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The Hidden Treasure

“Hidden Treasure” by Eugene Burnand

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“[Jesus said:] “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” (Matthew 13:44).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Hidden treasure. Who among us has not dreamed at least one time of finding hidden treasure? A map that leads us to the buccaneer’s buried booty. An old chest covered with dust in the attic of an abandoned farmhouse. The valuable antique discovered in the contents of a box purchased at an estate auction for a dollar. We’re captivated by stories of hidden treasure.

Jesus tells a story of hidden treasure and He puts you and me right in the middle of it. “The Parable of the Hidden Treasure,” is one of seven parables in Matthew 13. In each, Jesus describes an aspect of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Why do You speak… in parables?” Jesus explained, “To you has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (vv. 10-12).

The kingdom of heaven is a secret in that it is beyond our sinful human comprehension. It is unlike any kingdom on earth. No human words or descriptions can describe its glories. That is why Jesus used parables to describe it. When Jesus told His parables, a separation took place among the hearers. For those who heard and accepted His Word in faith, the parables helped them to understand the deeper truths of His kingdom. On the other hand, for those who rejected Christ, the parables became a means for obscuring the truth. Their calloused hearts prevented them from understanding. In this respect, parables served a purpose beyond that of the direct sayings of Jesus.

We must constantly remind ourselves that it is precisely His work of redemption that Jesus had in mind as He told His parables. In fact, when we read the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” we might paraphrase them by saying, “When Christ is active redemptively among men, this work is like…” The kingdom of heaven belongs to the plan of salvation our heavenly Father designed from all eternity centered on Jesus Christ.

Although we often think of this kingdom as something in the future, the kingdom of heaven is a present reality. The parables do not describe something that just goes on in heaven. They were designed to tell what goes on here and now among men when God is busy re-establishing Himself as King.

In “The Parable of  the Hidden Treasure,” the kingdom of heaven is compared to a thing—a treasure. A treasure is something that is highly prized, valuable, eagerly sought after. This term is used so that we might think of all the precious things in the kingdom: e.g., righteousness, pardon, peace, salvation, eternal life.

This treasure was hidden in a place where no one would expect it to be—buried in an open field. In the Near East, great treasure, such as gold and jewels, was often hidden, due to war, changes of rulers and such. Men of wealth divided their riches into three parts: one for doing business, another part converted into precious stones with which they could flee if necessary, and a third part buried in a safe place for when they returned.

The kingdom of heaven is hidden in a similar way. Although it is in plain sight, not everyone is able to see it. It is seen only through the eyes of faith. Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed nor will they say, ‘Lord, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21). Even though the kingdom of heaven was present among them in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Pharisees were not able to see it because of their unbelief. They were looking for a kingdom of power and glory, not a kingdom of the cross and humility.

But God’s hidden treasure is meant to be found by us. He did not hide His treasure far off in the heavens where no human being could even come near it, but in a common, lowly place, where it could indeed be found. The kingdom is hidden right in plain sight. But it cannot be seen by the earthly wise, or the proud and self-sufficient, but only by the humble and helpless.

God hid the treasure in His Son. He hid it in His Word. He hid it in the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. It is those gifts that give us the child-like faith to see the priceless treasure of the Gospel. As Jesus had prayed, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25).

It is only those who despair of their own efforts and accept God’s gift of salvation with the faith of children, who are shown this wonderful treasure. As we read in Proverbs 2:1-5, “My son, if you receive My words and treasure up My commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

The kingdom of heaven outweighs in value everything else. Just as the man in the parable who finds the treasure will go and sell everything he has in order to take possession of it; the man who understands the value of the kingdom of heaven will, with great joy, part with all he owns. As Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save His life for My sake will lose it, but whoever loses His life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

You would think that anyone who found such a treasure would indeed be willing to give up everything he had to obtain it. But can we really do that on our own? Can we really give up everything for the treasure of the kingdom?

Think about the rich young man who asked Jesus what He must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus looked at him and loved him. “You lack one thing;” He said. “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21). The young man went away sad, for he had great possessions.

Treasure in heaven is the gift of eternal life, or salvation. It cannot be earned by self-denial or giving of one’s material goods. The cost is complete surrender to Jesus Christ. In giving away his wealth, the young man would have removed the last obstacle that kept him from trusting in Jesus. But he wasn’t willing to or able.

