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Stephen R. Clark
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Delivered December 29, 2019 | Huntingdon Valley, PA | Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church

You can listen to the sermon here: https://www.hvpc.org/sermons/sermon/2019-12-29/seven-sermonettes:-treasures-pearls-the-kingdom-of-heaven-the-gospel-more

Seven Sermonettes

Treasures, Pearls, The Kingdom of Heaven, The Gospel & More

Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7.

Matthew 13: 44-46.  “The kingdom of heaven is like 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. 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."


Seven Sermonettes

This is going to be a different kind of message today. Instead of one, long, well-transitioned, orderly message, it’s going to be a series of Sermonettes. Seven to be exact. Isn’t that just perfect? Like seven more Christmas presents!

I’ll treat each topic as a somewhat discrete, self-contained topic and leave it to the Holy Spirit to stitch things together in your hearts and minds.

#1 The Treasure & The Pearl

First up, a look at our second reading, The Treasure and The Pearl.

These stories are similes. Literary devices that are saying one thing is like something else. In this case, the Kingdom of Heaven is being likened to a treasure and a pearl. Jesus used these images because they were readily recognizable to his listeners.

In the first parable, it turns out that back in that day it was common for people to bury their wealth because there were no banks. Sometimes the burier of the treasure got buried themselves -- because, you know, they died -- and no one knew about the treasure.

The man in the parable may have been looking for abandoned treasures, wandering around with his treasure detecting dowsing rod, hoping for a hit. Or, he could have just been taking a short cut and, Voila!, treasure!

On the other hand, the merchant was on the hunt and intentionally looking for valuable pearls. When what to his wondering eyes did appear, a whopper of a pearl. The mother of pearls, if you will.

Back then, pearls were more valuable than diamonds. If they had had TV, William Devane would have been in a commercial touting the value of hoarding pearls that could be mail ordered from Rosland Capital.

In both of these parables, the primary characters discovered something they weren’t expecting to find, that brought joy and excitement, and was deemed to be worth giving up everything else to obtain.

Here are a few items to note:

First, someone put that treasure in the field. And someone brought that pearl to market. They didn’t just magically appear. Remember, we’re talking about the Kingdom of Heaven here. You and I who are believers are the messengers of the Kingdom. The great commission commands us to go, to proclaim the Good News. To put it out there so the Gospel can be encountered.

Second
, both characters in the story were looking for something. They were going somewhere. They were doing life and encountered the Gospel, the Kingdom of God. Once discovered, they didn’t need to be sold on its worth. They immediately recognized its value. And then,

Third, they reacted to what they discovered. Joy! This is must have. It’s worth everything.

Initially, when we embrace the Kingdom of Heaven by embracing the Gospel and welcoming Christ into our hearts and lives, it’s like a big bang inside our very being.

Can you remember that moment you finally yielded to the Gospel and your heart was on fire, your head tingled, and like Scrooge at the end of his ordeal, you were as giddy as a school boy?

At that moment of encounter we wanted to dance around the room like a redeemed Ebenezer. We wanted to tell everyone about this new love, Jesus!

Our friends looked at us and complained, “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. God. God. God. That’s all you ever want to talk about!”

And, with a dreamy look in our eyes, we sigh and swoon, and say, “Why, yes. Yes, you’re right.”

David captures this rapturous reaction to God’s grace in Psalm 84:1-2:

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

In the beginning of our walk with God, when we first enter the Kingdom of Heaven, there is passion, desire, excitement, and so much to learn about this brand new love. And so much we want to tell others!

Fourth, it was in this state of Holy Spirit fueled exuberance that both characters took action to obtain and possess the treasure and the pearl. They gave up everything for the Kingdom.

They didn’t just cash in a few bonds or liquidate some assets to make an investment in the Kingdom, hoping for a return. They got rid of everything. They were all in.

Are you all in today?

#2 The Kingdom of Heaven & The Gospel

And now, sermonette number two. Let’s take a look at the Kingdom of Heaven and the Gospel which the treasure and the pearl represent.

