When we studied the parable of the rich fool, and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, there was a similar truth which was taught in both. And that truth was the danger of being rich in the things of the world, but poor in relation to God. Jesus said that he is a fool who “stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Lazarus in the second parable was poor in the world’s things, but was rich towards God and thus was able to enjoy the treasures of heaven upon entering into eternity. In contrast, the rich man was rich in the world’s goods, but poor in relation to God and thus at his death was consigned to eternal damnation.
Today we are looking at two short parables which I think continue to teach the principle of the surpassing value of being rich towards God. Paul spoke of this treasure in Phil. 3:7-11 saying, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [the] Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which [comes] from God on the basis of faith, 1 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” The surpassing value then is knowing Jesus Christ, the King of the kingdom of heaven, and having the righteousness that comes from Him that gives me entrance into the kingdom.
Now both of these parables are very similar. They not only teach the same principle, but they are both introduced with the same phrase. Notice that in both of these parables Jesus begins them by saying, “the kingdom of heaven is like….”
In the New Testament gospel of Matthew we frequently find this expression, the kingdom of heaven. And we also see the phrase the kingdom of God. The two expressions are interchangeable. They both refer to the same thing. Matthew tends to use the kingdom of heaven, whereas the other gospel writers tend to use the kingdom of God. But they are essentially the same thing. The common misconception though for most Christians is when they hear the word “heaven”, they automatically associate it with a place somewhere in outer space which has streets of gold, mansions, and pearly gates.
But the phrase the kingdom of heaven simply refers to the spiritual rule of God on earth in the hearts of His people. Jesus said at His trial that HIs kingdom is a spiritual kingdom that is not of this world. And Isaiah 66:1 says, Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.” God is in heaven, but His kingdom is over the world. Jesus actually spoke very little about heaven as the dwelling of God, but He had a lot to say about the kingdom of heaven as it is manifested on earth. When Jesus began His ministry He declared, “the kingdom of God has come near you.” He said the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Jesus is the King of the kingdom of heaven, and in His incarnation He came into His kingdom, to declare the gospel of the kingdom, and to make it possible for man to enter His kingdom, to become sons and daughters of God.
The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price both deal with the value of the kingdom of heaven. That phrase that Paul used concerning knowing Jesus as His Savior he says is a “surpassing value.” Value is an interesting word. Value not only relates to somethings intrinsic worth, but it can also sometimes refer to ethics. We talk about national values, or family values. In that context it has to do with moral standards.
But a strict definition of value is a determination of worth. And that is a subjective thing. I used to do some appraisals when I was an antique dealer many years ago. And people would bring me something and wanted to know what it was worth. The answer I usually gave was what it was worth to me. Because value can be different for different people, and dependent upon various conditions. But that was hard for people to understand. However, most antiques are worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. There is no set value in most cases. And so value depends upon the perceived worth it has to a particular individual.
What Jesus taught in the previous parables that we have studied, was that our natural value systems do not agree with God’s value system. As Christians, we have an obligation to bring our personal values into line with the values that God assigns to things. Jesus said to the church in Rev 3:18 “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, [that] the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” God has a different standard, a different value system, and we must recognize and adopt His standard of value, which is the rule of the kingdom of heaven. When Jesus announced that the kingdom of heaven had arrived, he announced something of inestimable value to people who did not place a high value on it. They were looking for a temporal kingdom. They were looking for a kingdom which would benefit them now, in this world, in financial and physical ways. They were not looking for a spiritual kingdom. That had little value to them.
An antique dealer I knew slightly from Santa Fe years ago by the name of Forrest Finn hid supposedly a large fortune in gold and coins and so forth somewhere in the desert. And he provided some clues to it’s location in the form of a poem. You may remember reading about it in the news over the last few years. Several people died looking for that treasure. They gave their life trying to discover this treasure that this antique dealer had supposedly hidden. Just last year, I think he said that it had been found, but as far as I know, the person had not actually been identified. Maybe Finn just didn’t want any else to die looking for something that I think probably was never there to begin with. From what I know of the guy, I would never have believed his story that he had a fortune to hide in the first place.
But people love a treasure hunt. For me as an antique dealer, it was the thrill of the hunt that kept me going. I always thought that the next store I went into, or the next flea market or whatever, could be the find of a lifetime. I used to say I was looking for national treasures. And I managed to find a few treasures back in the day.
Jesus uses that natural interest of people to find lost treasure in the first parable. He says in vs 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid [again;] and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
In the ancient world, it was not uncommon for people to bury valuable items because they didn’t have access to banks the way we do today. But if the owner of the treasure died, it could remain in the ground in an unknown location, unless someone happened to find it.
This man perhaps was working in the field and found this treasure. Rather than take it, because it belonged to the owner of the field, he hid it back in the dirt again, and then he made plans to buy the field. Which by the way, according to rabbinical teaching of the day was perfectly within his rights. So this man sold everything that he had in order to purchase the field so that he might gain the treasure. Nothing else he owned could compare to the value of the treasure in the field, and so he was willing to give up everything to have it.
Notice also that this treasure was hid in a field. It wasn’t obvious. It wasn’t apparent to the naked eye. I think Jesus uses that to show that the treasure in heaven is not one which is physical, but spiritual. And that which is spiritual is not seen, but it is hid to the natural man. But God reveals it to those whom He calls to His kingdom.
