Jesus speaks to the disciples in parables. At the end He asks if they understand. Everyone says yes, because parables are simple. Almost nobody actually does, because parables are hard.
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. We always figure we’re that man. It leaves us speaking boldly about our love for God but in an awkward spot when it meets the real world. We can be perfectly comfortable insisting we’d give up everything for Jesus while scoffing at the notion of tithing 10% of everything. We can insist we’d face death rather than fall away from this confession and faith while watching the service online for safety. We can insist Jesus is our treasure but most of us would have a harder time going a week without a cell phone than a month without a bible. It makes even temperance feel like sin and caution like unbelief. And it festers inside us since nobody can see it. It leaves us feeling dirty like a man who makes sure nobody’s looking before dishonestly covering up the treasure so nobody else will find it before lowballing someone for the field. But sure, Jesus is the treasure we seek out and give up everything for in secret, and at someone else’s expense. Because why would you want to share Jesus with anyone?
Maybe that parable’s broken. Let’s do the other one. They’re short so we can do that today without going long. Lord, Thee I love with all my heart, but if the sermon is longer than 15 minutes I’ll depart. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Let’s go searching for the pearl of great wisdom here. Unless it takes longer than 15 minutes. Moving right along.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But I’m sure we’re the good fish because I can think of other people doing way worse. Never mind that we spend more time with this one taking on the role of angels doing the separating than imagining actually having to subject our sins, our idols, and our excuses to their eyes. Because weeping and gnashing of teeth is easier to consider if you’re sending other people there instead of being sent there yourself.
Jesus speaks to the disciples in parables and we usually treat them like Christian nursery rhymes and fables. We assume there’s a moral to each story, a way to behave. We assume they’re about us. It’s why we misunderstand them. Hearing we do not understand. Seeing, we don’t perceive. There’s a law answer and a gospel answer to most questions. Only one brings any real peace though the other doesn’t do anything more than let us excuse what we can’t fix.
Consider the parables today. None start with you. Each begin the same. The kingdom of heaven. Nobody gets to the kingdom of heaven by the law. By works of the law no one will be made righteous. No one will be saved. The kingdom of heaven is about the gospel. It’s about Jesus for sinners. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” If this is about Jesus, parables are simple. If you make it about yourself, parables are impossible.
When we treat parables like Christian nursery rhymes and fables, they always end up in the law and never the gospel. Do this. Be that. The law accuses. If you can hear the law and not feel like a sinner, you’re not hearing the real law or you’re not really seeing yourself for all your excuses. Parables contain the secrets to the kingdom of God. That means they’re about the only way we’re getting there. Jesus. The gospel. If you want to understand parables and you don’t see Jesus at the center, you’re missing the point. It is God who justifies. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Not even yourself.
You aren’t the man who finds the treasure and sells all you have for it. You’re the treasure. God loves you so much He considers you priceless even in the face of the sins, idols, and excuses that leave you buried and dead in a field. He sells all He has to buy you. He doesn’t pay in gold or silver, but in His holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death that You would be His own. He finds us buried under the wages of sin, buried in cemeteries, and pays the price on the cross to redeem you. He gives His own life to buy yours back. He joins you in the tomb then pulls you up out of your grave. He promises that even as He is risen from the dead, you will rise. For you were bought with a price. You are the pearl of great price. Jesus looks at you and sees someone worth saving no matter the cost.
The parables aren’t about how much you love God. They’re about how much He loves you. They aren’t about how much you would give for God. They’re about how much He already paid for you. Look to the cross and see the stories come to life. Everyone trained to find Jesus in the parables finds the true Treasure. The gospel. The old promise made to Adam and eve, the new promise made every day to you. You are righteous because Jesus died for you. You are baptized. Washed. Holy. Loved. This is how the angels sort the catch on the last day. Those who find their righteousness in Christ fear nothing. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. In your baptism, you are more than conquerors through Him who loved you. In your baptism, you are the prize Jesus conquered death to win.