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“The Kingdom’s Value - and our Variable Response”

Sep.18, 2011 Mt.13:44-52


School’s back in and college classes have resumed – albeit with some differences due to a labour disruption by support staff. An acquaintance of ours recently described how her son’s college experience was being affected by the strike. On the positive side, he didn’t have to sign in slavishly each day at the school: that part was proceeding on a trust basis. However there were some negative aspects: he couldn’t access the equipment he needed for his surveying course; he couldn’t get a tutor like he normally would have; and in the parking lot, instead of people having their own permit and parking spot, people just parked wherever they liked (first come first served). Disorderliness does have its drawbacks!
    When Matthew sat down to write his account of Jesus’ ministry, he was far from disorderly. He arranged blocks of Christ’s teaching in amongst the stories of His miracles, as if to say, there IS a lesson plan and Jesus is the Great Teacher; somewhat like a new Moses who transmitted the original Torah (first five books of the Bible, meaning ‘instruction’). So in Matthew’s account we find 5 great discourses or lectures Jesus gave, ending in words such as “when Jesus had finished saying these things”: chapters 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25. Five blocks like a new Pentateuch.
    If you were to consider each lecture as part of a college course for which Jesus was the professor, you’d find there’s a broad theme for each discourse which addresses a significant aspect of being a follower of Christ. No ‘bird courses’ here! These are important matters. For instance, for chapters 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, the title could be the question, “What is the ethic or character of a God-follower?” Chapter 10, when Jesus is sending out the 12 disciples on a mission venture: “What is the mission or task of God’s people?” Chapter 13, “What is the motivating power, controlling influence, or driving force of God’s people?” Chapter 18, “How are we to relate within the community of Christ’s church?” And chapters 24-25, “What are the prospects or hope of God’s people?”
    These are not definitive titles or carved in stone, I just made them up; if you can come up with better headings, let me know! But hopefully they help you get a sense of the main subject in each major talk.
    In today’s ‘class’ (as it were) we zero in on Chapter 13, the third and middle discourse, which I labelled: “What is the motivating power / controlling influence / driving force of God’s people?” Here Jesus talks repeatedly, emphatically about the Kingdom of Heaven, using parables to present a likeness or parallel or picture of something that’s otherwise hard to grasp. Being rural folk we’re very spatially oriented, thinking so-and-so’s farm is here and and the fenceline there, then it’s that other fellow’s property. But the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t some location you can delineate on a map, it doesn’t have boundaries as visible as that between North Huron and Central Huron. The Kingdom of heaven is wherever God’s will is done: note 12:50, whoever does the Father’s will is Jesus’ kin; or Jesus’ words in 12:28, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Where God’s actions are carried out, there God’s effectively in charge, His Kingdom is happening. So we could say the Kingdom of Heaven is found wherever God’s reign and sovereign power are at work to accomplish His divine will and purpose - wherever the Gospel is finding a hearing...Romans 1:16, the gospel being “the power of God for salvation.”
    So, what content do we find in chapter 13 that points to this Kingdom that is to be a driving force and controlling influence for God’s people? What pictures does the Master Teacher throw up on the Powerpoint to illustrate the invisible? First, in vv3-23, we find the parable of the sower and the seed and the soils: this is about the power of the Good News to bear fruit in our lives - though at times through unbelief it is stunted, choked by sinful desires, or altogether ignored.
    Second, there is the parable of the wheat and the ‘tares’ (weeds) in vv24-30: here we see the power of the Good News to bring a harvest - though some may seem to be included that get ‘weeded out’ finally at judgment. God empowers His Kingdom, He also protects it from unworthy entry.
    Third, there is the parable of the mustard seed and the yeast (vv31-33): these portray the power of Christ’s message to grow and spread vastly beyond its humble beginnings on cell-towerless dusty roads in first-century Palestine. It has changed lives for the better all over the globe through 20 centuries. As William Barclay put it, “There is nothing in history so unanswerably demonstrable as the transforming power of Christianity and of Christ on the individual life and on the life of society.”
    Fourth, we come to today’s passage at the end of the talk, vv44-52. Two parts here: vv44-46 describe the astounding VALUE of the gospel – the preciousness of receiving Jesus into your life. And vv47-50 point out the motivating power of our final eVALUation: mankind will be sorted into two groups, the saved and the cindered. That gives both meaning and stimulation to live now in God’s righteousness.


