Westminster Presbyterian Church, Milton
March 30, 2008
(Note that the audio is garbled from about minute 5 to minute 10: sorry for the technical difficulty)
Hidden Treasure and Pearls
People love to find hidden things that they simply did not know were there in the first place. It takes form in a lot of different ways. From the man combing the beach with a metal detector to detectives combing a crime scene for clues to solve a murder or some form of other crime—to archaeologists going out on digs seeking to find lost treasures of ancient kings, from hiding Easter eggs for children to go find to simply playing hide and seek with the little ones. From stories of pirates and buried treasure to bargain hunting in flea marts and yard sales and all of those places where we go to seek our own little treasures that we might be able to find. My own vice, I should confess, is ebay, living in a technical world of giant yard sales if you will.
With this fascination in mind and knowing that this fascination is an age-old fascination that is not new to us in our own generation, we come to the parable about the kingdom of heaven. Now, Jesus in this chapter is telling a series of parables about what the kingdom of heaven is like and that this parable fits in with a series of parables that are found here and elsewhere in the Gospels, usually begun by the language of, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like…” or “with what shall I compare the Kingdom of Heaven?” And here Jesus is using, as he often does in his parables, a story that is common and familiar to his audience, to convey a great truth.
Now this being said, do not be confused here. Just because people of Jesus’ day could pretty much universally relate to the context of the illustration that Jesus used—whether it is fishing or planting or finding a buried treasure—that does not mean that they understood the deeper and eternal significance of the parables. Jesus teaches a little bit earlier on in this chapter that the very purpose—the very reason that Jesus tells—or taught—parables was to leave those who are spiritually blind and deaf in spiritual darkness and silence. You see, they could understand and, if you will, even be entertained by the story, and they may even learn certain moral lessons from it, but they could not understand its eternal significance and truth unless God was opening their eyes to that great truth.
In a sense, you might say that the parables were meant for believers’ ears, and not for ears, if you will, of unbelievers. I find it interesting, and here I am purely speculating, on this question, because oftentimes as we go into teaching children, and we teach children around the gospel, one of the earliest things that we do is to teach children some of the parables that Jesus taught. And sometimes, as I was reflecting on this, I wonder whether or not we are doing our children a disservice—introducing them to the moral ideas when they are really too young to understand the deeper and eternal truth. At the same time, I wonder whether we are doing ourselves a disservice, because sometimes when we focus on teaching certain things only to children, or primarily to children, we begin to sometimes teach ourselves that these are messages for children, and then as adults, we don’t pay as close attention to them as we ought—when they are meant for us and for our edification, particularly as mature believers.
Another example, to maybe illustrate this idea, comes from the secular world, would be folklore and fairy tales. Many adults are surprised when they read old versions of fairytales that they grew up with as children. For example, those that are recorded by the Brothers Grimm—because they are gory, they are harsh. The Cinderella story by the Brothers Grimm has eyes being pecked out by birds and toes chopped off and blood-trails being left all over the place. You see the original stories in fairytales were written for adults, not children. Yet there was a movement somewhere in the 16th century led by a French writer, Charles Perrault, adapted these folktales for children. In fact, it is Perrault’s adaptations that Disney largely used to turn those folktales into cartoons for us and for our children to grow up on. And as a result, when we encounter fairytales, and when we hear folklore, our response tends to be that those are just children’s stories. And when we do that, we miss the deep moral and social commentaries that the stories contain.
As I was preparing this sermon, I was wondering whether we are at some level guilty of doing the same thing with the parables of Jesus. And not paying as close attention to them, as believers, as they are due. So I would like to approach these two parables simply by making a series of observations to get us digging deeper within them.
Firstly, to understand the context of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, we need to be sure that we understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is referring to. Now often, when we think of the Kingdom of Heaven, we think of the Heavenly realms—we think of that great and glorious, promised day when we will join with all believers of ages past and all of creation in praising our glorious Lord. If you will, the whole church of the generations in one giant choir, singing praises to God on High. In the language of Matthew 28, it is the picture of believers coming in from the east and from the west—from the gentile world throughout to recline at the table with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. Believers beginning with Genesis, joining together as one church, not divided by our denominational differences, but as the true church in worship of our King.
And beloved, this is a true and an accurate picture of the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Kingdom of Heaven is not that which is only to come, but it is the church here and now. Indeed, both the messages that were proclaimed by Jesus and John the Baptist was this: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is At hand!” Not to come, but is at hand—not to come, but it is at hand—it is here right now. And certainly, while we are a people of anticipation—anticipating that perfect day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come in its great perfection, we are also enjoying its imperfect blessings in the here and now throughout our generations.
Look around you, look around you at the fellows that are sitting in the pews behind you and beside you and in front of you. These are fellow members in the Kingdom of Heaven. If you are trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, this is your, if you will, is your membership card. When I travel to Ukraine in the summer, one of the things that I have to take with me and keep with me whenever I am outside of the apartment, is my little passport from United States. If I do not have this I can be arrested and detained by the Ukrainian police. And other professors have had that happen to them. That passport identifies me belonging to this nation. Your faith in Jesus Christ identifies you—it is, if you will, your spiritual passport that identifies you as belonging to Jesus Christ. And as we gather here together to worship, as the church gathered together, we become in a sense like an outpost or an embassy—a little kingdom surrounded by a hostile world.
This place which we come to gather not only weekly, but whenever God would gather us together, is a place for retreat, it is a place for building up, it is a place for edification and encouragement, not for tearing down. We are part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Indeed, we are anticipating its fullness, but when we recognize the hear and now—the reality of the Kingdom in life, the already, when we read these parables then, these parables are talking about us—and they are talking about us here as the gathered church.
