This was another rich Gospel. It was a challenge to pull all the disparate elements together, so I ended up focusing on just part of it. The image of the gospel as treasure is a rich one (no pun intended), and one that’s worthy of extended meditation. I encourage you to take ten or fifteen minutes and just dwell on those few verses. It’s of great benefit to your soul.
The parable about the net doesn’t seem to fit with the others, but we need to remember the definition of the kingdom of heaven. It’s God’s royal reign in the world – how He rules and governs this world, how He gets His work done. That’s by His Word.
These fishermen are not a couple of guys sitting in a boat on a Saturday afternoon drowning worms, casting out their lines and trying to land one fish at a time. They have what’s called a seine net. It hangs vertically in the water like a curtain and it snags everything that swims by. By this we learn that God’s Word is a universal message. It’s meant for all peoples, regardless of race, color, nationality, or language, and all people will be judged based on what they do with God’s Word – either accept it in faith or reject it through unbelief.
The working of God’s Word as a net isn’t always seen above the water. The Word doesn’t always seem to be doing a lot, or anything, really. Yet when it’s pulled up on shore – when it is revealed at the end of the age who knew and loved God’s Word and who didn’t – then the fish, the people, are seen for what they are and they’re divided up. The wicked are removed, leaving the righteous, and then they’re thrown outside to be burned alive forever.
That process begins even in this life, and its results are discernible even now for many. When you don’t put His Word first, you are never satisfied. You’re never full or content. There’s always something missing, but people don’t connect their discontent with their lack of God’s Word or their lack of regard for the Word.
God grant you the willingness to sell all for the sake of His Word, and so to find the peace that passes understanding and every spiritual gift. Amen.
“The kingdom of heaven is like 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.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (matt 13.44-52 niv84)
Maybe you’ve seen that TV show Antiques Roadshow, where people bring their junk to appraisers and try to find out what it’s worth. Usually it’s not worth much, but every once in a while the owner is surprised to find out that they had a rare and valuable antique all along and never knew it. Their old umbrella stand they walked past in the front hall every day, or that old chair of Grandma’s, can be worth quite a bit of money to a serious collector. In our Gospel for today, we hear about other rare finds – a treasure in a field and one priceless pearl. Let’s take a closer look at The Treasure that Gives Everything.
When we talk about the kingdom of heaven, we might picture heaven itself at first, the place believers go when they die. That’s often a meaning attached to that phrase “the kingdom of heaven,” but more often it means God’s royal reign – what God does as He rules the world as King. It’s not so much a place as the sum total of God’s actions in the world to save sinners. Keeping that in mind will help us understand these mini-parables better.
The first mini-parable Jesus uses pictures a man, an ordinary farm worker, a hired hand, who finds a treasure in a field. This might seem odd to us but remember that back then banking was not nearly as sophisticated as it is now. Most people hid their valuables on their own, which worked unless you got in an accident or you died. That’s what probably happened to the owner of this treasure. This man finds the treasure and instead of just walking off with it, he does the honorable thing – he buys the field so he can own the treasure for himself.
The treasure we can obviously compare to God’s Word. God’s Word absolutely is a treasure, but it doesn’t seem like it to human reason. It looks like just words – words written by people a long time ago (not particularly smart or clever people either), words that don’t hold much for us now and that certainly don’t have any impact on our day-to-day lives. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God’s Word guides us every minute of every day. It comforts us when nothing else will work. It absolves us of our worst guilt and the most shameful sins, when we take its promises of love, forgiveness, and acceptance from God seriously. It opens the gates of heaven and shuts the mouth of hell. It silences the lies of the devil and the jeers of the ungodly world. It feeds our faith and gives us what nothing else can.
The Word is a treasure that no one can buy, barter for, or discover on their own; it always must be revealed. The Word itself is not hard to find. You can find dozens of copies of the Bible in any thrift store, bookstore, or even at Wal-Mart. You can find it in just about any hotel room, for goodness’ sake. You can hear it over the radio, on TV, and you find it all over the Internet. The words of Scripture are even part of our everyday language, often to an extent that we don’t realize. But understanding what they truly mean – grasping what their true significance is for your heart and your life – that must come from the Spirit. He alone gives the right understanding of its words – and we know that the Spirit always accompanies God’s Word, so wherever God’s Word is, it’s never without the Spirit to help you realize what it says and what it means.
Think about the number of people who must have walked past that treasure in the field, maybe even walked over where it was hidden, and they never found it for themselves. I remember one time I was talking with a coworker who’d been having a hard time lately. He’d had a string of deaths in the family, and he’d just found out that his uncle had died. He asked, “Why does it have to be this way?”, and I started to tell him about how Jesus has conquered death, and that if you believe in Him you conquer death too. Immediately he started to wave me off – “Oh yeah, yeah, I know all about that, I’ve got a cousin who’s a pastor.” He knew how the message went but he didn’t put any trust in it for himself or his family. He walked right by the treasure. A lot of people in this world are like that. Don’t be one of them. You’ll be far richer if you take the time to pay attention to the treasure in front of you.
