Matthew 13v44-52: Is Jesus worth it? - 21st September 2014 - Dave Walker

Click here to listen to the talk

So, we’ve seen haven’t we, that God’s rule, his government, the thing that Jesus calls ‘the kingdom of heaven’ is breaking into this world now. That’s what Jesus is all about. He is the King of the Kingdom, laying claim to the world that is rightfully his. And he’s doing that through his message, the gospel, his word which is going out into the world as first he, then his followers have spoken it and go on speaking it. Like a farmer scatters seed. And wherever that happens there is a response. Some people respond with rejection; they don’t accept Jesus as king, they don’t believe his message. They are hardened by it. Others accept and believe. They become members of the kingdom. These words of Jesus are sharp words, like a knife edge. And when we come up against them we go one way or the other. Last week we saw that there are everlasting consequences to that. Things may be mixed up now, but harvest day is coming. To reject Jesus is the way of destruction. To accept him is the way of life. God is growing his kingdom through these razor sharp words.

Today we go really deep. Today is the “what’s next?” The response that Jesus wants from true disciples is for us to come to him and listen. So what next? When you come to Jesus saying “Ok Jesus, I’m interested. I want to be like the fruitful plants; one of those good plants that keep going to the harvest, that get gathered into the kingdom. What do you want me to know?” That’s what today’s all about. Today is straight to the heart: What will it mean to be one of these kingdom people deep down? At heart?

Tellingly, this is teaching for the disciples now, isn’t it? It’s after v36 – in verse 36 Jesus leaves the crowds and goes into the house and starts talking to his disciples. This is for those who are interested. But as Jesus has already said, you can be interested in a temporary or shallow way. That’s why Jesus’ words here are so explosive. Here Jesus is sifting the ‘yes’ men from the real thing.

Read Matthew 13:44-52 

So what does Jesus want us to know? Well the parables are really clear, especially the first two. Look at verse 44: there’s this guy, probably a farm labourer or something, and in the course of a normal day’s digging he comes across some treasure. And it’s so valuable that he simply must have it. So he goes to eBay or the church table top sale, and he sets up a stall and sells absolutely everything he’s got. So that he can buy the field, so that he can have the treasure. If the first guy comes across it by accident, the second guy has been searching all his life. But when he finds that pearl, the one, well it’s the same response. He sells all that he has to buy it.

And notice that each time Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven is like this”, doesn’t he? This is authentic response to the kingdom of heaven. And because the kingdom is centred on Jesus, this is the authentic response to him. Jesus wants us to know that this growing kingdom grows as people value Jesus above everything else. As people treasure Jesus Christ.

Now that’s not hard to see from the parables, is it? But this is another one where, like the parable of the sower, just knowing the right answer isn’t enough. Just saying “Ok, yeah, I see what that means.” That’s not it. Jesus is showing us this response to the kingdom so that we will respond in the same way. So if that’s the basic thing to grasp – “the kingdom grows as people treasure Jesus above everything else”, there are two things you need to know about that for yourself. If this is going to go deep. The first one’s this:

  1. Following Jesus will cost you everything

Now I need to say this is not just for the nut jobs. The extremists. Jesus isn’t describing the life of the Christian elite – he has no notion of that. He’s describing regular discipleship. This is his alpha course, his discipleship explored. He’s describing the only response that is fruitful, the only one that lasts. To treasure him above all else. No matter what the cost. That’s consistent with what he says throughout the Bible isn’t it? Nowhere did he say “feel free to give me whatever portion of your heart and soul and mind and strength that you have to spare.” He never said that, did he? Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength. Jesus says that’s the first commandment. Christianity 1.1. When Jesus comes and sits on the throne everyone and everything else has to get off it. It’s him above all. That’s life in the kingdom.

You see if we’re going to get hold of this we need to understand something about ourselves, about the way we think and the way we change. It’s something that the parable illustrates so well, and it’s this: when we make a change and we give something up, at least when we do it successfully, it’s not normally because we don’t want that thing any more. It’s normally because we love something else more. The thing that drives us and orientates us is what we love. That’s what happens in the parable, isn’t it? It’s not that these two men have become disenchanted with all their earthly possessions. It’s just that they want the treasure, or the pearl, more.

One of the most perceptive pieces of writing I’ve come across is a sermon from a couple of centuries ago by a Scottish pastor named Thomas Chalmers. It’s called “the expulsive power of a great affection” and he makes just this point. He says that you can’t persuade someone to give something up just by telling them how bad that thing is. If their heart is set on it they’ll just go back there. What you need to do is offer them something better to set their heart on. Our hearts will attach themselves to something. They will give up their attachment only if they find something better to attach to. You see that with babies and toddlers: don’t chew on daddy’s shoe, here, have the chewy toy, it’s much better. Just take away the shoe and they’re bereft, howling. Give the toy instead and they will give up the shoe. Well, sometimes anyway.

