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The Kingdom of Heaven is like this

Parables--Stories of Secret Truth  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  27:16
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Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of Heaven or God 85 times in the Bible. It would seem to be important, right? Yet what is it and how do we relate to it? In the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, Jesus describes how we should respond to discovering the Kingdom. Join us as we unpack these rich, if brief, parables.

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Bible

Matthew 13:44–46 NLT
44 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. 45 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. 46 When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!
Let’s pray:
Lord, help us to hear this ultimate challenge from Jesus: to give our all in order to gain the treasure of the Kingdom.
Amen.

Introduction

I was watching the TV show Manifest a couple of weeks ago. It’s a sci-fi style show about the passengers of Flight 828 from Jamaica to the USA, which disappeared mid-flight, and then landed with all its passengers five years later. Part of the show is about the passengers reintegrating into a world that thought they were dead and had thus moved on. Part of the show is about the weird visions and prophecies the passengers experience. And part is about the government conspiracy to exploit whatever happened.
In the midst of all this, one of the passengers starts a religion, called The Church of the Returned. In this episode, he was giving his version of the gospel, the good news, and here’s what he said:
“Miracles: all the worlds religions have been based on apocryphal miracles—resurrection, reincarnation—all rumours and myths that trace back millennia. Until Flight 828 returned. That 191 miracle returnees reappeared on earth makes an undeniable case for miracles tomorrow. Believe in the miracle of Flight 828. Believe in the passengers, who after escaping death will now walk among you for decades to come.”
It struck me that this is what most people think Christianity is saying. “A long time ago there was a miracle (Jesus’ resurrection), and you can experience a miracle too, so why not hang out with us hopeful people. It’ll make you nicer.”
But is that what we are saying? Is that what Jesus came to do?

What is the Kingdom of Heaven?

In the two short parables we’re looking at today, the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now, we don’t often use the term “the Kingdom of Heaven,” mostly because only the gospel writer Matthew uses it. The more common term in the Bible is “the Kingdom of God.” In his gospel, John talks about us being in Jesus or the Father. Modern Christians often abbreviate it to just “the Kingdom.” Matthew himself demonstrates that the Kingdom of Heaven and of God have the same general meaning when he quotes Jesus:
Matthew 19:23–24 NLT
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
We’ll come back to that bit of scripture, but first we need to think about what this Kingdom of Heaven actually is.
Any ideas? [Wait for some answers.]
Well, the Bible doesn’t actually define the Kingdom of Heaven. It gives plenty of descriptions, but no definition. The reason for that is simple: the Kingdom of God is a self-describing phrase. It simply means the domain or sphere of the sovereign rule of God. The Kingdom of Heaven is different from everything else (such as the Biblical concept of “the world”) because in the Kingdom, God’s rule is recognised and enacted. So when Jesus talks about entering the Kingdom, he is talking about coming into a relationship with the king (God) and willingly subjecting yourself to him. This is in contrast to our default relationship of unjustified rebellion.
Matthew’s emphasis on the Kingdom of Heaven rather than God reminds us that is heaven where God’s rule is respected and obeyed, and when we enter the Kingdom, we are entering, in a very real way, heaven.
It might surprise you to find that Jesus mentions the church only twice (both times in Matthew’s Gospel), but the Kingdom of Heaven or God a total of 85 times!
The church is, of course, part of the Kingdom, the part currently living in the world, and so as we think about the Kingdom here on earth, we are thinking about the church.

Describing the Kingdom of Heaven

Now that we know what the Kingdom of Heaven is, I have another question for you: how would you describe it to someone? Any ideas? [Wait.]
It’s tricky, isn’t it? In fact, in this thirteenth chapter of Matthew, we find six parables describing the kingdom.
They are in pairs. The parable of the wheat and the weeds starts the section and the parable of net and the fish finishes it; both parables explain how God sorts the wicked from the good on the final day. The second pair describes how the kingdom grows: the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. And the third pair, which we are looking at today, describes how we should relate to the kingdom: the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price.
So the problem we have describing the kingdom of heaven is because it is beyond big. The whole, complex world with its trillions of creatures is a drop in the bucket of the Kingdom. So every time we describe it, we can only describe a part, an aspect, a perspective on it. That’s important to remember.
These two parables describe one aspect of the kingdom of heaven.

