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Choose or Lose

Stan Caffy was about to get married. So he and his fiancé figured it was time to do a bit of house-cleaning. They cleaned out both of their garages and gave everything they didn’t need to a local thrift store. The items discarded included an assortment of clothes, bicycles, tools, computer parts, and a tattered copy of the Declaration of Independence that had been hanging in Stan’s garage for the last decade.

What Stan didn’t know was that particular copy of the Declaration of Independence was a rare manuscript made in 1823. A man named Michael Sparks spotted it in the thrift store and bought the document for $2.48. Sparks later auctioned it for $477,650.

Jesus told stories similar to this one. One of them is in Matthew 13 beginning with verse 44.... 
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. 
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. 
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. 
“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. 
“Yes,” they replied. 
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” 
When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 
Jesus’ parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value illustrate two different ways people discover the kingdom of God.

The treasure hidden in the field was discovered by a poor man going about his everyday work. He was digging in a field when suddenly his shovel hit something hard. Digging further, he uncovers a chest. Unearthing it and opening it, he finds a pile of precious jewels pouring out.

How would you feel in the same situation? The man was elated—just as Michael Sparks must have been elated when he discovered that copy of the Declaration of Independence in a thrift store. But unlike Michael Sparks, the man in Jesus’ story didn’t just pay $2.48 to get the treasure chest. The man was so filled with joy he went away and sold all he had and bought that field.

Jesus is telling us that the kingdom of God is so valuable it is worth giving everything we have in exchange for it. And some people are just like the man in Jesus’ story: they discover the kingdom seemingly by accident.

By contrast, the pearl of great value is discovered by a man of means—a merchant. Pearls were considered among the most valuable jewels of ancient times. This particular pearl was discovered after a long and patient search. This merchant was on the lookout for fine pearls. He knew what he was after. He had examined many fine specimens. However, one day he found a pearl far greater than any he had ever seen in his career. Like the poor laborer who discovered the treasure in the field, the merchant sold everything he had in order to buy the pearl.

Many people treat religion and religious ideas like a string of pearls. They sample everything on the market. They get one pearl here and one pearl there and add it to their string. Jesus is telling us that there is one pearl, the kingdom of heaven, which is more valuable than all the others.

Justin was a professor living in the second century CE. He had sampled the various philosophies of his day but found them all wanting. One day he met a man in a field who told him about Jesus. Justin started reading the Scriptures to see if what the man told him was really true. Justin became a convinced and joyful convert to the Christian faith. Eventually he gave his life as a martyr because he had found the pearl of great value and he was willing to give everything in exchange for it.

Jim Eliot was another who gave all he had in order to have the pearl of great value. He gave his life trying to reach the Auca tribe of South America with the Gospel. Eliot once wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

None of us are going to get out of this life with anything. I have presided over many a funeral in my time and I have never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer. Why not give what you cannot keep to gain what you cannot lose?

The consequences of not doing that are illustrated in Jesus’ third parable. He compares the kingdom of God to a trawling net that fishermen would often use on the Sea of Galilee. Such a net would take in many things when let down into the sea. Later on, the fishermen would sort through their catch by the seashore, casting aside the worthless fish and saving the “keepers”.

Jesus says this is what it is going to be like at the end of the age. The angels will do the sorting of the righteous and the wicked—throwing the latter into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In other words, there are some who appear to be in the kingdom now, they have been caught in the net, but in the end it will be clear that they don’t really belong to the kingdom of heaven; they aren’t “keepers”.

Jesus asks his disciples whether they have understood these three parables and they answer affirmatively. Jesus tells them that every teacher of the law, or scribe, who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.

Jesus himself is such a teacher of the law. He tells stories the people are familiar with, but he adds a new twist. Jesus urges his disciples to teach a similar blend of the old and the new. In fact, Matthew himself exemplifies this Jesus-style of teaching. He is constantly quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures and showing how Jesus fulfilled them; Matthew presents us with old and new treasures. He even structures his Gospel around five pillars of Jesus’ new teaching, intentionally reminding us of the five old books of Moses, the Torah. This chapter of parables, Matthew 13 represents the central pillar of Jesus’ teaching and the turning point of Matthew’s Gospel.

We will take a look at the conclusion to this section of Matthew's Gospel tomorrow....


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