What is the Kingdom worth to you?
There’s a book that our staff is going to begin to work through together called Radical by David Platt. I would encourage you to pick it up and read it for yourself. In this book Platt offers that perhaps our lives have been overtaken by this thing we like to call the “American Dream.” We all have one. We all think that if we could just get a certain job or a certain level in our job, a particular house in a certain neighborhood, or perhaps the right husband or wife, we might possibly be happy. Maybe if we could retire and never have to work another day we could be fulfilled. We set all these expectations and goals for how our lives should go and what will make us happy in the end. This is our “American Dream.”
Platt points out that perhaps the American Dream and the Gospel of Jesus aren’t congruent. Maybe we can’t have the Kingdom and the American Dream. Perhaps we can only have one or the other. Maybe we need to take back our faith from the American Dream.
We need to re-train ourselves. Perhaps church isn’t really what we’ve always thought of it as. Maybe there’s more to it than coming to a gathering on a Sunday morning. This is why we’ve instituted small groups. We want your life to be connected with those of other believers. We want the work of this body to take place outside these walls rather than inside them. Perhaps there’s more to church than singing songs and listening to a preacher. Perhaps the church really is the Body of Christ and we really do represent the Kingdom of God. Perhaps the words of scripture really are true and we really are supposed to do something with our lives. Maybe that’s what this is all about.
Along those same lines, we need to re-train ourselves about Jesus. We see Jesus as a loving shepherd, a good friend, a wise teacher, and a baby in a feed trough at Christmas. In the movie Talladega Nights Will Farrell’s character prays at the dinner table one night to “little baby Jesus.” This sparks a debate about Jesus not being a baby anymore but he says that’s how he likes to think of him. We like that. It’s funny to us and we laugh, but that’s the extent of some of our faith. We like Jesus in the manger. He’s cute. He’s a little baby. He’s not threatening at all. We also like him because he doesn’t call us to anything dangerous. “Little baby Jesus” doesn’t tell us to take up our cross. He doesn’t tell us to die to ourselves. He’s safe.
We have a picture of Jesus as a happy, loving shepherd who walks us to green pastures and leads us to still waters. We like this Jesus because he provides for us and takes care of us. He beats up wolves and thieves to keep us safe. He’s our friend who goes fishing with us and tells us to throw our nets over the other side of the boat so we catch 150 large fish. There’s a picture on the wall of an office at Mission Arlington of Jesus on a fishing boat. He’s holding onto the rigging and he’s smiling one of the biggest smiles I can imagine. I can’t describe for you this smile. We call this picture “Happy Jesus.” I’ve never seen a picture of Jesus like it.
This is how we like to view Jesus, either as a non-threatening child or a happy friend and guide. We fail to see the picture given to us in Revelation. Jesus is a warrior. He is God in human form and he doesn’t play games. He came to earth not to be just a friend or spiritual guide, but to conquer the enemy once and for all and to reconcile humanity back to its Creator. That’s what Jesus did. He took upon himself the sin of all humankind and sacrificed himself to provide a way back into relationship with the Father. When he returns, it will not be a cute and cuddly Jesus. Revelation gives us a picture of a victorious warrior riding a great steed with a sword in his hand and lightning coming from his mouth. My brother-in-law Kevin pointed out one time that when Jesus cleansed the Temple, he sat down first and braided a whip. Kevin called Jesus a pack of gorillas. Jesus is fierce.
Why do we need a complete picture of Jesus? Because if we want to understand our purpose, we must understand our God. Jesus is the perfect physical representation of the Father. The Father is loving and compassionate and desiring that all would come to know him. He is patient. He is faithful, always keeping his promises. But he is also fierce and wrathful. He cannot stand sin. His holiness prevents him from accepting wickedness. We are saved by the sacrificial, atoning work of Jesus. It’s the only way God can tolerate us, by viewing us through the perfect sacrifice of his son.
We need to re-train ourselves about what faith is. Jesus’ sacrifice for us calls us to a radical obedience of him. This can be the only response. We can’t view the sacrifice of Jesus and respond in any way other than complete obedience. In America we like to rate things. “On a scale of 1-10, where is your faith right now?” With Jesus there is no rating system. You can’t be a “5” Christian. Jesus says there is a wide road that leads to destruction and a narrow road that leads to life. Few follow the narrow road.
