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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:Seeking, Finding, and Treasuring the Kingdom
Text:Matthew 13:44-46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 147:1,3
Ps 119:2,5
Reading -- Matthew 13:24-52
Ps 145:1,2,3
Sermon -- Matthew 13:44-46
Ps 63:1,2,3
Hy 43:3,4,5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, when you open the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, it seems that more often that not, Jesus is speaking in some parable. With colourful language, Jesus places things "side by side," comparing and contrasting, and drawing out from the picture he paints some truth or teaching. Sometimes the parables are short, sometimes long, but they're always vivid, because for his parables Jesus takes illustrations from the every-day things of life: nature, familiar customs, or events that any one could imagine happening.

Readers of the Bible like the parables of Christ. The parables are an interesting, and a gentle, form of teaching; they don't seem to be as direct as some of Jesus' other words. It seems that no one is forced to see or respond to the truth that is spoken. Because everyone loves a good story, with these parables everyone might just sit back and appreciate these little tales that Jesus tells.

But Jesus says that his parables will always have some effect. Parables are not just stories. Those who "get" the parables will be blessed with the knowledge that is gained through them. And those who don't "get" the parables will only sink further in their dangerous ignorance.

In Matthew 13 we find a whole group of these parables. In the beginning of this chapter we read that Jesus sat down in a boat and parked it a little ways from shore, where great crowds of people gathered. As they all stood there, with eyes and attention focused on the man in the boat, Jesus spoke, and, we read, "He told them many things in parables" (v 3).

For what amounts to an entire chapter Jesus speaks in pictures: telling parables, explaining some, leaving others without commentary, and surely making the people assembled think hard with every one. These parables in Matthew 13 have a similar focus, and are united by a single theme: The Kingdom of heaven. Time and again Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like...", and then goes on to compare the kingdom of heaven to a farmer sowing a crop, or to a mustard seed, or yeast, or a net, or to something else again.

Yet we wonder, "What is the kingdom of heaven in the first place?" If we are going to look at a pair of these parables today, we need to know what is being compared to what. Well, Scripture views the Kingdom from different but complementary angles, to give us a complete picture of a vast subject. The Kingdom of God is God's dominion over all the world, and also God's rule as King, lovingly acknowledged by his people. The Kingdom is God's rule in the present, but also in the future. The Kingdom of God "comes" when God's will is faithfully obeyed by the church, and it also comes when God forcefully defeats those who reject his will.

In these two connected parables, Jesus focuses on another aspect of God's Kingdom; namely, how we find and enter a life that both submits to and enjoys the rule of our King and God. I preach to you God's Word from Matthew 13,

"The kingdom of heaven is like..."

  1. a treasure hidden in a field
  2. a merchant looking for fine pearls

 1) the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field: With only a few words, Jesus describes the first simple scene, "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."

To us a couple things about this parable sound strange. The first "odd" thing is that the man actually comes across a buried treasure. Of course, today children like to dream about finding a big chest full of gold coins and jewels. Talk of pirates and treasure maps and of stolen booty hidden away but never found back always excites children, and even some adults. But how likely is it that children in the sandbox, or those fellows with metal detectors at the beach, will ever find anything of value? Not too likely.

But when Jesus told this parable, his listeners wouldn't have dismissed this talk of finding buried treasure as unrealistic and juvenile. For in the land of Palestine it was a real possibility that a person could stumble upon someone else?s stash of hidden valuables.

In Jesus'  time, there were bankers. To them you could bring your money and have it kept it safely; with these bankers, you could even gain interest on your deposit (think of the parable of the talents, in Matt 25:27). But though there were bankers, instead many people used the ground as the safest place to keep their most cherished belongings.

For you never knew if a banker would be robbed, or if he would disappear one day with everyone's money and valuables -- and in ancient times there was no deposit insurance. Furthermore, the land of Palestine could turn into a battlefield at any time; it was probably the most fought-over piece of land in the world. When these storms of war threatened, it was common practice for the people to hide their valuables in the ground, before they ran for the hills, and before lawless looters ransacked any house they came upon. So, put your life-savings in a jar, dig a hole, throw in the jar, back-fill, and try to remember the spot for the day that things quiet down.

We can imagine then, the man in our parable, hard at work in a farmer's field, perhaps plowing the ground with a team of oxen. Suddenly, he notices a flash of gold, underneath the blade of the plow! He stops the oxen, bends down into the soil and carefully digs in the dirt with his hands. He picks up the gold coins he saw at first, but then finds more coins -- and more. He uncovers an entire wine vessel, filled with old gold and silver coins, some precious stones, a gold necklace and rings. The ceramic vessel is badly cracked on account of the plow, but the man is able to recover all the valuables and carry them away in his tunic. We can imagine that he takes his own jug, empties it of water and fills it with his new-found riches! And then he buries the treasure again in another spot.