Other than a handful of references where some nuance may come into play, the terms Kingdom of Heaven and Kingdom of God are interchangeable. They are referring to the same thing.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines kingdom, in part, as “The eternal spiritual sovereignty of God or Christ. The realm of this sovereignty. A realm or sphere in which one thing is dominant.”

In Romans 14:17, Paul writes, “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking -- meaning it’s not materialistic -- but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

So, in a nutshell, the Kingdom of God, or of Heaven, has nothing to do with fields, treasures, or even pearls. These are merely metaphors.

Rather, the Kingdom of Heaven has to do with “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

It is a holy realm into which we enter when we embrace the Gospel. It is the experience of God interacting in our world and encompassing our lives. It is the grace of God extended to us. It is Christ’s salvation embedded in us.

It is the reality of what we sing about throughout the Advent and Christmas season. Emmanuel! God with us. It is the fullness and reality of the Gospel all around us.

The key to the Kingdom is the Gospel, the Good News.

So, let’s look at this thing we call the Gospel.

Some believe that the Gospel is a sales pitch. An appeal. A deceptively clever tract that looks like a twenty dollar bill. An invitation to join the winning team, to become part of the right tribe. Some believe the Gospel is merely a ticket out of hell. They may even insist we need to, “Turn or burn!” and use fear as a motivation.

But none of this is the Gospel.

The problem with these kinds of messages is that they really don’t get to the heart of the true Gospel. The true Gospel isn’t about fear or a hard sell or winning teams. Rather, it’s about incredible love and relationship.

The point of the Gospel is to restore relationship between God and us. That’s it. God loves us and wants to really know us and be with us. The Gospel offers a path out of the isolation and destructiveness of sin into a glorious relationship with Christ.

In fact, as Dan explained last Sunday, until we are saved from our sin, we can’t have relationship with God.

But what exactly is the Gospel message? And how can we proclaim it easily?

A few years ago, Mark Altrogge posted a simple how-to for sharing the Gospel on his blog. Mark is the former pastor of my wife, BethAnn, when she lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and he is a writer of Christian songs, some of which we sing.

His blog post is titled “The Gospel on 5 Fingers.” A copy is in your bulletin.

He distills the Gospel message down to five basic points. Jesus came, lived, died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. And now we and God, if we say yes to the Gospel, can be best friends and hang out together. Just as God intended all the way back in Genesis when he used to visit with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

Oh, and if you’re thinking that this five-finger account isn’t enough to attract the attention of 21st century, sophisticated, post-modern, science-is-our-god people, let me remind you of something.

It’s not up to us and any fancy argument we can construct to draw people to Christ. It’s up to the Holy Spirit. We are to share, to proclaim, to live out the Gospel boldly, faithfully, and transparently. It’s up to the Holy Spirit to turn hearts toward the message.

Sometimes there will be an immediate positive response. Often not. Paul explains it like this in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”

Sometimes we’ll be the ones who plant the seed. Sometimes we’ll be the water bearers. And all the time it’s God, through His Holy Spirit, who brings the results and draws people to Christ.

When we share, proclaim, and live out the Gospel boldly, faithfully, and transparently, the Holy Spirit will provide the shine and fuel the attraction at just the right moment in the hearts and minds of those around us where seed has been planted and watered.

So, go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, what God has done for you. Then leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.

#3 The Loss & Cost of Discipleship

And now, sermonette number three, the loss and cost of discipleship.

In both of the parables, the characters recognize that obtaining the Kingdom of God means giving up everything.

Being a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven also has a cost. With Christ, there is the loss of self but the gaining of the Kingdom.

Jesus says that to follow Him and enter the Kingdom of Heaven means giving up comfort, cultural obligations, and even family.

In Luke 14:26-27, Jesus makes this clear, saying, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

Paul gets into this line of reasoning as well, more than once making statements like Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Dr. Ken Priddy, who heads the GO Center, puts it like this, “To follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is to embark on a ‘suicide’ mission.”