And that’s not just babies. We all of us have our hearts set on something. And often our behaviour gives away what that thing is. So imagine Jack, let’s say he’s in his early teens, and he spends every available hour playing his games on his phone. He doesn’t want to wash or get dressed or anything like that, he just wants to sit there playing his phone. Dragging it away from him is nigh on impossible. But then, over a short period of time things change. He starts smartening up. He smells less. He still uses his phone a fair bit but now there’s messages on it. It’s not that he’s gone off the game; he’s just met Lily. And he wants Lily more than he wants the game. Or a few years later Jack the student party animal all of a sudden becomes really hard working. It’s not that he’s seen the folly of drunkenness and become sensible. It’s just that he’s discovered money, and the things it can buy, and he wants that more. Or a few years later Jack stops blowing all his money on toys and gadgets and starts saving up. He wants to pay off his mortgage and take out a pension. His heart has shifted again: now it’s set on security.

Do you see? Jack’s changes in behaviour give away what he loves most. Jesus’ message here is that the kingdom grows as people treasure him above everything else. Very often our behaviours show that we are treasuring all sorts of things above Jesus. But we’re just not honest enough with ourselves to spot that.

I don’t often look or sound much like a Christian when I’m with my friends or when I’m at work. That’s because I really want to fit in, and actually that’s more important to me than Jesus. I know that this boyfriend or girlfriend is not a Christian and getting into that relationship won’t help me grow as a Christian, but I have to do it anyway, because not being single is more important to me than Jesus. I’ll give more of my time to Jesus when I’ve finished my exams, or when I’ve finished this particularly busy time at work. It’s just that now the work is more important to me than Jesus. I must get my kids to do all their homework and revise for their exams even at the expense of church and bible reading because, well, then they’ll get their results and that’s more important to me than Jesus. I’ve got to get my kids to all of these different events and groups and sports because I think that them having all that experience is more important to me than Jesus. I’ll give my money to gospel work later, I’m just not secure enough yet, I needs to get secure, for the sake of my family you understand – that’s more important to me than Jesus.

It’s when something else comes into conflict with following Jesus like this that we get to see what our hearts are really attached to. That’s when we discover whether or not we treasure Jesus above everything else.

Sometimes we use delaying tactics. You know the sort of thing: “I would put Jesus first in my life, I would step out in faith for him, but now is not the time. I’ve just got to get this and that sorted out first.” That’s exactly what the men in the parables don’t do, isn’t it? They go straight away and they sell it all.

What is it for you? What’s the big thing that you’re holding on to? What would you not be willing to give up for Jesus?

You know, don’t you, that loving anything above Jesus is the best way to guarantee losing it? You know that, don’t you? Loving other things most is corrosive. Because nothing else can bear the weight of that sort of love. We just try to grip it like squeezing a handful of sand, all the time it slipping through our fingers until all we’re left with is a claw, a tight fist. Whatever else you set your heart on: if it’s not Jesus you’ll lose it. Decay and death will see to that.

Loving other things most is paralysing. I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons that Christianity made the conditions right for modern science to grow up was the way that in a Christian worldview, the creation is not divine, it’s not a god to be worshipped, it’s a gift, there to be explored. As one man put it: “one doesn’t shoot a rocket at the moon if one takes the moon for a goddess.” Putting Jesus first dethrones false gods. And once they have been dethroned, they become useful. You don’t put your money to good use if you think it’s a god, you certainly won’t be generous with it. You’ll just want to keep hold of it at all costs. You don’t encourage your family to take risks and make sacrifices for Jesus if they’re your god. You just cling to them. You smother them. You don’t engage in God’s mission of spreading the word of Jesus and take the risk of telling your friends if your friendships or your popularity are your god. You don’t give your time to serving God if your career or your qualifications or your hobbies are your god. Get those things off the throne, and they become useful. Keep them on the throne and they are paralysing.

What false gods need dethroning in your life? Would you sacrifice everything for Jesus? Would you sacrifice anything for Jesus? Because following Jesus will cost you everything. Of course it will. This whole dynamic of giving up in order to gain: the kingdom is like that because Jesus himself is like that. He gave up everything in order to gain us for himself. So he call us to wholeheartedness.

 

Jesus wants you to know that being one of his means treasuring him above everything else. It’s not that everything must go, in order to be a Christian. But everything could go. Everything else has to move aside, off the throne.

