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Parable of the Treasure, Pearl, & Net

February 27, 2022 Speaker: Jim Davis Series: Matthew

Passage: Matthew 13:44–13:50

We are working our way through Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13. If you’ve been with us, you know that while these parables are pretty confusing to the crowd, Jesus explains them to the disciples with the goal of fixing misconceptions they have about the kingdom of heaven. In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells them not to be surprised when the kingdom comes, but not everyone embraces it. In the parable of the weeds, he tells them not to be surprised when some who say they are in the kingdom act like they aren’t because not everyone who says they are in the kingdom really is. In the parable of the mustard seed and leavened bread, Jesus says don’t be surprised when the kingdom starts small. 

Now, in these parables Jesus is speaking to the great value of the kingdom. Jesus is bringing a kingdom that has more value than you can imagine if you embrace it and more cost than you can imagine if you do not. Jesus says some heavy things here, but he does so because he loves us. People who love you tell you the truth even if it is hard because they know it is ultimately for your good. No one in your life will ever tell you something more important than what Jesus is telling you in this passage. He tells us the great value of the kingdom and the great cost if we do not see that value. 

  1. The great value of the kingdom

Jesus compares the value of the kingdom to a treasure found in a field and pearl found in an oyster and in these comparisons, we see that the kingdom is more valuable than anything else we could possibly desire. In the parable of the treasure, this man was walking through a field that he did not own. Why he was there we don’t know for sure, but in that culture it would have been normal for someone to rent some land to grow crops on. That could be what is happening. But, whatever the reason, he comes upon this treasure.

Think back to Israel’s history and how many wars and invaders had come through this land. Burying your most treasured possessions was your best bet at keeping them safe. This also happened in America during the Revolutionary and Civil wars. If you grew up around here, you heard about pirates like William Kidd and Blackbeard who were rumored to have huge treasures buried in the islands. Anyway, burying treasures has always been a normal thing in this world, but finding them has not. 

The main point Jesus is making is that nothing in your life is more valuable than this treasure, which is the kingdom of heaven. If you take every single thing you own, this treasure is worth vastly more, so you trade all you have for it. It’s a no brainer! It’s the only deal that is too good to be true, but it actually is true. This man sells every single thing he owns to be able to buy this field that contains the treasure and Jesus says he does so with joy. Not begrudgingly. Not cynically, but with great joy. 

Now, you would think that it goes without saying that Jesus is not teaching or even implying that we can buy our way into the kingdom. That would be ridiculous, but that is exactly what has been taught in certain theological streams. No amount of money is going to get you more of the kingdom. No seed money is going to get you more blessing in this life and no church offering is going to make your transition into heaven more pleasant. The gift Jesus offers is free. This is why Isaiah says Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, ecome, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. - Is. 55:1 

The transaction that is taking place is an exchange where we give our lives to Jesus and we get his kingdom. The “money” we spend is our ownership of and authority over our life. Make no mistake, when we embrace the treasure that is the kingdom of God, it does cost us. It cost the man in the field and the seeker of pearls everything they had. Giving authority of our lives over to Jesus will cost control over how we spend our money. It will cost control over how we use our time. It will cost control over how we use our bodies. It will cost control over how we respond to being wronged. It will cost control over what we pursue for pleasure and satisfaction. That is a lot of control to give up. Let the weight of that sink in. Jesus is saying that it is akin to selling every single possession you have….but it is worth it. 

It’s worth it because we are exchanging something that doesn’t work for something that does! Imagine a child bringing you monopoly money and wanting to use it to buy Doughnut King. That doesn’t work. Monopoly money doesn’t have enough value to make the purchase. But, that is essentially what’s going on here. We are trading in all our efforts to be king over our own lives for the only King who qualified for the job! And with this king, we get his kingdom! Yet, so many people choose to remain king.