Over and over in the New Testament, Jesus and his writing apostles exhort us to let go of things, to put off things, to die to things, to give up things, to not treasure things that ultimately are of no value.

In other words, as Jesus explains in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The question to ask at this point is, where is your heart?

#4 The Primacy of Relationship

Sermonette number four, relationship is primary.

Isaiah prophesied that one of the names of Jesus would be Emmanuel. God WITH us. The point of salvation is to remove the barrier of sin and be in relationship with God. But do we really put relationship above everything else?

In his book With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani, he describes four postures, four ways of approaching our walk with God that seem like good things but actually don’t foster relationship.

He describes these as Life UNDER God, OVER God, FOR God, and FROM God. We’ll be taking a closer look at these postures in the adult Sunday school class in January and in the Stogie Society small group. Copies of the book are available in the back of the sanctuary. We encourage everyone to read it and you’ll be hearing more about the book in the New Year.

Jethani’s main point is that we need to move past these four common postures to being in relationship WITH God.

Let’s look at what may be one of the most feared passages in the Bible, Matthew 7:21-23. Are you ready? This is Jesus speaking in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Whoa! What the hey is going on here? Prophesied in his name? Cast out demons in his name? Did many mighty works in his name? And now he says he never knew us? How dare he!! What exactly is happening?

First, Jesus says those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven do the will of the Father.

What’s the will of the Father? Remember the prophesied Christmas birth name of Jesus? Emmanuel! God WITH us!

The will of the Father -- and this can be seen from Genesis to Revelation -- is for us to be in RELATIONSHIP with Him. That’s why the God-man Jesus came to earth, to restore relationship that was broken in the Garden of Eden, and to restore it at a VERY GREAT COST.

This restoration of relationship is the Pearl of Great Price, the Treasure in the field. It is the message of the Gospel.

The second thing to notice in this dreaded passage is, What’s missing in the list of accomplishments?

There’s no relationship!

All of these things were done “in the name of the Lord” but they weren’t done WITH Him. There’s no mention of, “But Lord, didn’t we spend time together?”

How does that old story go about the guy on his deathbed who says. “I regret not spending more time in the office!”

No! What he regrets is not spending more time WITH his loved ones.

It’s spending time in relationship with God that reveals the true full value of the Kingdom of Heaven.

#5 Blesser versus Blessings

Sermonette number five, seeking the Blesser versus blessings.

As Christians, we like to talk about the abundant blessings of the Lord. You know, the ones described in Luke 6:38 that are given in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, and put into your lap.

But the goal of life in Christ is not to receive things, but to receive HIM.

Don’t get me wrong. There will be blessings. But they will be collateral blessings, holy fallout, residual mercies, incidental graces that result from our entering the Kingdom of Heaven and being WITH God.

We often get it wrong, though. We attempt to manufacture our own blessings and move them from intangible to tangible. Stuff and things -- what we label as blessings -- become more important to us than the relationship.

To put it in very crass terms, an earthly example is a friendship with benefits. The “benefits” being referenced is sex outside of marriage. I guarantee that anyone insisting on adding this kind of benefit to a friendship -- they’re interest is not in true relationship. They’re just interested in sex without strings.

In Psalm 78, the writer, Asaph, is telling the story of the children of Israel and how they behaved -- or rather, misbehaved -- as they wandered in the wilderness. He describes them as "a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God." In verse 18 he declares, “They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.”

Instead of leaning into relationship with God and trusting Him to sovereignly provide what they needed, they wanted to manufacture their own blessings! They dictated to God how they wanted to be blessed. Their focus was friendship with benefits, emphasis on the benefits.

It’s kind of like being presented with the Pearl of Great Price and responding, “You know, that’s nice, but how about a custom pearl. Here, let me give you my specifications. Here’s what I really, really want.”

When we attempt to manufacture, dictate, demand, or manipulate our own blessings, we are saying we want the benefits without the cost, without the relationship. In other words, we’re saying, “Lord, I need what you can provide, but I don’t really need You.”