By our old sinful nature, neither are we. You and I would rather try to hold on to the things we already have. Old Adam would rather cling to the things of this world than give up everything for the treasure. Even if we were willing and able to sell everything we have, we could not buy that treasure. It’s out of our price range. It’s too rich for my blood… or yours.

Only one man could give up everything for the treasure. Our Savior Jesus Christ, the same Jesus who embodies the kingdom of heaven in His person and work. You see, Jesus is the man who found the hidden treasure in the field.

A common feature in all the kingdom parables is that the central character always represents (more generally) God or (specifically) Jesus. The kingdom of heaven concerns what God is doing to reestablish His reign in His fallen creation through Jesus of Nazareth. It is only Jesus who could find the kingdom of heaven hidden in this sinful world. And once He found it, He hid it again so that He could give up everything He had to purchase that field—the world. He gave up all for that treasure.

“Hidden Treasure” by Eugene Burnand

And that means… you and I are the treasure. Despite all the appearances to the contrary, we are that treasure. That’s the way God sees us through the lens of Christ. He told the people of Israel through the prophet Moses, “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). He declared through Malachi, “They shall be Mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (3:17-18).

Jesus unselfishly gave up His own life and bought the whole world. To claim us as His treasured possession, Christ gave up all that He had. Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He willingly sacrificed everything—His power, His majesty, even His own life—to pay for the sins of the whole world. Not with silver or gold, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, Jesus purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation to be a kingdom and priests to serve God (Revelation 5:9-10). To get His treasure, Christ bought the whole field.

Obviously, the kingdom of heaven is the highest treasure. Nothing else measures up to—or even approaches—the tremendous personal value of forgiveness and peace with God. This kingdom was purchased at a great price: the death of God’s Son. Jesus willingly gave up His life to ransom a world imprisoned by sin and Satan. His work of salvation, completed at the cross and vindicated at His resurrection, is our assurance that nothing will separate us from God’s love.

This kingdom is not yet clearly visible to the world. It is not present now in all its future glory, but hidden in the simple, humble, and even among the godless and evil. That’s the way God works. The Savior came to the earth as a child. His ministry revolved around quiet service and obedience. He died the death of a criminal and outcast. But Christ’s resurrection signaled God’s acceptance of His atonement for the sins of the world. From this humble beginning, this kingdom of heaven continues to grow by God’s grace. Through ordinary means—words proclaimed, water, bread, and wine—when we are brought to faith, we are present in that kingdom here and now.

This treasure has been hidden in and among us. As the Apostle Paul writes, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). In the Near East, it was customary to conceal treasure in plain clay jars, which had little value or beauty in themselves. These would not attract attention to themselves and their precious contents. In choosing us as vessels in which to hide the kingdom of heaven, God has done the same. He has taken our ordinary, mortal bodies to hold His most precious treasure.

One day, Christ will come to reclaim His treasure. On the Last Day, our Lord will raise our bodies from death, gather all His saints, and welcome us to His eternal kingdom. As you wait for that day, always remember the great price that was paid for this treasure, living a life that reflect the tremendous value He has given to you. Joyfully tell others of this hidden treasure so that they too may participate in the kingdom of heaven.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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The Simplicity & Sufficiency of the Gospel

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“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:8–10).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The complexity of something isn’t always the best measure of its value. Sometimes the very simple has the greatest impact. The Gettysburg Address, for example, contains only 266 words. Yet it has inspired millions to greater enthusiasm for liberty and freedom. The Lord’s Prayer contains only 56 words. Yet it is a wonderful summary of how to pray and what to pray for.

In Baptism, only 18 words are used, not counting the name of the one being baptized and the “Amen.” Baptism looks so simple. A splash of water. A few words. Yet “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.” Baptism unites us with our Lord Jesus Christ in a special way. In our Baptism, God takes the death of Jesus and the resurrection life of Jesus and makes them our own.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” says the pastor. Short and simple, but oh so important! For in these words we are adopted as God’s dear children, becoming heirs of His kingdom, receiving the gift of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. And, as we hear today, our Baptism identifies us with our Lord Jesus Christ so closely it helps us to recognize false teaching and to hold onto the truth when our faith is under fire.

The church at Colossae had been founded by Epaphras. Through his ministry the congregation had become “rooted and built up” in faith in Jesus. Epaphras had done excellent work. And as Paul stated in the introduction to his epistle, the report of their faith and love in Christ was traveling all over the Roman Empire. But now the Colossians’ faith was under fire. So Epaphras returned to his mentor and told Paul about the problems the church in Colossae was experiencing.

