44-52
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our text has three parables. The first two are closely related, but the third is a bit different. Parables are often said to be earthly stories with heavenly meanings. That is true in a sense. They are about the everyday world, but they are not generally about everyday events. Most parables have a form of improbability to them. People wouldn’t really do this. It is absurd. But it is often the absurdity that makes the point of the parable. The grace of God is a radical concept. It requires a radical explanation.
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. Here we must see the man as Christ and the treasure as us. This is not entirely improbable. But it is difficult. Even if the owner did not know of the treasure, he still might not sell. But notice here a larger point. The man buys the field. Why doesn’t he just take the treasure? Because he must have title to it. Christ would not just have us as a thief has something. Rather Christ would have title to us. He would have His claims stand, unchallenged and unchallengeable, in the court of heaven. Christ desires to be able to hold up His wounds and say to Satan, here is My title to every human being.
Again, 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. Now this is absurd. A man makes himself homeless to possess this pearl. Nor is their any indication that he intends to sell it again, perhaps for a profit. He simply wants to possess it. Here Christ is speaking of how He would give up His very life to posses us. We were so valued by God that even the life of God the Son was not too much to pay. This is pretty radical stuff.
To put this into context we must see the nature of man in the first place. Christ tells us that we sin because sin is what is in our hearts: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:18-19) St. Paul tells us that we were born dead and enemies of God: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in 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— among 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) In this St. Paul was only echoing the words of Moses when he writes: ...the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. (Genesis 8:21b) God’s response is also laid out by St. Paul: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) This is echoing the parables in our text. It is a radical solution to the problem of sin. Christ, the Holy One, dies for sinners. He gave up all that He had to possess us.
The third parable in the set goes in a slightly different direction. 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. 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. Here we have a word of clear judgement. Christ died for all, but not all will be in heaven. Christ did not teach universalism - that is that all men will be saved. Some reject the gifts that God gave them. This is terribly unpopular in our age. People don’t like to think that some people will be sent to hell - unless they are really bad. But of course no body we know would ever end in up hell. But that’s not how it works. Those who reject Christ’s death and resurrection will not be saved. Sometimes even those within the church are turned back and declared to be workers of iniquity. It makes want to shout - they weren’t really that bad! But the fact is we are all that bad. It is only the blood of Christ covering over our sins that allows us to enter in God’s presence. This require us to say, sadly, yes, there are some I know that are not in heaven. It might be neighbors, cousins, parents, children and the like.
How do we respond when we are told that we cannot know the state of the heart? True we do not. Nor are we to attempt to judge the state of the heart. But we are required to judge their public confession. So there is a cousin of mine whom I cannot recall ever discussing Christ. He attends my parents’ church. I see him in church when I am there. He’s been active in the congregation as long as I can remember. So I am compelled and obligated to say that this man is a Christian and will be in heaven. From what is known to me, this is true. I had another cousin who, though baptized, instructed and confirmed, showed no indication in his life that he had any trust for God. He lived a life of drugs and violence. He was killed some years back in a car accident. I must say that this one was condemned to hell. Could I be wrong? Absolutely. Nor does my judgement determine their fate. Praise the Lord for that! Indeed, in the case of my cousin who was killed, I pray that I am wrong in my judgement. For indeed we should never desire the damnation of even the most wicked. But we must also honestly confess what is known to us. Based on what is known, this is their probable fates.
In these three parables Christ lays out for us the Christian faith. Christ comes and seeks us, the lost. He pays for us with His very life. All who trust in Him are saved. But we know that some will reject Christ. Both of these concepts challenge us. We don’t want to think that anyone would be sent to hell. But those who reject Christ will indeed be condemned. Likewise, we are challenged by the grace of God. We want to save ourselves. We need to see that we are lost and helpless. Our sins make us unable to save ourselves. Yet, even in our sinful condition, Christ saw each one of us as a pearl of great price. He had to possess us. He gave His very life gain title to us.