Jason Helopoulos / Jan 3, 2016 / Matthew 13:44-13:46
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
This is the holy, inerrant Word of God:
44 “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.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
As you know, Pastor Kevin will be headed to England with his family to work on his Ph.D. for a number of weeks. I’ll be preaching for a number of those. He suggested that I go through some of the parables in the gospels, and I’m happy to do that. Since I’m preaching this week, I thought we would get a head start and explore two parables together this morning.
Actually, I was wondering what I would preach about on the first Sunday of the new year, and these two parables came to mind. It’s always helpful to use the calendar for the benefit of our souls. The Lord seemed to ordain this when He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. We begin our week, therefore, as we rest on that seventh day. It re-calibrates us, doesn’t it? It allows us to reflect, assess, and plan. A new year does this as well. We all naturally do this. It’s simply a calendar flip, and yet we do it.
For years, Leah and I have sat down around New Years with a little brown journal that we keep. We write the high points from our past year in it together: the ways that God has blessed us and moved in our lives. Then we turn our minds to the new year, and write down ways that we want to grow in Christ, things that we are concerned about, and things that we’re prayerful about as we head into the new year.
One of the great benefits of doing this isn’t something I thought about when we started it. When you look back at this journal over the years, it paints a picture of our lives: who we are, what we value, and what drives us—our passions and pursuits. It’s a pretty good exercise. As you think about this new year, I wonder what you’re passionate about. What do you value? What are you going to pursue? These two parables this morning have much to say about what we should pursue.
Jesus can tell such a short parable. The first is two sentences, and the second is one sentence. They are incredibly short. My children asked me what I was preaching about on Sunday at the dinner table the other night, and it took me all of two minutes to relay this passage to them. That doesn’t mean that you’re getting a two minute sermon this morning, but there isn’t a lot here—and yet, everything is here.
The scenes would have been quite familiar to the people hearing these stories. In the first parable, a man goes out into a field and finds a hidden treasure. It wouldn’t have been common to find a treasure in a field, but it is obvious that the people of Jesus’ day knew such things happened. It might have been equivalent to winning the lottery today. I wouldn’t have to explain the lottery to you. You know how it works. Most likely, this man was a laborer and he was out plowing the field for the owner. Maybe he was a tenant farmer, or maybe he was just walking through the field. We don’t really know. But what is clear is that he was not the owner of this field.
While plowing or walking through this field, his foot hit something that had been hidden in the ground. You’ve probably done this before. You’re walking along and your foot scrapes up against something that’s buried. You’re curious to see what it is, so you take your foot and nudge it a little bit. It’s solid, so you know it’s something that doesn’t seem natural for the ground. So you give it a few more kicks, and realize that it’s bigger than you thought it was. You kneel down (like this man probably did), brush away the dirt, and figure out how big it is. Once all that dirt was gone, this man probably found a box. He used all of his might, and he tried to wrench this box out of the ground. With one big pull, he had it. Then came the exciting part: he took the lid and began to open it up. And in it was a treasure!
In the ancient world, it was much more common to bury one’s riches. Today we place our money in a savings account, or invest it in stocks and bonds. If we possess valuable jewels or other items, we might place them in a safety deposit box. But in Jesus’ time, there were no banks, per se. There were money lenders, but you wouldn’t give your valuables to them. There weren’t any safe places to store your money or wealth like we have (or think we have) today.
My grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and that always affected their view of banks. They saw the banks fail in the 1930’s, and witnessed people losing everything that they had. Having seen banks fail, they always hid some of their money in their house. I can remember the first day that they showed me their hiding place. My grandpa and I were going out for a grandfather/grandson afternoon. I don’t know what we were doing—probably going to spend the afternoon at a batting cage, a video arcade, or something. But we needed money. I remember him taking me to his bedroom. He went to his closet, knelt down, reached to the back, and pulled out one of his black dress shoes. Then he took the shoe tree out of his shoe—you know, that thing that make them stay put and not cave in on themselves. He took that out, stuck his hand into the shoe, and pulled out his hand. In it was a stack of $50 bills. My little eyes were popping out of my head. I had never seen so much money in my life! I can remember my grandfather telling me, “Jason, this is our secret. No one can know where I hide my money.” I felt like I knew the greatest secret in the world! There was treasure in my grandpa’s shoes.
One of the best evidences of this from the ancient world is a finding at Qumran. When the scrolls of Qumran were found, there was one that scholars have named the Copper Scroll. It was literally made out of copper leaf. Engraved on this scroll was a list that detailed the hiding places of different lots of gold, silver, and treasures, and where they were buried: under this tree, in this field, or this many paces from the path underneath this rock.