In Paul’s response, we see three areas where their faith was being tested. In each one the Colossians were being led to believe that something was lacking in their faith. Though they had been baptized into Christ, false teachers were telling them they needed more. They appealed to natural human reason, which says, “If I am to be saved, I must do something myself. Show me what I must do.”

The false teachers were only too willing to do just that. Some were saying, “You don’t know enough.” They appealed to curiosity, personal ego, and intellect. They contrasted their sophisticated, hidden knowledge with the simplicity of the Gospel, leading believers to wonder, “Maybe we’re missing something. Maybe the simple Gospel we’ve been taught isn’t enough.”

Some of the false teachers were saying, “You must do certain things. Without circumcision, the right foods, and ceremonies at the right times, you aren’t part of the true church.” They made their appeal to the Old Testament roots of the Christian faith, leading believers to wonder, “Since God’s people, Israel, used to have required rituals, foods, and festivals, perhaps we must too.”

Some false teachers were saying, “You don’t have the right connections. There are other spiritual authorities and powers besides Christ whom you must contact in order to gain this higher knowledge and proceed down the path to God.”

According to these false teachers, this knowledge was imparted by various types of angels who controlled the lines of communication between God and man. They taught that since the law was given through these angels, they were to be honored and worshiped by keeping the law. Breaking the law obligated the sinner to attempt to soothe these angels by Jewish ceremonies and living right.

In effect, these false teachers were saying, “Well, yes, Jesus loves you and died for your sins. But you still have to watch out for the angels. They control the lines of communication. You don’t want to make them mad.”  

Each of these errors was leading the Colossians to wonder if something was missing in their faith. And their new teachers were all too willing to supply whatever they might lack. Paul warned the Colossians that all these apparent deficiencies in their faith were nothing but lies. Baptism into Christ gave them everything they need.

To unravel and expose these lies, Paul directed the Colossians’ attention to Jesus. “In Christ,” he writes, “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ.” The very essence of God, all His divine attributes are present in Jesus’ human body. The Colossians had received this fullness themselves when they received Jesus. How? Through Baptism, the simple washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit.

In many places, God’s Word explains how truly powerful this simple washing is. St. Paul writes to the Romans, “We were therefore buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (6:4).

And, in his letter to Titus, Paul tells us, “[Christ] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (3:5).

Paul reminded the Colossians that before baptism they were dead in sin and in the uncircumcision of sinful human nature. What do you do with something dead? You bury it! That’s exactly what God had done. He took their spiritually dead nature and buried it. But He didn’t use earth to do it. He dug no tomb. He used the water of Baptism, by which each one of them was united with the death and burial of God’s own Son.

And, having been united with Jesus in His death, they were also united with Jesus in His resurrection. Though they once had been dead in their sin and transgressions, they were now alive again in Christ!

Now they had their answer for those who told them their faith was lacking, that they needed something more. They had the full Gospel already when they had the forgiveness of their sins, new life, and salvation through Jesus Christ. In Baptism, Jesus had already taken them from death to life. How could secret or hidden knowledge add anything more? What ritual could ever be necessary to validate their baptismal burial and resurrection with Jesus? Could any other spiritual power have higher authority or add to what Christ has already done and the work of His Holy Spirit?

To each question the Colossians could answer with certainty, “No, nothing can be added to what God has done in Christ Jesus our Lord. He has the victory. By the cross, Christ triumphed over all of our spiritual enemies—the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh” (v 15).

How about you? Do you have your answer to each of these questions? You see, when Satan desires to weaken your faith and create doubt, he’ll often use the same means he did in Colossae. Someone will approach and offer you a “full Gospel.” You may even begin to wonder if you have only a “half-full gospel.”

And if you do, of course, the false teacher will be perfectly willing to fill your half-full gospel with his. Perhaps his trick will be that of extra or superior knowledge, the path of secret societies, lodges, and cults that only reveal their secrets once you are shut up inside. Maybe he’ll tell you he’s discovered the details regarding the end of the world and how to be kept from being left behind. Maybe he’ll tell you that you to buy his book that tells how he “cracked the Bible code” and the amazing revelations God, for some reason, hid for centuries until someone as wise and knowledgeable as him finally came on the scene.

Maybe the false teacher will tell you not to take the Bible so literally. Sure, our forefathers believed those stories really happened, but we’re more educated and enlightened now. We realize most of that stuff is just myth and superstition. Besides, it doesn’t really matter if Jesus actually lived or died or rose again from the dead. What’s important is His teaching on morality and social justice.

