"All in" is a phrase from the world of poker. It's betting all you have forcing anyone who wants to stay in to do likewise. It's a bold, risky move, but sometimes your cards and position in the game call for it. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven always calls for us to be all in.
The kingdom of heaven is like buried treasure. When you find it, it's worth buying all of the field for the sake of that treasure. The kingdom of heaven is like a pearl, so fine, so beautiful it's worth selling all that you have to buy it. The kingdom of heaven is worth understanding it all. As in the parable of the sower the important thing is to understand. At the end of our text, Jesus doesn't ask, "Do you love all this?" "Do you rejoice over all this?" And not even, "Do you believe all this?" But, "Do you understand all this."
The kingdom of heaven calls us to be all in. So are you? Isn't it true that while the kingdom of heaven calls us to buy into everything it has to do with, we only buy bits and pieces? The kingdom of heaven is buried here on earth in the dirty fields of the visible church. The Word and Sacrament that bring you the kingdom of heaven are administered by sinful men, and you partake of them in the midst of other sinners. We gladly buy into all the divine forgiveness, life and salvation, but we pass on all the human, sinful, ugly things of the church on earth. But if the kingdom of heaven is buried treasure, there's no way of having it without the dirt and mud it's buried in.
The kingdom of heaven calls us to be all in, but who among us is? Who among us has sold all that we have for its sake? It's worth an offering. It's worth a percentage of our money, but it sure isn't worth all to us, is it? And you can't stop at money either. All means all. We may give up some of our money, but we give up very little of our pride or self. Heaven may be a pearl of great price, but it's not worth me, myself or I. So, I sell just enough of all that I have to buy a piece of the kingdom of heaven. Of course, if heaven is a pearl, there's no such thing as piece of a pearl. You either have it all; or you don't have it at all.
Jesus says heaven calls us to be all in, not part in, not some in, not most in but all in. But who among us can really say we care to understand all these things? Most Lutherans stop their understanding with confirmation, what is meant to be a beginning, a first class, is their last class. Confirmation becomes graduation. People grow in loving, rejoicing and even believing Jesus, but not in understanding. Jesus asks us, "Have you understood all these things?" And we're content to reply, "Some; most, or enough." It just doesn't seem all that important for us to understand all of the kingdom of heaven.
Not one of us can stand before Jesus and say, "We're all in" as the kingdom of heaven calls, commands and demands us to be. We want the treasure but not the dirt it's buried in. We're willing to sell some things for a piece of the pearl, but not all to get all. And we want a little understanding but not too much. So, if you read these parables as instructions for getting the kingdom of heaven, all you can conclude is that not one of us has it, can have it, or will ever have it. But hold on there. When does Jesus ever present the kingdom of heaven as something you can buy or something you have enough possessions to be able to sell to get it? And Whom is the only One the Bible ever presents as being all in?
Isn't Jesus the Man who buys the whole field for the sake of the treasure in it? Isn't Jesus the One who bought all the world for the sake of the Church? Though the world was a foul, muddy mess, didn't Jesus say, "I'll take it all?" Didn't "God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son?" Isn't "Jesus is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins but the sins of the whole world?" If you think about the weight of a whole world of sins, a whole world of guilt; if you think of the filth and stench of the whole world's sins, surely Jesus could have spared Himself some of the bitter pains, some of the shame if He had just bought the treasure and not the whole field of dirt it was in. But Jesus bought it all.
And where does the Bible ever say we have enough to sell to be able to buy the pearl of heaven? Isn't Jesus the One who gave up the full use of His divine glory, honor, and power as a Man, so that He might live in a humble way on this earth to redeem us? Jesus gave up His rights as God and put Himself under all the obligations of the Commandments. Jesus sold His glory to buy your obligations. You, who think Christianity is a religion of following the Commandments, dishonor Jesus. If you could keep them, why would Jesus have done it in your place?
But Jesus "sold" much more than His divine honor, didn't He? He sold His blood, sweat and tears to pay for your sins. Again, those of you who think Christianity is a religion about making up for your sins, dishonor Jesus. If you could make up for your sins in any way, shape, or form, why on earth did Jesus sell His blood, sweat, and tears to pay for them?