Well, this man stumbles on such a treasure. So he puts it back in the ground, covers it up, and—in joy, Jesus says—goes quickly and sells all that he has. Once all his life possessions are liquidated into coins, he takes those coins, and goes to the owner of this land, and purchases it from the owner. Thus he secures the treasure in it. And Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like this.
The second parable is similar. A man goes out looking for fine pearls. Pearls were valuable things in the ancient world. They are today as well, but probably more so then—maybe something comparable to diamonds today. This man was most likely a wholesaler scouring the markets to find the perfect pearl to buy and resell. And in such searching, he found something more than he could have possibly imagined: a pearl of such great value that he goes and sells all that he has so that he can go back and buy it. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like this.
I want to offer three things this morning that Jesus is telling us about the kingdom of heaven from these two parables. As we enter the new year, it may help set yours (and my) priorities and pursuits.
The Value of the Kingdom
The kingdom is more valuable than anything else in your life. That may sound odd, especially when you consider the things that we rightfully value: our health, jobs, homes, spouses, and children. Many of us are thinking about these things as we head into the new year. That’s good, and yet the kingdom of heaven is more valuable than even these things.
What is the kingdom of heaven? What could rise to such worth? It’s the same thing as the kingdom of God in the Scriptures. It’s the kingdom which Christ rules over as Lord of Lords and King of Kings. It’s a kingdom that is now present. If you were to flip back with me to the beginning of the gospel of Matthew, you would see that he has his mind set upon communicating about this kingdom to his readers. In chapter 1, he begins the book with the genealogy of Jesus as the son of David, the great king of Israel. Matthew is pointing out to the reader that Jesus is the King—and not just the King, but the King who was prophesied about, the One who was to come: a descendant of David who would reign forever.
Then we turn to chapter 2. We see King Herod, the king of the land at the time of Jesus’ birth. He’s questioning these wise men, who are journeying from the east to see this baby that has been born and laid in a manger. Herod asks them this question:
“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?
The scribes and the Pharisees then quote Micah 5 in reply:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
A ruler. A king born in Bethlehem. The King.
Then flip to chapter 3 of Matthew. We meet John the Baptist, this odd little man who preaches in the wilderness. What is the theme of his sermons?
2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
We’re told that he is preparing the way for the Lord, the King.
Then, in chapter 4, we finally meet this King, Jesus, as He begins His earthly ministry. Matthew tells us that “17 From that time Jesus began to preach…” What is He preaching about?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The kingdom of heaven has come in the person of the King, Jesus. The kingdom of heaven is that sphere (or domain) where Jesus’ lordship is manifest. Christ is telling us in these parables that this kingdom’s worth surpasses everything else. Why? What makes a kingdom like this valuable? Because of its ruler, and because of the benefits that are found in it.
You can’t see this kingdom with physical eyes. Jesus tells us that it’s not an earthly kingdom. Notice in both of these parables these treasures are hidden. It’s not naturally seen. God must move. He must open our eyes by giving us the gift of faith. Like Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
It will be physically visible one day when Christ returns in all His glory upon the clouds with the angels and archangels, and the kingdom is fully consummated. Then, as Revelation 11 tells us:
“The kingdom of the world [will] become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Though we cannot see it now with our physical eyes, it is nevertheless present among us. It is here. It is now. It is come in Christ, and Christ is ruling. Those who belong to this kingdom, who are citizens of this kingdom, are citizens for all of eternity.
In this kingdom, under the rule of this King, are found the greatest of all treasures. It is the realm of salvation, which is more valuable than anything else. As you enter this new year, I wonder what you value above all else. What will shape your year—the months ahead, weeks ahead, the days ahead, and tomorrow?
The man in the field knew when he found this treasure that it was beyond comparison. Nothing could rival it. The man who found the pearl of great value needed no outside counsel. He knew its value. In this barren, sin-stained, fallen, trial-ridden world is a treasure of such worth that it makes destitute sinners, poor wretched creatures like us, the richest of all people for all eternity. In this kingdom, there’s forgiveness, joy, love, peace, grace, and glory. And there is Christ. Do our lives reflect that the greatest of riches is found in Christ’s kingdom?
Our Response to the Kingdom
The kingdom compels immediate personal response. No one had to tell the man in the field or the merchant what to do. The man in the field immediately went and sold all that he had so that he could buy the field. The merchant immediately went and sold all that he had so that he could buy the pearl. There was no hesitation. There were no formulations. There was just action.