Or maybe, the false teacher will take the ritual route. He might tell you that your cup will be full only when you become a prayer partner and send your money into PO Box 50429. Maybe he’ll tell you that your worship style is old and stale and needs to catch up with the times in order for you to have a more vibrant faith. Maybe he’ll tell you must be able to recall a certain, emotional experience when “you made a decision to follow Jesus” to be sure that you are “born again.”

Maybe he’ll tell you that you have to observe certain rituals or eat certain foods. Maybe he’ll tell that in order to be saved you must lead a sanctified life with certain distinctive habits. You must read only “Christian” books, watch only “Christian” television shows, listen only to “Christian” music.  

Or perhaps the false teacher will appeal to other spiritual powers. Maybe he’ll tell you that you must display certain charismatic gifts as proof of the Spirit. Maybe he’ll tell you that you should contact other spiritual powers and authorities through astrology, psychics, or channeling. Maybe he’ll tell you if you have a problem you just need to pray to a certain saint or guardian angel.

But you don’t have to fall for these lies. When faith is under fire, believers in Jesus, know this from God’s Word: “having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (v 15). Baptized into Christ, your cup is already full. Your Gospel is completely full. You can’t put any more into a cup that’s already overflowing.

This is the simplicity and sufficiency of the Gospel!

Yes, like the Colossians, you also were once dead in transgressions and your sin was stinking up your whole life. So, God used the water of Baptism to unite you with the death and burial of His Son. Peter put it plainly, “Baptism … now saves you … It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). This is where you must turn when your faith is under fire: your Baptism—salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Baptism is our way of experiencing the life of Christ. We were spiritually dead. He came to live for us. He died for us. We were buried with Him. That means we were cut off from our old sinful nature and raised to a new life in Him. The record of our sins has been cancelled and we’ve been given the power to live in righteousness and holiness forever.   

So, when your faith is under fire, remember that Christ has already won the battle between the forces of the world and the power of God. When the powers of the world try to invade the territory of God, they fail, because God invaded the powers of the world by becoming human in Christ. By His death and resurrection, Christ won the battle for the world.

You are a part of His victory celebration. Because you’ve been received into Christ through Baptism, you can rest assured that you have the full sufficiency of the Gospel in all its saving power. By God’s grace, this simple water and Word has made you one of His dear children and given you an eternal inheritance in His kingdom. In Christ, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Treasure in Jars of Clay

Elmali hoard
A coin hoard stored in a clay jar at the Aydın Museum. Photo: Mark Wilson.

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“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! 

The Cyprus National Museum in Nicosia has an interesting display—a clay pot lays on its side with a bunch of coins spilling out of its mouth. It was part of a coin hoard found nearby dating to the first century A.D. This is just one of thousands of such hoards discovered in the Greco-Roman world. The size of these hoards ranges from fifty to fifty thousand coins. The coins were buried in clay jars for safe keeping, often during times of war or instability. And it worked quite well. 2,000 years later, many of the jars and coins remain intact. Though clay jars, like other pottery, are fragile and must be handled carefully, they have proven to be quite durable and reliable.

Clay jars were the common storage containers of the ancient world. The Tupperware of the day. No, make that the Cool Whip or Country Crock container of the day. Most often used for storing the staples of the family kitchen, such as oil, flour, dried fruits and vegetables. They were cheap, plentiful, durable, and easily replaced. Only, unlike plastic containers, clay jars were breakable. That’s why even though archaeologists discover a remarkable number of whole jars from antiquity, there are many more shards found. It seems the clay used in jars could probably give the plastic used for Cool Whip containers a run for their money for length of time to break down in a landfill.

Given all that, it seems strange that St. Paul considered his earthly existence to be well-represented by such pottery. Jars of clay. Not the beautiful, ornate works of art that collectors seek. Plain, ordinary, everyday clay jars. Think terra cotta pots. Useful, yet easily replaced. Quite durable, yet very breakable.

And do you want to know what is even stranger? God, in His love and mercy, entrusts the greatest treasure in the world, the Gospel of His love for us in His Son, Jesus Christ, to people like Paul and you and me. Sinful mortals. Earthen vessels. Jars of clay.

