new stuff and old stuff

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Matthew 13:51-52

51 Jesus asked “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.”

52 And he said to them, “Because of this, every scribe who has been discipled for the kingdom from the sky is like a homeowner, who can take out of his treasure new stuff and old stuff.”

Unpacking the text

Picture Jesus with his twelve disciples. He had just been out in the open air, teaching them the familiar parables of the soils, the weeds, the mustard tree, and the yeasted loaf. They were probably outside so that Jesus could use nature itself as his visual aid. There were crowds all around them, and they heard the same words as the disciples did.

· But many of them did not understand. Jesus’ words were like seed sown along the path, that never penetrated into the soil, and was soon stolen away by the evil one.

· Some did understand, but they were not grounded in the faith. At the first sign of opposition or trouble, they were going to bail.

· Some were going to embrace his message, then get sidetracked with other desires or worries.

Next, Jesus and his disciples move inside for some further instructions. Jesus explains the parable of the weeds to them, and them only. In fact, this entire section (verses 36-52) is only found in Matthew’s Gospel. These parables and explanations are the insider information about the kingdom that Jesus preaches about. These few men were Jesus’ good soil, so he was going to spend his quality time on them.

· First, they ask Jesus to explain the part about the weeds. Jesus takes every single element of that story and explains its meaning for his disciples.

o Jesus himself is the farmer who broadcasts seeds. Now, it is important to remember which parable Jesus is explaining here. In the parable of the soils, the farmer is the evangelist. Jesus used the parable of the soils to explain to his disciples that as they proclaimed the gospel there would be different responses. In that parable, the seed is the word of God.

o But the parable of the weeds takes only one element of that parable and expands upon it. That one element is what Jesus calls “the good seed.” The good seed is the fruit bearing disciple. In verse 38 Jesus calls them the “children of the kingdom.”

o The field is the world. The world is going to contain true children of the kingdom and false children of the kingdom. We might be tempted to go back to the parable of the soils and try to teach ourselves how to discern who is the real deal and who is not. But Jesus does not tell us to do that. His point is that in the case of the weeds, we are not going to be able to tell. The field is going to be covered with crop, but only some of it is going to be genuine.

o The weeds are poisonous weeds that look just like wheat. Jesus calls these weeds “sons of the evil one.” The devil himself planted them in the field. They look like children of the kingdom, but their purpose is fulfilling Satan’s will, not God’s will.

o The only time that we will actually be able to truly discern who is genuine and who is not is at the harvest. That is when the angels will gather all “causes of sin” and “law-breakers.” and throw them into a fiery furnace. Jesus had already taught his disciples that God is able to destroy soul and body completely in a place called Gehenna at the end of the age. So, the disciples knew that the fiery furnace in this parable was the second death. Jesus said that in this place was going to be weeping and gnashing of teeth. You weep when you are sorrowful, and you gnash your teeth when you are angry. It is not hard to understand why both of those emotions will be felt by those who will be condemned on judgment day. I think Jesus is implying that a lot of people are going to be actually surprised that they did not make the cut.

o The final element of this parable is a picture of the true harvest, shining like the sun in the Father’s kingdom. After hell had destroyed all that is false, the true is what you have left. The good news of this gospel parable is that if you are the real deal, you are going to have eternal life.

· Next, Jesus tells two very similar stories. One is about a treasure hidden in a field. A guy finds it, and then sells all that he has to buy the field, knowing that the treasure will come along with it. The next is about a pearl of great value. A guy sells all that he has to buy that one object.

o Now, we are used to using these parables to talk about the cost of discipleship. After all, in another context, Jesus told these same disciples “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”[1]

o I wonder if we are getting what Jesus meant to say here though. You see, the valuable thing that survives into the next age in the first parable is the good seed: the children of the kingdom: us! That’s something to think about.

· The final story Jesus tells in this setting is about a net that is cast into the sea, and it collects fish of every kind. The good fish are gathered up and put into containers, and the bad fish are thrown away. Jesus once again tells his disciples that this story is about the end of the age, when the righteous are preserved, but the evil are thrown into that same fiery furnace and destroyed.

· Verse 51 has the all important question: “Have you understood all these things?” Have we? Let me rephrase the question. Do we as believers understand how important we are to God? We are the children of his future kingdom – his kingdom coming from the sky. We are the good seed. We are the treasure hidden in a field. We are the pearl of great value. Jesus gave his life for us. We are not throwaways; we are keepers!