Secondly, notice that in both of these two parables, the one who finds the treasure, whether it is the box of riches or the pearl of great value, is looking for it. This is pretty obvious in the second parable but may or may not be so obvious in the first. But look at its context for just a moment. This treasure that has been found is a treasure that has been buried in a field. The language of the field refers not necessarily as much to uncultivated wild fields but more specifically to those fields that would have been used for cultivating crops. Fields that would be regularly tilled from year to year and turned over. And that field—that particular field—contains a buried treasure. Now think of it for a second, we are in the panhandle of Florida, imagine yourself in an ancient context, where Alabama, being its own state, would decide to improve its tax-base, that they would decide to invade this section of the panhandle of Florida. In fear of the oncoming invasion, you decide that you are going to beat feet, but you also hope to come back someday. So you would take the things that you are unable to take with you that are of great value and bury them so that the “dern Alabamians” would not get them and so that you could come back into the land and take back what you know to be your own.
When you bury a treasure, you do not bury it just below the surface. But you bury it deep down. The man who discovered this treasure—and though not common in our day and age, was a very common event especially in Israel of ancient times, for Israel was a crossroad of nations—that treasure would have been deep and the people who would have been hearing Jesus’ parable would have assumed that as the norm. He would not have had to say, “He buried a treasure deep down,” that would have been one of those, “of course he did” comments.
That means two things. The man who found the treasure had to be looking for it, and he had to know generally where it was. Whether you want to imagine a treasure map or whatever reason, he had to have some idea as to where the treasure was for he was looking for it. And indeed, not only was he looking for it, but he dug it up, which means that he had to be prepared to find it. He had to have had a shovel and equipment with him so that he could have done that work.
And then he covered it back up. And he went to sell what he had so that he could legitimately buy the land. Indeed, this is true as well of the one who was seeking the pearl. Because if you are looking for pearls you don’t just go in and say, “Oh, that one is pretty.” But when you are looking for pearls, you look at its color, you look at its luster, you look at its size and all of those things that give it its value.
With that in mind, then, we need to ask the question: How did these people in the respective parables know where to look? Or perhaps I should even say, “know what to look for?” And how does the Holy Spirit play into this looking?
Now scripture presents this as a great truth: that the natural world itself, that the heavens, the mountains, and the valleys, and the river, and the oceans themselves, declare the glory of the Lord. This is the argument that Paul is making in Romans 1. This is the argument that you find in Psalm 8 and Psalm 19. That the heavens declare the glory of God that everyone is left without excuse. No, the natural world is not enough—it does not give enough information—to tell you how to become saved and be born again—but it does tell you to “go and look.” Go and look and if you do not then you are without excuse. And then it is the Holy Spirit that works to drive a person into the exposure to the Gospel so that when they sit and are under its proclamation and its teaching, that truth, that Gospel, finds itself in a person’s heart, and opens their eyes so that they might believe because they have seen the great truth. Beloved, the scriptures are that source—the scriptures provide, if you will, that treasure map. Why is it that the scriptures, that God in his word, so heavily emphasizes the importance of them being taught and being preached and being proclaimed—because the scriptures provide that treasure map that takes you from what the natural world can give you and leads you to Christ Jesus.
But you have to apply this to the Kingdom as well. For oftentimes, we who are in the kingdom, think of ourselves as people who can simply put up our boots and rest on our laurels. “Aha! We have been saved—we have been given eternal life! We no longer need to seek after great riches.” Beloved, the picture that is portrayed is of those who are seeking. God has given us his word so that we might know him and so that we might know him more fully and more clearly and through knowing him, that we might grow more and more like him as grow to love him more and more. Beloved, I commend to you God’s word. And I commend it to you that it is more valuable than the fields of treasure that we find in the world around us. But I get ahead of myself.
Thirdly, not only did the owner not know its true value, perhaps, particularly in the pearl market, but also the owner of the field did not know of the treasure that was within. But also those who were also out searching did not either know where to look or did not know the value of that which they lay their eyes upon. Have you ever had those conversations with people? Where you share the news of the Gospel with them, where you share great riches of God’s word and they kind of look at you and say, “that’s nice, I am glad that works for you, but that’s now what works for me.” It requires more than the intellect, but requires a movement of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, is that not what Jesus said to Peter, when Peter confessed him to be the Christ? That Simon Bar-Jonah, Man did not reveal this to you, but this was revealed to you by Heaven above—by God’s Holy Spirit.
And finally, and this is the most important point of both of these parables, the things of God—the Kingdom of Heaven—God’s word—a true relationship with Jesus Christ is the very great treasure, and it is more valuable than anything else in this world. I heard a preacher once say that “you will never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have, and then you will know—and you will know for sure—that Jesus is all you need.”
In our western society, we tend to surround ourselves with a lot of “stuff.” And those things are blessings to us—we have to be honest—and those blessings come from God and from God’s own hand. But we need to ask ourselves always, if the infinite God can find his perfect satisfaction in himself and in his Son, Jesus Christ, why is it that we so often feel that we will not be satisfied—even as believers—until we have just a little bit more stuff to fill our lives with?
Beloved, these are great truths that we need to set before us, but to understand these parables, to if you will, “to get them,” is not simply a state of saying, “oh, yeah, that makes sense—that is a very, very wise thing for Jesus to say.” But it requires you to step out and obey them—it requires you to step out and apply them to your life. And beloved, that is an entirely different, and an entirely more difficult thing for us to do. It requires us to step out in faith and to rest in that faith for all we have.