Can't understand this, can you? Kind of throws a wrench in your whole world view, doesn't it? You're the treasure; you're the pearl of great price. You're the one who gets bought by Jesus. You're the one for whom Jesus sold His soul, His life, His all to buy you back from sin, from death and from the power of the devil. Rather than thinking God sees you as the miserable, weak, wretched sinner that you know you are, you are to believe that God sees you in Jesus as a treasure, as a pearl. What do you do with a treasure you've bought? What do you do with a pearl you sold everything to get? You take care of it; you value it; you rejoice in it.
Doesn't make sense to you does it? You can't understand it. Well neither could Jesus. Jesus, true God in flesh and blood, understood all things. Yet He willingly gave up His understanding to redeem you... that's how very precious you are to Him. Don't believe me? Go to Gethsemane; hear Jesus' prayer there. As He understands things, He'd rather not drink the cup of God's wrath against your sins. But He commends the matter to God's understanding not His own. Go to Calvary. Hear the forlorn cry of the Son of God orphaned at the height of His suffering for you, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" Jesus can't understand how God could forsake Him in the depths of His bitter agony, but He endured it for your sake, so God would never, ever have to forsake you.
Don't think I don't know where you're going now. You're going to the third parable which teaches that the kingdom of heaven catches all kinds of fish: good fish, worthless fish, wicked and righteous fish. In other words, the kingdom of heaven on earth doesn't just gather in treasure and pearls. It gathers trash. Furthermore, it's not till the end of the age that Jesus will send His angels to do the separating. So the question now haunting you is, "Which one am I?"
That is answered by answering this, "Are you a Matthew?" Matthew alone records these 3 parables. The name Matthew is Mathaion in Greek. At the end of our text, Jesus says all Bible students being discipled have the treasure of the kingdom of heaven. The verb "being discipled" is mathatoio in Greek. 3 out of the 4 times this verb is found in the Bible are in Matthew. Matthew wants us to connect our being discipled to how he was. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all relate the call of Matthew to be a disciple. However, Mark and Luke use Matthew's Jewish name "Levi." Although Church history tells us Matthew wrote his gospel for the Jewish people, he uses his Greek name, "Matthew" in that account.
So you're sitting in the early Church and the pastor is reading the Gospel of Matthew to you. You hear in Greek that Jesus called Mathaion and then 4 chapters latter you hear Jesus telling you that every Bible student who is a mathatoio has the treasure of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is calling you as He did Matthew. He wants you to be a Matthew.
As Jesus called Matthew away from his sinful life, so Jesus calls you. As Jesus called Matthew away from trying to pay for his sins, so Jesus calls you. As Jesus called Matthew to leave his guilts and come follow Him, so Jesus calls you. As Jesus called Matthew to Himself, that's where Jesus calls you. While you are indeed Jesus' treasure and pearl, He is also yours. Jesus is your all. In Him heaven, earth, past, present, future, and everything else is yours. Jesus is the treasure from which come both old and new.
Being discipled by Jesus, being a Matthew, means Jesus provides all you need. When Matthew followed Jesus, he didn't stop needing food, drink, house, home, money and goods. He still needed all the old things he had always needed, and Matthew found them all provided by and in Jesus. But in following Jesus, Matthew found he needed some new things. Since now he knew he was a sinner Matthew needed constant forgiveness. Since Jesus raised him from the death of sin to a new life by calling him, Matthew now needed not just the old physical food but new spiritual food. Jesus provided forgiveness and spiritual food by giving him His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine.
Back to the question haunting you. You're in the net of the kingdom of heaven now, but will you be tossed back at the end of the age? Don't answer this by asking, "Am I all in?" because we've seen no sinner at any time is. Ask instead, "Is Jesus all in for me?" Did He buy all of me with holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death? Does He provide me with all that I need for this body and life and for the next? If you answer "yes," you're a Matthew, you've been discipled. You're all in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost X (20050724); Matthew 13: 44-52