Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Parables of Salvation, and Others - Matthew 13:44-50

Remembering Where We're At
34 All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable.
35 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "I WILL OPEN MY MOUTH IN PARABLES; I WILL UTTER THINGS HIDDEN SINCE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD."
We are currently in the middle of a section of Matthew that records a number of Jesus's parables, which are just desciptive analogies, or stories, that He uses to make a broader, spiritual point.
Jesus spoke in parables to fulfill prophecy, but we've also seen that He used them to ensure that only those who actually cared enough to put thought into what He taught, and not those who just came for the show of miracles, would gain understanding of His techings.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure
44 "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
Let's start by identifying the symbols.  The field represents the world, the treausre is the people who actually choose to accept God, and the man is Jesus.
The basics of what's going on here is that, just as the man has to sell everything he owns to possess this treasure, Jesus had to give up everything - His very life! - to redeem our souls.  But here's something interesting - He had to pay for the entire field, not just for that one spot in the field that held the treasure.  Just the same, Jesus paid the price for the sin of the entire world - the sin of every single person who lived before us, lives now, and is yet to be born - even though He knew that only a few would accept Him.  You see, He paid the debt for everyone - it's just that the vast majority of people refuse to have His payment credited to their accounts.
So, what's the deal with having to hide the treasure before buying it?  Well, the owner of the field would never sell it if he knew there was treasure in the field!  It's much the same with the crucifixion.  You see, if you read through the Gospels, it is very clear that Satan compelled Judas, the Pharisees, etc. to kill Jesus (for example, Luke 22:3-6).  But why on earth would Satan kill Jesus if he knew that it would bring about the salvation of mankind?  He wouldn't - that's exactly the point.  The movie The Passion of the Christ did an excellent job of portraying this; in the film, Satan realizes only just before Jesus breaths his last that he has not won by killing God, but that God has just won the most important battle ever - the battle for the souls of men.  God was "sneaky" - until the treasure was reavealed, the "owner" (the devil) had no idea why the man (Jesus) was willing to pay for the field (with His life).
The Parable of the Cosly Pearl
45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls,
46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it."
Once again, the merchant is Jesus, and the pearls are those who accept Him.
Notice that Jesus is actively seeking out these pearls.  Christianity is not like so many other religions, where humans have to go to ridiculous lenghts to try and catch their gods' attention and favor.  Our God - the one and only true God - seeks us.  All we have to do is say yes!
And did you catch something even more beautiful in this parable?  Jesus is willing to sell everything - to go through all of the torturous anguish of the crucifixion (not just physically, but spiritually, too!) for one single person.  You've probably heard before that if you were the only person who would ever accept Christ, He would still be willing to die just for you.  Have you wondered where it says that in the Bible?  This is where!
The Parable of the Dragnet
47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind;
48 and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away.
49 "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous,
50 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
When studying the Bible, I always look up words that I don't know or don't know very well.  Did the word dragnet put a question mark in your head?  It did mine.  It turns out that it's literally just a fishing net that you drag on the bottom of the body of water.  I guess I didn't need a dictionary, after all. :-)
Jesus used fishing as an analogy quite a bit, probably because it would have been easy for regular people to understand, and because so many of his disciples were former fishermen themselves.  He referenced fishing so much that even most non-Christians are familiar with the phrase "fishers of men," and I've never met a single American who cannot instantly identify a metal fish on the back of a car as a statement of faith in Christ.
We won't spend too much time on this parable, since it is so similar to the kingdom parables we covered last week, talking about the judgment at the End of the Age.  If you missed it or don't remember it, read it here and the meaning of this parable will become very clear.  I would, however, like to add two comments unique to this kingdom parable.
First, notice that God is fishing for every kind of fish.  No matter what race, nationality, economic status, social class/caste, gender, age, etc. you are, and no matter what horrible things you've done (or good things you haven't done), God wants you anyway!  God does not play favorites - He loves YOU and wants more than anything for you to accept His forgiveness and have a relationship with Him!
Second, I love the timing of this parable.  Jesus warns of the judgment, the ultimate, final separation, after the two beautiful salvation parables.  You see, so many people wrongly think that because God loves everyone, He will let everyone except maybe Hitler and serial killers into heaven.  But that is not the case!  By placing this parable here, Jesus is pointing out that unless we make the decion to trust Him and follow Him, it's not going to work.  We cannot wait until we die to "sort things out with the Big Man Upstairs" -  we have to make the decision NOW.  I implore you, do not wait!
Here's the Decision Before You
If you've already accepted Christ as your savior, then what you can take from today's passage is how deeply God loves you that He was willing to seek you and give up everything to gain a relationship with you.  You can also take away the seriousness of this, which will hopefully prompt you to share the Gospel with boldness with everyone you meet.
But if you have not accepted God's forgiveness, I invite you to do so RIGHT NOW.  Again, do not wait!  You have no way of knowing if you could die today, and besides, I can attest that life is not worth living without God - you can have true life right now by accepting Him.
Click here to learn how to accept Jesus's forgiveness in English.
Click here to learn how to accept Jesus's forgiveness in another language.
Any questions or comments?  Anything you'd like me to clarify?  Anything you have to add? :-)
Giving Credit Where It's Due
Image Number One: Parable of the Hidden Treasure, thought to be by Rembrandt.  Photograph by Yelkrokoyade.  Wikipedia.  Used by permission.
Image Number Two: White pearl necklace.  Wikipedia.  Used by permission.
Image Number Three: Teachings of Jesus 4 of 40: Parable of the Dragnet by Jan Luyken, from the Bowyer Bible.  Photograph by Phillip Medhurst.  Wikipedia.  Used by permission.

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