7 Pentecost Proper A12
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52 Sermon
July 27, 2014
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
39 "Praise To The Lord"
511 "Jesus Shall Reign Where E'er The Sun"
400 "Take My Life & Let It Be"
642 "Arise, O God, And Shine"
POPULATING THE KINGDOM, ONE-BY-ONE
TEXT (vs. 51-52): [Jesus asked his disciples] “’have you understood all these things?’ ‘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.’”
Everybody wants to go to heaven when they die. That's a true statement for virtually anyone, regardless of their religious affiliation. As Christians, we believe what the Bible tells us about heaven. It is this perfect place where there is no more pain, or suffering, or sorrow. As believers in Jesus Christ, this is the end reward of what we are promised, and we look forward to it.
Now I can't say what other religions teach about eternity. They may call it "nirvana" or some other name. And they all have a different set of works a person has to do to get that reward. And even then, it still leaves a person in doubt as to whether or not they have done enough good deeds to merit this reward. For the non-Christian or unbeliever, their whole future is filled with question marks, as far as they are concerned.
The point here, is that nobody looks forward to an eternity of pain and suffering and torment and about every negative thing you can imagine. People want eternal happiness. And so while the Christian has the sure hope of heaven through faith in Christ alone, the non-Christians are going to look everywhere for peace in the life to come. And even though they think they might have found it through their invented systems and strategies, they haven't.
One cartoon I saw in the paper some time back, is a picture of a middle eastern terrorist in the afterlife. He's standing in front of a row of Catholic nuns with rulers in their hands and stern looks on their faces. The caption underneath quotes the man as saying, "When I was told there would be 72 virgins, this is NOT what I was expecting." Surprise, surprise!
Today I want to focus upon what it means to be a member of God's kingdom, both during our life here on earth as well as in the life to come. Indeed, God is populating his kingdom, one-by-one.
These last two weeks, we have been going through Matthew chapter 13. We started off with the parable of the sower, and how God sows his seed amongst the people. When everything else dies out for a variety of reasons, the seed of God planted in the good soil continues to grow and produce a crop.
Then last week, we had the parable of the weeds, or tares amongst the wheat. We know that there will be hypocrites in the church, and God allows the believers and unbelievers to grow together until the harvest. After the harvest, the weeds are burnt, while the good crop is harvested and stored. God will indeed sort things out.
Today however, we have a variety of different parables, five to be exact. There are a total of seven parables in this chapter, with each one giving a slightly different perspective or edge to how God deals with us and with humanity in general. We have looked at two of the parables, and there are still five more to go.
So today, we look at those five parables in our Gospel reading, namely: The parable of the mustard seed, the parable of the yeast, the parable of the hidden treasure, the parable of the pearl of great price, and the parable of the fish in the net.
I’ll deal with most of these at least a little bit; but today I’m focusing on the final two verses of the Gospel lesson, which are Jesus’ final words to the disciples following all of these parables. He asks the disciples if they understood what he had told them. They indicated that they did indeed understand. Then in verse 52 Jesus says: “…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.”
Verse 52 isn’t really a parable; it’s more of a simple metaphor Jesus is using. In effect, he’s describing the actual work of the public ministry. In one simple sentence, he describes what faithful pastors spend their entire ministry doing.
In our text today, Jesus specifically addresses his disciples, and makes direct reference to people who have been theologically trained, which would include Pastors, teachers, evangelists, professors, theologians, church fathers, etc. He calls them “teachers of the law who have been instructed about the kingdom of heaven.”
As I look at these parables and expound upon them, there is one thing that stands out. That one thing is, "God Loves You!" Simple isn't it? God loves you! And I can stand here, week after week, and continue to remind you of just how much he loves you! Now that is certainly a real privilege to do that!
So let's examine the love of God, and how that applies to us. When I talk about God's love, I'm not talking about some sort of sentimental syrup or Harlequin romance type of thing. No, this is the kind of love that puts the welfare of someone else first. This is the kind of love that will endure absolutely anything.
For example, let's look at John chapter 15. In verses 12-13 Jesus says: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." Actually trading one life for another is pretty hard core stuff. There's no meaningless fluff there! I'm also going to quote from verse 16 here too, because it will put our text for today into better perspective. Jesus says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit..."
And of course we can't forget the very familiar John chapter 3 verses 16-17: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
That's pretty straight-forward stuff right there. God's love wasn't just some words printed on paper, but there was action. God shows his love by Jesus coming to this earth and dying the sinners' death we all deserve. This was the only way we could be rescued from our sins and from eternal perdition. God's love is shown to us by his intense desire to have us as members of his eternal kingdom. And he wants us to be absolutely sure that our faith in Jesus our Saviour is certain, something we never need to doubt.
