Saturday, August 2, 2008

Pentecost 11 Sermon -- Matthew 13:44-52 (LSB Proper 12A)

July 27, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.”

The Lord Jesus provides you another description of what the kingdom of heaven is like. You heard several of His Kingdom Parables or similes this morning. Last Sunday, the reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel presented Christ’s words about the kingdom of heaven being like a field where wheat seed was sown, but then tare seed had been planted by a rival. Jesus wanted His disciples, both then and now, to realize that the Church would be in mixed company here on earth: there would be saints surrounded by all sorts of enemies, and the saints of God are to await the final judgment when the two groups would be eternally separated.

But today’s descriptions, the comparisons of the kingdom of heaven being like a “treasure hidden in a field” or a “pearl of great value,” show us another aspect of the Church, about His disciples here on earth. Jesus is talking about you with these parables. He is making a point about your identity. These parables about the hidden treasure and priceless pearl are your story. The words that come from Christ’s mouth state that you have value, because it is He that has bought you. This set of Kingdom Parables is a description of Christ’s redemptive work.

There was a foreshadowing of that in the Old Testament Reading from Deuteronomy for today. Note the words of Moses as he repeats the Divine Law to the people of Israel and the end of their exodus to Canaan: “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” The prophet speaks to God’s people and tells them their identity. The children of Israel are the Lord God’s “treasured possession.” They have value.

But why are they treasured? Was it because of their vibrant personality? Hardly! Remember how many times on the exodus that Moses complained about those “stiff-necked and obstinate people,” wondering why the Lord God has saddled him with the duty of leading them to the Promised Land. Was it because of their faithfulness? Not at all! Remember when the Israelites made and worshiped the Golden Calf and the Lord God raged: “Let Me alone, so that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.” This certainly doesn’t seem like the type of language used about “a treasured possession,” let alone a passing acquaintance!

However, that title is given to them; the Lord God calls the Israelites “My treasured possession.” Yet, it had nothing to do with them or their greatness, just as Moses says: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you.” But the prophet reveals why they have this value status: “Because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, King of Egypt.” The Lord God has determined to give even these “stiff-necked and obstinate people” value. He desires and wills them to be His “treasured possession.” And so it is for you.

Go back to that parable that Jesus told: “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.” He is talking about Himself and what He has done for you, how He has given you value, making you His “treasured possession.” In that picturesque language, Christ tells you what He has done, how He has redeemed you. It is He who “goes and sells all that He has and buys that field” with the treasure hidden in it. It is He who “goes and sells all that He has and buys that pearl of great value.”

Remember those great words of St. Paul to the Philippian Christians that we hear every Lenten Season: “[Christ] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This is precisely what Jesus is talking about when He says in the parable: “the man goes and sells all that He has and buys that field.” Christ makes Himself nothing. He puts Himself under the Law. He becomes obedient unto death. And for what purpose? So that you “may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom,” as Luther puts it in his Small Catechism.

Today’s Kingdom Parables show you the value that the Lord God has placed on you. It’s like those MasterCard commercials you see on television. The fine dinner or plane tickets or admission to the concert or sporting event all have a cost that is definable. The intangible things, the feelings or atmosphere, are priceless. But in these parables of Jesus, you see what is truly priceless: the salvation that He gives, the redemption that He has achieved, the value that the Lord God awards to you.

Just like the Israelites, you are the people that “the Lord has set His love on.” But it isn’t because of any intrinsic value. No, “there is no merit or worthiness” in you that deserves such action or honor. But there is reason for the Father “not to spare His own Son, but to give Him up for you,” as we heard in St. Paul’s words to the people of God in Rome. It is the same reason that Moses gave to the people of Israel: “The Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers.” It is to fulfill the promise that was given in the earliest days of creation, the promise sworn to Eve guaranteeing vindication against the serpent that deceived her and enslaved her descendants: “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

The value that you have, the pricelessness that has been given to you, is not intrinsic. It comes from outside of you, the great “extra nos” of Lutheran teaching. Though thoroughly corrupted by sin, destined for death and decay, you are given a price tag that is beyond comprehension. The Lord God calls you “My treasured possession.” He considers you to be “the one pearl of great value.” He determines that you are “a treasure hidden in the field” of this earth. And what is the evidence of that? “He sells everything that He has; the Lord God gives His Son up for you.”

And that is the message so essential to your identity. This is the truth that you confess so vigorously as Christians of the Lutheran tradition. It is the heart of your faith, why you learn, study, and take to heart those words: “I believe that Jesus Christ . . . has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. . . .”

That is what is at the heart of these Kingdom Parables of Jesus heard today. Being purchased by the holy, precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of the Son of God, certainly that fits the description that was told to you in the parables. The Eternal Father gives up His own Son. His Son, the God-Man goes and sells all that He has, even His life bartered for thirty pieces of silver, to buy and redeem you.

So that is your identity: you are the purchased and won people of God. You are the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great value. It is an identity given to you by the action of the Lord God Himself. And on this day, the Lord God confirms again that value He has given to you: by absolving your sins, by giving to you from the Scriptures “the new and old things from His treasury,” by presenting and offering His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

That pricelessness, that value isn’t from inside of you. In fact, it is often hidden from the world, even hidden from your own logic and sense. Look around, and the words spoken from Moses apply to you: “You are not more in number than any other people.” Consider your own frailty and failures: you did not impress God enough to convince Him that He just had to buy you. Note your sinfulness and unrighteousness: you did not meet a standard that guaranteed any privileged place in the kingdom of heaven.

And yet, “the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession. In His joy, He goes and sells all that He has and buys you.” For the Lord God is not solely a deity of justice, but “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” That graciousness and mercy is what caused Him “not so spare His own Son, but give Him up” for the purchase price of your redemption, “to redeem you from the house of slavery,” so that you might be part of the kingdom of heaven. And so, “He will graciously give you all things,” even the share of everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness at the close of the age, as He pledges to you again on this day.

“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.” So have you of the kingdom of heaven been bought and redeemed by the Lord God Himself.

T In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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