• D. Pieper

The Greatest Treasure

Sermon 1708 Matthew 13.44-52 August 9, 2020

I have been remiss over the past weeks. I have been talking about something I assumed everyone knew about. That is a bad assumption to make. Let’s backtrack.

More parables confront us today. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. I get that across to our students at Green Valley Lutheran School with hand motions—a horizontal sweep for the earthly story and a rainbow arc above it for the heavenly meaning. The parable has one point, one comparison. Sometimes there’s lots of characters and depth to a parable, almost a short story. Sometimes they are sparse. But there is always one point, which isn’t very hard to figure out, unless you are an unbeliever. That’s another thing about parables. Like the miracles Jesus performed, the parables he told were for believers, not for unbelievers. The meaning of the parables was hidden from unbelievers. Maybe that’s why they didn’t get around to killing Jesus until he had been preaching and teaching for over three years. They couldn’t figure out what he was saying half the time!

But for believers, people like you and me, Jesus offered encouragement about

The Greatest Treasure

  1. Pursue the Gospel (44-46).

  2. Possess the Gospel (47-50).

  3. Promote the Gospel (51-52).

“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 (44-46).”

How do we know Jesus is talking about the Gospel? Well, the Gospel is the Good News that we have a Savior from sin. We need that Savior from sin. By nature we are the bad fish which are thrown away in the third parable today. By nature we are wasteful, destructive, self-centered. Just build a nice townscape around a wooden trainset for your three year old and see how the world would be if he were God. Utter destruction within seconds! That’s why there are so many distractions in the world, all those pearls that don’t measure up. We are terrible students who do not want to learn. We focus on anything, everything other than what the Lord wants us to focus on. If only those distractions were idle daydreams looking out the window. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander (Matthew 15.19).” That’s why we are so protective of our privacy—we don’t want anyone to know what we are really like and we suspect the intentions of those listening in. No honor among sinners! Jesus pictures our lost condition by telling us the Gospel is hidden—a hidden treasure in a field. No one is going to find it.

So we need the Gospel. Jesus gives us that Gospel, the Good News of the Kingdom. That’s how he started his earthly ministry. “The kingdom of God is near.” That’s how he finished his earthly ministry. “You will be my witnesses.” We need the Gospel and Jesus gave us the Gospel. We are believers. The parables speak to us. As Isaiah wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure (33.6).”

Pursue the greatest treasure.

The man in the first parable is a treasure hunter. He has been scrounging around, poking and prodding here and there, keeping his ears open in the shady establishments and his mouth closed. I knew a guy like that once. He threw his lot in with a group who were going to find Yamashita’s treasure, allegedly a fabulous hoard of gold stolen during World War II and hidden in the Philippines. It takes some determination to go halfway around the world in pursuit of something. You really have to want it. He didn’t find it.

This treasure hunter wanted treasure. When he found it, without blinking an eye, he sold everything he had, liquidated the stocks, sold the Lamborghini, settled on the mansion and sold his share of the casino out to his partner. Then with the money, he bought that field. The treasure was worth everything to him.

It’s the same story with the man hunting for a pearl of great price. I have seen people like this, too. When the kids were in band, one of their fund raising activities was to help at the diamond show at the Sands Exposition Center. Basically it was to take suitcases full of diamonds from very nervous dealers, tag them and store them for the night, all under the supervision of off-duty or vacationing policemen. You could tell by the looks in these guys’ eyes they were not going to any dance parties that night. Those diamonds were all they could think about and they would not rest until they had them safe and sound, on display for sale the next day. Them and the 65,000 other diamond dealers at the show.

“Pursue the Gospel,” Jesus is telling us. Don’t let it slip through your hands. Don’t treat it like a throwaway Styrofoam cup. This matters. This is important. Don’t let anything come between you and your Savior. We all had fads we pursued or phases we went through at one time or another in our lives, no matter how young we are. Our first graders don’t know where their Binky is any more. Don’t let Jesus become like your old baseball card collection or your American dolls. The message of God’s love to you is the greatest treasure. Never give up pursuing it.

The greatest treasure—possess 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 blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (47-50).”

All kinds of fish. But there’s only two types—the good fish and the bad fish. All kinds of people in the world. A personality, O negative blood types. Male and female, young and old. Risk takers and the risk adverse. But there’s only two types of people—believers and unbelievers. And that makes all the difference. At the end of the world, the fish will be sorted. The good fish will go to heaven and the bad fish will not go to heaven. The greatest treasure, the Gospel, is that net that captures them. Even unbelievers come to church. Don’t be surprised. Lots of pretty young women in church. What was that old Beach Boy song, Disney Girls? “She’s really swell, ‘cause she likes church, bingo chances and old-time dances.” Just sayin’. If the Beach Boys noticed it, so do a lot of other boys. “Good people” go to church so your kids have a “good bunch” to hang out with. Pretty place to have a wedding. They do nice funerals there. I think I have proven my point.