  1. Following Jesus will gain you everything that really matters.

Three key words to spot in that verse 44: "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.” In his joy! There’s no anguish here is there? No tearful goodbyes to his old life. He has found something better, and he’s filled with joy. It’s like in a wedding, do you know that bit where the groom stands with his bride and the vicar asks that question “Forsaking all others, will you be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?” What does he say? “I will.” How does he say it? Miserably? With a long, lingering glance around the room at the others he is now forsaking? No, he does it with a smile. In his joy. He doesn’t want others, he wants her.

If you’re finding this idea of putting Jesus first hard, well the answer is not to feel bad. Or to try really hard to despise everything else in your life. Or to make some rash promises you know you won’t keep. No you need to take another look at the treasure. You need to look again at the pearl, and see why it’s so valuable. You need to see why it is that Jesus is worth treasuring above all else. These short parables don’t explain why, do they? They’re a bit short for that, we need the rest of the gospel to fill us in on that.

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from CS Lewis: “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot begin to imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

What is that thing that motivates you? Relationship, love? Not being alone? Here’s Jesus who loves you enough to die for you. Who has given his whole self for you, knowing what you are like. Knowing full well how half-hearted you have been. Jesus who, knowing that, offers real forgiveness. Jesus who promises you his everlasting love, Jesus who won’t let you down. Jesus who has said “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Are you chasing after more money, more security? Here’s Jesus who offers you the riches of God. Who promises his followers eternal security; the only life, the only possessions that will not be snuffed out. Are you after experience? Here’s Jesus who invites you into the biggest mission ever undertaken in human history. Who offers life to the full. Who invites you to take risks for him, to live far outside the comfortable mediocrity of looking after number 1, pouring yourself out for others. Throwing yourself on the mercy of God, discovering as you do so just how merciful he is. Through his word, take a long hard look at this treasure. Ask God to show you how valuable this pearl is. Because the more he shows you of that, the less you’ll be craving the cheap alternatives. 

David Livingstone, the famous Victorian missionary to Africa said this, near the end of his life. “People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa… Away with such a thought! Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us and for us. I never made a sacrifice.” Almost a hundred years later, in 1956, the American missionary Jim Elliot was killed, with his four missionary companions while trying to bring the gospel to the Auca people of Ecuador. There was something of an outcry about it back in the USA, in reply to which Jim Elliot’s widow Elisabeth quoted some of his own words: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Do you believe that? If what Jesus says here is true, that has to be right, doesn’t it? This growing kingdom, the rule of God, bursting into the world, changing lives, saving people from death and hell for life to the full forever – that’s worth giving everything for. Jesus himself is worth giving everything for.

Remember this is not just for the nut jobs. Or just for the heroes. Our culture has an aversion to wholeheartedness. We live in a cynical time, where the one thing you mustn’t be is too committed to anything. In a way it’s understandable; it’s a defence mechanism; if we don’t commit to anything then nothing can let us down. But it’s totally unsatisfying. But we know really that the thing that causes misery is not wholeheartedness but half-heartedness. If you do something a bit, but not as much as you know you should. That’s what leaves you feeling frustrated and miserable.

And half-heartedness is not just frustrating, it’s also unattractive. People can tell. They will not be persuaded if you’re not. Your kids can tell. Your friends can tell. If we treat Jesus as a bit part in our lives, why would we expect the people we know to be convinced? Scattering the seed of the gospel is best done by people who know deep down that it is treasure like nothing else.

And if people can tell, so can God. Jesus finishes this block of parables with the parable of the net. And it’s a lot like the wheat and the weeds that we were looking at last week. Except that here it’s not describing the kingdom in the midst of a mixed world; here the kingdom is itself mixed for now, like a net it brings in both the good fish and the bad; the real, genuine disciples and those who deep down are just pretending. The lesson is don’t think you can pretend. Just being in the net doesn’t make you a good fish. On the day when God goes through the net it will be clear. Just hanging around with Christians doesn’t mean that you are one.

If you’re in church but, being honest, you don’t see Jesus as treasure. If all this talk just leaves you cold, and sounds a bit idealistic or unbalanced, ask yourself the question: Are you just in the net, but not one of the catch? Wholeheartedness is not an optional add on.

If that’s a concern, remember what the right response is: don’t just feel bad about it; come back to Jesus asking for more. Listen to his teaching, read his word in the Bible, join a house group, listen to the sermons online – to help you get into the Bible. And as you do so ask God to show you just how valuable Jesus is. That’s what you need. You need something more wonderful to treasure.