They are two of the simplest, shortest, and most profound of Jesus’ parables.
The text comes to us in a chapter filled with parables of the kingdom. In these three verses, two parables hinged together by a common phrase appearing in both. Read it again.
44The Kingdom of heaven is like the treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field 45Again, the kingdom of God is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
These are easy pictures, aren’t they?
A farmer, plowing a rented field, a sharecropper, unearths a treasure of unspeakable value, bigger than anything he has ever seen, bigger than he imagined any treasure could ever be and so he goes and he begins to make plans to make the treasure his. The law of the land says, “finders/keepers,” as long as the land belongs to you.
He makes sure no one has seen him. So he buries the treasure again. Then he goes and sells all that he has to purchase the field. His joy is so great, he can’t think about anything else.
He has spent his life in this blue-collar job, slaving away at a job that exacts its toll in shortened years, arthritic hands and an aching back and now a treasure of unspeakable value is his.
While those images are swirling around in the disciple’s minds Jesus starts into a second, similar parable.
45Again, the kingdom of God is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
If the first parable blue-collar written all over it this one is the white-collar version of the same point.
Here’s this white-collar guy, a merchant of pearls, going from town to town, looking for the best deals he can get on pearls.
One day he finds the best deal of his life. All he can think about is the value of that pearl and what his life would be like if he owed that pearl of great price. He can’t think of anything else so he goes and sells all that he has so he can own that pearl and maybe someday, sell it to the highest bidder.
It is hard to know all of what must have gone through the minds of the disciples when they heard this parable for the first time. Jesus seems to have told his parables in such a way that their truth was apparent to those who had open hearts, but veiled to those who were not serious about doing the will of God.
Perhaps some people thought of the farmer in images of disappointment and dashed hope. They saw in the image of the farmer all those who barely eke out an existence and whose entire history has been a series of disappointments.
These are one-point parables with an infinite number of implications for life. Each hints at one probing question for our lives. So what was Jesus trying to drive home?
In both parables, something is found and then valued so highly that everything is sold to obtain what was found. So let’s pull the parables apart so we can put them back together with understanding.
First, let’s eliminate some things.
This parable is not about buying salvation.
It’s not about buying the kingdom.
It’s not about selling everything and giving it away.
It’s not about hiding valuables in the ground.
It’s not about going out and buying a metal detector.
It’s not about investing in real estate or becoming a pearl merchant.
Look for what is common in the parables as a clue to Jesus’ point. None of those things have anything to do with what Jesus is trying to get across to us.
Look at the end of verse 44 and 46.
Goes and sells all that he has and purchased the field.
Went and sold all that he had and purchased the pearl.
In both cases, the finder values the commodity they find more than anything and everything else they possess. More than the sum total of all they possess. Nothing keeps them from exchanging all they own.
All that they know
All that they are familiar with
All that they have worked to accumulate
All that they have trusted in
All that they had been given by others
All that they had inherited
All that they have previously desired
All of that stuff is counted as unworthy of possessing any longer when the two finders, find the real treasure, the pearl of great price. That’s what the kingdom of God is like to those who find the kingdom.
As you look at the simple phrasing, and the stark, bold, brute reality of what Jesus says, you can’t help but come to the conclusion that something really big and worthy is going on here—something that demands our attention.
Don’t get hung up on how the two finders come to their prize. The farmer is surprised by his great discovery. The merchant is filled with the joy of a search fulfilled. But in both cases, the men are mesmerized by the great value of the discovery they have made.
One pastor put it this way:
“The climax in Jesus’ stories of the man finding the buried treasure and in the merchant finding the pearl of great price is the eagerness with which each possessed their discoveries. Each, when he made the discovery ‘went and sold all that he had.’ Each did it joyfully. Neither felt he was making any sacrifice because the treasure he was possessing was worth so much more than what he had to offer for it that they did not hesitate.
Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like that. Once we see what it is worth to have God in our hearts, to have His spirit empower our lives, to follow His will, we realize that no matter what the cost, we want God above and beyond all things else.”