This passage made me think about Shakespeare’s character Polonius in Hamlet. Polonius gave a speech to his son (if I remember correctly) and in that speech he said the famous words, “To thine own self be true.” There is no phrase that better captures what it means to be the king of your own life. To live your life the way you want to live it. Polonius was saying ‘you do you’ long before Jason Mraz, Obama, and the rest of our culture. But, the difference between Shakespeare and our culture is that Shakespeare knew it was an insane way to live your life! In Hamlet, Polonius was a fool who followed his own advice and it did not turn out well. 

Can you imagine if we parented this way, teaching them that the most important thing is to do you? To follow your heart? My kids wouldn’t go to school, they would put Nutella on everything they ate, there would be no baths, and all our money would be spent on in-app game purchases and skins. That’s what kids do when they follow their hearts. While it may look slightly more sophisticated for adults, we still do the same thing. We may not put Nutella on our food, we will find other self destructive ways to satisfy our desires. We may not spend our money on virtual skins, but we will find other things to buy to soothe the pain of living in this fallen world. We hold on to these fleeting things and don’t want to let go because we don’t know there is something so much better.

This parable is absolutely insane unless that treasure and that pearl are overwhelmingly worth more than anything we have. Once you see all the kingdom brings you, you will see that kingdom as so valuable that you want to put yourself under the rule of the king. Not begrudgingly, not cynically, but joyfully. 

I was working this week at a place I go to work on sermons sometime and this man who looked to be about 80 came up to my work area and said, “Excuse me, you look like a minister.” To which I said, “Yikes, is it that obvious?” To look like a minister means you either look holy or boring and I’m thinking it was the latter. As it turns out, he was a retired Presbyterian pastor who recognized the commentary I was reading. I asked him to sit down and he began to tell me a story that was a perfect picture of this text playing out in someone’s life. 

In his early forties, he had become very successful in development in the Atlanta area. He had a home in town, he had a home on the lake, he had nice cars and even a plane. But, one day the value of the kingdom and the call of Jesus became so clear to him that he decided to sell everything and go to seminary to learn more about Jesus and see if maybe pastoring was even possible. So, if I’m honest, at this point, I’m not all that impressed because it just sounded like an early retirement and a cozy life. But, later on I found out that he didn’t just sell all his stuff, he gave it away! The house, the business, the plane…everything! He kept only enough to get them through seminary because he wanted to know that God was behind him in this call and the way he would know that is that God would provide for them financially. So, with this passage in mind, I asked him looking back if it was worth it. He said, “I don’t have anything now of great monetary value, but I have so much more now than I ever had back then. I’d do it a thousand times over.” That’s a man who found the treasure. 

It’s interesting to me to contrast the ways the first man found the treasure and the way the second man found the pearl. The man who found the treasure found it when he was not looking for it. He just happened upon it. He wasn’t a treasure hunter on the Discovery Channel devoting his life to finding a specific treasure, he was a normal man going about his normal business. None of us find God through our good work, our moral fortitude, or our innate spiritual wisdom. God finds us often when we are not even looking for him. It’s exactly as God said to the prophet Isaiah, I was ready to be sought by hthose who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by1 my name. 2  iI spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; - Is. 65:1,2

Many of us find the treasure of the kingdom when we are not only not looking for God, but even when we are farthest from him. That’s certainly how it happened for the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus to arrest and even kill Christians when Jesus showed up to him. Maybe that’s you here today. Maybe you are here with a friend or family member…maybe you think you’re doing them a favor…but today is the day that you see the treasure for the very first time. 

This is different though for the man who found the pearl. He had devoted his life to finding the pearl, but he had been looking in all the wrong places. I’ve told this story before, but when I became a Christian in college, up to that point, there was one guy who was known as the Christian guy basically because he didn’t drink. It was a huge part of his identity, but you could always see that he was a tortured soul inside. He would do everything he could to make sure you knew that he did religious things. 

Soon after I became a Christian, he came up to me and said, “You’ve found something in an instant that I have been working so hard to find and it makes me infuriated.” He was searching so hard for that pearl, but looking in the wrong oysters. The pearl beyond worth is only found in the oyster of the gospel. He was looking in the oysters of his own works and it created deep contempt for me inside of him. He was selling everything he had, but not out of joy and it was corrupting his soul. 