In our text, St. Paul focuses immediately on the message: “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

This is an apparent reference to the way that Paul’s opponents operate. Using secret and shameful ways, deception and distortion, they are in it for themselves. In contrast, Paul and his coworkers are not serving themselves; rather, they are servants of the Corinthians “for Jesus’ sake.” In view of all that Christ has done for them, they are inwardly compelled to preach Jesus to others.

At the time of creation, God had said, “Let light shine out of the darkness,” and it did. That same God had removed the veil from Paul’s heart and brought light to it. He defines that light as knowing, that is, personally experiencing, “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

This appears to be a reference to the day of Paul’s conversion when, quite literally, a light from heaven penetrated the darkness of his heart. On that day, he came face-to-face with God’s greatest glory. He saw Jesus and, seeing Jesus, saw the glory of God’s love. That is why Paul does not lose heart, even though the Gospel remains veiled to some. If Jesus Christ could bring light into his dark heart, he could do it for anyone. And so Paul proclaims “Jesus Christ as Lord.”

Paul contrasts this splendid, glorious message, with those who serve as its messengers: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Christ is the treasure. Those who proclaim “Jesus Christ as Lord” are “jars of clay,” simple earthen vessels who carry within us the precious treasure of the Gospel.

The reason the Lord deposits such great treasure in fragile vessels is “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Paul said much the same thing in chapter 3: “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (v. 5). Time and again the Lord permits Paul to undergo great difficulties to impress this truth both upon him and those who hear him. In Asia, Paul faced persecution of such a severe nature that he felt the end of his life had come. “That was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raised the dead,” he wrote (2 Corinthians 1:9). When Paul asks the Lord to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” the Lord responds, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul continues: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Note the four antitheses in these verses, each emphasizing the same truth: that Paul is a weak, fragile jar of clay, but that the Lord’s power is stronger than Paul’s weakness.

Paul is “afflicted in every way.” The Greek verb translated as “afflicted” was used for pressing grapes. There were times of great pressure in Paul’s ministry. Think of the constant opposition he faced—threats to life, limb, and liberty. He was never completely “crushed,” however.

There were times that Paul was “perplexed,” at a loss; but he was never totally at a loss. He was never at wit’s end, driven to the point of “despair.”

We are “persecuted,” says Paul. He could already come up with quite a list of persecutions he had endured (11:23-33), and there would be more facing him in the future—ultimately martyrdom—but he had not been, nor would he be “abandoned.” This is the same word Matthew used to translate Jesus’ cry on the cross (27:46). Because Jesus was abandoned by God on Calvary, those who belong to Him will never be abandoned.

Paul had been “struck down,” but he had not been “destroyed.” Think of what happened in Lystra on his first missionary journey. He was stoned by a mob, dragged outside the city, and left for dead. But “he got up and went back into the city” (Acts 14:20). His enemies struck him down, but they could not destroy him.

In each of these contrasts, the point is the same: Paul is weak; he is nothing but a jar of clay. And yet he displays a “surpassing power.” That power comes not from himself but from God, who is with him.

The closing verses of our text amplify this idea. We are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” Sent by the Father’s love, the eternal Son of God took on one of these mortal jars of clay Himself, from womb to tomb. He suffered all that it means to be human in this fallen world, including pain, temptation, and even death. He obediently gave up His sinless body into death on the cross as the payment for the sins of the world. Paul understands that his constant suffering for Jesus is an echo, a small sampling, of the suffering and death Jesus had undergone for him.

Paul does not despair, however, for Jesus not only died, He also rose on the third day. Paul knows that if he shares in Christ’s dying, if he is persecuted as Christ was, he will also share in Christ’s resurrection. Paul says that he always carries around in his body the death of Jesus “so that the life of Jesus may always be manifested in our bodies.” The weaker Paul is, the more fully will the resurrection life of Jesus be revealed day by day in his body.

Paul repeats this thought in the next verse: “We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Again, we see the contrast: Paul is weak, a fragile jar of clay, “always being given over to death,” but in the fragile jar of clay is a precious treasure, the power of the resurrection life of Jesus, the source of Paul’s strength. All this so people will focus their gaze on Christ’s life in Paul, rather than Paul.

Paul concludes: “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” When Paul is weak, when he is being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,” then he is strong with the life that Jesus gives. And that life, in turn, is what he gives to his readers.

