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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. They were stories that his audience two thousand years ago could identify with no less than we can today. Listen for God’s word to you from Matthew 13:44-58…
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.

54 He came to his hometown and began to teach the people[a] in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” 58 And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

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 AD. 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.
Personally, I believe that we have a choice about this. We have a choice as to whether we come to Christ in the first place, and we have a choice about whether we remain in his kingdom or not. Jesus does not force anyone to come to him, nor does he force us to stay with him.
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.
When Jesus finished these parables, he went to his hometown of Nazareth and taught in the synagogue. However, unlike the disciples, the people in the synagogue did not welcome Jesus’ teaching. “How could this hometown boy have anything to teach us?” they asked. Because of their lack of faith Jesus could not do many miracles there.
The people in the synagogue in Nazareth did not respond to Jesus’ teaching as though it was a hidden treasure or a pearl of great price. They didn’t receive it with joy; they did not give everything they had to be part of Jesus’ kingdom movement. As a result, they lost out. Jesus did not do many miracles there.
The people in the synagogue appeared to be part of the kingdom; they were caught in the net after all; they were faithful attendees, listening to the word of God every Sabbath. But I think Jesus’ parables would suggest that is not enough. There are many people now, many faithful church attendees who would seem to be part of Jesus’ kingdom, but in the end it will be revealed that they have not responded to Jesus’ message with joy; they have not given all they have to possess the kingdom of heaven.
Many people say they wish they could go back and live in the time of Jesus. If they could just have met him personally (they think) then they would believe. But the people of Nazareth, those with the greatest access to Jesus, they did not believe.
Can you imagine being there in the synagogue in Nazareth and missing it—missing the joy of discovering who Jesus really was?
On January 12, 2007 world-famous violinist Joshua Bell played his three-million-dollar Stradivarius for forty-five minutes in a Washington D. C. Metro station. Thousands of people passed by Bell that day not even realizing who he was, barely pausing to listen to the exquisite strains of Mozart and Schubert. After all, the young man was only dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. He had his violin case open for people to cast change into it, just like every other musical bum trying to make a little cash to get by.  
It was all part of a project arranged by The Washington Post. According to the Post it was “an experiment in context, perception, and priorities—as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste. In a banal setting, at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?” It didn’t. I watched a clip of the event on You Tube. Thousands passed by. Only a few stopped to listen. And out of those few I only saw one who recognized Bell for the famous violinist he was.  
Just three days earlier, Joshua Bell sold out Boston Symphony Hall, with ordinary seats going for $100. In the Metro, Bell garnered about $32 from the 27 people who stopped long enough to give a donation.
In the same way, the people of Nazareth didn’t recognize Jesus for who he really was. They didn’t even pause long enough to hear the beautiful strains of music, to capture the kingdom vision Jesus was casting.
At this pivotal point in his Gospel Matthew is once again asking us: what is our response to Jesus? And Matthew is telling us that our eternal destiny depends upon that response.
The really good news is that the kingdom of heaven isn’t just something to be sought after.  Rather, the King of heaven has sought and found us.  It is interesting to me that in Jesus’ second parable he compares the kingdom of heaven to a merchant, not to the pearl of great price itself. God, in Christ, is like the merchant; he has gone on an all-out search for the best pearl in the world. And having found that pearl of great price in us, he has given all to buy it; he has given his own life.
As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature he has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders. Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colourless in the dark, he lost his colour too.”
We are the pearl of great price Jesus came to recover. How can we not respond with joy to such a Savior and give all that we have in response to such a love?


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