Pentecost is a season of growing not just for members of the Church but for pastors too. I'm growing this week by preaching on a text I never have before. Although I've had 6 opportunities to preach on this text, I haven't before today, and I know why. It's tough. What do these 3 parables that Jesus spoke one after the another have to do with each other? How does a treasure in a field, a pearl of great price and a dragnet relate? I think they can all be tied together under the theme "Hide-n-Seek."
The kingdom of heaven is already here but hidden. That's what Jesus says in the first parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that has been hidden in a field." The field we know from the parable last week is the world. So, the kingdom of heaven is not far away from us. It's close by. Closer than anyone dreams because it's hidden.
John the Baptizer and Jesus came proclaiming this same message. They both proclaimed in identical words, "the kingdom of heaven is here." Without going into a tedious explanation of the Greek, both their preaching and the parable use Greek forms which mean the kingdom is here never to go away. The kingdom is not, as the Jews of Jesus' day thought, something men bring by acting righteously or religiously. It's here even though men are unrighteous and irreligious; it's here even though men deserve it not. It's here once and for all to stay though it is hidden.
And just where is the kingdom of heaven hidden? Wherever, Jesus is. Both John the Baptizer and Jesus could say it was here because it came in, with, and under Jesus. The kingdom of heaven was hidden treasure in the days of the apostles because it was hidden under not just earthy, ordinary, humanity, but in a weak, suffering, crying and dying Human, Jesus. The forgiveness of the kingdom was to be found in a Man whom God made to be sin. The life of the kingdom was to be found in a Man who died on a cross. The salvation of the kingdom was to be found in the God/Man Whom God damned to pay for the sins of the world.
The kingdom of heaven is still hidden treasure today. Christ is hidden today under ordinary looking Water, plain sounding Words, and everyday Bread and Wine. The forgiveness of the kingdom is found in the Water of Baptism that isn't even enough to wash one's hands. The life of the kingdom is found in Words spoken by a dying man to dying men. The salvation of the kingdom is found in Bread and Wine that aren't even enough to save a person from hunger.
The kingdom of heaven has been and still is hidden so deeply that it takes a miracle for people to see or find it. And the problem is that people seek what has been and still is hidden in the wrong way. In the second parable the merchant is seeking not one priceless pearl but many good pearls. He is seeking the one kingdom of heaven as if it could be found in many places. Sinful, fallen mankind believes all spiritually is good and comes from the Holy Spirit. All good feelings are from the true God. All sincere religious expressions must somehow, someway express the one kingdom of heaven.
In some sense it's true that all seeking after spirituality is a seeking of the one, true Holy Spirit. All seeking of a kingdom, a realm, a ruling beyond this earth is a seeking after the only such kingdom, realm, and ruling there is: that of Christ. This is what Paul proclaims in Athens saying, "What you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it." Seeking is good, yet the real kingdom is found in the last place anyone would ever look. The kingdom of heaven is found, in fact, where no would ever look for it: in lowliness and weakness.
This truth is expressed in both parables by the Greek word "found." It means to find something quite accidentally. It's the idea of "ah-ha! Would you look what's here? Who would've thought such a grand treasure, such a valuable pearl would be found here!" Neither the man in the field or the merchant seeking pearls excepted to find what he did. Can't we say the same? Who could have ever thought or dreamed that being right before God could be found in a feeding trough, on a criminal's cross, in ordinary Water, Words, Bread and Wine?
But this treasure is so grand, so glorious, so stupefying in it's richness that it's worth all you have. The man who accidentally stumbles upon the treasure sells all that he has to buy the field where he found the treasure. The pearl merchant sells all that he has, which includes many good peals, just so he can buy that one pearl. The kingdom of heaven on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ, are worth all you have. They aren't worth 10% of your income but all that you posses. They aren't worth a part of your life but all of your life. They aren't worth some of your time or talent but worth your very soul. They're worth suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying for. They're worth suffering the loss of goods, fame, child, or spouse.
Here is the turning point that you must not miss or you will go off into the ditch of what you do, think, and give. Who is it that did the living, dying, suffering and crying for the sake of the kingdom? Who is it that gave His all, all His honor, glory, power and might, all His holiness, righteousness, and merit, just so He could give us the kingdom? The last time I looked it wasn't you or me in the manger, at Gethsemane, or on the cross. The last time I looked it wasn't you or I who screamed, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Last time I looked it wasn't you or I, wretched sinners though we be, that Isaiah says God the Father was pleased to crush. It wasn't us but Jesus.