The good news about the Gospel is that there are benefits. But they may not be what we think.

Remember, in Romans 14:17 Paul declared that the Kingdom of God offers righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Then in Galatians 5:22-23, we -- those who walk in the Holy Spirit -- are promised “ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

These benefits are all intangible. There’s no promise of a new Cadillac, a mansion in the rich part of town, a fat 401(k), designer clothes, flashy bling, a yacht, or a personal jet. However, we are told that our material needs will be met.

In Matthew 6:25 Jesus reassures us, saying, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

He goes on to remind us he cares for the sparrows and lilies, and we’re worth far more!

He wraps up in verses 31 and 32: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles [those outside the Kingdom] seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

He doesn’t promise the high life, but we are promised a good life. We are told God -- the creator and sustainer of the universe -- knows what we need and He will take care of us.

God knows that when we focus on things, on stuff, that stuff does not fully satisfy and we’ll always demand more. A friendship with benefits tends to become about the benefits, and at least one person in this non-relationship will view those benefits as demands, as more curse than blessing. Which is exactly what it is.

To insist and demand blessings and benefits from God breaks relationship and leaves us victims of the curse that resulted from the Fall in the Garden.

To put blessings and benefits ahead of relationship undoes exactly what the Good News, the Gospel, the coming of Christ was intended to accomplish.

Too often we want the Kingdom of God PLUS something else. We focus our attention on career, economics, politics, patriotism, rights, a nice house, a happy family, obeying the rules, aligning with the right tribe, living in the right neighborhood, going to the right church, having pumpkin spice everything.

We fuss over 401Ks, taxes, profits, losses, mortgages, pensions, and investments. We lose sleep wondering how we can get more of this and bigger and better that, and how we can keep it all safe and secure.

We want God AND country. God AND wealth. God AND perfect health. God AND kids. God AND whatever it is we think will make us happier, prettier, healthier, wealthier, or more secure.

All these PLUSES, this stuff, either comes between us and God, weighs us down away from God, or distracts our attention off of God.


The sad irony is that we don’t need anything beyond a focused, deep, intimate relationship with God. And all this other stuff blunts our passion, muddles our experience of God, and causes us to grow cold toward His Kingdom.

We hear the words of the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples,” and we think, “Eventually, in a minute, after I take care of all this other stuff I have and need to do.”

The point is that we are rebellious people of pluses. It’s always God PLUS something. Sometimes a lot of something’s. And yet all through scripture what we see is God wants us and only us, MINUS all that stuff.

We are the people of pluses versus the God of minuses. We seek the blessings more than the Blesser.

Brother Lawrence in the book, The Practice of the Presence of God, encourages us to "[Seek] Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.”

John Piper declares, “If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the Gospel”

#6 The Best One Thing

Sermonette number six, the best one thing.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book titled, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” I’ll confess I own the book but I’ve not read it. But I love the title. Years ago when I was in college, InterVarsity published a great magazine called HIS. The inside back cover of each issue was a miniature poster. One that caught my eye and I still have copies of somewhere, featured a key going into a keyhole in a heart -- I’ve recreated it from memory since I can’t find the original. The caption was “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

For some reason this really resonated with me. I kind of sort of got the point, but always wondered what that one thing was that I needed to will.

One day, the light bulb went on when Matthew 6:33 came up in my devotional reading: “But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Aha! That was it. The one thing was the Kingdom of Heaven! Doing the will of the Father. This would lead to righteousness, or what Kierkegaard referred to as purity of heart.

Remember Romans 14:17, “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And recall the dictionary definition of kingdom that said it is a “realm or sphere in which one thing is dominant.”

It all came together for me. Now, I was left with the doing of that “one thing.” Easier said than done. But it is doable as it is a process.

As Brother Lawrence explains, "One does not become holy all at once."

But there will be collateral blessings in the meantime.

#7 The Point of the GO Center @ HVPC

And finally, sermonette number seven.

