“The Treasure of the Kingdom” Matthew 13:44-46 November 8, 2009
SI: Matthew 13 is a collection of Jesus’ parables known as his kingdom parables.
They are parables aimed at believers, to help us see more clearly
what it means to live in the kingdom of God.
The passage we’re reading this morning brings back some memories,
because the first sermon I preached was on these verses.
I went with some college friends to the County Jail in Chattanooga,
and we held a worship service.
When my sermon was over, a girl who was with us played a hymn
on the violin. When she finished, the prisoners said: More violin!
I remember they didn’t say: More preaching.
It was the music that moved them.
Before we read these two short parables, I want to give credit where credit is due:
Sermon by Robert Rayburn on this passage very helpful to me.
I’ll be sharing a number of his ideas and illustrations with you.
INTRO: These parables are about treasure.
Treasure buried in a field, and treasure in the form of a rare pearl.
In the Ancient Middle East, if you acquired some wealth,
there was a commonly accepted investment strategy.
One third of your wealth you would invest in commerce of some kind.
That’s where you would take risk and hope for some growth.
One third of your wealth you would use to purchase jewels and jewelry.
Jewelry then was not so much for adornment as it was for portable wealth.
If there was a sudden military catastrophe, if your city walls were broken down
by an enemy army, you could put your jewelry on yourself, your wife and
children and flee. You could carry a lot of wealth on your person.
A pearl of great price would be a highly desirable jewel.
And one third you would bury—gold coins perhaps. This was the ultimate security.
Because while fleeing, your jewels might be stolen,
you might have to use them the ransom your life, bribe way past enemy.
But that buried treasure was something you could dig up and start over with.
It was sometimes the case that a person would die and their buried treasure lost.
Throughout the ages, treasure hoards have been found in the Holy Land.
In 1998, archaeologists in place called Beth Shan uncovered a clay jar
with 751 gold coins weighing 110 oz.
The owner had buried it for security, died, and the treasure lost for centuries.
Just last December, 2008, a hoard of 264 gold coins was discovered under
a parking lot in Jerusalem.
In Jesus’ day, people sometimes found buried treasure from earlier centuries.
Treasure stories were popular in Jesus’ day and they still are today
because everybody dreams about finding treasure.
We dream about what it would be like to fall into a fortune.
About landing the perfect job.
About gaining the love of that man or woman we have admired from afar.
Stories of someone finding treasure are as popular today as they ever have been.
We have a modern version of the treasure story in TV reality shows.
They are the secular American version of finding a treasure in a field,
or a pearl of great price and doing extravagant things to obtain it.
If you’ve ever watched a TV reality show—I haven’t but I’ve heard about them—
you know that the appeal is watching people do outrageous things,
even humiliating things in order to get something they long for.
Whether it is getting the dream job with Donald Trump,
or winning a million dollars, or finding true love by being picked out of a
group of contestants by Mr. Right, or being made beautiful by plastic surgery—
people will make fools of themselves to get those things.
We could talk about how TV reality shows reveal the emptiness of American life.
And how they glorify greed and self-promotion over humility and contentment.
And all of that is certainly true. But that’s not the point I want to make.
It’s this: Everybody dreams about finding treasure.
We all believe that there are things so wonderful, so captivating,
that they are worth any sacrifice to obtain.
This longing for treasure is a great power in human life.
And many people will do all kinds of things
in hopes of finding what they believe will complete their lives.
This longing comes from God.
It’s part of what it means to be created in his image.
We’ve been made in the image of God and so we’ve been made for a life
that is high and noble and glorious.
We don’t understand it. Sin has brought us low and degraded us in so many ways
that we look for it in the wrong places. We make foolish bargains to get it.
We justify all sorts of foolishness.
But the longing is there—for something great that will complete us.
Jesus knew about that longing and tapped into it with these parables.
He says that what people are looking for, whether they know it or not,
is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus says that is a treasure worth longing for.
That is something of such value and beauty that you should allow nothing
to stand in your way in order to obtain it. Look at parables under two headings.
