Last Sunday I made the comment that death has a way of prioritizing the more important things of life. It focuses us on what really matters, and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t matter. The truth is most of the stuff of life doesn’t really matter. It’s not that it’s not important. It’s not that it’s not even good or meaningful. But it’s not ultimate. The things that are ultimate in life have to do with the kingdom of God, and that is basically what Jesus is saying in the three parables before us today.
Two of the parables are grouped together in our English Bibles, and the third immediately follows the previous two. In some English versions all three are grouped together emphasizing their relationship to one another, and that is what the Gospel Lesson has done for us today.
Now, remember that a “parable” is a comparison of two things. In the first parable, the comparison is between the kingdom of heaven and a hidden treasure that a man happens to stumble upon. The second parable compares the kingdom of heaven to a merchant, not stumbling upon, but rather searching for a fine pearl and then finding it. And the third parable compares the kingdom of heaven to a large dragnet that gathers up many similar looking fish that are later divided into groups of good and bad.
So, all three parables are a comparison of what the kingdom of heaven is like. Sometimes the Bible refers to this kingdom as the “kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of Christ”, but it is all the same thing. It is the realm where God is, and it is the realm where God rules. But specifically, it is the realm where God rules with his undeserved mercy and love. And in this current world, the area that God rules with his love and grace is the believer’s heart. He rules your heart and mine.
You see, when the girlfriend and boyfriend are finally conquered by each other’s relentless love, they give in, and they make their vows to each other and say, “I am yours and you are mine, and this relationship will remain intact until death do us part.”
In a similar way, when God baptized you, he said to you, “I am yours.” He says to us over and over in the Bible, “I am yours.” And when we take of his body and blood in Holy Communion, Jesus is saying to us, “I am yours. All of me is yours!”. And it is with this relentless love for us, that God conquers our hearts so that now we respond back to him. We give up. We give in. We say, “This is the relationship that will give me more than all the others. I think I will commit myself to him.”
The problem, however, is that during the course of our sinful life the vibrant relationship between the believer and God often grows stale. Understand that it never grows stale because of God. God loves you today with the same relentless and robust love as he always has. But it may be that you don’t love him with the same relentless and robust love that you used to have, or if you do, you can surely think of periods in life where the flame was flickering and grew dim.
So, understand that with all of this I am setting up what I am going to say. Our eyes can wander from the love that previously made them sparkle. Or we can become enamored with another love that promises much but returns very little. Sin is deceptive like fool’s gold. It is sparkling to the eye but has no real value. It excites but doesn’t satisfy. It promises but doesn’t fulfill. It is like drinking salt water. You will always be thirsty for more.
What can give you more in life? What can satisfy you more in life? Christ? Or the shiny pleasures of this world?
King Solomon asked himself this question in the book of Ecclesiastes. He concluded that nothing in this world can truly satisfy. You know the words: “Meaningless, meaningless. Everything is meaningless” (1:1). Meaningless under the SUN, that is. So much so that at the end of his life Solomon concluded that the only truly meaningful and satisfactory thing is a life lived under the SON, i.e. the Messiah Jesus, the saving God himself.
But here is the thing. Solomon wasn’t convinced of this conclusion right away. He knew who God was as a child. He was taught that God is most important, that God comes first. Mentally he knew his theology. But emotionally he longed for more.
And that is what the book of Ecclesiastes is about. Solomon goes on a search for true meaning. He seeks it first in wisdom, then in pleasure, then in hard work, then in riches, and then in success. But none of it satisfies him in the long run. He is still thirsty for more. The one thing he discovers that does take away his thirst for more is what he had already from the very beginning. He just forgot about it. It was his relationship with God.
So, he tells his son in the book of Proverbs, “get wisdom.” But he’s not talking about the earthly wisdom and philosophy that he previously sought in life. No, he’s using the term “wisdom” as a personification of Christ. Christ is true wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7).
Let me just read a few of the things Solomon says to his son in the book of Proverbs.
“Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her” (3:13-15).
Proverbs 8:35-36: “For whoever finds me [wisdom] finds life and receives favor from the LORD. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.”
You can say the same thing about Jesus. In fact, those verses were inspired by the Holy Spirit to refer to Jesus.
And finally, Proverbs 4:7. “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”
Now, isn’t that what Jesus is saying in his parables of the treasure and the pearl? “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again. In his joy, he goes away and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
It’s not that the merchant who found the pearl of great value didn’t have other pearls of value; it’s that in comparison to the pearl of great value, there was no comparison. The man immediately realized, “This pearl can give me more.”
In the same way, it’s not that the man who found the hidden treasure didn’t have any other items of value in his life. Clearly, he did, because he went and sold all he had to buy the field. But why did he buy the field? Because he realized that the buried treasure could give him more than all his current items of value.
You see, what Jesus is saying is that the kingdom of heaven is like these two scenarios in this: it can give you more. In fact, it will give you so much more that it is a no brainer when it comes to what we should chose. To find the kingdom, and then to ignore it, or to lose it, or to treat it as if it were of less value than the earthly things of life… that would be utter folly. That is the definition of a “fool” in the book of Proverbs.
Can we just admit that we are so often utter fools in life? And then can we marvel at the fact that the treasure is still ours, that we haven’t yet lost it, and that we can pull it out again and become excited over it.
These two parables are interesting to me because there are two different ways that the men arrive at their treasure. The first man just stumbles upon it. He’s not actively looking for it. He happens to be digging in a field and he finds a treasure.
And that’s how it is for some people in life. They meet someone, or become acquainted somehow with a Christian church, and it is like they stumble upon the Gospel. And for them it is like “Wow! A night and day difference from what they previously looked to for meaning and value.” It is a no-brainer for them. The Gospel message is superior in all aspects.
But other people are like the merchant. Notice that the merchant was searching for fine pearls. He was looking for value in his life. Here I think of the more cerebral and thoughtful people among us, the more philosophical who are actively searching for that unknown “thing” that is going to fill the void. In their search they investigate Christianity and discover that only Christ is big enough to fill the empty heart.
Isn’t that true? Only Christ is big enough to fill this heart of ours. Why? Because Christ can give you more.
That brings us to our third parable (and we’re almost finished). The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet, a huge net that the fisherman lowers into the water and drags along behind his boat. It catches a lot of fish.
Now, they say we are a Christian nation. I understand what people mean when they say that, but are we a Christian nation? Are there really more Christians than unbelievers? Or are there a whole lot of nominal Christians, cultural Christians as I like to call them, that say “I believe”, but they really don’t know what they believe and when it does comes to Christ, the rest of life has much more value for them. They say “Christ!”, but they don’t believe that Christ can give them more. And so, they are focused on the tinsel and fool’s gold of this world.
Is that you? Is that someone you know? Is that me?
Jesus says, “Make no mistake. There will be a separation.” “That is how it will be at the end of the world. The angles will go about and separate the wicked from the righteous who are among them” (v. 49). Very similar to the parable of the wheat and the weeds.
The antidote to getting fooled in life, the key to remaining wise is to keep your eyes the treasure that is Christ himself. Keep bringing it out and putting it in front of you. The more you get to know Christ, the easier it is to see, “Of course, Christ can give me more. It’s a no-brainer!” Think of what you really want. No matter what it is Christ can love you more. He can forgive you more. He can protect you more. He can excite you more. He can satisfy you more. He can challenge your mind more. He can brighten your day more. He can shine more. He can deliver more.
Because he is more. He is both God and Savior. Amen.