In a previous parable in this chapter Jesus identified the field as the world. So if we use the principle of expositional constancy here then the field mentioned in this parable is the world. But the treasure, the kingdom of heaven is hidden. It is not physical, but spiritual. It is not seen but unseen. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. God sent His Son into the world to save sinners. So that Jesus would say, “the kingdom of God is near you, in your midst.” And yet He was not recognized by most people. John 1:10-12 “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name.”
Now the second parable is like the first. Notice it begins in the same way as the first. The subject matter is the same – the value of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says in vs 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Jesus says, “again,” or another way of expressing that thought is “in the same way.” He shows a parallel between the two parables. In this parable, the man is a merchant of fine pearls. He is seeking fine pearls. And one day he finds a pearl of great value. He recognizes the value of this exquisite pearl. In some ancient cultures, we are told that pearls exceeded gold in value. They were much harder to come by. Today the pearl market has been practically ruined by cultured pearls. But in that day they were very rare, and this pearl was exceptional.
When this merchant discovered this pearl, he recognized it’s great value. And because of that surpassing value, he was willing to sell everything that he had in order to buy it.
I can’t help but notice that Jesus said this merchant was seeking fine pearls when he discovered this pearl of great price. It reminds me that we have an obligation to seek those things which are above. It reminds me of the text in Colossians we studied together a couple of months ago in Col. 3:1-2 which says, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” So we are to keep seeking the things which are above. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek Me and find [Me] when you search for Me with all your heart.”
In both of these parables, each of the men came across something so valuable that they would
gladly sacrifice everything else in order to possess it. And Jesus says that is what entrance into the kingdom of heaven is like. You must be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of obtaining the treasure of the kingdom of heaven.
The question is then, what do you have to give in exchange for citizenship in the kingdom of heaven? Well, the answer might be found in another question, a question Jesus asked in Matthew 16:26. “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” He went on to say, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” The answer then would seem to be that rather than gaining the world, what is needed is to gain the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said in answer to that question, in Luke 9:23-24 “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Simply stated, we must surrender our life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in order to save our soul. We must surrender our independence, our rule, our authority over our life, and submit to His authority as our Lord and King. And when we submit to Him as Lord, we find that He is also our Savior. By His stripes we are healed.
This principle of exchanging your life for what you value reminds me of a number of stories that have been circulated concerning a young black man from the South in the 1930s by the name of Robert Johnson. He supposedly wanted to be able to play the guitar, particularly the Delta blues guitar, and according to legend one night he went down to the crossroads and fell down on his knees. And the story goes that he made a deal with the devil and when he came back he could suddenly play the guitar like no one had ever heard before. He became quite famous in that area and many years later became the inspiration for many a rock and roll star. Eric Clapton and his band Creme made a record called “Crossroads” in the 60s which popularized this event.
But as the story goes, selling his soul to the devil came with a hefty price. Robert Johnson began to feel that he was being chased by the hounds of hell. He drank whiskey to try to quiet the feeling that the devil was after him. After one particular heavy bout of drinking he was said to have died after suffering from violent stomach pains. He was 27 years old. Some of the particulars of his life are open for debate, but certainly his story should be a caution to the foolishness of selling one’s soul for the sake of earthly treasures.
In the value system of God, the kingdom of heaven surpasses every other item or
treasure in worth. We need to examine our values and align them with the things
that God values. Someone speaking on this topic once asked the question; if you were told that your house was on fire, and you had five minutes to get whatever you could out of the house before it would be too late, what things would you grab from your house? What do you value so much that if there was only a few minutes you would save?
That’s maybe a telling indication of what you put a priority on in your life. Our priorities in life need to be examined to see if they are the things that are truly valuable in the kingdom of God. Jesus said in Matt. 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” We need to get our priorities in line with God.
That verse I just read holds the secret to the treasure map of the kingdom of God. You know, in the stories about buried treasure and treasure maps there seems to always be a key to understanding where the treasure is. And once you understand that key, you can find the treasure. I suggest Jesus gave us the key to this treasure in Matt. 6:33, let’s read it again; “But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
What’s the key? The key is His righteousness. That’s the treasure. That’s the key to entrance in the kingdom of heaven. We are dressed in Christ’s righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the cross. As 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “God made Jesus who knew no sin [to be] sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
We can receive that righteousness as a gift from God. But to do so we must be willing to forsake everything and follow Him. We must forsake our sin, that is repentance. We must forsake anything or anyone we would put in priority over God in our lives. Jesus said in Matthew 10:37-39 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
What are you holding onto? Where is your treasure? What are your priorities? If your priority is not Jesus Christ, then you will lose your life like the rich fool of the previous parable. But if your treasure is Christ, then you have found an eternal treasure in heaven.
I’ve used this illustration before, but maybe you haven’t heard it. But on that day when we die, and we come to the gates of heaven, the angel of God stops you and asks “by what right do you enter here?” The only answer that gains you entrance into the kingdom of heaven is to point to Jesus, and say, “I’m with Him.” Dressed in His righteousness alone, I am faultless to stand before the throne of God. That is the greatest treasure we can possibly obtain. And it is one that will never fade away.