My family likes to make fun of me because I seldom just buy something. If we are getting a new dishwasher, car, or vacuum cleaner, I have to do research—and a lot of it. Consumer Reports has probably been kept alive through my efforts. I’ll look on the Internet. We’ll visit multiple stores—and, to my wife’s chagrin, some stores multiple times. I must find the absolute best deal. But I can say without hesitation that if the Hope Diamond was sitting right here in the middle of this aisle, and someone said, “Pastor Jason, you can have that Hope Diamond for $50, or $500, or even $5,000,” I’d buy it. There wouldn’t be a second thought. I wouldn’t hesitate. It would be immediate. It would be instantaneous. There is an immediate personal response, because there is no doubt about its value.
Some people make the error of not thinking about the kingdom. They have a glimpse of it. They’ve heard of it. They will eventually get to it. They reassure themselves that they still have plenty of time to think about it and respond later. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re young and in college, and think that you at least have another half century to live, and that there’s plenty of time to get to those things. Or maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum: you have kids, or you are looking forward to retirement, and you think you’ll examine the faith when your children have left the home, or you have a few more hours to spare in your day and aren’t so busy. And yet, all the while, this treasure lies there and you’re missing it.
My friends, you don’t know whether this is your last year, your last month, or your last day. It could be somebody in this room’s last minute. I mean to say this as nicely as possible, but a man who sees such a treasure as this and disregards it, puts it off, or moves on is a fool! The kingdom demands immediate personal response. Is this kingdom your kingdom?
Some people make the error of not acting. They think an awful lot about the kingdom and about their soul. They think about Christ—and that’s good and excellent. But they never move beyond thinking. Maybe they just watched a friend die, heard a stirring sermon, or went through a family trial, so they think upon Christ. They may even entertain the idea that they need Christ and talk about their need for God, but they never take action. They don’t ‘do’. They are hearers of the word, but not doers. They walk away from the field. They walk away from the pearl stand. All they can do is talk about it. Is this kingdom your kingdom?
Some people make the error of thinking that they have responded and are citizens of this kingdom because they attend church, or because they were born in a Christian family. Christ does not save people by groups. The man in the field did not go and find someone else to buy it, hoping that he would get to enjoy it in some kind of partnership. The pearl merchant didn’t seek to form a cooperative to buy the pearl. Each made the purchase themselves. So must you and I. Is this kingdom your kingdom?
Jesus’ point is that it became theirs. He did not merely say that the kingdom is like a treasure. He pointed out the personal response of these men. The man in the field was compelled to make it his own. The merchant was compelled to make the pearl his own. It was of no value to them unless they actually possessed it.
My friends, please hear me. Christ, in His sacrifice on the cross, is of no value to you unless you apprehend, possess, and appropriate Him by faith. Can you say, “Christ is my Savior. Christ is my Redeemer. Christ is my Lord. He is my King. His kingdom is my kingdom”? Martin Luther wonderfully said that “Many are lost because they cannot use possessive pronouns.” I think that Jesus would say to us from this passage that many remain eternally poor because they cannot use possessive pronouns. Is this treasure your treasure?
Total Surrender to the Kingdom
Before we quickly say yes, we come to our final point. Before you become a citizen of this kingdom and pursue it, you must count the cost. The kingdom requires total surrender. Jesus does not shy away from declaring in His gospel proclamations that discipleship in the kingdom is a costly life of sacrifice. The man in the field sells all he has to purchase the one thing. The merchant sells all that he has to purchase the one thing. The value of one thing rises above all else in their world. More than that, they value this one thing more than all other things combined.
Let’s be clear. Jesus is not saying that our salvation can be purchased by us. He redeemed us once for all. The price has been paid. Man can no more purchase his salvation than a fish can choose to walk. What Christ is making clear is that the call of discipleship requires total surrender. It means letting go of everything else that we would depend upon for our salvation and giving our lives wholly to Him. It’s costly. As He says in another passage,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
These men were all in. If you went to an investment advisor like Evan, down here, he would tell you that this is a bad move in the world of investment. The first rule of investment is diversification—but not in the kingdom. These men were all in on the one thing. We bank upon nothing else. “Simply to Thy cross, I cling”. We come to Christ in total surrender, casting off all of our self-righteousness and good works. We simply cling to Him. We come, ready to lose our worldly reputation, have others think we are foolish, and even receive ridicule and persecution. “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also”. Why? Because this treasure is that great. No matter what is lost in its pursuit, it is worth it.
