Not so long ago I wrapped up my devotional reading in the book of Judges. The story of the Judges is preceded by a 400-year span of amazing leadership—Moses, this incredible servant-prophet of God. Then the baton is passed to Joshua, who leads Israel into the Promised Land. But after Joshua dies, there are 400 years of craziness. The last verse of Judges says, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (21:25). They got caught up in the influences of the culture and the nations around them and everything they knew seemed to disintegrate. There was no king.
We were made to have a king. We need a king. We are not the king. When each person in Israel tried to do what was right in their own eyes, they experienced a cycle of pain.
Who rules, and reigns, in your life? Jesus said:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).
In both parables there is a recognition of great need. The first man seems to stumble upon the treasure; the other man is more intentional in his search, focused on his task. But both recognize great need.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting David Wheaton, a tennis player from Minnesota. David started out his career with big dreams. In 1991, he had such success that he was invited to the Grand Slam Cup tournament of champions, and he won! He was awarded the largest single cash prize ever, at that time, for a tennis player—two million dollars. He described the adulation, the confetti, the crowd going crazy. As a young man, he had reached the pinnacle of all his hopes and dreams. It was amazing.
Thirty minutes later, he found himself in an empty locker room and he thought to himself, “It’s not enough. There is something missing.” He had it all! He had everything he could imagine, but it wasn’t enough. He had not yet seen what is of greatest value.
By God’s incredible grace, David Wheaton would later come to discover that he had been created for something much bigger, as he came to know Jesus Christ as his savior. His whole way of thinking had been transformed, changed.
It’s only when we begin to understand our great need, that we begin to understand what it means to be brought into the kingdom of heaven. In our parables the men understand the value of what they’ve found. The first man sells everything he has to buy the field. The merchant who finds the pearl sells everything he has to buy it. Reading these parables, I was reminded of Jesus’ comment to his disciples: “I must go away.” He was about to purchase something no one else could purchase. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. Reflecting on this, I wondered, “Jesus, if you’re the merchant… am I the pearl? That can’t possibly be.” There is no one righteous… no, not one.
In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. Here is Dickens’ description of a very successful man focused on his ambitions—Ebenezer Scrooge:
Oh! He was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always along with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas. External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge… The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast only of the advantage over him in one respect. They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did.
Glad you’re not like him? So said one Pharisee a long time ago.
Who could ever see anything worth saving in someone like Ebenezer Scrooge… or someone like me, or you?
Jesus came seeking lost ones. Could it be that you, that the people of this world, are of great value to him? In Deuteronomy, Moses says that God’s people are his treasured possession.
What gives you value?
Is it what you do, who you know, or is it this incredibly simple thing: That God, who created you in his image, loves you? He loves you so much in all of your brokenness, in all of your sinfulness, in all of that death that lingers in you. God has expressed his love for you in this, “While you were still sinners… Christ died for you” (Romans 5:8). The just for the unjust.
One night Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by three spirits. Just before the visitation of the second ghost, Scrooge finds himself back in his bedroom. A very familiar, lifeless place. But he sees a strange, almost blinding, light shining from an adjoining room. Dickens writes:
The moment Scrooge’s hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.
It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened… Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
“Come in,” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in, and know me better, man.”
I think Charles Dickens, in a moment, captured the invitation of God to those of us who have not yet seen or discovered a great treasure.
The invitation of God has been there from the beginning. An invitation to broken people to come into relationship with him.
Hear this word from your Savior: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).
Dear servants, the Savior invites you to come, and experience his reign and rule in your lives.
Rev. Vern Baardson serves the West Campus of Triumph Lutheran Brethren Church in West Fargo, North Dakota as the Congregational Life Pastor.