As we continue our series on the Parables, we look now to the Parable of Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. Our schedule of readings is out on the Welcome Table, and I encourage you to pick one up so that you can follow along each week.
As a kid, my father and I would go metal detecting together, searching for treasure in fields, at the beach, and on my elementary playground. It was annoying to find bottle tabs, fun to find coins, and exhilarating to find a silver chain. Back then, everyone was hoping to golden doubloons – gold coins – worth a small fortune. But we never contemplated finding a treasure so great or a pearl of such surpassing value that we would consider liquidating all we had just to get it.
But that is how Jesus pictures belonging to his kingdom: as a treasure of surpassing worth and a pearl of singular value.
So we ask the question what does this mean? And as we do, we remember (don’t we?) that Jesus told the Parables to knock people off the fence. And each person who hears this parable this morning will be knocked off the fence in one direction or the other.
Gracious God and most merciful Father, you have granted us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word: Assist us with your Spirit, that the same Word may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your own image, to build us up and edify us into the perfect dwelling place of your Christ, sanctifying and increasing in us all heavenly virtues; grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
This morning, I want to aim this parable in a few directions. It has something to say to the non-Christian and the nominal. It has something to say to the Christian. It has something to all.
I. A Word to the Non-Christian & the Nominal: The Offer on Tap Is…
First, to those who do not believe in Christ, the question has to be asked, Do you really know what you are rejecting? Look at how hearing and believing the Gospel of Christ is picture in these two parables: “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.” (v. 44) What these parables teach is that belonging in the kingdom of God through Jesus is as all-surpassing wealth and that everything else is as poverty in comparison. As Jesus says, “[T]o 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.” (Matt. 13:12) Are you sure you know what you’re rejecting?
Lewis, as always, says it so well: “Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” “No eye has seen, nor ear hard, not the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) He who has ears, let him hear.
Second, there’s a word to the nominal, those who identify with Christ only in name. One of the only differences between these two short, punchy Parables is that in the first one, the person stumbles upon this priceless treasure, whereas in the second one, the person is seeking the One Pearl.
And I want to ask you this morning: if your faith is only a tagline with no content, are you wiling to not only find, but embrace the One Pearl of Great Price? Against all the wisdom of the world, are you willing to radically undiversify your portfolio and transfer all your trust into the Cross of Christ?
N.T. Wright powerful says, “The two little parables at the start of this section cut right across the idea, fashionable in the ancient world as well as the modern one, that the different religions, and the experiences they offer, are like a set of pearls which you could collect. There is only one great pearl; there is only one hoard of treasure; and everything else is as nothing beside it.” (Matthew for Everyone)
Is the person and work of Jesus the precious diamond of your faith, or do your allegiances and your trust lie elsewhere? He who has ears, let him hear.
J.C. Ryle, writing of nominal Christianity says: “They are what they are in religion, because they are not fully persuaded that it is worth while to be different. They flinch from decision. They shrink from taking up the cross. They halt between two opinions. They will not commit themselves. They will not come forward boldly on the Lord’s side. And why? Because they are not convinced that it will compensate them. They are not sure that “the treasure” is before them. They are not satisfied that “the pearl” is worth so great a price.” (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels)
As we will sing in just a moment, so I ask you now:
Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand own Him,
Joyful choose the better part
What can strip the seeming beauty,
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless worth
– “Hast Thou Heard Him, Seen Him, Known Him” by Ora Rowan
II. A Word to the Christian: Satisfying Blessings
Do you know the worth of what you have? Do you abide in thankfulness for it? The Family Prayer version of Midday Prayer begins with Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Let me read that again: with every blessing in the heavenly places. To put it lightly, that’s a lot of blessing.
Jesus is the One Pearl of Great Price. Above all, in my prayers for each of you, I thank God that you have Christ – and I pray that you would treasure him more. That you would see, more and more, that there is no greater treasure than his body and blood given for you! What this parable teaches us that we have in Christ is unassailable and immovable. In the wealth of the Gospel, Christians can have what is always lacking in the world: contentment.
III. A Word to All: Earning the Kingdom?
Now, let me take a moment to deal with a question that might arise here. Does this parable teach that we can buy or earn salvation? Not at all. It is not opposed to the gospel of Isaiah we read earlier!
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.” (Is. 55:1)
But what it does teach is that the all-surpassing worth of this treasure relativizes all other so called possessions. “In his joy (!) he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (V. 44) Did not Paul say much the same thing? “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord!” (Philippians 3:8)
And Jesus himself spoke like this again and again: be lost and find your life. Die and live. Sell your possessions and come be rich with me! What is at work here is something that is axiomatic. In order for God’s kingdom to come in each of our lives, our kingdom must go. We are no longer sovereign.
Let’s change the picture here to food instead of wealth. Isaiah invites God’s people to the Lord’s Feast and he says this:
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food. (55:2)
What sane person would cling to moldy scraps to satisfy them over rich food? That is the same dynamic proclaimed in this parable. C.F.W. Walther here writes, “Picture someone who is hungry. You tell him: “Come, sit down at my table and eat.” That hungry person would hardly reply, “Who are you to boss me around?” No he would understand and accept your words as a kind invitation. That is exactly what the Gospel is – a kind invitation to partake in heavenly blessings.”
So Hilary of Poiters (pwaa·tee·ayz) writes, “This treasure is indeed found without cost; for the Gospel preaching is open to all, but to use and possess the treasure with its field we may not without price, for heavenly riches are not obtained without the loss of this world.”
If we would gain Christ, we must lose the poverty of the world’s way of looking at things. But we also know that we if we aim at heaven, we actually get the earth and every other good thing thrown in. For “he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
So to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be all glory, all honor, all the majesty, now and always. Amen!