Picture this: You are at a prayer service and Jesus makes a surprise appearance. He says, “I see that you are interested in finding the kingdom of heaven. Listen: the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Got it?” He smiles brightly at you and walks away.
Did you understand that? If this was the first time you were hearing this parable, it is likely that you didn’t and your face looks as blank as the rest of the people gathered for the meeting. However, you want to understand what he said, so you run to Jesus just as he is about to heal somebody of cancer and say, “Lord, that thing that you said about the kingdom of heaven. I didn’t get it. What did you mean?” Jesus seems a little surprised to find somebody actually interested in what he had said; most only came for the healing. “Ah, you want to know about the kingdom.” he says pleased. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he continues. “Listen: the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” He smiles his dazzling smile again and walks away. This doesn’t make much sense either, but you will not be dissuaded by an inability to understand his words, knowing that they conceal something of great value. Perhaps like the treasure hidden in the field that Jesus spoke about. So in your mind’s eye, you travel to that field. It is quite an ordinary field. There is nothing to distinguish it from thousands of other fields around the world. In the middle of the field walks a man. He is an ordinary man. There is nothing to distinguish him from thousands of other men in the world. This man is plowing the field. It is a hot afternoon, and the sun blazes overhead. The man wipes the perspiration off his brow, wishing the day was over so he could go home to a refreshing shower and a hot meal with his family. As he plows, his plow suddenly hits something hard in the ground making him stop. He curses, thinking he has hit another rock. He reaches for his shovel and begins digging the earth. To his surprise, he doesn’t find a rock, but a chest that looks like it might contain treasure. His anger turns to excitement as, heart beating fast, he pulls the chest out of the ground, wondering if he may have found something valuable. He opens it, and there before his eyes lies treasure more valuable than he could ever have dreamed of in his wildest imagination. Even if he had worked for a thousand years, he could not have earned the wealth that lay before him now. He was rich! He ponders his options. He could take the chest home. But what if someone else claimed it later? Besides, where there was treasure buried, there was often more to be found. Better to buy the field so he owns all of it, and owns it outright. He knows it will cost him all he has, but so what? What he has here is worth much, much more. So he puts the chest back into the ground and covers it with earth again, carefully marking the spot. He goes home, takes an inventory of everything he owns, sells it all, and then buys that field! What a story! You are starting to shake now because you know the kingdom of heaven is like that treasure. But what is it that is so valuable? Righteousness? Peace? Joy? That’s what a popular song says the kingdom is. But that doesn’t seem entirely right; it has to be more. Where does the righteousness, peace and joy come from? From Jesus. Is the treasure Jesus? And there suddenly standing in front of you is Jesus himself, the smile on his face shining like a thousand suns, and you know you have the answer to your question! And then the pieces rapidly start falling into place. In the first parable the man found treasure quite by accident, digging in a field. In the second story, the merchant found treasure because he went looking for it. But in both cases once the treasure was found the results were identical. Recognizing the value of the treasure they had found, both men sold whatever they had in order to possess it. Have we found the treasure that is Jesus? And if we have, have we understood his value? These are the questions that we need to ask. And answer.
The treasure that is Jesus
There are many stories of men and women who, like the farmer in the field have discovered treasure accidentally. Perhaps one of the most famous is found in Scripture itself. It’s the story of a man named Saul who, after he found treasure, became Paul. We can understand this parable even better if we look at his life.
Saul was a Jew. He was a Pharisee. Pharisees were famous for their righteousness—read: self-righteousness—but even among them, Paul was in a league of his own. He believed in the law and he believed that one should follow it right down to the last letter. He was an intelligent man who in all probability learned at the feet of the famous Jewish rabbi Gamaliel. He knew the Scriptures, the word of God. And because he knew the word of God, he thought he knew God. And like anyone who thinks he knows God, he was arrogant about his faith. So when he heard about Jesus and the people who followed him, it made him mad because he believed they were being blasphemous and was determined to exterminate them. All this changed one day when he watched one of these “blasphemers” being stoned to death. This man was Stephen. Here is a brief introduction about him. As the early church grew, the twelve apostles found themselves faced with the problem of how to feed the increasing numbers of people joining their community. After some discussion, they decided to appoint seven other men to look after food while they, themselves, focused on preaching the gospel. One of the seven men that they chose was Stephen. Now Stephen, as it says in Acts 6:8, was a man full of God’s grace and power. He did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Needless to say, this angered the Jews who trumped up false charges against him. They had him brought before the Sanhedrin where they asked him to defend himself. Stephen gave a long speech, talking about Abraham and Jacob and Joseph and Moses, finally ending with these words: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53). Scripture describes the horrific incident that followed. When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. (Acts 7:54-8:1). One cannot imagine everything that went through Saul’s head as he had listened to this uneducated man speak about God and the things of God with such authority, and then watch him go to his death, praying for those who were killing him, but one can imagine that Saul must have sensed that there was something that Stephen knew that he didn’t. Saul knew about God because he had studied about him in the Scriptures, but here was a man who seemed to actually know God. He could see it in his face, which Scripture says was like the face of an angel (cf Acts 6:15). A few days later, Saul met God himself. He was on his way to Damascus, armed with a bunch of letters from the high priests that gave him the authority to arrest anybody he found preaching the new religion. “Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”” (Acts 9:3-5). This momentous event changed Saul forever as it does anybody who discovers the treasure that is Jesus and understands how valuable he is. As he would say later in his letter to the Philippians: “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith” (Philippians 3:4-9). Most of us reading this have found the treasure that is Jesus. But how many of us really know the value of the treasure we have found? Many of us are like Rob Cutshaw, a rock hound who owned a little roadside shop outside Andrews, in North Carolina. A rock hound is a person who hunts for pretty rocks, which he sells to collectors or jewelry makers. Rob knew enough about rocks to decide which rocks would sell, but not enough to know how much they were worth. One day, Rob found a big blue rock, and he thought it would fetch him about five hundred dollars. But nobody was willing to pay that much for it, so he tucked it under his bed, deciding that he would sell it in an emergency; if he ever had to pay the water or electricity bill and didn’t have enough money. Fortunately, Rob didn’t run into an emergency because it turned out that the rock he had was the largest, most valuable sapphire ever found. Now known as “The Star of David” the rock is worth over 5 million dollars! We have a great treasure in Jesus, but do the equivalent of tucking him under our beds, keeping him there for an emergency. When we are sick, or in financial difficulty, or in other need, we believe we will find a use for him, not really understanding the value of the treasure we have discovered. Paul discovered its value and he gave up everything because he knew that it was all worthless when compared to owning Christ. He understood what the man in that field understood. He understood what Stephen understood. He understood what every man who truly discovers Christ understands. That everything else in the world is rubbish when compared to the kingdom of heaven!