What Jesus Really Said: The Treasure and the Pearl

//What Jesus Really Said: The Treasure and the Pearl

What Jesus Really Said: The Treasure and the Pearl

Matthew 13:44-4

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.[1]

Last week we took up our study of Jesus’ parables again, going back to our series, “What Jesus Really Said”. We looked at The Parable of the Sower, the first and longest of Jesus’ parables. We noted how some parables are as short as a sentence; some are rather long stories (about 27 in the four Gospel accounts).[2]These two parables of the treasure and the pearl are short. But they still have some things to tell us about the Kingdom.

We saw last week that a “parable” is a brief story of comparison. It sets one thing alongside another (παραβολή). Generally speaking, parables are not allegories. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progressor C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narniaare allegories. Every character and event in an allegory has a higher meaning. Not so with Jesus’ parables.

We learned Jesus didn’t use parables because stories are a wonderful teaching tool and he wanted everyone to understand what he was saying.  Not even his disciples knew what he was saying. A parable is “not a nice little story with a moral at the end. It’s not about timeless principles, but about the ‘new thing’ that God is doing in Jesus Christ [at that moment in history], under everyone’s nose. The parables aren’t even doctrinal propositions about how we are saved or about life after death.”[3]

All Jesus’ parables are about how the power of God works to form a Kingdom, a Holy City, the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her husband.[4]What is upside down to us, is the kind of power God normally uses. We humans are used to power as direct, immediate action, what Robert Capon called “the power of the right hand” (and what Luther called the power of the left hand).[5]God sometimes has used right-handed, direct power. Swallowing up into the ground Korah and his fellow rebels against Moses was right-handed power. The final judgment we studied in Revelation is right-handed power. Killing Ananias and Saphira for lying to the church was right-handed power.The final judgment we studied in Revelation is right-handed power. God’s killing Ananias and Saphira for lying to the church was right-handed power. 

Church discipline is, to some degree, right-handed power – though the New Testament church doesn’t kill people. We shut the doors of heaven to persistently unrepentant and rebellious professing Christians who reject God’s word, reject the ministerial authority of their God-ordained leaders, and worship themselves at all costs. But we don’t take their earthly lives, liberty, or property as the earthly kingdom of civil government has the God-given power to do. The church’s authority is ministerialand spiritual, not magisterial.

Left-handed power looks like weakness and inaction to fallen humans and many misguided believers alike. God does a great many things we would naturally think of as “ungodly.” He chooses to forgive and forget the sins of his people. He forbears punishing the idol-worshippers. More than that, he chooses to become sin for us by hanging himself upon a Roman cross in complete humiliation. This is utterly upside down to our human way of thinking – left-handed.

We noted that Jesus lives a left-handed earthly life: an allegedly-illegitimate and uneducated day-laborer from a tiny village of a backwater country of the mighty Roman Empire appears on the scene of history and claims to be both God and THE King of Everyone Everywhere. After three years, he is executed as a criminal after his few remaining followers have deserted him. He rises out of the grave and shows himself to only a few hundred followers, then disappears with a promise to return at some unspecified time. Indirect, unexpected, left-handed power is at work.

The context of all the parablesisthe inauguration of Christ’s left-handed kingdom. The old age of sin and death, including the old covenant theocracy of Israel, has passed away. The typology is fulfilled in the reality of Jesus. Christ is the Prophet, Priest, and King. He is the sacrifice—the once-for-all sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In fact, he IS the real Temple; he personally forgives sins without animal sacrifice; he is the meeting place between man and God. The kingdom has come! The religious leaders who had cast themselves as the defenders of God’s righteous reign, are rewritten in the parables as the opponents of God and his saving purposes. The tables have turned. Right-handed human religious power is giving way to left-handed spiritual power.

We noted that Israel’s religious leaders believed Messiah would come only when Israel purified the Temple, removing from its surrounding neighborhoods anyone who was ceremonially “unclean” or morally offensive. But Messiah Jesus is bringing these outcasts to his feast, while the distinguished guests are left out in the cold.[6]His miracles are left-handed; they make those unfit to enter the temple into those now fit for fellowship with God. This is the left-handed power of God of which Jesus’ parables speak.