So with all this in mind, let's take a look at our parables for today. The parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven, or yeast are the first two. Listen to what Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.....The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
These first two parables represent the faith planted within us by the Holy Spirit. Working through the Word, the Holy Spirit comes to the individual person. Paul reminds us in Romans chapter 10 verse 17, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." So when we proclaim God's Word verbally, the Holy Spirit is at work. When someone picks up a Gideon Bible in a hotel room or hospital, the Holy Spirit is at work. That mustard seed is very tiny; but yet it grows into a very large bush. Once planted, our faith is nourished through Word and Sacrament, and will continue to grow within us.
In a similar sense, the Holy Spirit works like leaven, or yeast works with flour. Unlike a yeast cake, dry yeast comes in small granules; and when it is mixed through the dough, amazing things happen. It grows and makes the dough rise!
In our text for today, Jesus makes it clear that God wants all the people of the earth to be part of his kingdom. The Word has power to convert, to nourish, and to sustain. The faith in a person’s heart, even though it may be as small as a mustard seed or a granule of yeast, is still a saving faith and therefore very precious indeed.
Two of the parables in today’s Gospel lesson bring home the importance of our work as Christians. These two parables are the hidden treasure in the field, and the pearl of great price. What does the hidden treasure and the pearl represent?
They represent you and me, members of the human race. Even though we are sinners, even though we have transgressed God’s law in many ways, even though we’ve tried to completely shut him out of our lives, yet he still loves us. He considers our souls as valuable treasures.
In both instances, the man who discovers the treasure and the pearl goes and gives up everything he has in order to obtain them. That’s exactly what Jesus has done for us.
A little while back, I quoted John chapter 15 verse 16 where Jesus said: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit..." Jesus sought us out and found us, just like the men in the two parables. We were lost and wandering about aimlessly. But through the Holy Spirit at work within us, we have been found; and through that gift of faith, we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. He gives us the faith so that we are willing to make Jesus the Lord of our lives. He gives us the faith so that through it we will be permanent residents of heaven for all eternity.
Jesus gave up everything to buy us. He came to this earth and set aside his divine glory. He lived the life we could not, and died the sinner’s death in our place. He even separated himself from his heavenly Father and gave up his own life. He gave everything to buy us from sin, death, and the devil. He did this because he loves us.
I still marvel at the fact that not only did Jesus do all of this, but God gives us this miracle of faith on top of it all. That faith may be as small as a mustard seed. That faith may be as insignificant as a few grains of yeast. But a faith that is nourished and continually fed will grow like that mustard shrub from that tiny seed, or increase in abundance like the yeast does throughout the whole batch of dough.
If you remember at the beginning, I talked about everybody wanting to go to heaven, or whatever afterlife the various heathen religions have contrived. Nobody wants a miserable eternity. And as Christians, we want that mansion in heaven that Jesus has prepared for us.
If we look at our last parable, the parable of the fish in the net, we know that there is going to be some sorting out taking place on judgment day. We talked about this last week when we discussed the weeds, or tares growing with the wheat. Both believers and unbelievers exist together; but on that last day, the truth will be known to all.
For somebody who is not a Christian, for somebody who does not know Jesus as their personal Saviour, heaven will not be a reality. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Out of love, God has made salvation a very simple process. In Romans chapter 10 verse 9 Paul writes, "...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." And in John chapter 14 verse 6 Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." I don't think you can get any more straight-forward than that. Faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven; and this is something that even the most devout Muslim or Buddhist will never see.
God populates his kingdom, one person at a time as someone comes to faith. And here is where we have a mission right before us. Armed with the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word, Jesus reminds us in Acts chapter 1 verse 8: "...you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
God is love. That is the reason that we exist as a congregation. That is the message we proclaim. Christ Jesus came to this earth and has paid the price for our sins out of love and nothing more. This gift of love is not only ours to have, but it is ours to share as well. The people in the world don't need a religion, but a relationship with their Saviour. And we have the means to do the Lord's work.
Look under your feet, and what do you see? The floor? A carpet? It's more than that. When you look under your feet, you are looking at the mission field. We don't need to travel to distant lands or impoverished areas to be missionaries. Our mission field is anyplace that we are at any given moment.
So with this in mind, may we always remember the words of Jesus: "...let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."