1. The value of the treasure.
2. The acquisition of the treasure.
What it’s worth and how you get it.
MP#1 The value of the treasure. What it’s worth.
What’s the value of being in the kingdom of heaven?
What do you get from knowing God, communing with him through Christ.
How does it complete you?
It must be something incredibly valuable if Jesus says that you should give up
everything to get it. And it is.
First, it’s love.
To be in the kingdom of heaven is to be in a kingdom of love.
It is to be loved by God, and to know that you are loved,
and have your self-image shaped by it, and then for it to flow out to others.
The rule and reign of God in your life
is the way to true love in your marriage, in your family, among your friends.
Recently reading a devotional book by Dr. Paul Kooistra.
He was the president of Covenant Seminary when I was there—
now he directs our denominations mission agency,
listen to what he says about God’s love—little long but worth it.
“We all have a love-need that can only be met by the steadfast, unchangeable love of God. Our deepest emotional and spiritual needs are never met by material things, by prestige or power, exhilarating experiences, beauty, or human love. All of our human desires and longings are mere symptoms of our need for Him. Psalm 42:1 expresses this need: ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.’
When we are gripped by the love of God, He frees us from being emotional and spiritual cripples. When we realize how we are loved, then we can stop loving ourselves and start loving others. He enables us to be dispensers of love rather than consumers of love. We are able to love others, even our enemies. When old age, life-threatening illness, or danger threaten us, we can look with confidence to God’s loving promise of eternal life with Him. When we sin, we come to him for cleansing , comfort, and a new start . . .”
So many people do foolish and destructive and humiliating things
to get what they think is true love—abusive relationships, promiscuity, infidelity. Love me, cherish me, be there for me—that’s the cry of the heart.
And they pay a terrible price, and end up disappointed.
You can’t put a value on this treasure of the kingdom.
To be loved by God, loved by your heavenly Father from all eternity,
loved by your elder brother Jesus so much that he died for you is priceless.
To be able to get up every morning and look at yourself and your life and know—
I am loved by the only person who really matters.
You should be willing to do anything to get that.
So the kingdom of heaven is love. But it more than love, it’s also life.
It’s eternal life, it’s abundant life. In other words, it’s life worthy to be called life.
The story is told of a Texas rancher who discovered oil on his land.
Overnight he became a millionaire. So he went to town and bought
the biggest hat he could find, and the shiniest belt buckle,
and the most expensive boots, and a brand new baby blue Cadillac.
But as he was driving back to the ranch,
the excitement was too much and his heart gave out.
His wife decided he needed a funeral fitting his new wealth.
So she had a huge hole dug, and then dressed in his new clothes,
sitting behind the wheel of his new Cadillac, a crane lowered him in the grave.
Two old ranch hands were watching and one said to the other:
“Man, that’s livin’!”
There’s a difference between just living and livin’!
When we say: This is living, we mean that our horizons have expanded.
We mean open doors, freedom from limitations, access to what is desirable,
living large, being recognized, acclaimed.
According to the Bible, what is really living?
Answer is remarkably consistent—knowing God, fellowship with God.
Jeremiah 9 says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his
strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he
understands and knows me.
If you are smart, strong, or rich that opens doors, doesn’t it?
You are recognized and acclaimed. You live large. Your horizons expand.
But Lord says, those things are nothing compared to knowing Me.
There are some fascinating words by Jesus in John 17. He says:
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”
He doesn’t say that you get eternal life by knowing God and Jesus Christ—
He says that knowing God and Christ is eternal life.
This is the life worthy to be called life.
Think of all the things people do to try to feel alive.
Good things and bad things, functional things and dysfunctional things—
the price they pay for things that never quite deliver, always leave empty.
And the groaning monotony of their days and increasing years.
Jesus says that the treasure of the kingdom is eternal life.
Heaven will be one bright and happy morning after another in which
you will always enjoy the friendship of good people.
You will know the pleasure of living for the smile and approval of your Creator,
and the satisfaction of an authentic, worthy, admirable life.