(Charles L. Allen, When the Heart is Hungry, 19)
These are parables about the value of salvation, not the means of obtaining it. Jesus seems to be making a telling point:
If and when you do find the treasure, its value to you will eclipse everything else in your life.
Does the Kingdom mean that to you?
Let me suggest two implications of what Jesus is saying and try to apply it to our situation:
If the Kingdom of God has an incomparable value …
Does your attitude and activity toward others reflect that incomparable value?Sometime, read Romans 12:9-21 and it’s list of imperatives about how the people of God are supposed to live. It is “a blizzard of commands” (not my phrase but an apt description) that the apostle Paul expects Christians to embrace with joy. Then ask yourself this question, “Who lives that way?”
Answer: No one lives that way.
It is certainly not what you see in media and entertainment venues. No one lives this way unless they are convinced of the value of the Kingdom.
But, if you know the value of the kingdom, you are committed to growing in every one of those areas that Paul mentions. In fact, to not desire to live out this kind of lifestyle is to devalue Christ and His love. It is a slap the face of Christ and to devalue the sacrifice for sin that He made on your behalf.
Does your attitude and activity toward stuff reflect the incomparable value of the kingdom?
Are you using your talents for Christ?
Are you using your time for Christ?
Are you maximizing your days for Christ or for yourself?
Every week there are people in your worship services, wherever you went to worship this week, who do not yet believe. They are looking to see if you are authentic. They are looking to see if there is any substantive reality to what you say you believe. Let me ask you a question.
“What are you doing differently as a result of last week’s message?”
Are you becoming a doer of the word or are you deluding yourself into thinking that merely hearing the word on Sunday is enough but applying it Monday through Saturday is optional?
The great John Chrysostrom, an early church expositor, was so eloquent that people would applaud his messages. One day he stopped their applause with this comment.
“Stop your applause. You think that when you have appreciated you have applied. It is not your applause I covet but your application.”
Remember this, we invest in what our heart values most. What are you investing in?
You know what I think a legitimate question Jesus might ask Americans if He were to come back today? I think He might ask, “What are you doing with all that stuff? I blessed you with what you have to be a blessing to others. Why are you stockpiling it yourself?”
Is it fair for me to ask readers these questions based on just these three verses?
Remember how parables are constructed. They are primarily about one thing and they should not be used to judge others but ourselves.
So if these parables are about the gospel of the kingdom being so valuable that no sacrifice is too great, then the probing question that is suggested by Jesus’ words is this:
“Do the exertions of my life reflect the surpassing value
of the Jesus and His Kingdom?”
Does your attitude and activity toward God’s kingdom reflect the incomparable value of the kingdom?
You see, “spiritual poverty can be taken away at once.” (Allen 20).
Two young men in the Scripture:
Stephen (Acts 7:55,59) gave his life to gain the glory
Result: sees the glory of God
Rich Young Ruler (Mt. 19:22) held on to what he had and left emptier than ever
Result: went away sorrowful
What is it that will cause …
…. spiritually apathetic Christians
to embrace the incomparable value of the forgiveness offered in the gospel of the Kingdom?
“… a treasure so valuable, that at any price
(even the price on one’ life, it would be a gift.”
—(Robertson, EBC, 74.)
That is the superlative worth of the kingdom.
“The kingdom of heaven is worth infinitely more than the cost of discipleship, and those who know where the treasure lies joyfully abandon everything else to secure it.”
—Expositor’s, vol. 8, 328
The disciples left all to follow Jesus. Paul said he counted all the things he left behind to be rubbish (Phil 3:); actually, he used a much less polite word.
Have you discovered the treasure in the field?
Have you discovered that Jesus, a relationship with the God of the Universe is worth everything you ever hoped for, and everything you have, and everything you might have?
Your life is wasted if you don’t embrace the glory of the gospel. Here’s how Jesus put it:
“What does it profit a man or a woman, if they gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Luke 9:25)