Ultimately, then, this is for the benefit of those whom Paul serves as a minister of the new covenant. Paul is willing to endure constant suffering for the sake of seeing repentant sinners come to newness of life in Christ. In that, Paul is like his Lord who “endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2) because he knows the victory it will win for others.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are plain, ordinary, average everyday people. Nothing special about us. Useful, yet easily replaced; durable, yet quite breakable. In fact, quite broken—broken by our own sin, broken by the sins of others, broken by our anguish over not living the lives to which the Lord has called us to. Yet, God, in His mercy and grace has shown His light into the darkness of your hearts and lives. Even though you are common, plain old jars of clay, you possess the greatest treasure in the world. You have Jesus. It is His person and His work of salvation that you proclaim.

Sharing the Gospel with others will always be challenging in this sinful, rebellious world. Believers are not exempt from pain and suffering. In fact, your faith can make you the target of such. But take heart! It is all for the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. When jars of clay are broken, they even more clearly reveal the treasure of God’s power and grace within.

You are jars of clay. Christ is the treasure. In Him, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for His sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


A Window of Opportunity


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“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

You’re probably familiar with the idiom, “a window of opportunity.” “A window of opportunity” is a phrase used to describe a limited time when things are especially ripe to accomplish a particular task or achieve a particular goal. For example, many early childhood development experts speak of “windows of opportunity” when the brains of infants and toddlers are more open to learn skills like foreign languages and mathematics. Medical researchers use “window of opportunity” trials in which patients receive one or more new compounds between their cancer diagnosis and standard treatment to try to gain further insights into the disease and potential treatments.

You and I come across “windows of opportunity” in our daily life as well. Farmers are looking for “a window of opportunity” to get their crops put in between rain showers or to sell their products at the highest price. Some of you might look for “a window of opportunity” for job advancement, making a sale, or gaining a new client. And parents have “a window of opportunity,” when they can influence and direct their children before sending them out in the world.

But have you ever thought how “a window of opportunity” might be a good way to describe a situation in which you might share your faith in Christ Jesus? Such “windows of opportunity” occur when God opens doors to share His love with others. There are times when people are more receptive to the Good News we have to share about Jesus. But like other “windows of opportunity,” they don’t last forever. So it would be good for us to learn to recognize and seize them when they come.

In our text, Philip seized a “window of opportunity” provided by God to tell an Ethiopian about Jesus. Philip was one of the deacons chosen to assist the apostles. When the believers were scattered after Stephen’s martyrdom, he preached the Gospel in Samaria and it was received with “great joy.”

Then the angel of the Lord came to Philip with special instructions: “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Philip, who had just done miraculous signs and preached the Gospel to hundreds in Samaria, was sent a long way to open the Scriptures to one individual soul.

Obediently, Philip headed down the desert road. By God’s providence, he met an Ethiopian official who believed in the true God. Having made the 200-mile journey to Jerusalem to worship, it’s obvious that he was committed to his faith and desired to learn more of God’s will. But he must’ve wondered about his own religious status. As a foreign eunuch, God’s law in Deuteronomy 23:1 excluded him from full membership and barred him from entering the temple.

But the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah promises something better when the day of the Messiah would come. “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose the things that please Me and hold fast My covenant, I will give in My house and within My walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:3–5).

While we can’t be certain, perhaps this is why the man was reading the book of the prophet Isaiah. He wanted to know if he had a place in God’s kingdom, and what that place might be. Whatever his reasons, this “window of opportunity” was surely arranged by the Lord. God had prepared this pupil for his new teacher.

As Philip stayed near, he found the perfect “window of opportunity” to tell the good news about Jesus. “Do you understand what you are reading?” he asked. The question was not meant to insult, but was intended to draw out the man’s religious position and conviction. It’s a question that all Bible readers ought to keep in mind. It’s far too easy to just read the words without understanding their meaning and connection with other Bible passages.

The Ethiopian answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” This doesn’t mean the Bible can’t be understood without an expert’s interpretation. It simply shows that beginners can use some help in learning how to read and understand the Bible. That’s what we have Bible studies for—not just for the immediate learning, but to learn how to study God’s Word personally.

The Ethiopian invited Philip to sit beside him. He was reading Isaiah 53:7-8: “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people.”

This was the Gospel of the Old Testament—a beautiful and clear account of the Messiah’s willing sacrifice. But its meaning was hidden from the Ethiopian because he did not know how it had been fulfilled. So he asked, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or someone else?”