It will be the joy of a pure heart—to be a truly good person, and good forever.
By knowing Jesus, you can experience little tastes of that life right now,
and look forward to the fullness of it in the world to come.
So it’s love, it’s life—and it’s everything else.
Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you as well.”
That’s more than just saying that God will supply your needs.
It’s a vision of the future that the Bible often sets before believers.
It’s the new creation.
It’s a world of the greatest wealth, the finest food and drink,
a city so beautiful that it takes the breath away,
the glory of the nations brought into that city for the saints to enjoy.
The anticipation of the Paradise of God enables you to enjoy the good things
God has given you in this life. You can be content with what you have
and enjoy it because you know that the best is yet to come.
You don’t have to worry about your stuff, or hoard your stuff,
or idolize your stuff—because God has wonderful things in store for his children.
The love of God, life that is really life, and everything else thrown in—
that’s the treasure of the kingdom of heaven.
That is value beyond measure. That is a pearl of such great beauty
that it is worth giving everything to obtain it.
So how do you get it? That brings us to the next point . . .
MP#2 The acquisition of the treasure.
In both parables Jesus says that the men went and sold all they had
and bought the treasure. What does that mean?
And how do we translate that into what we should do in our everyday lives?
Selling everything to buy the treasure of the kingdom of heaven
is Jesus’ way of describing what true faith in him produces in a person’s life.
True faith is not superficial, it’s not just an emotional experience.
It produces a person who is willing to devote his life to serving Christ.
It’s when the seed of the Word goes in deep and produces a crop—
30, 60 or 100 times what was sown.
Jesus is saying that people who really understand the gift of grace,
turn around and in faith and love offer their lives to him in return.
They say: Jesus you are my Lord and Savior.
I’m yours and I’ll do anything you ask of me. I’ll give you anything you want.
I’ll give up anything you ask.
Because I know I can’t out give my Savior or my Heavenly Father.
You’ve probably never heard the name Lilias Trotter.
I hadn’t till I read about her in Dr. Rayburn’s sermon.
She was an Englishwoman who lived from 1853 to 1928.
She was raised in a wealthy Christian home.
Her father was a London stockbroker.
She became a Christian as a child but her commitment to Christ deepened
through her involvement in the London crusades of two great evangelists
of the time, Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey.
She also became a part of the Keswick Movement.
Lilias had a heart for women in the city.
She opened a restaurant for women only that served working girls,
and she turned a former nightclub into a rescue mission for prostitutes.
Those works eventually became the basis for YWCA in London.
But Lilias didn’t stay in London, she went to Algeria to do missionary work
among the Muslims. She didn’t know the language or customs when arrived.
But she worked there for 40 years.
She wrote books, evangelized men and women, especially women.
And had a remarkable ministry.
There have been countless Christians like Lilias Trotter who have given up
a comfortable life at home to take the Gospel to difficult mission fields.
But there is something unique about what she gave up
to follow God’s calling on her life.
Lilias was a painter—watercolors mostly.
When she was still young, and moving in her parents’ wealthy circles,
she met John Ruskin. Ruskin was an art historian and critic
who was the most influential figure in the English art world of the 19th century.
They met on a trip to Venice that Lilias was taking with her mother.
Mrs. Trotter wanted to know what Ruskin thought of her daughter’s paintings.
So she asked him to look at a few of her watercolors.
She made it clear to him that Lilias had had no formal training and that
he wouldn’t hurt her feelings if he said her work was not good.
Years later when Ruskin was lecturing at Oxford and he told about his first
encounter with Lilias Trotter’s paintings. He said to his students—you women
will love this—he said that he always thought that women could not paint
or draw anything great. They could only do sentimental work.
But that all changed for him when he was in Venice in 1876, and a mother
asked him to look at her daughter’s paintings. He said that he reluctantly agreed.
And he was blown away by her work.
He came to regard her as one of the great artists of her generation
and he told her that with her talent, she could become a world figure in painting.
They became close friends, even though Ruskin was not a Christian,
and at one point he urged her to give up everything else and pursue this
tremendous gift—but she refused and went to Algeria and the Muslims instead.