I witnessed to a man for years. I still pray for him. We would meet for breakfast and read the Bible together at least once a month for years. In those conversations, as I would share the gospel with him, he would almost respond the same way every time. He would say something along the lines of: “Yes, the guilt of my sin is heavy, and I would love to count Christ as my Savior. But my family and friends wouldn’t understand.” This man lived for the weekends. He, his extended family, and his friends would get together, drink, and partake of some recreational drugs. He was the center of that get together every weekend. He was kind of the godfather of the group. Everybody looked to him with respect. He just wasn’t willing to lose it. He wouldn’t grasp ahold of Christ because he was unwilling to let go of the status that he enjoyed with his extended family and friends. How foolish we can be. We can make fateful eternal decisions because we won’t sacrifice trifles in the present, when there is treasure in the future.
If a billionaire approached your family and said, “I will give you $10 every year for the next 10 years, or you can wait 10 years and I’ll give you $100 million,” what would you do? There isn’t even a choice. You would laugh at the person who chose $10 a year for 10 years. That’s nothing. They would take that rather than take $100 million after a brief wait?
My friends, this life is not all that there is. These 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, or maybe 90 years that we have are so infinitesimally small compared to all of eternity. We make decisions based upon just a smidgen, when eternity goes on and on—forever. What a treasure lies before us. Let us not forsake it for trifles.
I heard a story on Christian radio a number of years ago about a little girl named Jenny. You’ve probably heard it. Jenny was a bright five-year-old. One day, as she and her mother were at the grocery store in the checkout line, there was a toy pearl necklace hanging there. She asked her mother if she could buy it. Her mother said, “Jenny, that necklace is $2.50. That’s a lot of money.” Jenny said, “But Mommy, I want that necklace.” Mom said, “Well, here’s the deal. I’ll buy the necklace for you, but we’re going to go home and make a list of chores that you’ll have to do, and you’ll have to work to pay off this necklace.” She said, “Oh, Mommy, that would be wonderful.” So her mommy bought the necklace. Jenny went home and began on her chores. After weeks of doing them, she had finally paid off her necklace. Oh, how Jenny loved this pearl necklace of hers. She would wear it everywhere: when she went out on errands with her mother, around the house, when she was playing, and even to bed. She would wear it everywhere except the shower, because her mother told her that if she wore it in the shower, it would turn her neck green. She loved her pearl necklace.
She also had a loving daddy as well. He would read to her a story every night when she went to be. One night, when he finished the story with her, he said to her, “Jenny, do you love me?” And she said, “Yes, Daddy. You know that I love you.” And he said, “Then give me your pearl necklace.” And she said, “Oh, Daddy. Not my pearls. You can have Rosie, my favorite doll. Remember her? You gave her to me last year for my birthday. You can even have the tea set that comes with her, but not my pearls. Is that okay, Daddy?” And he said, “That’s okay, sweetie.” And he gave her a kiss good night and walked out.
A week later, he was reading her a bedtime story again. After he got done, he said, “Jenny, do you love me?” She said, “Yes, Daddy. You know that I love you.” He said, “Then will you give me your pearls?” And she said, “Oh, Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Ribbons, my toy horse. Do you remember her? She was my favorite. Her hair is so soft, and you can play with it and braid it. You can have Ribbons if you want her, Daddy.” And he said, “No, that’s okay.” He gave her a kiss good night and left the room.
Several days later, when Jenny’s father came in to read her a story and tuck her in, she was sitting on her bed. Her lip was trembling. She held out her hand and said, “Here, Daddy.” She opened her hand. Her beloved pearl necklace was inside, and she let it slip into her father’s hand. With one hand, her father held these plastic beads. He slipped his other hand into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet box. He handed it to her, and inside the box were real, genuine, beautiful pearls. He had them all the time. He was just waiting for Jenny to give up her small trifles for the real treasure.
As C.S. Lewis famously said:
“It would seem that 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 matter how difficult this life of discipleship may be, it is worth it. The treasure is incalculable. The joys are indescribable. The man went away from the field with joy and sold all that he had. It’s not a mistake on our Lord’s part to say that he went away with joy. It’s here for a purpose. Oh, what joy is found in the kingdom! It is worth yielding our lives to—not just in a moment of coming to saving faith, but in all of our life—and being, as it were, a kind of living sacrifice unto the Lord, investing wholly in the kingdom.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
(1 Corinthians 10:31)
These blessings of the kingdom are not just for eternity. They are for now. We get to enjoy the King and His benefits now. The more we are invested in the kingdom here, the more we get to enjoy it here, and the more we get to know Him. It’s a worthy pursuit in this new year. We won’t ever do it perfectly. At times, we won’t even do it well. But it is to be our heart’s desire and our goal in living—and it is truly joyous living to enjoy more of the King and His kingdom.
