Not Holding Back
July 27, 2013 | Brian Bill
[Hold up metal detector] Can anyone tell me what this is? What is it used for?
This morning we’re going on a treasure hunt. We’re given some clues how to find this fortune by Jesus Christ Himself. Comparing hidden treasure and precious pearls to the kingdom of heaven, we’ll discover that if we truly crave the coveted grand prize, then we can’t hold anything back.
As we continue in our summer sermon series called, “Practical Parables,” we’re going to look at two very short and simple stories. The word “parable” comes from two words – para meaning “with” and ballo “to throw.” A parable then means to “throw two things together” by using a story that illustrates a truth with comparison, hyperbole or simile. The main message is this: True treasure is found only in the kingdom of Christ.
Turn to Matthew 13:44-47. Let’s observe how each parable begins. Look at verse 44: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like…” Drop down to verse 45: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like…”
Jesus loved to teach about the kingdom of heaven. He began his ministry proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 4:17) and sent his disciples out in Matthew 10:7 to proclaim the same message. The kingdom of heaven essentially refers to the rule and reign of God in a human heart as is stated in Luke 17:21: “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” It’s also biblical to say that the kingdom of heaven was inaugurated on the Day of Pentecost but also has a future element that will culminate with the second coming of Christ.
Our outline is simple – we’ll begin with the parables and end with some principles.
When we come to chapter 13 of Matthew we reach the midpoint of the narrative and a turning point in Jesus’ ministry.
The polarization of responses to Jesus made it necessary for Him to concentrate on those who remained open to His message. There are seven different parables in this chapter and in the last three verse 36 tells us that Jesus sent the crowds away to spend alone time with his disciples where He gives them an insider’s explanation.
By the way, it’s our privilege to study these parables, isn’t it? Jesus himself said in verse 17 that many prophets desired to hear these things and never did. Verse 16 says that we’re blessed when our eyes see and our ears hear.
Let’s pray right now so that we will see the Scriptures correctly and hear them so we can heed what it is God wants us to do.
Turn your attention to Matthew 13:44: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” While most of us don’t bury our treasures in fields, it was very common to do so at that time. They didn’t have banks and they didn’t have mattresses to hide their money under so most made their deposits in the dirt.
Achan hid spoils of war in the ground in Joshua 7:21. In Matthew 25:14-18 we read of three servants who were entrusted with their master’s money. The first two guys invested theirs and made some interest while the third guy just wanted the shekels to be safe so he “dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.”
The word “treasure” in this first parable is the Greek word “thesauros,” which refers to a treasury of words. In the original the word referred to a treasure chest or storehouse where a great treasure was kept. It’s the same word used in Hebrews 11:26 to describe Moses’ turning of his back on the “treasures of Egypt” in order to follow God. In other words, this not just a coin found in the dirt (or on the carpet) but a huge treasure chest.
Over time, either because the owner expired or was forced from his land by war, this buried treasure was unclaimed. One day a man was out in one of these fields when he inadvertently came across this cache of cash. The idea is that he found it unexpectedly. Not wanting anyone to see what he discovered, he reburied the loot and was so ecstatic that he went and liquidated all of his possessions and purchased the field. When it says that he sold “all” that he owned it means the “whole of it.” He held nothing back.
While something about this doesn’t seem ethical to us, it was quite acceptable back then. According to Jewish Rabbinic law, “If a man finds scattered fruit or money, it belongs to the finder.” Its kind of like, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” Let’s not lose sight of the primary point of this parable: A man found something so valuable that he immediately, and joyfully, sold all he had in order to make the field his own.
Have you ever seen the “Antique Road Show” on TV? I like watching how people bring their junk to the appraisers to find out how much it’s worth. Many times those who have lavish items come on the show thinking that they have a huge treasure. These people seem really sure of themselves and hold their heads up high. More often than not, they find out their fortune is a forgery or a duplicate and worth very little. Their shoulders slump and they shuffle off the show.
Then there are those who bring a small trinket or a painting that was up in their dusty attic. They’re just happy to be on the show. And, many times, these people discover that their item is worth far more than they thought. Their faces show their unbelief and they almost always start smiling.
This guy is so joyful that he can barely contain himself because he knows he has just stumbled upon a huge treasure. He doesn’t want to lose it so he does something drastic. His all-consuming passion is to get hold of the treasure so he sells everything he has in order to obtain it.
A Priceless Pearl
Let’s look now at the parable of the priceless pearl in Matthew 13:45-46: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” This man is a merchant who bought pearls at wholesale and sold them to retailers. The Greek word is “emporos,” from which we get the English word “emporium.” Pearls back then were the most valuable gems available, much like diamonds or gold today.