I had the privilege of hearing one of my favorite pastors and authors last year at a conference in Dallas. His name is Francis Chan. He told us a story about him preaching something similar to his congregation and having a man come up to him after the service to talk to him. This man said something like “Francis you want us to all be radical Christians. Don’t you know that there’s like a middle road? We’re good people, we love Jesus. We just don’t want to be that radical.” Then Chan read us the scripture about the wide and narrow roads. It doesn’t seem like there’s a third road. It seems like there’s a wide road that leads to destruction and a narrow road that leads to life. The only response to Jesus sacrifice for us is radical obedience to him.
We’re going to read two very short parables in Matthew. Both deal with the acquisition of something infinitely valuable.
These two parables come right in the middle of a series of parables about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Jesus was trying to help his disciples understand why he did things the way he did them. Like most people, the best way to help them understand was to illustrate the point with a story. So Jesus told them some stories to help spark their imagination about what the Kingdom of Heaven was really like.
The first parable is the Treasure in a Field. It goes that a man was walking through a field one day and came upon a treasure that was immensely valuable. Upon realizing what he had found, he covered the treasure back up, went home and sold all his possessions so he could buy the field and own the treasure. When I first read this parable as a child I thought to myself, “what a stupid man. Why didn’t he just take the treasure and go home? Then he would still have all his possessions plus the treasure he had found.” That’s how we treat this parable because we still think we can have the American Dream and the Kingdom of Heaven. Why can’t I just keep my lifestyle and go to church? Why isn’t God happy with that? Jesus says, however, that isn’t what the Kingdom is like. If we want the Kingdom, we can’t do things that way. The Kingdom is incredibly valuable, unbelievably valuable, and if we want it, we have to get rid of everything else. You see, the man didn’t care what the treasure cost him; he just knew he wanted it. So he unloaded everything else so he could obtain the treasure. That’s what the Kingdom is like. We can’t hold on to both things. We can only choose one.
We want to live the way we want and still get into Heaven. Why? We believe Heaven is the prize. Heaven isn’t the prize. Heaven is the place where we get to enjoy the prize. The prize is the relationship with our Creator. That doesn’t sit well with most of us because we are used to a physical trinket as the result of winning. When the Rangers win the World Series they will get a physical trophy. When an Olympian wins his or her event they get a gold medal. When you win a race at field day in elementary school you get a ribbon. We like the toy, the medal, the award. We don’t often recognize that the relationship can be the award. Paul addresses this in one of his letters to the Corinthians. He says that all the runners run to get the prize. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we, an imperishable one. The Father is the prize. Not Heaven. Stop trying to just get into Heaven. Start enjoying the relationship.
The second parable is like the first, except it involves a merchant of fine pearls. You have to imagine that he had quite a collection of pearls, that he had been doing this for some time. Upon finding a pearl that made all others pale in comparison, he sold everything he had so he could have the one perfect pearl. Again, as a child I thought this parable was stupid. Now the guy is just walking around the streets holding a giant pearl. He’s got no place to go because he sold his house and everything else he owned, so he’s got a really big pearl, but nothing else. Again, I failed to understand the Kingdom. The Kingdom is more valuable than anything we have. We place differing levels of value on things. A car is important, but a house is more important. I can live without designer clothing, but I can’t live without food. The Kingdom makes no such distinctions. If I can have the Kingdom and all I have to do is get rid of everything I own, that’s a bargain. Why? God didn’t have to offer the Kingdom to me at all.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse into the workings of the Kingdom. In this passage the prophet speaks these words from God:
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. We have nothing we can offer to purchase the Kingdom. God didn’t have to offer it to us. He is supreme. He is almighty. He could have destroyed the whole human race in the flood. Instead, he had a plan to redeem mankind from its wicked rebellion. Isaiah prophesied that we would buy wine and milk with no money. We would be given access to the Kingdom without cost. The sacrifice of Jesus is what draws us back into relationship with God. All we have to do is forsake the kingdom of this world for the Kingdom of Heaven. Why spend money on what doesn’t satisfy? Why waste your resources on what is temporary?
Something else about the man who bought the field and the pearl merchant: they sold their possessions joyfully. They recognized real value when they saw it and couldn’t wait to obtain it. Can you see the value of the Kingdom? How much is it worth to you?
In conclusion I want to talk about two lies. All of us in here without exception believes (or believed) one of these two lies. The first is this: The Kingdom really isn’t as valuable as God says it is. It’s really not worth giving up everything for it. If this were true, Jesus would not have had to die. If the Kingdom isn’t infinitely valuable, God wouldn’t have needed a perfect sacrifice to reconcile us to him. We could have paid our own price by doing good deeds, by going to church, by praying and reading our Bible, or any number of pious things. If this lie were truth, we could have both the American Dream and the Kingdom. If the Kingdom isn’t infinitely valuable, we don’t have to give everything up.