And Philip, full of the joy of the missionary who finds an eager inquirer of the truth began to explain. The Ethiopian couldn’t have found a more suitable text, for its subject was the Messiah. Philip had a fine opportunity to talk about Jesus.  That He was the Suffering Servant, the innocent Lamb of God, who was silent before His enemies and judges. How He was falsely accused, wrongly convicted, and sentenced to die unjustly.

Jesus is the Servant who fulfills in His passion, death, and resurrection all the Scripture passages about the Messiah. Jesus is the Servant who has brought the day when foreigners and eunuchs are not barred from the assembly, but are wholeheartedly welcomed into His body and are given His everlasting name.

And while Philip was still picturing the glories of Christ in glowing colors, they came to some water. And the Ethiopian, half in eagerness and half in fear, pointed to the water and said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” While he was hesitant to dare believe he could have full benefit of God’s blessings, the eunuch wanted very much to be baptized.

His question demonstrates the centrality of Baptism in Christian preaching and teaching. Jesus’ Great Commission directs the church to “make disciples” by baptizing and teaching the Good News to all nations. And that is what Philip did. He first taught the Ethiopian and then baptized him, making him a disciple of Jesus Christ. And suddenly, Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord.

The Ethiopian went his way rejoicing. He was no longer dependent upon his teacher. He had heard the essential facts that enabled him to understand the Scriptures. In Baptism, he had received Christ’s everlasting name, and was made a full member of His church. According to tradition, he went home to share the good news, establishing the church in Ethiopia.

Philip was sent to a new “mission field.” He appeared in Azotus and preached the Gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea. Mission and ministry are never finished on earth. One conversion does not mean the end of work in the harvest fields. It continues, day and night, in many different people and locations. When God closes one window of opportunity, He opens another!

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian offers valuable insights for our own Christian faith and life. First, the Ethiopian understood the harsh truth of separation and spiritual ignorance. He had been excluded from full membership in the religious community because, as a eunuch, he was considered unclean. And until Philip pointed him to Jesus, he lacked a complete knowledge of God and His plan of salvation.

But all people are ultimately separated from God because of sin. All of us are by nature sinful and unclean. And because of that nature, no one has a saving knowledge of God and His will. No one can understand His saving Word. But that all changes when we are brought to faith in Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and Word. By faith in Him—in His death and resurrection as God’s solution to our need—we know God’s plan of salvation. Jesus willingly offered Himself, the perfect sacrifice, for the sins of the world. We are His chosen people, saved by His mercy and grace.

Second, the Ethiopian recognized his own need. As Philip proclaimed the truth of God’s judgment upon sin and His call to repent, the eunuch, like the first converts at Pentecost was “cut to the heart.” He believed God’s Word. He felt His guilt. The Spirit was at work in his life. He repented and asked to be baptized.

All people are separated from God because of sin. By nature, no one has a saving knowledge of God and His will. Yet Christ is the fulfillment of God’s purpose and plan. He lived the perfect life we cannot. He died to pay the penalty for our sin. And through repentance and Baptism He makes these ours.

Baptism brings us into a new relationship with the living God. It is God’s appointed means to forgive sin and strengthen His people for service in the Kingdom. In our Baptism into Christ, we are connected with His crucifixion and resurrection. We share in His death, that we may also share in His life—now and forever. And knowing God’s plan of salvation, we are motivated by His love to seek windows of opportunity in which we can tell others of His love for them.

One of those “windows” is coming up soon. We’ll be holding an Every One His Witness Workshop, where we will learn how to be more effective witnesses of Jesus in our everyday life. We’ll also be hosting several community outreach events, like the Trosky Carnival and Our Saviour’s Block Party. Vacation Bible School is a wonderful opportunity for our congregations to reach out to the children in our area. Take the time to invite the children in your family and neighborhood to join us. Each of these is a “window of opportunity,” a time that is ripe for sharing the Gospel. I encourage you to seize it. But it’s very likely that your “window of opportunity” is probably something we couldn’t even begin to imagine. God likes to surprise us. Look for your “window” this week!

We must humbly confess that in the past we’ve neglected to seize many of the “windows of opportunity” that we’ve had to share our faith. For those failures, we repent. But we rejoice in the forgiveness Jesus earned for us on the cross, which covers all sin—even that sin of neglect of His Word and failure to love our neighbor. Renewed by His Holy Spirit, we pray that we would go out as witnesses and givers of mercy. And that we would be empowered to boldly seize whatever new “windows of opportunity” we may encounter in the mission field of our own world. May God grant this to us all! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.