I preached a shortened version of the following homily at our church’s preschool commencement service last night. I’ve said before that I always use these occasions to share the gospel. Why? Because we have a large and “captive” audience of people, many of whom have no connection to this or any church. If we won’t share the gospel with them as we have the opportunity, why bother having a church preschool?
Homily Text: Matthew 13:44-45; 19:16-22
In case you don’t know, we Methodist pastors are itinerant, meaning that each year the bishop reappoints us to our present church, or we get appointed to a new church. Well, after five years serving Hampton United Methodist as pastor, it’s my time to move. So this will be my last opportunity to address the parents, family, and friends of our preschool students. And I have an urgent message that I need to share with you before I leave.
But it’s an easy message to share, and it brings me great joy to share it, because it’s about a gift that is more valuable than any other other; it’s the greatest treasure anyone could possess; it’s completely free of charge; and it’s available to each one of you.
Jesus himself talks about this gift in Matthew 13:44-45:
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.
Of course this “treasure” is nothing less than a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ; it’s eternal life; it’s our hearts’ deepest desire.
And I’m sure that many of you have received this gift already. But it’s also likely that some of you have gone through the motions of churchgoing—perhaps you’ve been baptized; you’ve joined a church; you’ve gone through confirmation; you’ve walked down an aisle at a pastor’s invitation; you’ve prayed a sinner’s prayer; you’ve signed a card. Needless to say, I hope, this is not what I’m talking about; I’m talking about treasuring Jesus above every other possible worldly treasure!
If we don’t do that, it’s very possible that we’re not saved!
Consider Jesus’ encounter in Matthew 19 with the man that we traditionally call the “Rich Young Ruler.” He asks Jesus what “good deed” he must do in order to have eternal life. Jesus tells him, in so many words, to obey the Ten Commandments. The man reassures Jesus that he’s been doing that his entire life. “Okay,” Jesus says, “There’s just one more thing: Sell all of your possessions and give the money to the poor—then you can be my disciple and have eternal life.”
And years ago I struggled with this: Wasn’t Jesus being a little… well, harsh… overly demanding… unreasonable… After all, suppose he didn’t have to give everything away: suppose Jesus only commanded him to give 50 percent of his wealth away. Wouldn’t that be enough? Most church people I know, after all, struggle to tithe!
But I now see that Jesus wasn’t being unreasonable… he was being realistic; he was even being compassionate. Why? Because if the Rich Young Ruler didn’t believe and understand that what he would gain by following Jesus was worth far more than every penny that was in his bank account, then Jesus would be giving the man false hope if he had responded to him in any other way! It’s not so much that the Rich Young Ruler couldn’t be saved and hold on to all his money; it’s that he wouldn’t. His heart wasn’t in it. By refusing to obey Jesus and walking away, he proved that he treasured something more than Jesus. He was not like the man who stumbled upon the buried treasure or the merchant who found the priceless pearl.
What about you? Do you treasure Jesus above everything and everyone else? Unless or until you do, you know you won’t be happy, right?
You’ll remember that the actor and comedian Robin Williams died by suicide a few years ago. He had every treasure that our culture tells us is important: wealth, fame, romantic love, the adoration of others, success at the highest levels of his industry. He dated supermodels! He lived in mansions! He had the highest-rated TV show and some of the most commercially and critically successful movies! He had Golden Globes! He had an Academy Award!
A few years before he died, he was talking about his Academy Award. He said that you think, as an actor, before you win an Oscar, that winning this award will fill you up… you’ll be satisfied… you’ll be content… He said, “The Oscar lasted about a week, then everyone was like, ‘Hey, Mork!’”
The greatest treasure our world can offer will never satisfy our souls! Only Jesus can!
Perhaps Robin Williams never learned this, but you know who did? The apostle Paul… For an ambitious and religious young man living in the first century, Paul had every treasure that his particular culture said was important. These would have included the best education, wealth, fame, the respect of his colleagues, a reputation for being righteous, a good name… Yet this same Paul was able to say, “Whatever gain I had”—in my former life before I knew Christ—”I counted as loss… I count everything [besides Christ] as loss… For [Christ’s] sake I have suffered the loss of all things”—including every treasure that the world tells me will satisfy my soul—”and I count them as rubbish” compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
And not only did Paul lose everything that he had… he also received something from following Christ that he didn’t want: a lot of pain and suffering! Listen to just a few of the things that he endured for being a disciple of Christ, which he describes in 2 Corinthians 11: Five times he received 40 lashes minus one; three times he was beaten with rods; once he was stoned and left for dead; three times he was shipwrecked; once he was adrift at sea for a night and a day; he was in constant danger from his enemies; he was hungry, thirsty, cold, and naked. He was imprisoned on multiple occasions.
So… Paul lost every treasure he had in his life before Christ; he received a world of pain and suffering in return; and he still could manage to say, “It has been completely worth it for the sake of what I’ve gained in Christ! Totally worth it! A small price to pay!”
Why did he say that? Because he found that knowing Jesus Christ was of surpassing worth! He found that it was worth everything he could give and more! He found that it satisfied his soul’s deepest longing!
And don’t you want that, too? God wants to give you this gift!
Here’s how you can receive it: First, understand that we’re all sinners. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. And this is a problem. “For the wages of sin is death”—which isn’t merely physical death, but spiritual death, too, which means eternal separation from God in hell—but the Bible goes on to say that the “free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23. God wants to save us; he wants us to spend eternity with him because he loves us: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. In other words, on the cross, God in Christ willingly took upon himself our sins, and he suffered the penalty for them that we would otherwise have to suffer—including hell itself! He did that because he loves us. The Bible says, “For our sake, [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” So on the cross a glorious transfer takes place: we give Christ our sins; he gives us his righteousness. So that now we can have a relationship with God; we become God’s children; and we can experience a new and better and deeply satisfying kind of life—both now and forever. Jesus said, “My purpose is to give [us] a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10 (NLT).
Finally, if you believe all of that, here’s how you receive it: the Bible says, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” Romans 10:9-10 (NLT).
Are you ready to make Jesus your life’s greatest treasure? I would love to talk with you further about it!