The man who finds the treasure in the field hides it again. At first this part of the picture doesn’t seem to fit with seeing the treasure as God’s Word. The child of God tends to have the opposite reaction when discovering these riches for themselves: they go and tell. They share it with anybody they meet that they think needs to hear it – which is everybody. Perhaps a better interpretation comes from Psalm 119: “I have hidden Your Word in my heart so that I might not sin against You.” We hide God’s Word in our hearts by drawing it into ourselves – reading it, hearing it, thinking about it, searching it, memorizing it, then speaking it with other believers, and unbelievers too. You find the Word and you take it into your mind and heart, make it a part of yourself, because you want it. The prophet Ezekiel had a vision where he was told, “Eat this scroll.” Similarly, Jesus says that He is the Bread of life, and the Word that teaches us of Him surely is that for our souls. Thus we hide His Word in our hearts so that we may not sin against Him, and He promises that our joy will be great.
The next mini-parable Jesus uses is similar, and if we just glance at the two we might think they’re almost identical – but they’re not. In this second mini-parable, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is “like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” The Greek Matthew uses here is very vivid. It pictures a wholesale dealer who’s dealt in large quantities in the past, but not now. He’s looking for something, and he’s very particular. He’s sold everything he has even before he set foot in the marketplace, he’s got cash in hand, and now he’s prowling through the marketplace looking for something – hunting, searching, for what he doesn’t know till he gets it. He knew he needed to find one last find, the find of all finds, and he was willing to bet big and cash in all his money to find it. That didn’t matter to him. Then he stops by a booth selling pearls, and his eye falls on the one – that one exquisitely perfect pearl that he’s been searching for. He hands over his money without taking his eyes off the pearl. He doesn’t even barter about the price, which is rare in the Middle East. He knew he got the better end of the deal.
I wonder how many of us treat God’s Word that way. For many of us, we probably don’t feel like we have to search. We’ve been Christians for as long as we can possibly remember. We’ve grown up with the faith, and thus we don’t know what it’s like to be desperately searching for something, and only after you’ve found Christ and His Word you realize that’s what you were searching for. Maybe because we’ve had God’s Word in front of us and around us for so long that we can tend to take it for granted. Maybe that’s why it’s like pulling teeth to find teachers for our Sunday School – we the grownups take God’s Word for granted and thus we aren’t concerned with passing it on to our children. That’s dangerously foolish and short-sighted. Even if you’ve been a Christian your whole life, you went to church when you were a kid (I have people tell me that all the time, as if that means something), you still need to go looking for God’s Word – not to find it for the first time, but to keep searching it and wanting it, because it’s real easy to lose if you don’t. Jesus warns us not to build our house on the sand by hearing His words and not putting them into practice in our lives – that’s worse for us in the end than not hearing them at all. The prophet Amos describes a famine that God sends on the land, “not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the Word of the Lord, but they will not find it.” If you don’t love and treasure God’s Word, it might not be there when you need it the most – like when you die. Don’t let that be you. You know where to find the Word. Seek it for your own soul, seek the Lord while He may be found, and you will be truly rich with riches that no one can ever take away from you.
The man who finds the treasure in the field and the merchant who finds the pearl have something else in common. They sold everything they had in order to obtain the treasure. We don’t even have to do that with God’s Word! He’s made His riches available free of charge! We don’t have to sell anything or buy anything in order to get it – He gives it away for free! Jesus graciously provides us with everything we need, and more besides, and He gives us His Word free of charge. But the thing that’s the same between the merchant, the treasure finder, and us (hopefully!) is the willingness to sell all – being willing to trade anything this world has to offer for God’s Word, and never blinking or second-guessing that bargain. We don’t have to give all but we should be willing to – and many times that’s harder than actually giving up something. The desires of our hearts are often the hardest thing to control, because only we and God might know about them. They’re hidden away. Yet if we are willing to sell all for the sake of the Word, then we will have one priceless pearl – the greatest single gift that gives us everything, God’s Word.
The man who found the treasure and the merchant who found the pearl wanted their treasure, their pearl, more than anything else. It was all they wanted and all they thought about. When you have such joy in the Word, God gives you everything else you desire, too – not that He crosses off everything on your list at once, but you look at your life and realize that you truly have everything you need; nothing is lacking. He gives you all good gifts. You have the peace that the world cannot give. The divine Word is everything and gives everything for us. That guy who bought the field and the merchant who bought the pearl didn’t think twice about their choices. They never stopped to wonder, “Did I get a good deal?” They knew they did. God gives you that same treasure here today. What will you do with it? God grant that we find His riches and prize them more highly than anything the world has to offer. Amen.