We heard how Jesus’ ministry has been going on for at least a year or more, performing miracles only Messiah was foretold to perform: restoring sight to the blind, making the lame walk, cleansing lepers, giving voices to the mute, and raising the dead (Matt. 11:4).

And for all these signs and wonders, and for all his very clear teachings up to this point, the religious leaders have rejected him. The leaders of Israel call Jesus the devil. His own family has call him insane. And the great crowds that once followed him are beginning to thin (Jn. 6:66). So, Jesus starts to hide his message in parables as judgment against the earth-dwellers (those who are not true citizens of his Kingdom), many of whom pose as Israel’s religious authority.

Up to this point, Jesus has been open about announcing the presence of God’s kingdom, about his Messianic miracles, even about his preaching. But the closer he moves to Calvary, the more his tone and message changes. Jesus’ imagery of seedand sowing, used in many of his early parables, emphasizes this mysterious/spiritual/left-handedness. All of Jesus’ parables agree; they show Jesus as Messiah that fits no expected messianic mold and they set the stage for the shattering of the mold to come upon Mount Calvary.[7]

All the parables fit into at least one of three categories: (1) general statements about the Kingdom (Kingdom Parables); statements about God’s one-way love (Grace Parables); and statements about God’s judgement upon the idol-worshippers (Judgment Parables). All of them relate to the kinds of people who discover and receive the Kingdom: the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead. This makes Jesus’ parables highly offensive to religious people who believe, by virtue of their superior knowledge, or intellect, or family lineage, or wealth, or job descriptions, that they are worthy of God’s Kingdom and wise enough to exercise their own right-handed power.

Finally, we noted these stories of comparison are intended to teach Israel that God’s kingdom is universal(not confined to the boarders of Israel), mysterious (spiritual, left-handed power), already presentin their midst, and demanding of their repentance (Mk. 1:15). The parables of the treasure and the pearl deal primarily with the greatness of Christ’s kingdom as measured by two individual’s responses to it. Even though the kingdom is described as an unimpressive-looking seed (a mustard seed) growing up among the weeds, these two individuals come to recognize the amazing value of citizenship in God’s kingdom. Christ, the Seed, the Word, has been sown into the world and two people have glimpsed him as unimaginable treasure far exceeding anything they previously held as valuable.

The point of these parables lies in the nature and the resulting action of those who discover the treasure, which is the good news of citizenship in God’s kingdom. In this way the man who discovered the treasure and the merchant who found the pearl are identical. They make every effort to possess what they discovered. Yet, there is a contrast that should not be overlooked. The man who found the hidden treasure was apparently not looking for it—his discovery was what looks for all the world to be an accident. But in the case of the merchant, the finding of the pearl was the result of a long and faithful search.[8]

Some come to Christ “out of the blue,” They were not looking to find him. They had no particular interest in anything religious or spiritual. They were going about their lives when they were confronted with this unexpected good news and they joyfully received it on the spot. They reflect what God says, in Isaiah 65:1.

I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;

I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.[9]

Others come to find trust the propositional truth of the kingdom of Christ after combing through all the philosophies and “isms” they are able to consume in this present evil age. For all her years of seeking something, she did not know that the Good Shepherd was seeking her until she discovered this perfect pearl. Then, she holds nothing so dear as this message of God’ undeserved, one-way love displayed through the perfectly-lived life and wrath-satisfying death of the resurrected and ascended Messiah Jesus.

HIDDEN

Because these two parables are brief, looking at a couple of the words in them will help us understand what Christ is teaching us about his kingdom. The first word is hidden(v. 44). It turns up in a number of Jesus’ parables. Just a few verses earlier, Matthew, quoting Psalm 48, wrote:

All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”[10]

In Matthew 11:25, Jesus says – referring to the unrepentant cities that paid no attention to the mighty works by which he was proclaiming the kingdom – “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children….[11]Not even brilliant specialists in plausibilities, he insists, can discern the kingdom at work in their midst; only the mystery-loving simplicity of children – the least and the little – can recognize the kingdom’s hidden reality.[12]

In Luke 18:31-34, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection for the third time. But Luke writes in verse 34 that, The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.”[13]Even when Jesus spells out all the details as plainly as possible, the mystery remains inaccessible to anyone’s understanding.