[Hold up pearls]
Pearls were not easy to come by. Pearl divers would search for oysters in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. They didn’t have any of our modern techniques or equipment so they would find a rock and tie it to their body with a rope in order to sink quickly to the bottom. Since pearl oysters thrived at an average depth of 40 feet it was hard work to find just one of them.
As they went down they hoped they didn’t go too deep or stay underwater too long while they scoured through the murky mud looking for an opulent oyster. On top of all this, an average of only one oyster in a thousand contained a pearl. The odds haven’t changed much even today. According to Wikipedia, “In a haul of 3 tons, only 3 or 4 oysters will produce perfect pearls.”
That’s why pearls are so precious. Revelation 21:21 paints a picture of the pearly gates: “The twelve gates were twelve pearls; each individual gate was of one pearl.” John MacArthur points out that each of these pearls is 1,500 miles high! That’s a big pearl…and an even bigger oyster!
The Jewish Talmud said, “Pearls are beyond price.” The Egyptians actually worshipped the pearl and when women wanted to show their wealth they put pearls in their hair. When a Roman emperor wanted to show off he would dissolve pearls in vinegar and then drink them in his wine, in much the same way a rich man might light his cigar with a hundred-dollar bill.
Jesus also stresses the value of pearls, when He contrasts them with pigs in Matthew 7:6: “…do not cast your pearls before swine…” By the way, if you’re a Christian and seeking what the world offers or just caught up with the thrills of life, you are throwing that which is exceedingly precious and priceless into the pigpen.
Let’s go back to the parable. This merchant is on a mission to find the biggest and brightest pearl. When he finally finds it, he can barely contain himself. The phrase “of great price” means “much, great, precious” or literally, “priceless.”
That reminds me of an experience Beth and I had when we went out for dinner in Mexico City when we lived there. Someone recommended a nice restaurant to us and after sitting down we were handed a menu. It was hard enough trying to translate the entrees into English, but we became very nervous when we realized that the menu had no prices on it.
I was well aware of the adage that says: “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” I couldn’t afford it so I wanted to ask but didn’t know how to say it in Spanish. We knew we couldn’t just get up and leave but we were also stuck because we didn’t have enough pesos with us. I think we ordered just one appetizer and shared it.
This man is so eager to obtain this priceless pearl that he doesn’t even care what it costs. He too liquidates all that he has so he can possess the pearl.
Now that we understand the parables let’s turn our attention to some kingdom principles.
Principles of the Parables
1. Knowing Christ is priceless.
The pearl is a great picture of the kingdom because it is the only gem that cannot be improved by humans. All other jewels have to be cut and polished but a pearl is perfect when it is found.
Friend, do you prize the kingdom more than you value anything else?
Of all the things that clamor for our attention there is nothing more precious than knowing Christ. Friend, do you prize the kingdom more than you value anything else?
2 Corinthians 4:7 says that while our bodies are like clay pots, what believers have inside is a priceless treasure: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels…” Colossians 2:3 says this about Christ: “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” 1 Peter 1:7 says that our faith is “much more precious than gold.”
2. Spiritual truth is often hidden.
We have some friends who own some land in southern Illinois. We camped with them last year on their property. We hiked and rode their four-wheeler all over their land and it just seemed like regular old ground to us. They told us a month or so ago that a lot of oil has been discovered below them and they never knew it. They’re pretty happy about that because up through the ground came some bubblin’ crude, oil that is, black gold, Texas tea! I now call them the Clampetts!
The treasure of the kingdom is unrecognized, unknown, and walked over by millions of people. People can be standing right over it and not know it’s there. God hides spiritual treasures in unexpected places. While those who follow Christ know how valuable a relationship with Him is, most of the world has no clue.
The bulk of unbelievers are caught up in other pursuits, oblivious to the true treasure that could be theirs. Friend, if you’re serious about spiritual matters, you must be willing to go below the surface and start searching.
3. Salvation must be personally appropriated.
These parables show that individuals must respond in order to receive the kingdom. In both cases a decision was made, a transaction was entered into. It was the chance of a lifetime and they had to act immediately and personally. The first man was not satisfied until he took the treasure and the other was not content until he possessed the pearl.