The man probably has a hard time finishing his work for the day, with a smile permanently fixed on his face, and his mind racing. But by the time the field is fully plowed, he has a plan. He sells everything he owns (his house, his animals, his furniture), and then with the money, plus all his life-savings, he approaches his employer, the owner of the field. Will he sell? He will. And so the man who found the treasure gets to keep the treasure -- making him a thousand times wealthier than he ever was.

A nice ending. Yet the parable might appear strange to us for another reason. That is, the man who finds the treasure in the field doesn't seem to be entirely honest. For once he happens to discover the valuables, he makes every effort to keep them all for himself. First, he stows the treasure away again, likely moving it away from the place he found it originally. Second, the man undoubtedly does not tell the owner of the field about his reasons for wanting to purchase the property -- for all the original owner knew, it was just a regular old field, to be sold at a regular old price.

We can certainly understand the man's actions. It's only human nature to want to acquire valuable things at a bargain price, and it's only natural to hoard wealth for oneself. What the man did was only to be expected -- but that doesn't make it right, right?

Again, we have to look at the original setting of this parable. Jesus does not say there was any dishonesty or wrong-doing on the part of this man. Rather, the man who found the hidden treasure was acting fully within his rights, even according to the law. As you know, Palestine at this time was under the Romans and was generally under Roman law. But in the ordinary, small, day-to-day things in the land, the traditional Jewish law was still in effect.

And in regard to something like hidden treasure, the traditional Jewish law (the law of the rabbis), was quite clear. The question in the rabbinic law was this: "What finds [that is, what objects that are found] belong to the finder, and what finds must one cause to be proclaimed?" In other words, for what finds do you and don't you have to put up a notice on the neighborhood telephone poles, saying "Found: Such-and-such. Please contact so-and-so."

The rabbis answered, "These finds belong to the finder -- if a man finds scattered fruit, scattered household goods, scattered money -- these belong to the finder." The law for buried treasure was: Finders keepers! The man in the parable was not being dishonest; rather, this man had prior right to what he had found. In buying the field he only wanted to make absolutely sure that no one would try and take his treasure away from him.

With our objections answered, now we need to ask for this parable (as with any parable): What is the main point of the comparison?

Yet Jesus does not serve us the main point on a silver platter; he leaves the parable for us to reflect on, a pointed thought to consider. So let us consider: Notice that in this parable, Jesus compares the kingdom to something of great value. Not just like seed scatted on the field, not just like a mustard seed or like yeast, the kingdom of heaven is like buried treasure. In this parable, the point then, is the value of what is found, a value that makes someone willing, even joyfully eager, to give up everything he has to make the treasure -- without any question -- his very own.

Let us consider: The Kingdom of God is like hidden treasure. Indeed, sometimes the good news of God's grace is discovered "accidentally" (if we may speak that way); sometimes an unbeliever suddenly catches a glimpse of the riches of God's Kingdom when he happens to read a Bible one day in a hotel room, or when he hears a Christian message on the radio, or when he sees the strikingly godly actions of a church-goer.

Even for those who know the Bible, who come to church every Sunday, and who have Christian parents, the full value of the gospel is sometimes not seen until a sudden moment of clarity. Though we aren't expecting it, one day the Holy Spirit can suddenly blow in our hearts -- and we see a treasure lying right at our feet!

To be sure, a true realization of God's gracious rule and blessing is not always sudden, it is not always like stumbling on hidden treasure. In fact, it is often gradual, as we slowly come to see how precious is the gospel of Christ. But even then, we cannot control when we shall see the light, or when we will be ready to profess that we believe it. Only God can reveal his truth to us!

Whether sudden or gradual, when we have seen firsthand even a little of the riches of a life lived in covenant with God, the point of Jesus' parable is that we must make these riches our own. It is not enough to know where the treasure is, and then simply to carry on. Indeed, too many people -- too many members of the church! -- have said, "I know what?s in the Bible; I know that God has mercy on sinners; when I need it, that's when I'll take it. But right now I'm fine." Yet who would walk away from treasure lying right at his feet? We of all people know where the treasure is; now we have to grab it with both hands, and keep it!

If we look at the Bible and shrug, or if we come to church and sleep, or if we don't come to church as often as we can, maybe it's because we don't even understand how great a treasure lies before us. But the man in the parable knew at once, and he could do nothing else until he had made the treasure his own. Let us ask ourselves: Are we driven to hold on to the treasure of God? Do we realize how much we can have in Jesus Christ? Do we kick the gospel with our feet as we walk by, or do we drop down into the dirt and do everything we can to make it our own?

When we do "find" the riches of the Kingdom, our discovery is a gift of God's grace -- no one can dispute that. But it also takes work, even sacrifice. The man in the parable found something of measureless value, and sacrificed everything he had so that he could hold in his hands the one thing he wanted. For him there was certainly short-term pain, but he fixed his eyes on his goal, because he knew it was worth far more than anything he could imagine. That is why we read that he even sold all he had "in joy."

