“Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (Matthew 13:52). So ends Jesus’ final comparison in next Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 13:44-52). Just as Jesus was looking at his first New Testament public ministry recruits when he spoke those words, so he’s still looking directly at us.
Does Jesus’ description describe you, my brother? Do our kingdom warehouses constantly have the “please pardon our dust” sign up because so many new truths are flooding in to be stored next to the old truths we’ve known since childhood that we are constantly needing to add more shelf space? Are we in the enviable position of having so many treasures new and old to select from that we always have just the right words to bring out for those entrusted to our care?
I wish I could say that was always true for me, but sadly it’s not! How easy in public ministry to become smugly satisfied with what we already know.
Especially as the years begin to add up in ministry, how easy to begin to glance at our text and have a tried and true C. F. W. Walther-certified theme and parts ready to offer itself from a dusty back shelf of our warehouse (before the text has had opportunity to shock and delight us with what it reveals about our hearts and God’s). We are tempted to just blow off the dust from what we already know about that text and perhaps spruce it up a bit (like a “new” label on the same old laundry detergent that now has a new scent added). The result is that we trot out the same old same old – failing to notice how bored we are with it even before it bores others (which it often will).
How easy to offer the catechism students the same lessons we’ve taught every year, consoling ourselves with the half-truth that God’s message has not changed. So we fail to think carefully about how that indeed unchanging truth connects with the new generation before us. Unfortunately, the enemy is never satisfied with the “same old same old” as he adeptly repackages his old lies in ways that sound so new and relevant to young hearts (and old ones too!).
But it isn’t just the hearts of our people that are in danger when we become satisfied with offering a steady diet of the same old dusty expressions we have taught and spoken and shared for years. Whenever we give in to the temptation to be wholesalers who are sure we have “been there and done that” with all the truths of Scripture, the first heart we cheat is ours. That which should shock us as it reveals a new depth of the wickedness of our sinful hearts, hardly is given a chance to do so. We are tempted to no longer peer much beneath the “surface sins” that are easy to spot in our lives. And what follows is equally predictable: that which should thrill us with a new glimpse of the immensity of God’s grace in Christ in answer to our immense need, well…it may only leave us mildly pleased.
Here is the simple fact of life in the kingdom: a bored wholesale warehouse superintendent makes a horrible retail salesman! As he loses day by day his own joy and delight in the goods he works with each day- as the merchandise passing through his warehouse becomes just so many routine parts of a job he performs – he is simultaneously learning to care less and less about what the consumers receive on the other end.
The answer to this ever-present danger for spiritual warehouse superintendents like us is found in the wholesale merchant in the second parable Jesus told in Sunday’s gospel. The word typically translated “merchant” in our English versions is the word for a “wholesale dealer.” Even though an endless amount of pearls has no doubt already passed through his hands, he knows there must be more beautiful ones out there. And then, suddenly, what do his eyes see? There in his hands is that exquisite pearl that makes all others look like crudely painted stones. He must have it! Everything else becomes meaningless compared to it! He goes away and sells everything else and then returns to buy that exquisite pearl!
Yes, I know, the first application of this parable is the unbeliever who is stunned by the Spirit into suddenly seeing the gospel mystery hidden from human wisdom – the glorious exquisite pearl that is Christ and his redeeming love for a world of sinners whose condition is more desperate than they know! Everything else in life suddenly feels like faux pearls compared to possessing the pearl of the gospel!
But, isn’t there still a powerful application for us whose hands have held this pearl as our own ever since our baptism because Christ at his cross already sweated to produce that pearl with his blood? That exquisite pearl of the gospel has more for us to marvel about its beauty than a thousand lifetimes can exhaust! And the reality of the wickedness of our hearts is the dark background on which this pearl glistens even more! As text after text drives us into ever new nooks and crannies of the ugliness that is our natural hearts, what we are ultimately learning is what is so exquisite about this pearl that somehow overwhelms every facet of our ugliness with its beauty! (That includes forgiveness even for treating that exquisite pearl as not much more than cheap costume jewelry!)
Yes, it will always be true that “My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure” (Psalm 71:15). There will always be more to measure of the glory of this pearl. But that was never meant to hinder us from relishing its beauty but to win us to measure it anew each day. This is the gracious reality: every new text or bible study section or catechism lesson before us is an opportunity to bring out our measuring line again and find some yet un-fully explored new (to us!) facet of the exquisite pearl as it answers the needs of our hearts that are deeper than we often realize (but never too deep for God’s grace)!
And what is the fruit of this for us wholesale gospel warehouse superintendents? Suddenly, our otherwise all too dusty warehouse of gospel insight is expanding again to make room for new treasure! And, after our hearts benefit first (isn’t the greatest gift of public ministry that we get paid to measure the pearl?), we get to bring from that expanding warehouse new treasure as well as old for the consumers our warehouse serves! When the wholesale merchant has an ever-renewing delight of being the first satisfied consumer, the customers will be very well served.
That is what Jesus longs for in his public ministers! May God’s good Spirit renew that in us as we prepare to preach and teach and counsel. His grace knows how to enable new treasures as well as old to come flying off our shelves. He knows how to win our hearts so that we share treasures whose thrill has not long ago been forgotten by us. And he knows how to use those treasures new and old so that by his Spirit others will delight with us in trying yet again to measure that boundless beauty of this pearl!
Wanted: wholesalers with a consumer’s heart! (Daily training gladly provided!)