As a church we are beginning what’s called a revitalization effort. We have engaged with our denomination’s church renewal consultancy called the GO Center which is headed by Dr. Ken Priddy.

Many have been wondering what the GO Center Project at HVPC is all about. What’s the point of the project?

The GO Center Project at HVPC is not another program. It’s not some snazzy new method of evangelism. It’s not a 3 or 7 or 12 step program to generate greater attendance or bigger offerings.

It’s more and deeper.

A program alone won’t advance the Kingdom of God in and around Huntingdon Valley.

Another program alone won’t bring the power of the Holy Spirit.

A program alone won’t change you and me the way we need to be changed.

Just another program is exactly what Satan would love to see implemented. And if a program was all we did, he wouldn’t give us a second thought.

But this -- the GO Center Project at HVPC -- is more and deeper.

Programs are almost always nothing more than formulaic, entirely man-centered efforts driven to build numbers, sometimes strategic but not always.

Frequently programs are developed around what worked once upon a time in another place. Programs often don’t fit the culture and location where they’re implemented. And they seldom address the heart of the matter.

Real revitalization is more and deeper.

Revitalization, the goal of the GO Center Project, involves both Spiritual Renewal and Strategic Initiative.

The Spiritual Renewal part is essential to success. And it’s the spiritual renewal aspect that really gets Satan’s hackles up.

Why?

Because it means we are seeking the face and will of God to determine what to do and how to proceed. We are leaning on Him and the power of His Holy Spirit to drive the change that’s needed.

The first changes that are needed will happen inside us. To us.

It involves a change of thinking and a renewed faith.

It means putting our beliefs and testimony on the line.

It’s about clearing away pointless distractions.

It’s about falling in love with Jesus all over again.

It’s about reigniting passion for the Gospel and fueling a sense of urgency for the lost.

Of course, we don’t want to just run out the doors helter-skelter, into the streets screaming, “Jesus loves you! Turn or burn!” That’s why we need to apply the Strategic Initiative part.

But, in reality, a little Spirit-filled bold-and-holy mayhem wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

In fact, that’s exactly the kind of thing that will get Satan’s attention and draw his ire. Which makes revitalization risky.

After all, revitalization is all about spiritual warfare. It’s about battling against the darkness that clouds our own hearts, that dulls our senses, and that brings defeat in the community around us.

It’s about saying to Satan, “No! We serve the King of kings and we’re not going to let you have the hearts and minds of those in our community!”

It’s about recognizing that what we have -- the Pearl of Great Price -- is what the world needs. It’s about not hiding our light under a bushel, but rather shining the Gospel all around to push back the darkness. To bring Christ into our community and overcome the darkness with the one true soul-cleansing, heart-transforming, mind-changing Gospel. The Good News. Emmanuel -- God WITH us!

The point of the GO Center project is to get us back to our first love. To rekindle appreciation for the gift we’ve been given, the Pearl of Great Price. To ignite new passion in our hearts and souls and minds for proclaiming the Kingdom of God here in Huntingdon Valley and beyond. To bring the joy of the Lord to the lost world.

The GO Center project at HVPC is not a program. It is a cause. A movement. A force on the march.

Conclusion

If you are here today and you don’t know the Lord, know that the words to the Christmas carol we’ll close with are for you:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come to you.
Let you receive this King.
Let your heart prepare him room.
No more let sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground of your life.

Jesus came to have a relationship with you. Won’t you make room for him in your heart?

And for all of us, let me wrap up with words from a different song. The #1 hit song this Christmas season by Mariah Carey.

While her lyrics weren’t written about Jesus, we can borrow them and give them new meaning with a little editing, and think of them as the carol of our desire for relationship with Jesus:

I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree.
Santa Claus won't make me happy
On Christmas or any other day
I just want you, Jesus, for my own
More than you could ever know.
Make my wish come true oh, Jesus,
All I want for Christmas -- and always -- is you.

Let’s pray.

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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