Serving God the King means we will have to make sacrifices. Yet whatever we have to give up for God, whatever hard work we have to do for the Kingdom, we may do so in joy. In joy, because our perspective changes when we know how much better is life in fellowship with God. We will not dwell on the sins we cannot commit any longer, we will not begrudge giving God our first-fruits, we will not complain about the time we have to spend working in and for the church; rather, we will rejoice! We rejoice, for we have found the one thing that can save us from a life, from an eternity, of dismal poverty. By God's grace we have found it -- now let us get on our knees and pick it up!

2) the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls: The second parable of this pair is as short and sweet as the first. "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."

In the ancient world especially, pearls had a very special place in people's hearts. It was the most desired of all valuable objects, desired far more than even gold. Everyone longed to possess a lovely pearl, not only for its monetary value, but also for its beauty. A person who owned a pearl found great pleasure in simply handling it and contemplating it, admiring its faint lines and rich hues of white and cream.

And so merchants would scour the markets of the world, in the hunt for any pearl of surpassing beauty. Just as we comb garage sales and flea markets for unrecognized treasures, so these dealers would travel from bazaar to market to emporium, examining with critical eye the bits of cheap and expensive jewelry and stones that were for sale, hoping to find a pearl that someone had overlooked or underpriced.

We can imagine that, one day, the merchant in our parable was at a market, tiredly sifting through a box of assorted jewels and trinkets and shiny stones. So much of this stuff was the same every time: the standard rings, your basic rubies, imitation pearls. But suddenly his eyes fell upon another open box nearby, which had a small velvet pillow within it, and on which rested a single glowing pearl, a pearl unlike any other pearl. Asking the vendor's permission, he carefully plucked up with two fingers this incredible pearl: perfectly rounded, beautifully coloured, formed without a blemish, and bigger than any he had ever seen! This was no imitation, this was the mother of all pearls!

The merchant quickly went away, and sold all his worldly goods -- probably even quicker than the man in the first parable had, for the merchant was concerned to snatch up the pearl from the vendor's table before someone else did. And the pearl was either unrecognized by others for what it was, or remained unsold because of its high price, until the merchant returned, with all his money in tow. And so the merchant bought that pearl of immense value.

Again Jesus does not explain his parable to his listeners. He gives it to them and leaves it with them, to chew on and to digest. So let us consider: The Kingdom of God is like that greatly-desired pearl. Just as in the previous parable, having a relationship of trust and submission to God the King is compared to having something of measureless value. But this point is emphasized in slightly different ways in this second little parable, for, as we have seen, a pearl in ancient times was the loveliest of all possessions. A pearl was something desired, hoped for, cherished, even caressed -- because the beauty of a pearl was legendary.

Now remember what is being compared: To be in the Kingdom of God is to accept and to do the will of the King. Thus serving the great King is no grim, dark, joyless thing, it is a pearl of incredible beauty! Serving God the King is something to cherish, to be proud of, even to long for. There is sacrifice in belonging to God, but it is sacrifice for a grand reward. Beyond the self-denial, beyond the discipline, beyond the cross to be daily carried, lies the most precious thing, a thing of supreme and unsurpassed beauty: Life in the Kingdom, under God and for God and with God!

Unlike in the previous parable, the merchant in this parable does not just "happen" to discover this thing of great value. We read, "[He was] looking for fine pearls." There were surely other pearls he came across, even others that he was tempted to buy. Indeed, there are many other pearls, but only one pearl of great price! Today too, many people search for ultimate meaning for their lives, searching high and low, even searching frantically, as their days slowly run out. They search and search, but often overlook that one pearl of great value: Living in the Kingdom of God with Jesus Christ!

Perhaps we are not "searching" for a pearl, for ultimate meaning for our lives. If anyone asked us our purpose and goal, we'd probably all know the right answer. But there are so many other fine things in this world, and so many objects that hold our gaze. Yes, there are so many cheap and imitation pearls that demand our attention and absorb our money, when we should be seeking, admiring, even caressing, the one pearl of great price!

Beloved, anything else is second-rate, anything else will only rust and fade away. But this one pearl we must seek. Yes, we have to seek it, even if know where it is, right there on the table! Seek the Kingdom of God, and seek to enter the Kingdom of God! We must be diligent, we must be determined, we must be tireless in our desire for this pearl. For will we leave it on the table? Will we hear this parable today, walk away, and pretend we're not interested? No, giving up all those other attractions, even giving up everything we had before, let us take the pearl of life in fellowship with God!

Afterwards, you can be sure the merchant's burning desire for the pearl does not die as soon as he takes it as his very own. Rather, from that day on, each morning he wakes up and the first thing he does is hold it and admire it, study it, touch it, and give thanks to God for it. He never gets tired of it, nor does he move on from it to other and newer things -- for this is all he has. This is all he needs. He gave up everything for it, but that's OK. Because now he is truly rich. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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