A Special Treasure

For you are a Holy People to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a People for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.  The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.      Deuteronomy 7:6-9

A minister said that once he had a small white Highland terrier which he kept spotlessly clean by frequent washing, brushing, and powdering.  One night a winter storm dropped a fresh blanket of snow on the countryside, and the next morning the whole world seemed to glisten under the splendor of the morning sun.  As the clergyman stood gazing out his window, he saw a drab-looking dog walk across the snow.  He wondered whose it was – then suddenly realized it was his own well-groomed terrier!  It was as clean as always, but against that dazzling background it appeared dirty.

What a wonderful passage of hope and comfort the Old Testament lesson has for us!  What a depressing passage of frustration and disappointment the Old Testament lesson has for us!  Well, that certainly is an interesting contradiction!  It sounds like one of those “Good News, Bad News” kind of jokes.  How could the lesson be both such good news and yet such bad news?

To start with the bad news first, consider the dog in the opening illustration.  I am sure that within his normal environment, he must have looked outstanding.  If he was brought to a dog show, likely many would have remarked about his spotless coat and perhaps his stature and bearing.  It could very well be that he would take home the prize for “Best Dog in the Show.”  And yet when compared to the absolute whiteness of snow, he was shown to be just as drab as some common mutt.

The People of Israel had been hand-delivered from Egypt and slavery by God Himself.  They bore the distinction of being a very exceptional People, God’s “special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.”  Was it because they were such a huge nation that the Lord wanted Himself to be identified with them?  No, they were not really a very sizeable group at all.  Then was it because of their great intelligence?  No, they had been slaves who were destined to remain so unless some outside Source freed them, redeemed them from their masters.

Then was it because of their pure hearts that God just had to have them for His own?  No, the thought of that probably would have left Moses laughing so hard He probably would have died with bitter tears in his eyes, for he knew firsthand the constant rebellious nature of this People.

Was it because they made such significant contribution to humanity in general, like the Greeks with their understanding of science, math and philosophy that God felt it was required of Him to honor them with unique status?  No, besides bringing constant grief for Moses, the only thing that they could claim as their contribution was a golden calf idol, and that definitely was not a way to make God thrilled with them.

Perhaps were they such a magnificent conquering machine, gathering nation after nation under their control like an Alexander the Great, so that God needed to associate with them to have more weight in regard to the affairs of mankind?  No, in fact whenever God withdrew His presence from this People, they suffered terrible defeats, and when they withdrew from God, they became absolutely foolish players on the world stage .

Ah, perhaps they could show the world the path to true fulfillment of human life, offering peace and prosperity in a religion of their own making because there are such “good” ideas to borrow from the religions which surrounded them – after all, certainly some things should work, shouldn’t they?   But last week’s lesson from Isaiah 44[:6-8] declares the exclusive Rock Who has all beginnings and all endings in His hands, Who has no competition, and He is unmatched in His Covenant with humans.

The disappointment and even the depression of today’s lesson is because no one, no matter how wonderful which he thinks he is, no matter how wonderful we think he is, like the dog against the background snow, every human, every people group ends up looking pretty dingy compared with the greatness of God.  There just is no way anyone could lay claim to special status before God.

That can be pretty offensive to us!  Ask someone why the Lord should let him into His heaven, and often the answer is something like “I am a good person, I haven’t done anything really bad, I treat people decently, I may even go to church regularly, I pray to Him,” and so on goes the litany of things which should make God consider you as worthy to be part of His eternal Kingdom.
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But Jesus identifies that inside us is something that cannot help but look dingy when confronted by the purity of God: our hearts:

What comes out of a man, that defiles him.  For from within, out of his heart, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil attitude, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within and defile a man.          [Mark 7:20-23]

Like the dog which could be described as generally clean, comparatively clean, we like to think of ourselves that way, but it just doesn’t hold up when the truly radiant clean shows up.  This is what is so frustrating and depressing about the lesson.  We want to somehow have made ourselves be worthy of God’s interest, but this is a platform without any supports under it, which is heading for a big crash on the Last Day.

On the other hand, the really good news from the lesson is the real reason why God’s special People are His “special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” – His love.  What a contrast!  So often we think of the failing struggle to qualify for the Lord’s salvation, and here is laid out bluntly the uncomplicated statement that God’s People’s rescue was simply because the God above all creation just loved them.

That is wonderfully good news!  It didn’t matter how dejected they had felt as slaves, it didn’t matter if they had no street value as the world goes, it didn’t even matter how very unappealing they had become in their repeated rebellions throughout their wilderness wanderings, simply put, God’s redemption of them was justified only by the reality, ‘God, Your Lord, set His love on you.’

The Gospel [Matthew 13:44-52] has an interesting tie-in with the parable of the Pearl of Great Price.  It is the story of a merchant who upon finding a wonderful pearl sold all he had in order to acquire the pearl.  It is easy to assume, with good reason, the story speaks of the believer who realizes that in Jesus he has found the one most essential and wonderful thing in life, and therefore will be so single-minded about owning this relationship with the Lord that everything else will be given up order to receive the life and purpose Jesus brings.

Yet that, as the saying goes, places the cart before the horse.  The real Merchant who is willing to focus on what He felt was the most valuable treasure was Jesus Himself.  He set His heart on us, not because of anything we have done to influence His commitment, but simply because He chose to love.  He did give up everything as St Paul says in Philippians [2:7-8]: He left the majesty of heaven and emptied Himself, making Himself the slave, becoming human, and then even giving up His life, for the sake of  possessing His beloved – that beloved identified in John 3:16 as “whosoever believes in Him.”

The Bible seems to indicate that Israel always will have a special place in God’s heart. Some seem to be jealous that someone else should have a priority over us.  So what!  The New Testament powerfully declares that the Lord has room in His heart to also be close to you and me.  Where room is needed is in our hearts for the pure gratitude in knowing that we otherwise had no right to heaven at all on our own.  Indeed, the God Who holds all history in His hands has shown that there is no shortchanging of any of us, but instead gives His full attention, His endless time, and His specific care to each of us, Jew or Gentile, who in humble repentance submit to this profound eternal love..

Perhaps the hardest thing for us to get our minds around is that God does this simply because He wants to.  We don’t have to demand, plead, cajole, bargain, or threaten Him.  Instead He has already stood prepared, long  awaiting for when we welcome His work in our lives.  St Paul insists that everything is prepared for us:

Now all things are of God, Who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.     [II Corinthians 5:18-20]

The proof of this is here at the Table of the Lord, Who in His parables of the feasts described that the meal was all ready and everybody was invited, so also in the Body and Blood of our Savior comes the same emphasis – all is ready, come! And eat and drink to your heart’s content.  The feast of salvation is filled with all you will ever want, all you will ever need.  There is already your name on the chair at this banquet of the God Who does not measure what He has for you based on your qualifications, but instead on the determination of His heart.

If the white dog who was exposed as dingy against the brilliance of the snow was still no less loved by his master, how much more will the God Who calls you to be “treasure” have greater love and life for you, as you discover that the reason lies not in your paltry qualities, but in His determination to make you so valuable that He has literally stopped at nothing in or to offer you an extraordinary position in His he

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