Finally, in two other places in the New Testament, the root of this word “hidden” is used as a direct reference to the mystery of redemption. In Revelation 2:17, Christ stands in the middle of seven lampstands and promises the congregation of Pergamum, “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.[14]Paul, in Col. 3:3-4, tells the still-living believers, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.[15]

Taken as a whole, the context of the word “hidden” shows us the full force of the left-handed kingdom of God in the world. This does NOT mean that the kingdom is some invisible proposition that won’t both you if you if you don’t bother it. It means the kingdomit is the chief constitutive principle of the whole creative-redemptive order – and it is present in all its reconciling power whether you pay attention to it or not. The mystery, in short, is exactly what the parable of the Treasure hidden in the field says it is: something worth selling anything you must to enjoy possessing.”[16]

Because Christ’s kingdom is “hidden,” it must be revealed. Before the man in the field or the merchant on the hunt can discover the kingdom, they must be given eyes to see it. Thus, Jesus thanked the Father that he had “hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children….” Whether someone simply stumbles upon the propositions of the gospel or is intensely searching for something of great value, God the Spirit must prepare the soil of their hearts to recognize their status as the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead because God the Father has chosen to reveal it to them. “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). You might recognize the passive voice in Paul’s description – you did not hide your life with Christ in God; God hid it when he revealed your “deadness,” changed your affections, and brought you to trust into Christ.

BUYING

You cannot buy what you do not recognize to be treasure. And that brings us to our other word in these two short parables: the word buy, or purchase. Purchasing gladly – at whatever the cost – is the point of these two parables. In fact, Jesus says the treasure of the field is purchased out of his joyby selling everything else he owns. The treasure and the pearl stand for the mysterious kingdom of God in Christ Jesus. The original owners who sell these valuable items must then be the church, who owns the treasures of Christ. The real estate purchaser and the pearl merchant are the evangelized pre-believers who find the ecstatic enjoyment of the precious mystery revealed in Jesus.

The woman who walks out of Tiffany’s with a 6 ct. emerald of exceptional tone and clarity and the man who pulls into his driveway in his brand new Lamborghini Veneno are not in that moment gloomy characters. To bring the parable full circle, neither are the sales people who closed the deals on those huge purchases. There is great joy over the sinner who repents, not hand-wringing or brow-furrowing, finger-pointing, or lecturing – genuine 200-proof joy!

“Therefore, there should be at least smiles in the church over the same happy turn of events. Not because we have made a buck, and not, God forbid, because we have compassed sea and land to make a proselyte; but only because the customers are satisfied because they have put on the mink of righteousness, sat down in the Rolls Royce of salvation, and are now just laughing themselves silly over the incongruous wonderfulness of it all.”[17]

Do you want to know the character of one who has been made alive by God? He says with David, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 84:10). He says of God’s laws, “They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold” (Ps. 19:10). He cries, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14). Such a person has already had a change of values. He has recognized the poverty of all that comes from man – including jewels and sports cars – and has seen the true splendor of the gospel.[18]

No one who sells out to Christ’s kingdom will be impoverished. The purchasers in these two parables got a huge bargain. They received the deal of their lives and they were completely content. You are not called to poverty in Christ but to the greatest spiritual wealth. You are not called to disappointment but to fulfillment. You are not called to sorrow but to joy. How could it be otherwise when the treasure is the only Son of God? How can the outcome be bad when it means living for eternity in the love of God, with God?[19]

[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 13:44–46.

[2]James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 230.

[3]Horton, Michael. The Parables of Jesus, Part 1. White Horse Inn Discussion Questions. Oct. 10, 2010.

[4]Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment. Eerdmans, 2002. P. 15.

[5]Capon’s “hands” are opposite of Luther’s. Luther considered earthly, governmental power to be “left-handed” power and God’s kingdom to be the kingdom of the right hand.

[6]Horton, op. cit.

[7]Id., 53.

[8]Boice, 246.

[9]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 65:1.

[10]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 13:34–35.

[11]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 11:25.

[12]Capon,Kindle Locations 1406-1408.

[13]The Holy Bible: New International Version(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Lk 18:34.

[14]The Holy Bible: New International Version(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Re 2:17.

[15]The Holy Bible: New International Version(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Col 3:3–4.

[16]Capon, Kindle Locations 1416-1418.

[17]Capon, Kindle Locations 1539-1541.

[18]Boice, 248.

[19]Id., 249.

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