His Greatest Treasure

Text: Matthew 13:44-52
Date: Pentecost VIII (Proper 12A) + 7/30/17

As we finish this great chapter of parables of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel with the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price, I wish you to have in mind the catechism meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed. Do you remember it? “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” We say this because the Bible makes it absolutely clear that, on the one hand, fallen, sinful, spiritually blind, weak, and dead human beings like you and me are completely and totally unable on our own power either to believe in Jesus Christ or even to come to Him. Now a lot of people disagree with that as they think believing and faith is a result of a decision I make. How could it be otherwise, they say, and still be real and personal? The answer is that God works through His Word and is able to do the miraculous, even changing unbelievers into faithful disciples. In other words, it’s all His work, not ours.

The reason for beginning in this way, with this emphasis, is because these parables can
be interpreted in two ways. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,” and “like a merchant in search of fine pearls.” Question. What is the treasure and the pearl, who is the man who found it, and who is the merchant? It has long been interpreted that the treasure is the kingdom of God’s grace and salvation or Jesus Himself. We might sing the great hymn, “Jesus, Priceless Treasure.” The same goes for the one pearl of greater price than any. And so, the point would be to encourage you to be like the man or the merchant who found the treasure or the pearl. As the one sells all that he has in order to buy the field or the pearl, so you are to have as your top priority and chief goal to possess God’s kingdom. The only problem is…“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength” buy that field or that pearl, much less find it. Therefore, to interpret these parables in this way and be doctrinally correct we must say that the purchase price can only be true repentance and faith. It’s sort of like another of Jesus’ parables where He tells us to “strive to enter” the kingdom by the narrow door (Lk 13:24). The narrow door is the way of repentance of sin and faith in Jesus. The striving is the activity of faith given to us by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.

Now a fine and proper sermon could be and has been preached on these parables in this way. But the Third Article of the Creed says, “no one wants to say that the parables teach that disciples are (able) to purchase the reign or Christ or anything else for their own salvation.”[1] But there is a second way, a better way to interpret these parables that allows the Gospel to shine through even more powerfully.

All of Jesus’ parables about God’s reign or kingdom have as their point what God is doing through Jesus of Nazareth. The key is that whenever a parable has a lone human figure acting, that figure always represents God or, specifically Jesus. Therefore, the man who discovers the treasure and the merchant the pearl is not you, the disciple, but Jesus. You are then, rather, the treasure and the pearl!

Now when He says the man “goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” or that pearl, it beautifully points us to the priceless atonement of Jesus fulfilling God’s Law for us, yet, sacrificing Himself (“all that he has”) to purchase you. The Bible word for “purchase” is to “redeem” you. Now the parable opens wide the door of the Gospel to preach about our Lord’s priceless, holy death on the cross. How did He say it elsewhere? “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The fact that you now are to understand, that when God considers and looks at you, He loves you, values you and sees you as His greatest possession, worthy of being redeemed by so great a price as His own beloved Son’s precious body and blood, even as He said of His ancient people Israel, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession…. It was…because the Lord loves you” (Dt 7:6, 8).

I guess we could dare to give a little allegorical twist to one detail and admit that we are, like that treasure, hidden in this life under the burden of the weight of so many sins and failures. We feel buried under the demands and requirements of daily life in this fallen world. Maybe we even feel we are suffocating by our own sense of guilt, our unworthiness of anything good from God or anyone else for that matter. It is to those who know their need of salvation that are enabled by God to know and believe that Christ came to release us from the slavery of sin and the guilt of our weaknesses. God enables us to repent and believe by coming to us in His Word and Spirit, changing us from within. How did we say it? He “has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

To do this He changed places with us. By His crucifixion, His bloody death on that cross, Jesus was buried, lifeless in a tomb of death. In His death, however, He took all your guilt, sin and failure with Him. Yet so full of life is He that He defeated sin, death and the devil rising in triumph from the grave. And His triumph has become our triumph. He defeated the enemy not for Himself alone but for all who now believe that He died for us, in our place, paying the price and taking away all our sin. In this way Jesus “spent all He had” in order to redeem us.

Finally, the parable of the net says that God’s salvation is for all, “fish of every kind.” But there is coming a final day when only those who received Christ and His salvation here by faith in Him will be saved. But all who rejected or just ignored God’s call will be cast into the fiery furnace of eternal judgment.

So take heart. At once you are God’s hidden treasure and pearl of great price, yet, belonging to Him, His kingdom and our Lord is our “priceless treasure, Fount of purest pleasure, and Truest friend to me” (LSB 743). Renewed in Christ we are enabled to sing, “Your kingdom, O God, is my glorious treasure, My pearl of incomparable worth” (LSB 654).

[1] Jeffrey Gibbs, Matthew 11:2—20:34, Concordia Commentary © 2010 CPH, 715.