Jesus’ parables spoke to people where they were at: in agriculture, in the fishery, at the marketplace. V45 uses the word ‘merchant’, based on a Greek root from which we get our English word ‘emporium’: who isn’t a shopper at some time or other? We make it a habit to ‘shop around’ before buying. Everybody loves a good deal; we want to feel we’ve obtained something of VALUE that more than offsets the cost.
    Yet we live in a macroeconomic reality of plunging value. An investment specialist will try to persuade you there are lots of ‘good deals’ to be had in stocks right now, but people are reluctant to take the risk of investing when markets have lost so much in recent months - one report said about 15% since the high in April.
    What is valu-able? We think of banks as fortresses of value, but this week 2 French banks were downgraded by an agency as poorer credit risks because they have so much exposure to the economy in Greece, which some fear will default on its debts. Italy has introduce austerity measures, to the tune of rioting in the streets. The ‘eurozone’ is looking shaky: one expert referred to the possibility of “Lehman 2.0" (ie the threat of another serious financial collapse). But this time there is no bail-out in the background - that money’s already been spent. With little to shore up the economy, where is true ‘VALUE’?
    Much of what tries to capture our interest in the world’s advertising is not really of lasting value. After so many died in the explosion of a Nairobi sewer after a gas pipeline leaked, one man lost his house and all his belongings but discovered his wife and children had survived (unlike the sad fate of some of his neighbours). He said, “I have everything.” As long as he had his loved ones, all the rest mattered little by comparison. What he was implying is that relationships are far more valuable than ‘stuff’.
    Listen carefully now to Jesus’ words as He points to what’s of true value from an eternal perspective. V44: “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.”
    The kingdom is like “treasure hidden in a field.” That sounds strange to us today: we keep our valuables in safety deposit boxes, or at least in the bank - but those didn’t exist back in Judea. Myron Augsberger notes, “Many persons hid treasures, such as silver or jewels, in jars in the earth.In a land so often invaded by enemy forces, the safest thing to do with one’s treasures was to bury them and flee and, on returning, dig them up.Consequently, jars of treasure were lost, their burial unknown to others.”
    The man had stumbled upon a great treasure. He must buy the land before someone else discovers it. How much is he prepared to give? He “went and sold all he had and bought that field.” All he had. “Take up your cross daily, and follow Me,” Jesus says. Be crucified to yourself: let all your earthbound-desires die. Stop being driven and harried by the appetites and siren-calls of this life. Get in touch through prayer with your Father in Heaven’s Kingdom priorities. Paul wrote to the Romans (12:1), “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God— this is your spiritual act of worship.” Sell it all (so to speak) - put your whole being on the altar.
    Don’t skip over the words, “In his joy [he] went and sold all he had.” He thought - he KNEW - he had a good deal; people practically had to jump out of his way as he ran to take all his ‘stuff’ to the auctioneer. Christians who respond as living sacrifices to Christ’s sacrifice for us should be JOYFUL - we got by far the best part of the deal! (Grace) Be done with this long-faced self-righteous ‘dutifulness’ - where’s your joy? How’d Paul put it to the Ephesians (5:19) - “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”? If we’ve lost the joy, we’ve forgotten the VALUE of the great deal - the new covenant.
    Jesus underscores his point with a second parable, not too unlike the first, in vv45-46 - but this one shifts from the field to the market. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Here the valuable is no longer unspecified ‘treasure’ (probably money) but a “fine” or “choice” (NLT) pearl, one of “GREAT VALUE”. How are pearls produced and harvested? There’s suffering and hardship involved: first for the clam coating the irritating grit with layers and layers of mother-of-pearl, then for the diver who may have to dive to great depths in the Indian Ocean to retrieve them.
    So a pearl can be of great value. Jesus’ suffering on the cross has done for us freely, out of huge love, what we could never have obtained for ouselves in 1000 years - forgiveness for our sins, and adoption as God’s dearly-loved sons and daughters forever! Now THAT’s valuable!
    The Nairobi man was so happy to have his family back in this life. Kienan Hebert’s parents were so overjoyed and relieved to have their 3-year-old son back after his abduction. Relationships are so important. The Kingdom of heaven is about a relationship with a loving Heavenly Father that lasts for ETERNITY!
    We were working away at our church’s booth at the Threshers’ Reunion when a co-worker I know from the hospital came over to show off his ‘find’: he’d just purchased a putter, one that if you looked closer had a protrusion like a rattlesnake’s tail. He’d bought it at someone’s stall for $4, but he said they were so rare he could take it home and sell it on the internet for $60! Was he happy! There was a real bounce in his step, having found such a valuable treasure. (And he already has 40 other putters at home.) How much more can we rejoice at the great deal Jesus has given us!


