“[Jesus said,] “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it! (Mt. 13:44-46)
Ishmael Beah was born and raised in a small village in Sierra Leone. One day, when he was twelve years old, and during a time of way in the country, Ishmael went with some of his friends to a neighboring village for a talent show. When they returned, Ishmael’s village was destroyed and all of his family were killed. Ishmael was given shelter in a camp, but that shelter came at a price for that camp was run by government soldiers and they forced Ishmael to become a child soldier, a role in which, with coercion, manipulation and under the influence of drugs, Ishmael was forced, along with others, to commit horrific atrocities. Finally at the age of 15, he was able to flee that life and now he travels around the world speaking out against slavery and children being forced to become soldiers.
Researchers estimate that there are 40 million people in various forms of slavery around the world today. They could be forced into being child soldiers or sex slaves. There are forms of indentured servitude often associated with debt that gets passed down from generation to generation. In some cases, domestic servants can experience a form of slavery because they are kept inside, they cannot go anywhere and they are forced to work long hours for little or no pay. There is concern that some of these forms of slavery are happening around us in the Lower Mainland.
So why am I telling you this? Because, on our own, all of us are slaves. You might think that statement is crazy, but the reason why we are enslaved, even though we do not realize it, is because our twisted understanding of freedom. We think that freedom means being able to do whatever we want, but the actual meaning of freedom means to our lives, our resources and our relationships operate in accordance with God’s design.
Imagine for a moment that I want to make a cup of tea. I know from past experience that a toaster will heat things, so what will happen if I plan to make a cup of tea by pouring a jug of water into a plugged-in toaster? When the smoke clears, neither I nor the toaster will be free.
The logical solution to us, if the problem is the things that we do, is to do different things. But that is not going to work because we have no idea how to manage our own lives. What we really need is to have our life put under new management.
Jesus came into the world with the solution to our problem, but he said it in a way that doesn’t really make sense to us. What Jesus said was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt. 3:2). Because we are living 2,000 years later on the other side of the world in a very different culture from the one in which Jesus first spoke those words, we don’t really understand it means to have a king ruling over us. We have a queen, but she lives far, far away and she doesn’t have much impact on our lives except that we see her picture on some of our money. But first listeners would have totally understood what he was saying because they knew that, back in that time, your king, or queen, would have had a major impact on your life. The king could determine whether your son stayed home and helped out on your farm, or went into battle with the king’s army and died. The king could determine whether your daughter married the neighbour boy and settled down to give you lots of grandkids, or caught the eye of the king and were taken into his harem, never to be seen by you again. The king could determine whether your business succeeded or failed, whether you kept your land or had it taken away, whether you had food to eat or your house was empty of food, and even whether you lived or died.
What people understood back then about having a king is that there were two things that were very important, even though they had no say in the matter. They knew that it was very important that your king was a good king, and it was also very important that your king was favourably disposed towards you, in other words, that your king liked you and wanted the best for you.
So years ago, when Jesus spoke for the first time about the kingdom of heaven coming near to people, his listeners heard it as Good News because they knew that Jesus was good and that he loved them. And this totally makes sense because Jesus is the divine Son of God who came down earth from heaven and wrapped himself in human flesh. So all of God’s infinite goodness is there in Jesus. And Jesus’ goodness more than makes up for all the things in our life which we would rather hide and not talk about. Not only that, Jesus also showed that he is favourably disiposed towards us by going to the cross, dying for us and rising for us to pay the full cost of forgiveness for all sins for all people for all time so that we could enter the kingdom of heaven as God’s totally free, forgiven and loved children. All this Jesus is offering to you as a totally free gift.
But here is the thing. There is a cost that you will need to pay in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. And that cost is the privilege of ruling over your own life yourself.
Imagine that inside your heart is a throne. The default position for each and every one of us is to have ourselves on the throne of our heart and we live what is called the “Self-directed Life.” But Jesus is inviting us to abdicate our throne for the one we love and invite Jesus to ascend to that throne and rule over our life. We follow his leading and live what is called the “Christ-directed life.”
Why would we do that? When we realize what life in the Kingdom of Heaven, life with Jesus as our king, is worth we would gladly give up everything that we had in a heartbeat in order to possess it. Stepping down off the throne in our heart is not a cost, it is a massive trade-up.
The Kingdom of Heaven is of infinite worth because Jesus is there and life in his Kingdom means we get to grow closer to him. Jesus is the most precious gift anyone could ever imagine and yet Jesus gives himself to you as a free gift. There is nothing better than being in his presence and going through life with him leading us, encouraging us, supporting us and carrying us.
The Kingdom of Heaven is priceless because when we are in the Kingdom we get to see the world through Jesus’ eyes. We get to see the infinite value of the people around us, we see God at work in our lives and in the lives of others as he draws us closer and helps us to grow.
The kingdom of heaven is very valuable because we get to see ourselves through Jesus’ eyes. Without Jesus in our lives, there is absolutely no way that we can have a true understanding of what we are really worth. But Jesus looks us in the eyes and says, “To me, you are of infinite worth. You are so precious to me that I gave up everything for you. I am the merchant who was looking for choice pearls. And when I found you, I sold everything that I had in order to buy you back from the evil that desires to possess you and give you freedom in a new life with me.”
I have been talking with people recently about what it is like when you grow up without having someone in your life who loves you unconditionally, especially when that lack is in the formative people around you. What happens is that you grow up without someone who unconditionally loves, accepts and values you is that you begin to believe that the problem is with you, that you are unlovable, you are unacceptable and you are not really worth anything. But when you begin to experience Jesus’ love in the Kingdom of Heaven and as he pours more and more of his love into your life, that love begins to heal you. Then you being to understand your true worth. It is not the case that you become worthy by entering the Kingdom of Heaven, the truth is that you were always of infinite worth in God’s eyes and because God is the Master of all reality, that means that your infinite worth is really real.
This past weekend, our national church body had its National Youth Gathering at Trinity Western University. The theme of that Gathering was “Worthless: There is Nothing that You are Worth Less Than.” It is based on Romans 5:8, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” God didn’t qualify us first. God didn’t make us jump through some kinds of hoops before he sent his Son, Jesus, to save us. God loved us right where we were in our lost, forlorn state. God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to die for you so you could be his forgiven child in his Kingdom forever.
Jesus has set the Kingdom of heaven before you today. Perhaps you stumbled upon it or maybe you were actively looking for something more. Regardless of how you came upon it, Jesus is setting the Kingdom before you today and he is inviting you to receive it. The question is, “What is the Kingdom of Heaven worth to you?”
(This message is the first in the “Jesus Stories” series. Throughout this series, we will be looking at the stories of Jesus to see what they mean for us today. This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on July 14, 2019. For more info, go to wglc.org)