Salvation doesn’t happen automatically just because you’ve been raised in a Christian home or you’ve been in church all your life. The call to conversion is personal and individualistic. Unless you are personally and individually born again, you cannot enter God’s kingdom (John 3:1-8). Each one must personally respond to Christ as stated in John 3:3: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The man in the field immediately “goes and sells” everything. The merchant does the same thing and immediately “went and sold” all he had in order to buy it.
it’s time to exchange all that you are for all that He has
Let me ask you a very personal question. Have you ever been converted? If not, it’s time to exchange all that you are for all that He has. Once you see the incomparable value of knowing Christ you should have an extravagant response to Him. Are you ready right now? 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Can I just say that we don’t add Jesus to our collection of other pearls? Jesus is not an add-on or a free get-into-heaven app. He doesn’t want us to make him prominent in our lives; He is to be preeminent.
4. Jesus is the only way but people are drawn to Him in different ways.
Simply put, different people discover the truth about Jesus in different ways.
- Some seem to stumble upon Christ. The man in the field was looking for nothing but found everything. I’m reminded of Isaiah 65:1: “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me.” Some of you had no intention of ever following Christ and you stumbled unexpectedly upon Him. The woman at the well in John 4 came looking for water and had her thirst quenched by Christ.
Saul was not searching for Christ when he was on the road to Damascus and was knocked off his high horse and onto the ground where he discovered the treasure of Christ (Acts 9).
- Some seem to seek out Christ. When I was in college I was definitely on a search for the Savior. Actually, God moves within a person for this to happen – it’s not so much that they find Christ but that He finds them. When someone is reaching out for God, according to John 6:44, God is the one doing the drawing: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
The pearl-pursuer is dissatisfied with what he has and searches with determination, knowing that there’s only one pearl among many that can satisfy him. When he finds what he is looking for, he makes a decision to commit himself completely to acquiring it.
Maybe you weren’t looking for God but in the ordinary course of life God came looking for you. Or is it possible right now that you’re searching for truth, hungry for something more, and on a pursuit for the purpose of life?
Perhaps there’s a combination of both stumbling and seeking going on right now. Whatever the case, it’s time to make a personal decision to turn from how you’ve been living and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
5. Knowing Jesus should lead to joy.
The man who stumbled upon this tremendous treasure went “in his joy” and sold everything in order to gain even more. This literally means “from the joy of it.” Joy comes to those who know Jesus. For each of these men nothing else mattered. And the same is true for us. What we gain in Christ is worth far more than what we ever had. One pastor puts it like this: Jesus plus nothing equals everything.
I love the response of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:39 after getting saved: “…but went on his way rejoicing.”
6. Salvation is free but costly.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Every time I hear of what Christians go through in other parts of the world, I’m reminded of the cost that comes when we follow Christ. 2 Timothy 3:12: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Have you heard about the American pastor named Saeed that has been in an Iranian prison for over 300 days? Please pray for his release and sign an online petition at SaveSaeed.org.
A year or so ago a woman told me that she had been reading the “Love Dare” book. We had talked about spiritual matters before so I asked her how she’s doing. Her response was startling: “I was halfway through the book when I came to a chapter that challenged me to surrender everything to Jesus. I’ve quit reading because I’m not ready to give it all to Him.” We talked about this some more and I encouraged her to give herself completely to the Lord…but she said she’s not ready. To which I added, “Not yet.”
Are you at the same place? Salvation is free but it will cost you the price of commitment. After hearing a man say that he would follow Jesus wherever He went, Jesus said this in Luke 9:58: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In essence Jesus is saying to each of us: “You give up your comfort and I’ll give you my kingdom.”
Let’s be honest. Most of us on a daily basis value other things more than we treasure Christ. Will you evaluate everything you are and everything you have and weigh it against the worth of knowing Christ? It’s time to say, “I’m all in. I’m not holding back.”
Our churches need more people like Jim Elliot who said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Don’t think about what you might give up; instead ponder the unfathomable treasure you will receive.
It’s been fun for us be in the QC for our first experience with the Bix. When I was initially told about it I thought that I would be up for running in it. And then I drove up Brady Street and said what Cub fans always say: “There’s always next year.”
I’ve been impressed with how seriously people take this race. The Quad-City Times had a front-page story this week about what three Bix champions shared with some children in Davenport on Thursday. This trio included an Olympic marathon champion, an Olympic silver medalist and Bill Rodgers, who won the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon four times each. I appreciated their message for their young audience because it reminded me of the main point of our parables: “Find your passion and give everything within you to it.”
In contrast to these two guys in our parables stands the rich young ruler who walked away from Christ because he didn’t want to give up what he held most dear. I can’t get over Mark 10:21: “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Isn’t that amazing? This man loved his money more than anything else and yet Jesus still lavished him with love. He could have told the man he was wrong or judged him or rolled His eyes at him. Instead, He loved him.
He does the same for you and me. He sees all of our efforts that fall short. He sees our sins that pile up before Him. And yet, He looks at us with love.