There’s a problem with this thinking, though. Jesus did die. He did sacrifice himself. What do we do with that if it wasn’t so we could enter the Kingdom? What do with do with it if it wasn’t as a sacrifice for our sins? Also, we really can’t have both the American Dream and the Kingdom. Have you ever known someone who was radically obedient, someone who was completely sold on the idea of the Kingdom? They don’t care about stuff. They don’t care about a fat retirement. They give everything they have for the Kingdom of God. They can’t stand that some people will spend eternity separated from God and they do everything they can to prevent it. Their lives mean nothing to them except that they get to preach the message of the Gospel.
We think the Kingdom isn’t that valuable because we don’t want to give up what we have. Jesus wouldn’t really ask me to give everything away. He really doesn’t want me to starve. He doesn’t really want me to die. Really? I own a book called Jesus Freaks. It’s filled with stories of people who died for their faith. They were radically obedient to the call God placed on their lives and they gave up everything for the Kingdom. In fact, there were so many stories they had to write a sequel to the book. Jesus doesn’t want you to die? I’m not so sure. The Kingdom is worth you being uncomfortable. The Kingdom is worth everything you have.
The second lie is this: I can’t really obtain the Kingdom by doing what God says. I have to do more. This is straight from the enemy. If this is true, God is leaving something out, being secretive. If this is true then there is some secret code hidden somewhere for us to find. If this is true then Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough and we have to add our own piety and goodness to it.
If God is leaving something out then he’s sadistic and not loving at all. If he’s leaving something out then we have no hope and he’s just tantalizing us for his own entertainment. If this lie is true, there’s no hope for us at all. I don’t want to have to earn my way into the Kingdom. I think most religions think this is the way to go, but I don’t want a faith dependent upon my piety and good deeds. Why? Most days I’m just a jerk. I don’t come close to getting it right. I’m prideful and selfish. I’m vindictive and spiteful. I’m a sinful, wicked person. I don’t want it to depend upon me. I’d fail every time.
Which lie do you believe? We all believe (or believed) one of them. For me, the lie I most often believe is that the Kingdom isn’t really that valuable. I like my stuff. I like the comforts I’ve got. I’d really like more if I’m perfectly honest. I’d like to have a nice retirement. I’d like to live in the mountains. While we’re at it, I’d also like a house on the beach. I’d love to spend the days snow skiing or lounging in a hammock. I like to be comfortable. I like fine food. I’d rather not give up everything I own, but Jesus says the Kingdom is infinitely valuable. It’s worth all that I have and more. What’s really amusing when you think about it is that none of this stuff is mine anyway. It all belongs to God. It’s not my house, it’s God’s. He just lets me live in it. It’s not my money, it belongs to God. He just lets me use it. If I’m not using it for his Kingdom, I’m wasting it. The same thing with my time. It’s not my time. I can’t add a single day to my life. It’s all his. What I do with the time he’s given me is what’s important. I can use it up for the Kingdom or I can waste it on my own pursuits.
We must re-train ourselves. The Gospel is true! The Kingdom is valuable! We really can have a part in it! All it costs is everything you have, which you don’t really own in the first place. Leave behind everything and pursue Jesus. The disciples left their homes and jobs. It wasn’t any less stressful for them just because they didn’t have iPhones. They gave it all up to follow Jesus. So should we. Nothing you have is as valuable as the Kingdom. Forget your petty pursuits of worldly wealth and embrace the life of Jesus.
We know what we’re calling you to. We understand what it is we’re asking you to give up. We’re asking you to give up security and comfort. We’re asking you to leave behind everything you know and understand. We’re asking you to take up your cross and follow Jesus. We understand what that means. It means death. It means that your goals and dreams shift to become more like Jesus’ goals and dreams. It means that your concerns begin to be less about yourself and more about the Kingdom. We don’t have a room full of congregants here; we have a room full of preachers and teachers, prophets and healers. We have a room full of people who Jesus is calling to radical obedience. There is no other kind.
Will you take up your cross to follow Jesus? Will you give everything you have?
We have to re-train ourselves. Perhaps we don’t have to depend upon ourselves to take care of our needs. How can we think that we can take care of ourselves better than our Father can? How can we hope to ever come close to the kind of provision he can give?
Lord Jesus, use us for your glory, for your Kingdom. There is no other way to be used. Protect us from ourselves. Help us out of our lives of comfort. Lead us to You.
Would you sell everything you own if that’s what the field cost?