Jesus said, Ask, zand it will be given to you; aseek, and you will find; bknock, and it will be opened to you. - Matt 7:7 But my friend wasn’t seeking Jesus who freely gives us his righteousness and a new life with God, he was seeking his own self-righteousness which is about as far from God as you can get. He was trying to hold on to his monopoly money and have the kingdom. He was walking right over that treasure every day and because of that, he stayed spiritually poor. 

But, sometimes the long pursuit pays off. It did for the man who found the pearl and it did for the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. He knew there was a God and devoted himself to finding Him. He made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he met with the rabbis, he read the Old Testament, and he used tremendous resources to do so. But, the eunuch’s heart was open. He was truly seeking and God sent Philip to him for what would be the easiest evangelistic appointment ever. He was reading out loud Isaiah talking about the sheep being led to the slaughter and Philip overheard him simply asked, “Do you understand that?” The eunuch said, “No, but I want to. Would you help me?”

What I keep coming back to in this parable is the joy with which the field was bought. It wasn’t a white knuckle gamble. In college I was on a gambling cruise ship and on the way back there was this woman who had lost everything and she was putting her last coins in the slot machine with tears streaming down her face. The field is a sure bet because Jesus is no hail Mary (that would be a very interesting title for a book…that I will not write)...Jesus is the sure bet. When we see Jesus, who is the treasure of the kingdom, it is our pleasure to run from the sin in our life and run to Jesus. It is a joy to make time for Bible reading, prayer, and worship. It is a joy to radically change the way we spend our money. It is a joy to let go of our sexual pursuits that dishonor God for God’s good design for sex.

I got a great picture of this last week. About once a year, I will go speak at Cru at UCF. I’m pretty guarded with my calendar these days. My responsibilities here and my kids' activities keep me pretty busy. But, if at all possible, I always say yes to speaking to college students. It is such a strategic time to hear and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, I was talking about the marriage between Jesus and his bride, the church, at the end of time in Revelation 19 and how on that day the saints are dressed in white representing the righteousness that Jesus has given us. Then I pointed out that this is why women wear a white dress on their wedding day. Not because of their sexual history or purity, but simply because Jesus made us pure. And because we are made pure and will never lose that purity, we choose to walk in integrity.

And I looked down and to my left and there was this college woman in the front row just weeping. Her friends were hugging her and it was all I could do to focus because without knowing her at all, I knew her story. Those were not the tears of the woman on the boat, those were tears of joy. She had found the treasure. After her own pursuits failed her, Jesus did not. She, like the Presbyterian pastor, found the treasure, sold everything for it and had no desire to have those things back. 

Afterward, I got to give her a hug and be reminded once again of the value of the kingdom. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He tells us the cost if we do not find and pursue that treasure. 

  1. The cost if we do not see it

This brings us to the parable of the net. It’s scary if you really look at what Jesus is doing here. There is no middle ground. It is all joy for those who are in the kingdom of heaven and utter and eternal disaster for those who do not. This parable overlaps some with the parable of the weeds. But instead of weeds and grain, we have fish that are acceptable and fish that are not. The fisherman, who we know represents the angels coming at the end of time, will cast a net and draw all the fish, who we know represents all of us, and take those who are acceptable and put them into good containers to preserve them and those who are not will be thrown out. And, lest there be any confusion, Jesus says 49 So it will be at ethe end of the age. The angels will come out and fseparate the evil from the righteous 50 gand throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place gthere will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. - Matt 13:49,50

People like the happy Jesus stuff, but weeping and gnashing of teeth…not so much. But instead of being put off by this reality because we don’t want to think about it, we should be asking the question: What makes some of these fish acceptable and others not? Jesus answers this question in Revelation 20, a picture of this very scene. 