My friends, we will never regret the time we spend sacrificing for others for the sake of the kingdom. Think about that when you approach this new year, dear Christian. Maybe you’ll commit, as a family, to have one other family over for dinner each month—not a family that’s a friend and is easy to get together with, but a family on the fringes of the church, a family from work that you can share the gospel with, a neighbor family, or some family that you know is struggling. Or maybe you’ll invite a widow in the church over for Sunday lunch as a little encouragement. Or maybe you’ll begin writing anonymous letters of encouragement that you put in the mail to people in the congregation. Maybe you’ll commit to praying through the church directory every week. No one sees it and no one knows it, but you’re investing in the kingdom. Maybe you’ll volunteer to help with the children or the nursery. Whatever it may be, it is worth it.
You will never regret energy spent seeking righteousness for the sake of the kingdom. Maybe you choose in this new year to be a more faithful employee at work. You’ve gotten in a rut and you need to recommit to working hard for the glory of God. Maybe you need to be more encouraging to your spouse, so you commit in your mind that you are going to offer at least one word of encouragement to your spouse every day. Maybe you’ll resolve in this new year to be more joyous and less complaining. You’ve become a leaky faucet and by God’s grace you are going to shut off that dripping.
Maybe you’re going to start practicing family worship at home and start seeking the Lord in personal devotions. Maybe you’ll commit to reading through the Bible for the first time ever this year. Justin Taylor blogged this past week about reading through the Bible. He said that there are about 775,000 words in the Bible. Divided by 365, that’s 2,123 words a day. The average person reads 200-250 words per minute. 2,123 words per day divided by 225 words per minute equals 9.4 minutes a day. You can invest in reading through the entire Bible in a year in less than 10 minutes a day. It pays eternal dividends.
Maybe you’ll choose to memorize one verse a month for the year, to implant the Word of God in your heart, mind, and soul. Maybe you’ll choose to read more books, so that you are investing and worshipping the Lord with all of your mind. I read this week that D.A. Carson reads 550 books a year. That’s more than 10 a week. None of us are probably going to do that, but if you commit to 10 a year, that may be a good start. Whatever it is, it’s worth it.
We will never regret the effort employed in fighting sin as citizens of the kingdom. Maybe you’ll take time in the new year to develop a plan to fight the lust you are struggling with. You’re going to read about it, seek counsel about it, memorize Scripture about it, ask others to hold you accountable about it, and commit to praying daily about it. Maybe you’re going to fight against being irritable and seek to be more patient with your children. So you give them a right. You start this new year, and say to your children, “You have the right to tell Daddy or Mommy at any and every point that ‘You’re being impatient right now.’”
Maybe you’re going to fight gossip, resolving to walk away early from conversations in which others are spoken about. By God’s grace, you will attempt to not talk about others. Maybe you’re going to start exercising—not to get in that smaller size dress, but because your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and Paul says that there is some benefit to bodily training. Maybe you’re going to start tithing and giving away more of your money. You set a goal of ten percent this year with the goal of increasing each year hereafter. Maybe you decide to give up that hobby that has become an idol. You desperately love it, but it just takes too much time and mental space.
Whatever it is, it’s worth it. Whatever we give for the sake of the kingdom, we will never regret. I daresay we will never want a refund or want to exchange this kingdom for something else, because the value far surpasses all that we would call ‘sacrifice’ in the here and now.
I’m no prophet, but I would give you this guarantee. If you invest in the kingdom of heaven, you will never walk away disappointed. I have yet to see or read about a Christian on their death bed wishing that they had never given themselves to the kingdom—or held a little more back, kept a little more in reserve, been a little less passionate and serious about their faith, put a little less effort into their sanctification, were a little less concerned about the things of God, spent a little less time spent with Christ, and had been a little more selfish, worldly, and invested in a few other things. I’ve never heard or read of it—and I never will, because it doesn’t happen.
Every citizen of the heavenly kingdom knows, as Peter said, that we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading”. It’s worth selling everything for and giving everything to. It is worth wholly investing in, because everything else pales in comparison. I was thinking about what we were singing this morning: “Behold our God, seated upon the throne. Nothing can compare to You.” This kingdom is worth sacrificing anything for, because the greatest of all treasures has been given to you and to me: the King Himself! As you head into this year, think about how you might invest your life in this kingdom, in faith, and in discipleship. It is joyfully and eternally worth the investment.