But believers like you and me are in that net. Why? Because God made us good fish. God gave us a wonderful inheritance. As the psalmist says, “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” We have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. And what do we have to do for it? Well, what does a child have to do to earn the family name? Nothing. She’s part of the family. Eternal life is our spiritual birthright, bought by the blood of Jesus on the cross. We have our spots in heaven reserved for us from the creation of the world. By God’s eternal choice we are his and always will be his. What a treasure this is, the greatest treasure—possess it.

I am seldom at a loss for words, but here I am. What can I say? What encouragement can I give? We cannot be more God’s children than we already are. We cannot be more saved than we already are. We cannot have a higher faith than we already have, young and old, for Jesus said, “Unless you have faith as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” All I can say is possess it. Own it. Rejoice in it. Stand in awe of God’s great love for you. He could have been captivated by a thousand black holes or a million dancing, dazzling galaxies. He could have beamed with pride in angel armies or thrilled at the march of animals in all their diverse array. But his eye is on you. His has lost his heart to you. He has written us on the palm of his hand. He has given up life itself to be yours. He has risen from the dead that you might be his. In heaven, angels would fall if you’re not there.

Do you see the treasure? Do you see the love of God for you and for me? A treasure is to possess, to cherish, to keep. “He who did not spare his own Son, how much more will he also give us all things?” Rejoice. Our names are written in heaven. Endure. Our eternal victory is won. Love him who calls us by his name.

It is only when people let the silver tarnish that they no longer bring it out. It is only when the gift no longer captivates that they misplace it. Possess it.

The greatest treasure—promote it.

“‘Have you understood all these things?’ Jesus asked. ‘Yes,’ they replied.

He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old (51-52).’”

Fancy dinner. They served ten year old wine, aged beef and greens fresh picked that morning. Better not let that red lettuce loiter in the storeroom for ten years. Better not serve a filet that was slaughtered yesterday (tough and stringy!!). Any banquet is a mixture of old and new, fresh and aged. The best heirloom silver for a grand family occasion. Paper plates and plastic forks for the Labor Day BBQ.

But what is the purpose of a grand banquet? What is the goal of that backyard BBQ--before the goal was to not come down with COVID? Get people together. Have people mingle. I think I am the worst host at my own parties. I hardly get to talk to anyone. Can’t remember a single thing anyone said. But everyone else thinks I am a great host, because my goal isn’t to give myself a good time. It’s to make sure they have a good time so they can let their hair down and interact with each other as friendships deepen and trust strengthens. If I can remember the parties you have hosted, I think you view it the same way. Guests first.

How different from the attitude of the world! My wife once worked with an old-timer tech who was praising this old Vegas style restaurant to the skies one Monday. We were new to town, so Karen tried to find out what restaurant it was. The woman refused to tell her. “I don’t want it to get too crowded.” Yep, keep that fishing hole to yourself. Wouldn’t want someone else to grab all the fish out of it so there’s none left for you. Yep, keep that restaurant a locals only secret. You wouldn’t want it to get so crowded that, in the words of Yogi Berra, “nobody goes there anymore.”

Promote it. View heaven as the party you are hosting. Don’t you want it full? View eternal life as the soiree you are putting on. You wouldn’t want the invitations thrown in some boxes that were forgotten so none of them got mailed out. Be the disciple who hears Jesus’ voice. “Preach the good news to all creation.” Be the teacher who always has an answer for the hope we have in season or out of season, whether it is convenient or inconvenient, whether you are prepared for it or were caught unexpectedly. Be the owner of the house who brings out that old, old story of Jesus and his love for a new generation of hearers, to guests who are first-time invitees. This is the greatest treasure. Brag it up. As Luther said in his explanation to the Second Commandment, regarding our use of God’s name, “Pray, praise and give thanks.” The greatest treasure—promote it.

The Greatest Treasure

  1. Pursue the Gospel (44-46).

  2. Possess the Gospel (47-50).

  3. Promote the Gospel (51-52).

OK. I think I’ve done my job. We’ll remember a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. We’ll go away from church today knowing the greatest treasure is the……that’s right, the Gospel. Pursue it, possess it and promote it.


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