The Pearly Treasure

Matthew 13:44-46

10/12/2008

According to the TV news a man named Roy Whetstine had a “treasure in the field, exceedingly valuable pearl” experience. Roy was a rock collector whose two sons each had given him five dollars to buy a rock for them at a rock show. He found a potato-sized rock in a tupperware container with a lot of agates around it. The sign said “Any stone $15.” He picked up the potato-sized rock and said, “You want fifteen dollars for this?” The man said, “I’ll give it to you for ten, since it is not as pretty as the agates.” Roy bought it and got a receipt and could hardly contain himself until he got outside. He had just purchased the largest known star sapphire- 1509 carats- valued at 2.5 million dollars uncut and about 10 million cut.1 Now, immediately upon hearing such a story, most of the time our reaction is, “Man, I wish something like that would happen to me!” However, if we were to think that, ironically, we would be settling for one of the agates instead of the true Sapphire. And that is because our perceptions of what has true value are often warped. We would rather compromise about something in the Christian life than lose some worldly influence, prestige, money, or whatever. To do that is to settle for something less than perfection. It is to desire the agate of worldly benefit at the expense of the Sapphire of the kingdom of God. We may summarize the message of these two parables in this way: the kingdom of God is of inestimable worth, and is thus worth any and all sacrifice.

These two parables are twins, although we are going to see that they are not identical twins. The first parable, that of a man finding a treasure hidden in a field, tells us that the kingdom of God can come upon someone suddenly, and that the proper reaction to it is joyful sacrifice.

In the first century, since people did not have banks, they would hide treasure by burying it. This was especially common in Palestine, which is the most fought over piece of real estate in human history. However, if the one burying the treasure died without telling anyone where the treasure was, then the treasure would remain there for the finding.

The rules for the finding of treasure were somewhat complicated. For the most part, it was finders keepers. However, in certain circumstances, such as a servant working for a master, the master could claim the treasure for himself. Whether the master would or would not depended on whether the servant “lifted” the treasure. The word “lifted” simply means holding it up, which was seen as symbolically declaring the treasure. So, the only way, by Jewish law, that a man could be absolutely certain that the treasure would belong to him is if he bought the field himself.

Some people might wonder at this point whether it was ethical for the man to buy the field without telling the owner of the field about the treasure. There are a couple of things to be said in reply. Firstly, it was the responsibility of the owner of the field to know the worth of the field. Secondly, the treasure did technically belong to the finder of it, not to the owner of the field. Thirdly, the morality of what the man did is not really the point of the parable. Not every detail of the parable is important. What is important here is the tremendous value of the treasure, and what that value motivated the man to do.

The man covered up the treasure, because he did not want anyone else to find it, especially since they might buy the field and get it before he could. Then, out of pure joy at the discovery, did everything possible in order to possess that treasure. Nothing was to get in his way. Everything he had was in the way, because it was the wrong medium of exchange. He needed money of whatever sort. So he changed everything into that medium of exchange so that he could buy the field and possess the treasure. Look at the lengths to which this man went in order to possess that treasure. Extraordinary lengths! There is nothing he would not sell, nothing he would not do in order to have that treasure. Notice something important here: the man thought it no sacrifice to give everything he had so that he could have the treasure. In fact, he joyfully sacrificed it all! As Jim Elliott once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.” The man was wise to give up everything he had in order to possess the treasure.

We see something similar at work in the parable of the pearl of great price. There are differences of course, and those differences are helpful and instructive. One difference is that the merchant is looking for the treasure, whereas the man who found the hidden treasure came upon it by accident. That is often how it is when people come to Christ. Some people discover Christianity quite by accident. They weren’t looking for it, but it still came to them. Others, however, are like this merchant, who was most definitely searching for true value. The merchant wanted nothing less than the find of a lifetime. It should be noted here that pearls were the diamonds of the first century. No stones were more valuable. Pearls were proverbial for their value. The Jews compared many things to a pearl, such as the law, and Israel itself. Jesus is then telling us that the ONE pearl of great price is the kingdom of heaven. But the merchant knew what he was looking for. Similarly, many people are searching, but they cannot find it, until suddenly it does come to them that they are looking for Jesus. So, the two parables really balance each other on this point. However you find Jesus, whether you are looking for Him or not, the question is what you are going to do once you have found Him. What is God asking you to give up?

It is vitally important here to notice that Jesus is most certainly NOT saying that one can buy the kingdom of God, or somehow earn the kingdom of God. That is not what Jesus is saying. What He is saying is that the kingdom of God is so valuable that it is worth any and all sacrifice. There are things about our lives which we are called to give up, if we are to live a consistent Christian life. Most notably, we are called to give up sin. Sin is hard to give up, because we like to sin. However, sin has got to go. Now, that is a gradual process for some sins, and an instantaneous stop with regard to other sins. Either way, sin has got to go. There may be good things also, besides sin, that get in the way of the kingdom of God, that God may be asking you to give up. Maybe you spend too much time on the television or computer. Maybe you like the telephone too much. Maybe you like Christian romance novels too much. Maybe you like shopping for equipment too much. What is getting in your way in terms of the kingdom of God? We all have something. The question here really is this: do you think that the kingdom of God is really worth any and all sacrifice? Are you sold out to Jesus? Have you sold out all lesser things so that you can have the one great thing in the kingdom of God? It is no accident here, I think, that the kingdom of God is described in both these parables as the kingdom of heaven. What happens in these parables is a shift in our evaluation of earthly things and heavenly things. We are not to value things as the world does. The world looks at the kingdom of heaven, and doesn’t have a clue as to its value. It’s like the man who didn’t know that he had a 10 million dollar sapphire in his hands, and sold it for $15. The world always does that with the kingdom of God. The world is like the man who owned the field and didn’t realize that there was a valuable treasure in it. The world is like whoever sold the pearl, not realizing its true worth. How do you value things? Do you value earthly things or heavenly things more? Do you value physical things or spiritual things more? Do you value Jesus more than the world and everything in it? We need to be all for Jesus. The problem is that we would rather have Jesus as a simple addition on to our lives. We want our lives the way we want them, and then maybe in the back corner, out of the way (so as not to produce to great a demand on us), in a tame, reasonable manner, we can have Jesus as well. The problem here is that when we see things that way, we are not placing a proper value on Jesus and the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is priceless, beyond price and value. Nothing you can give is worth the kingdom of heaven. The great thing, of course, is that the kingdom of God is both free and expensive. It is free in that we don’t earn it, and we don’t buy it. It is expensive in that Jesus asks us for our whole selves. We have to give up things for the kingdom of heaven. The question is this: is it really worth it? Jim Elliott thought so. He would up giving his life for the kingdom of heaven. He received the martyr’s crown, which is something he cannot lose. And he gave up that which he could not keep, his life, his family, his possessions, all of it. And he is immeasurably the richer for it. He was no fool. Neither should we be fools.

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