Kingdom for Sale?
You have to read the sermon title as a question with your voice rising at the end: Kingdom for sale? No doubt that's how most hear this parable. There's a treasure and a pearl that you may, can, and must purchase. But is that true?
If so, go ahead and buy it. No doubt these parables are about the kingdom. Jesus says 3 times: "The kingdom of heaven is like" And if it's for sale, I'm buying. The kingdom of heaven is God's reign and rule over Sin, Death, and the Devil. God's kingdom says Ro. 14:17 is "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Isaiah 11:6 says the kingdom is where "the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together." Is. 65:20 says about this kingdom: "Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed." The end of the chapter expresses the radical disconnect between the fallen world and heaven's kingdom: "The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain," says the Lord" (25).
Yes, that treasuer is hidden now, but it's here. It's hidden under tears, death, mourning, pain, and sorrow. It's hidden by the Devil, the World, and our own Flesh. It's hidden under the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). It's hidden under the deception of misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice, but it's as real and present as that pew you're sitting on. And it's worth buying, right? The kingdom of heaven is one of kind. Notice the merchant goes looking for "fine pearls", plural, but settles on a single one of great value.
I'm sold. I'm all in. Sign me up; I'm buying. Not so fast there. The kingdom of heaven draws all kinds. Just because you're drawn to it doesn't mean you get it. The kingdom of heaven says Jesus isn't just like a field, and a merchant (Note not a pearl but a merchant looking.), but it's like a net let down into the lake of the world catching all kinds of fish. The kingdom catches the good, the bad, and the ugly. It doesn't just catch speckled trout; it catches dogfish. It doesn't just catch good fish but literally worthless ones. So just because you're in the queue to buy the kingdom of heaven, doesn't mean you're in it.
Wait a minute. I'm confused. You should be. But that doesn't matter for now. Because truth be told, one way or the other you're going to be foreclosed on. And that's the first truth to see if you view this as a cost of discipleship text. Can you, will you pay all to buy the field that has the treasurer in it? "Sold all", "sold everything" tolls like a bell over the transaction. If you think you can pay, it's going to be like the days before credit cards and debit cards. You're going to get to the checkout and find the kingdom costs far more than you thought and have. Remember the embarrassment of that? You use to have that experience when a credit card was declined. Now it happens so much for so many reasons it's not embarrassing and anyway, you say, "Try this one." But this isn't about borrowing money or getting credit to buy the kingdom. It's about selling all, everything to pay cash on the barrelhead.
And you are confused if you're still thinking the cost here is what Jesus said earlier: denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Him. No, that's discipleship. We're talking about buying the kingdom of heaven. Micah about 800 B.C. already considered this transaction saying, "Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul" (6:7)? In Eden, when the Lord walked with Adam in the cool of the evening the kingdom of heaven was one with the kingdom of earth. But not content with heaven on earth Adam wanted more, better, different, and so he deliberately, not being deceived at all by Satan, ate of the fruit he was forbidden to. You know the rest of the story. He fell into a burning ring of fire. He fell down, down and the flames got higher. And his fall burned everyone of us and condemned us to the ring of fire outside of heaven's kingdom. No eternal life for us. Only tears, thistles, sweat, and sorrow.
But wait; tragedy only awaits if you realize too late you can't buy the kingdom of heaven. If you see the price tag for something correctly while still in line or realize that the 20 in your wallet is really a 10, no harm no foul. If you realize nothing you have - not your repentance, not your good works, not your strong faith is enough to buy the kingdom of heaven - it's not too late for you. If you see there is no buying of heaven without buying the field of the world, you'll see no ordinary human has enough to do that. If you see that Jesus doesn't say the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price but "like a merchant looking for fine pearls," then you'll see Jesus doesn't set you up as the buyer. And you certainly aren't the one letting down the net because you and I don't sort through the catch. And notice this is one of the only places Jesus doesn't talk about heaven but just about hell. Jesus is trying to scare the hell into you, so you'll drop that net, and consider who is the fish and who is the Fisherman? Yes, Jesus called the apostles fishers of men, but just as He is the Good Shepherd with under shepherds, so He's the First Fisherman.
You won't see Jesus has to be the buyer unless you try to buy it yourself and get foreclosed on. This is the rich young man who said he had kept the Second Table of the Law perfectly and Jesus said, "Okay now keep the First." He realized he couldn't and went away dejected. This is the lawyer who was sure he could be a neighbor if he just knew who is neighbor was. Then Jesus piled cost upon cost of being a neighbor like the Good Samaritan was. We don't know if the lawyer came to see he couldn't keep the law perfectly as required; the question is do you? And so do you see that you can't be buyer of the kingdom of heaven?
Who alone "sold all he had", "sold everything he had"? Jesus. He gave up the full use of His Divine power and rights to live in humble way on the earth. Though He never sinned in thought, word or deed, even His own mother treated Him as a sinner: When Joseph and her lost track of Him, Mary, on finding Him says, "Son, why have You treated us this way? See, your father and I have been anxiously looking for You" (Lk. 2:48). Though Jesus never broke God's laws, the leaders of the OT church not only said He was a Samaritan outside of God's Church but demon-possessed (Jn. 8:48). And the holy Jesus suffered all this but gave up more still. He gave up sleep, blood, sweat, and tears. The perfect Jesus gave up His very life. Remember He said, "No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord" (John 10:18). His perfect works, perfect love, His perfect blood, sweat, tears, suffering and sighing were not enough to buy the world back from Sin, Death, and Devil. It took dying to get that done.
Remember from last week's parable of the Wheat and the Weeds that Jesus said the field is the world. So the treasurer of the kingdom of heaven is hidden in the field of the world, and God the Son buys the whole world to get that treasuer. God the Son is the pearl merchant who while looking for fine pearls finds one among them. And He's the fisherman who lets down the dragnet to catch all kinds of fish. He brings in the whole catch. The call of Jesus to a worry-free life, to an everlasting life, to a kingdom of righteousness and peace in the Holy Spirit goes out to all. The call to get out of the line to pay for your sins, let alone the worlds; the call to get out of line to buy yourself back goes out to one and all. Sure count the cost and see you don't have enough; you can't have enough. No matter how much you make yourself suffer, no matter how hard you try, the cost of sin, the price of salvation is nothing less than the holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death of the Man who is God. God Almighty is the one we sinned against; only God can satisfy the wrath of God, and only a Man could do in place of all men.
But what about that question in the end? As I've told you, punctuation was not in the earliest Greek manuscripts. So, while most translations take Jesus' words, "Have you understood all these things" as a question, not all do. Origen, who died 245 A.D. said that some Christians "took the words to be not a question but an affirmation, to which the disciples added their yes'" (Davies & Allison, II, 444). After just speaking of the angels coming and separating the wicked from the righteous but only speaking of throwing the wicked into hell, I'm hearing Jesus assuring me I do understand these things. Go home and do a word search for "understand" in Matthew 13. I'll give you a head start. Type in Strong's G4920. You'll see that 6 out of the 9 times Matthew uses this Greek word are in this chapter. It's all about understanding the Word, and you do says Jesus.
Therefore you also understand from John 16 that all things that belong to the Father belong to Jesus and Jesus gives them to us. Having been instructed in the kingdom of heaven, you see that in Jesus you own the whole house. So all things in the house, whether the OT promise of Jesus crushing the head of the Devil (Gen. 3:15) or the NT promise that for Jesus' sake God remembers our sins no more (Heb. 8:12), are yours. Go ahead; look around the kingdom like you own the place. You do; Jesus bought it for you to use now and forever. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20200809); Matthew 13: 44-52