The value and exclusivity of the Kingdom

These parables are so well-loved and known, despite their brevity, because they reveal a crucial aspect of the Kingdom: how we should react when we discover it.
The first parable focuses on a hidden treasure. Some random guy stumbles across this treasure. What does he do? Well, first, he hides the treasure again, so that it won’t elude him. Some interpreters struggle with this. Was Jesus suggesting we should keep the Gospel secret? But, of course, that would make no sense. The scenario in the parable represents the kingdom as a physical treasure, which can be stolen or lost, but we know that the Kingdom is not like that. The question to ask is what the finder in the parable is trying to achieve by hiding the treasure. The answer to that is not hard to discover. In the very next sentence, the finder is selling everything he owned in order to secure the field and the treasure in it. You see, on finding this unexpected treasure, all of this person’s actions have one goal: to attain that treasure.
The point of the parable is simple and powerful: everything other than the treasure is immediately rendered irrelevant. Even the field, which is what the finder actually buys, is just a means to an end.
The second parable is very similar. However, it focuses on the merchant. Unlike the lucky field-buyer, the merchant is actively searching for fine pearls. So when he finds the perfect pearl, his response is simpler. He doesn’t need extra steps to get the pearl, like buying the shop it’s in, or something. He just goes out, sells everything he owns, and buys that pearl!
The point of both parables is simple: the kingdom of heaven is so precious that, on finding it, we should immediately use everything we have in order to gain it. And when we say “use” I mean “use up.” In both parables Jesus speaks of selling everything in order to gain enough money to buy the treasure. Now, of course, we can’t buy salvation. But we do need to let go of everything in order to enter the kingdom. Jesus told his disciples,
Matthew 16:24–26 NLT
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
This sounds extreme, doesn’t it? Why can’t we just have a bit both ways? Well, as is becoming increasingly apparent in our society, the life of Christ is simply incompatible with the life of the world. Jesus’ beloved disciple John said:
1 John 2:15–17 ESV
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Every day this conflict of values grows greater and greater. We cannot love the things that the world desires and live for Jesus.

Do we value the Kingdom?

You see, the big difference between the Kingdom of Heaven and the fictional Church of the Returned—in other words, the popular idea of Christianity—is that the Kingdom of Heaven is not just worth more than the whole world, but it is real and concrete.
This popular idea of Christianity is sadly shared by liberal Christians who don’t treat God’s Word as His Word. Their belief merely offers some vague hope in something nice that happened long ago. There’s not much more here than platitudes and Agony Aunt advice. But the real Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom that Jesus rules, that has something concrete to offer, something real: the rescue from sin, a new relationship with our creator (and therefore one another), and eternal life.
Unfortunately, because the Kingdom actually exists, it also requires genuine, specific action to enter it. Jesus said,
John 14:15 NLT
15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.
That action is not easy. Giving up all we have and doing all Jesus told us to do is terrifying. Placing Jesus first, making him King, is so hard.
Remember that Jesus said,
Matthew 19:23–24 NLT
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
This is so true. I found it easy to leave Australia behind for Japan when I was young and owned little, but when we moved to Hong Kong twenty years later I clung to our house, our cars, and our furniture.
Letting go of all we own doesn’t mean literally selling it, of course. But it does mean not being possessed by it. If God calls us to care for another, to go on a mission, to release some possession that has taken ownership of us, and we can’t, then we know that these possessions are no longer merely a means to gain the Kingdom of Heaven (like the field in the parable), but have become an idol for us. The steps or practices required to ensure our possessions are not idols is far too complex to fit into a sermon. However, if you are not constantly evaluating your relationship with your possessions, your work, and even your relationships, then you are in danger of neglecting the Kingdom of Heaven.
How, then is it possible for us rich people--and we are all rich here—to let go of everything we own in order to seize the great treasure of the Kingdom? That’s not a spurious question. In fact, the disciples asked it. And Jesus’ reply was very simple:
Matthew 19:25–26 ESV
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
You see, God has provided a lamb, Jesus, who has put to death our sins, our sinful nature. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, not only are our sins forgiven, but we receive his perfect life into us. And his Spirit then enables us to make that stark choice, to let go of everything in order to gain the great treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is still our choice, and it’s still a choice we have to make, but we are no longer owned by our possessions. We are no longer bound by our circumstances. We are no longer slaves to our sins. We are free. Free to be part of the most wonderful and precious community of all: the kingdom of heaven.

Real life

Now, all this might sound a bit theoretical, still, so let me share a couple of stories of people Mable and I know.
In Hong Kong we met up with an old friend who had been a very dedicated Christian as a young adult. He moved back to Hong Kong in order to pursue a career. His career was increasingly successful there, and over the years it took over more and more of his life, until by the time we caught up with him, he had completely abandoned his faith. It was so sad meeting with him, because, despite his wealth and success he was clearly lonely and guilty and unsatisfied. Even the relationship he was in was clearly, to him and to us, more about money than love. His possessions owned him and he was miserable.
On the other hand, we met some new people at church there. They had come from the Bible Belt of the USA. They were a large family (five kids), and the dad had been very successful in an IT company there. The family had had the biggest house, the flashest cars, the best of everything. But this was achieved only by the dad working almost constantly. Unfortunately the kids suffered from the lack of a dad and the mum suffered from the lack of a husband. She was at the point where she was going to divorce her husband, when they sought help and realised that they needed to take a radical step to save their marriage, their family, and, indeed, themselves. After some discussion, they agreed to sell everything and move to Hong Kong (the dad had been born there). There they lived in a tiny flat in the poorest part of Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po. They used their resources to minister to the poor there. You might think that living in a crowded slum is not the best help for a marriage or family relationships, but this radical choice, very much like the choices in Jesus’ parables, transformed both their marriage and family. They were all incredibly happy.
If you’re struggling with relationships, with misery, with a lack of satisfaction in your life, perhaps you need to change your priorities, too.
Let’s pray:
Lord, help us to exercise our freedom in you, and for our possessions and relationships and achievements to be only a means by which to serve in your kingdom. If we need to make a choice, help us to have the courage to seek counsel and encouragement from your word and our brothers and sisters. Help us to always remember that you rightfully have first priority in everything, and to be grateful for being able to place you first.
In Jesus name, Amen.
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