The next parable here gets at whether there’s purpose in life; is it all just random, or is there some ultimate meaning? Life’s difficulties and hardships and losses can push us to ask this. Life can be tough. We can even here doubts about meaning and purpose from those individuals who seem to ‘have it all together’. One young fellow fresh out of dentistry college and in his first practice stated on Facebook that he had a ‘bad case of the Mondays’; trying to be a wise old sage, I replied, “the key to a good Monday is to hold back a bit on your weekends.” (Whether that helped or not!)
    Life can be especially difficult for Christians when things go wrong despite doing our best to live in a way that pleases the Lord. Paul warned Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted;” (2Ti 3:12) Peter cautioned, “Be self-controlled and alert.Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1Pe 5:8-9) So we shouldn’t be surprised when attacked – our brothers and sisters in Christ are also suffering. Yet when that happens, and we see other people having it comparatively easy we are tempted to ask, “God, why aren’t You treating me any better than these who ignore or reject You?”
    Jesus tells the parable of the dragnet to help empower us to be faithful to the end. Vv47-50, “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.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.This is how it will be at the end of the age.The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
    Just so you’ve got it clear in your mind, this isn’t a catch-net thrown into the water, but a longish one with weights at the bottom and corks at the top, stretched wide and pulled through the water, as if to sieve out everything in its path. So it’s very indiscriminate. Like a gigantic watery vacuum cleaner, NOTHING escapes. (Perhaps like death for us humans - no one’s exempt.)
    But the parable accents the SORTING done by the angels - both here and in the parable of the weeds in vv41-42 (“The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil”). The point is, there is a divine discrimination, a defining of good and bad, righteous and wicked. In the NLT, they “sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away...The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous.”
    There is a distinction made; the difference matters to God. His judgment assigns our life VALUE. For those who trust in Christ, there is real reward that induces hope: back to v43, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Glory!
    BUT (and it’s a big but) the wicked are thrown into the “blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (50) Now when I see the word furnace I just automatically think of a heat-producing incinerator; but the lexicon describes the Greek word as an apparatus for smelting, burning earthenware, baking bread – more of an oven-like affair, designed to roast something indefinitely.
    So, in the long run, there is divine justice and hence meaning in the universe. As Paul described it in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” (2Th 1:6-10) Do you hear that? Jesus will ‘wow’ us when we see Him, so we marvel! Meanwhile justice is done, the cosmic trash gets taken out. There, but for the grace of God, go I.
    God’s final judgment, sorting out the good and bad, gives meaning and purpose, and stimulates us to live obedient lives. Ravi Zacharias points out that in a purely naturalistic worldview, life is devoid of meaning because there is no moral law without a divine moral law-giver, hence value terms such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ are meaningless. It is God alone who finally assigns meaning to our lives, clothing us in His Son’s righteousness, changing us so we are not condemned with the bad ‘fish’.


Sometimes Jesus’ treasure can be found in the most surprising places – even in a setting of grief. Dr RA Torrey was one of the great Bible teachers of a past generation and founder of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA University). He and Mrs. Torrey went through a time of great heartache when their twelve-year-old daughter was accidentally killed. The funeral was held on a gloomy, miserable, rainy day. They stood around the grave and watched as the body of their little girl was put away. As they turned away, Mrs. Torrey said, “I’m so glad that Elisabeth is with the Lord, and not in that box.”
    But, even knowing this to be true, their hearts were broken. Dr. Torrey said that the next day, as he was walking down the street, the whole thing broke anew—the loneliness of the years ahead without her presence, the heartbreak of an empty house, and all the other implications of her death. He was so burdened by this that he looked to the Lord for help. He said, “And just then, this fountain, the Holy Spirit that I had in my heart, broke forth with such power as I think I had never experienced before, and it was the most joyful moment I had ever known in my life! Oh, how wonderful is the joy of the Holy Ghost! It is an unspeakable glorious thing to have your joy not in things about you, not even in your most dearly loved friends, but to have within you a fountain ever springing up, springing up, springing up, always springing up 365 days in every year, springing up under all circumstances unto everlasting life!”
Let’s pray.