· Then, in verse 52, Jesus says “Because of this, every scribe who has been discipled for the kingdom from the sky is like a homeowner, who can take out of his treasure new stuff and old stuff.”

o Some scholars think that Jesus used the word scribe here because at that time it was an alternate term for disciple. That makes sense if you remember that Jesus was inside a house speaking to only his disciples at the time.

o So Jesus says that if a scribe can be discipled in the concepts of the kingdom, then it is like he has both antique valuables and shiny new stuff as well.

o Let’s think about that for a minute. How does that statement follow from what Jesus had just been teaching? I mean, there must be a connection. Jesus begins his statement with the words “because of this.” That means that everything he has just been teaching his disciples is the ground for the statement about disciples being homeowners with new stuff and old stuff. Does anyone else have a problem with this, or am I just dense?

o Maybe I don’t understand Jesus’ words so easily because I have never been a home owner. We have always rented, or had parsonages or mission houses. But I can understand the concept of home ownership. Also, if you went to my apartment today you could see some old stuff in it – some hand-me-downs from our parents and a lot more hand-me-ups from our children. We don’t have a lot of new stuff, but we do have some.

o What I’m trying to do is make the connection between the spiritual lessons Jesus was teaching in verses 36-50 and his statement in verse 52. The key must be the comparison between the old stuff and the new stuff. I’m thinking that the new stuff is the kingdom coming down from the sky stuff. The old stuff must be everything else – that is, all the good things that were part of their lives before they came to Christ. The old stuff is not good enough to save you, but it isn’t necessarily bad stuff.

o But what does that have to do with hell? You see, I am not forgetting that Jesus was teaching his disciples that there is going to be a harvest some day, and lots of people who think they are wheat are going to find out that they were weeds. The angels are going to collect them in bundles and burn them up. They think they are priceless treasure or good fish but some day they are going to find out that they have a furnace with their name on it. That is the essential message that Jesus is teaching, and it is true. But I’m trying to connect that truth to what Jesus says in verse 52, because at face value it seems like the punch line to a different joke.

o So, in verse 52, Jesus says “Because of this, every scribe who has been discipled for the kingdom from the sky is like a homeowner, who can take out of his treasure new stuff and old stuff.” Because of what? Because we are the new stuff. Because we are God’s plan for the next universe. Because we are precious, valuable, and important to the creator of all things. We are the real deal. There are a lot of people in this world who have a lot of things to offer. You can hang out with them, but be warned, all the stuff they have to offer is the old stuff. It’s not going to make it to the new life. It’s not going to make the cut. The old stuff is going to burn.

Summarizing the timeless Message

OK, I’ve unpacked the text, now it’s time to summarize all that into one statement that gets to the point. The timeless message is not about fields or farms or fish. It’s about people. This world we are living in is made up of two kinds of people. You probably have some of both kinds in your family; I have. You might have some Facebook friends in both categories; I do.

Jesus is not saying that one of these groups is made up of perfect people, and the other is made up of smelly, broken riffraff. That’s not how this salvation thing works. No, what Jesus is saying is that he has invested in the lives of his disciples something new: the gospel. Believers accept the gospel, and unbelievers reject the gospel. The gospel is taking root inside us, and changing us. That treasure is inside us, but it’s planted. Sometimes it does not show because it is hidden. But it is there.

At the end of this age, when Jesus returns, he is going to rescue those people that he planted. They are going to survive into the next age. The others are not. Today, we have some of the old world in us, and some of the new world. Sometimes, it is not even easy to tell which team we are on. But here is the big idea, so simple I have to apologize for saying it: GOD’S PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT TO HIM!

We are the true wheat, so we are going to survive harvest. We are the treasure hidden in the field. We are the pearl of great value. We are the good fish. Hell is real, and it is going to destroy everything in this world that will not make it into the next. But we have the new stuff. Yes, we still have a bunch of the old stuff too, but that does not define us. God’s grace defines us. The Master of the harvest determines what crop gets saved. The owner of the boat determines which fish get kept.

Applying the Message today

I have been a Christian for over 40 years, and I have been preaching and teaching the Bible all that time. I am not saying that to brag, I am saying it to confess. If what I have been reading from this passage is true, then I have been misinterpreting it and misapplying it for a long time. You see, I still wake up sometimes at night wondering if my faith is real. I wonder if I am really the wheat or if I am some gluten free but poisonous genetically modified substitute. I wonder how I could be a treasure worth Christ dying for. I smell like bad fish. When I’m having thoughts like that, frankly, the reality of a coming day of judgment and hell as a fiery furnace – these are not encouraging thoughts to me.

But of the twelve disciples that Jesus was teaching that day, only one was a bad fish: Judas. Jesus was teaching the eleven that they were really important to him. They were not as mature as they wanted themselves to be. They knew they did not measure up to their own standards, much less those of the people they were trying to reach. But Jesus invited them to take a peek into their future. He was telling them that he was not going to give up on them. They were going to make it. They were going to make the cut.

So I can take some encouragement from these words, and so can you. Jesus is telling us that he started this, and he’s going to finish it. He planted his gospel of the coming kingdom in your heart, and he will suit you for that kingdom. He’s the one who caught you, and he’s going to keep you. He loved you enough to die for you. He’s not going to give up on you now.

If you are a Christian today, you are a homeowner, and you have a bunch of old stuff in your garage. But you also managed to pick up something else along the way. You have a relationship with God, bought by the blood of Christ – a relationship made possible by the grace of God. Not everybody has one of those. That’s the new stuff that you have, and on judgment day, it will make all the difference.

If you are not a Christian today, then all you have is the old stuff. It does not matter how new your stuff may seem; it is still the old stuff. All the old stuff is going to burn. Come to Jesus! He promises the gift of eternal life.

 

This sermon was preached at Fellowship Advent Christian Church, Taylorsville, NC, on Sunday, January 19th, 2014.


[1] Luke 14:33 .

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