Out of this abundance of love, Jesus says, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
Friend, what one thing is keeping you from full faith in Christ? What’s holding you back from complete surrender? Is it money? A relationship that is not honoring Christ? Your reputation or popularity? Is it your time? Could it be a bad habit that you secretly enjoy? Is it your own sense of goodness? Could it be your pride? Just as Jesus pinpointed the root problem for this man, He looks at you with love this morning and says, “This one thing you lack. Let it go, come and follow me.”
Jesus put it strongly in Luke 14:33: “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
When Acts 2:42 says that the first believers devoted themselves it means that they were intently steadfast and resolutely determined – like Ruth was with Naomi, like Jesus was about going to the Cross, and like the disciples were as they stared up into Heaven. This was no casual Christianity. They were drop dead serious about their faith. They were deeply devoted. Completely committed. They were sold-out and fired-up.
These guys had to be radicals, right? Maybe they were. But, maybe they weren’t. Here’s a truly radical thought.
The early believers were simply living their Christian lives according to what Jesus taught. What you and I consider to be radical behavior was nothing more than a sincere attempt to live obediently. What many of us consider normal Christian living today – compared to what the first church experienced – is not normal at all. It’s woefully inadequate and, as a result, pitifully ineffective.
In his book Radical, David Platt says, “Radical obedience to Christ is not easy… It’s not comfort, not health, not wealth, and not prosperity in this world. Radical obedience to Christ risks losing all these things. But in the end, such risk finds its reward in Christ. And he is more than enough for us.”
Whatever it costs to come to Christ it’s worth whatever you give up. Jesus can have no rivals or idols. No competition. Let’s not hold back. It’s time to be all in for Him.
Mark 10:22 shows that the rich young ruler was more in love with himself than with God: “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” The Greek word translated “sad” gives the picture of storm clouds gathering. The man, who had run up to Jesus, and boldly proclaimed that he had kept all the commands, now shuffles away while a horrible hurricane ravages his soul.
Let’s stop depicting Jesus as the sad Savior standing outside the door of our life just begging us to let him in. What’s amazing is not that we should take Him but that He would take us!
Making the Transaction
Imagine that you’re a customer inquiring about a priceless pearl, “I want this pearl. How much is it?” “Well,” the seller says, “it’s very expensive.” “But, how much?” you ask. “Well, a very large amount.” “Do you think I could buy it?” “Oh, of course, everyone can buy it.” “But, didn’t you say it was very expensive?” “Yes.” “Well, how much is it?” “Everything you have,” says the seller.
You make up your mind, “All right, I’ll buy it.” “Well, what do you have?” he wants to know. “Let’s write it down.” “Well, I have ten thousand dollars in the bank.” “Good- ten thousand dollars. What else?” “That’s all. That’s all I have.”
“Well, I have a few dollars here in my pocket.” “How much?” You start digging. “Well, let’s see—thirty, forty, forty-six dollars” “That’s fine. What else do you have?” “Well, nothing. That’s all.” “Where do you live?” He’s still probing. “In my house. Yes, I have a house.” “The house, too, then.”
He writes that down. “You mean I have to live in my camper?” “You have a camper? That, too. What else?”
“I’ll have to sleep in my car!” “You have a car?” “Two of them.” “Both become mine, both cars. What else?” “Well, you already have my money, my house, my camper, my cars. What more do you want?” “Are you alone in this world?” “No I have a wife and two children…” “Oh, yes, your wife and children, too. What else?”
“I have nothing left! I am left alone now.” Suddenly the seller exclaims, “Oh, I almost forgot! You yourself, too! Everything becomes mine—wife, children, house, money, cars—and you too.” Then he goes on, “Now listen—I will allow you to use all these things for the time being. But don’t forget that they are mine, just as you are. And whenever I need any of them you must give them up, because now I am the owner.” (From Juan Carlos Ortiz, Disciple)
True treasure is found only in the kingdom of Christ. Are you ready to liquidate your life and submit to Jesus as your Lord?
Did you hear that a royal baby was born this week? How could you not, right? I was amused by what the official Royal Crier said when he made the official announcement: “We welcome with honorable duty a future king…the third in line to the throne…may he be long-lived, happy and glorious and one day to reign over us.”
I don’t know what all that means but there is a King who reigns and rules right now. He was born King. He died as King. He was raised as King. And He will return as King.
There’s a treasure map with an X on it that marks the spot of the greatest treasure ever – it’s the cross of Christ.
Guess what? The kingdom has a King and it’s not George and it’s not me and it’s not you. True treasure is found only in Christ. It’s time to be all in for Him. Are you in?