The greatest judge of artistic talent in her day saw her immense potential,
but she gave herself to the work she believed the Lord was calling her to do.
Now that is selling everything you have to buy the field with the buried treasure.
That is selling everything to buy one magnificent pearl.
If you don’t give up what matters to you, what counts to you,
what is valuable and important, then you have not sold all that you have.
The joy of your salvation and the joy of knowing Jesus should result in you making
choices that make worldly people scratch their heads and wonder why.
Decisions that make them, say, I don’t get it. I would never do that.
None of you are great artists who will forsake your art
to take the gospel to Muslims in Algeria.
And none of you are fishermen who will leave your nets on the seashore
for an uncertain future of following Christ.
But if you are a Christian, and if you have tasted of Jesus’ kingdom,
then there will be no price too great to pay to have the treasure found in him.
You will also be called upon to demonstrate with your life
that you believe Jesus and his kingdom more precious and more valuable
than the pleasures and satisfactions of the world.
You will also have to surrender things in order to be Christ’s disciple.
You will have to show by your decisions that you believe Christ’s kingdom
is far better than anything the kingdom of this world has to offer—
And that you would rather have the future Jesus’ promises for faith in him,
rather than the best and the greatest things this world can offer right now.
Do you understand what Jesus is saying?
He’s saying that a Christian is a person who finds salvation
so wonderful and so priceless—that whatever the cost of following him—
that cost will be immediately paid.
Tim Keller has a helpful way of explaining this. In his sermon on these parables
he referred to something that is a frequent theme of his—
what he calls the solitude test and the nightmare test.
The solitude test is this: Where does your mind go in solitude?
When the busyness of life is hushed, what do you think about?
What are your fantasies? What are your worries?
financial security, personal relationships, acceptance by people who matter? Keller says, those things are your heart’s treasure.
The nightmare test is similar.
What do you dread losing more than anything else?
Is there anything you would rather die first than lose?
Your reputation, professional success, control of your future.
Keller says again, those things are your heart’s treasure.
These parables teach that in the Christian life, there has to be a transfer.
You have to give those treasures of your heart to Christ, to receive
the blessings of the kingdom. That’s what faith is.
And the way you know that transfer has taken place, is by examining
your motive for following Christ.
Are you following him because expecting him to fix something in your life?
Because there is something wrong with the things you really value,
and you hope to obligate Jesus to do something help you.
Or do you say: Jesus, you are my Lord—you know my worries and my needs.
You know how I would like these things to work out in my life,
I know you are able to do exactly that
But, my life is in your hands. And I’m going to follow you, and obey you,
and you do with me as you will because I trust you.
When that has happened, when you think like that—then the transfer has happened,
and you have sold everything and gotten the pearl of great price.
That’s risky, isn’t it?
In C.S. Lewis’ autobiography he says that one reason he was such a determined
atheist for so many years was because he prized more than anything leading a
comfortable life. And he was very careful to make decisions that led to the
most comfortable path. For him those were most reasonable.
He had this fear, that if there was a God, he would probably not be reasonable.
He would demand things of me that I would never choose.
And when Lewis was finally captured by God, he found that he was right.
The Lord was not reasonable, led him down all sorts of strange paths—
but at the same time he found the greatest joy in knowing God.
You remember how well Lewis expressed it in the Narnia Chronicles.
The children are asking the talking animals about Aslan—the great lion
who is Lord of Narnia and they ask, Is he tame?
Animals laugh and say: No he’s not tame. But he’s good.
Have you found Jesus Christ? Have you transferred your treasure?
Maybe some here, still trying to fill soul with the passing things of this world—
career, success, romance, acceptance. Make the transfer. Give those to Lord.
For those of you who already have. Know kingdom of heaven and it’s blessings.
You know this is something never quit doing, is it?
Even this morning, something else that has grabbed heart’s affection.
Jesus is saying—Give it to me. Turn it over. You won’t be sorry.
Because nothing is more precious than the treasure of my kingdom.