The kingdom of heaven is hidden here on earth. God does the hiding so that no one can find it using their own brain power, their own reasoning, their own righteousness. God hides it so that it takes a miracle for a person to find it. O men seek for it all sorts of places in all sorts of ways but with no success. God must seek them out to give them the kingdom. God does the hiding and God does the seeking. Isn't that what the last parable teaches us?
The word for net Jesus uses isn't just any net but a dragnet. A dragnet was usually pulled between two boats that were quite far apart. It was dragged from offshore in a line to the shore. It wasn't like a cast net that you drop on a school of fish, but more like a seine. If you've ever seined minnows in clear water, you see every minnow, every crawfish, every fish swimming desperately to get away from the net. But it's too long to move around, and too fast to move away from. Relentlessly the net comes scooping up everything in it's path.
This picture of the dragnet points to 2 very important Scriptural truths. These truths have complicated sounding names: universal atonement and the objective means of grace. But the dragnet picture paints them simply. The Lord compares His seeking of sinners to that of a dragnet, because He seeks them all. There is not one sinner you know, I don't care how big there sins, how many their sins, how serious their sins, I don't care if it is you, that Christ Jesus did not go to the cross for. He went to the cross bearing the sins of the world Scripture says. No one's sins were not there; no one's sins somehow fell off and weren't paid completely for.
The sins of all were punished and paid for on that gruesome cross. When Jesus declared, "It is finished," He was speaking of everyone's sins. God the Father showed that He accepted the payment of His Son's blood, sweat suffering and tears, by raising Him from the dead on Easter morning. God the Father proclaimed by that resurrection that all sins were paid for, atoned for, forgiven. I don't care what sin or sins you might be guilty of; I don't care how badly they bother your conscience; I don't care if a whole world of people can't bring themselves to forgive you; God the Father declared you forgiven on Easter morning. How do I know that? Because God the Father declared the world's sins forgiven and you're part of this world, aren't you?
God the Son paid for the sins of all those living in the ocean of life, so God the Father sends out His dragnet for all. The webbing of the net is made up of the Means of Grace. He sends Baptism into the world saying it's for all the nations. No one is exempt. He sends Absolution, His forgiving Word into the world, saying that whoever confesses their sins shall be forgiven. He sends His Body and Blood into the world declaring it is given and shed for sinners, no exclusions, no exceptions.
Therefore, I can boldly tell you that God wants to forgive your sins by Baptism. He wants to send them away from you by Absolution. He wants you to eat the Body of His Son and drink His blood for forgiveness, life and salvation. The dragnet in the water doesn't say this fish is too ugly, this fish is too wretched, this fish is too big or small, old or young. It relentlessly moves towards shore seeking each and every fish in the water in front of it.
I know some of you are jumping out of your seat eager to point out that it says the fishermen will sit down and throw the bad away. To be sure that is a feature of this parable. It is a warning for hypocrites who don't want forgiveness, deliverance and salvation from their sins. They will be exposed in the end of the age. This point was also made in the parable of the weeds and wheat last week. But the larger point is that God desperately, earnestly, everlastingly wants the salvation of all. He even wants the salvation of you who think it's too good to be true or you who think you're too bad for it to be true.
Now I'm going to switch pictures. Francis Thompson, a 19th century poet, wrote a poem titled The Hound of Heaven. You've watched those prison escape movies where they set the hounds after the convicts. All through the movie you can hear the hounds in the background relentlessly in pursuit. The convicts run through streams but the hounds keep coming. They ditch their clothes but the hounds keep pursuing. They double back on themselves but still the hounds keep baying after them.
This is the picture of God Jesus would give you in this parable of the dragnet. He is the Hound of Heaven. He's coming for you. He wants to bring you His kingdom. He wants to find you, so you can find the kingdom. In your sinfulness, you try to ditch Him. You wade through streams of unbelief, yet Christ keeps coming. You try to take off your baptismal garments thinking He won't want you now, but the Hound of Heaven can't be put off. So you double back this way and that way, you go after a god of you own liking, you get busy in your job and family, but still the Hound of Heaven pursues. He wants to give you His kingdom. He wants to give you His Baptism, His Absolution, His very Body and Blood. It's no use hiding, because He'll keep seeking to bring you His hidden kingdom. The Hound of Heaven doesn't give up till the end of the age, and it's not the end yet. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost X (7-28-02), Matthew 13: 44-52