This is the final judgment and the book of life is opened and all whose names are written in that book are welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. So, how do you get in that book? Seems like a pretty good list to be on. In this life, we decide how we want to be judged at the end of time. Do you want to be judged on your life, on your words, your thoughts, and your deeds or do you want to be judged on the merits of Jesus’ words, Jesus’ thoughts, and Jesus deeds? 

When I was in high school, I took typing with Mrs. Ensfelder. I was a mischievous kid. I didn’t look like a minister back then:) The computers, yes we used computers…I’m not that old, they were back to back so you could plug into the power source better. So, this meant that you were always facing another student on their computer. When it was time for our typing tests our monitors were turned off so we couldn’t see what we were typing. We just had to type as fast as we could. Well, there was this one girl in class who was the typing queen. She typed like Commander Data on Star Trek. So, when we had a test, I would make sure to sit across from her and I would unplug our keyboards when she wasn’t looking and switch them so her keyboard was actually plugged into my computer and my keyboard was plugged into her computer. Essentially, unbeknownst to her, we were taking each other’s tests. After each test I would switch them back and my grades were amazing and as hard as I tried to give her a decent grade…and I did try…it never really went well for her. 

In that class, I was being judged on her merits and she was being judged on mine. I knew my merits wouldn’t get me very far so I stole hers. Jesus, though, willingly offers us what he merited in this life, which is much more than a great typing test, it’s perfection. And he joyfully took on what we deserve: God’s wrath on the cross. Which is a lot worse than my typing grade. So, the Book of Life contains the names of the people who have chosen to be judged on Jesus’ merits. That is what makes anyone acceptable. Then, for everyone else, they each open the books of their own lives and are judged the way they have asked to be judged. And because no human being is acceptable to God on our own, the result is God’s right judgment on our sin.

I often hear people say that hell is the absence of God, but that is just not true. It is the absence of the qualities of God that we want to experience like love, joy, mercy, and grace. But, it is the eternal presence of God’s wrath and justice. That may sound unfair to you, but on that day, no one will make that claim, even those on whom God’s wrath falls. I have a friend going through a divorce that he doesn’t want, but after his wife took the stand last week and testified for six hours about all the things he had done, he told me, “Jim, I deserve to be divorced.” He doesn’t like it, but he sees that it is just. The same will be for those who choose to be judged on the merits of their unacceptable lives. 

After this life is over, there is no second chance. There is no purgatory. There are only the righteous who are made so by Jesus Christ and the unrighteous who have trampled over the treasure or refused to seek the pearl. And I see so many people who actually believe this message intellectually, but they live as though this event is so far off that they have plenty of time to procrastinate and do what they want to do for now. Do you see procrastination in these parables? No, there is urgency. Saying ‘not yet’ to God is simply another way of saying no. And I would go so far as to say that if you live in a complacent, procrastinating posture toward God, you have not seen the treasure. All who see the treasure, run to it. 

Conclusion: Have you understood? Verse 51

In verse 51, Jesus asks the disciples the same question Philip asked the eunuch: Have you understood? Jesus is bringing a kingdom that has more value than you can imagine if you embrace it and more cost than you can imagine if you do not. Do you understand the implications on your life now that you have heard this truth. If we deny it or ignore it once we have heard it, Jesus says the latter state is worse than the first. But if we believe it and embrace him, then we will say along with the martyred missionary, Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

But what’s easily missed is that Jesus isn’t asking the disciples if they understand just so they can adjust their hearts and lives accordingly. He is asking that, but he isn’t asking only that. He’s also asking them if they understand because he’s sending them out to proclaim this kingdom. If we have found this treasure, we are in the kingdom and one of the great privileges of being in the kingdom is that we get to go help others find that same treasure. There will be a day when the angels come and the treasure will be discovered no more. Those who have it, have it and those who don’t, don’t. But, one of the privilege we enjoy this side of that day is that we get to share the treasure. So, let’s hear Jesus’ words and let them land. Have you understood?

More in Matthew

March 20, 2022

The Death of John the Baptist

March 13, 2022

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

February 13, 2022

The Purpose of the Parables