Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
We love stories of buried treasure. Robert Louis Stevenson’s imagination and pen gave us maybe our most famous swashbuckling pirate, Long John Silver.
One of my favorite treasure stories is the comeback of Edmond Dantes in “The Count of Monte Cristo” (If you didn’t read the book, at least see the movie). I enjoyed seeing Indiana Jones seek the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail.
People have risked their all to hunt hidden treasures. Ponce de Leon died seeking the fountain of youth. Pizarro desperately sought El Dorado, city of gold. When gold was discovered in California, 300,000 left their homes lusting after it.
Our fascination with treasure stories has made Jesus’ parable of the buried treasure one of His most popular short stories. It entails sheer joy and excitement.
Matthew 13:44 (Holman) “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in
a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes
and sells everything he has and buys that field.”
In Jesus’ day, banks were rare, used only by the wealthy. For most people, the safest place to retain valuable belongings was a secret hole in the ground.
Burying treasure was so prevalent that laws were enacted to deal with the many hidden stashes people accidently found. If the found items had belonged to the landowner, the finder could not have them. If a landowner did not know of the treasure, which would be proved by his selling the land, the treasure had obviously never belonged to him; the finder was free to buy the land and claim the treasure.
This parable’s main character, Rabbi Long John Silver, was following the law. He did not steal the treasure. He instead took steps prescribed by protocol.
The purpose of the parable is easy to unravel. The first four parables in Matthew 13 (Sower, Wheat and Weeds, Mustard Seed, Yeast) gave insight into how God’s Kingdom would operate. The parable of the buried treasure told us why it would grow and thrive; it is a treasure, a beautiful prize of enormous worth.
Four criteria make an object a treasure. One, rarity. This makes gold more costly than iron. Only four 1793 pennies are known to exist, each worth $275,000. Over 7 billion 1993 pennies were minted, each worth a penny. Christ’s Kingdom is rare, exclusive, totally unique. Nothing else is like it. “There is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12b).
Two, usefulness. Anything which serves no useful purpose is not valuable. The Kingdom is useful. Containing good tidings of great joy, it renders valuable service to us. Giving us God as our very own, it provides something we value. Removing our guilt, it brings relief. Hell is no more a worry for Christ-followers.
Three, durability. Bubbles are cheap because they don’t last long. The Kingdom of God, though, is permanent. It endures for ever, never fades or tarnishes. If an item can be taken from us, it is not truly ours. We need something intertwined with, and inseparable from, our essence. God’s Kingdom offers this.
Four, competent authorities. I see little value in Van Goghs and Picassos, but no one cares a whit about what I think because everyone knows I am clueless about the worth of art. We value the opinion of people who know what they’re talking about. The Gospel has value because 12 men were willing to die for what they claimed about Jesus’ resurrection. People don’t die for concocted lies.
When we put forth this argument, skeptics quickly point out the fact all religions have martyrs aplenty. This is true, but Christianity is unique because its original proponents died for the foundational truths that are its underpinnings.
Martyrs have died by the millions for many religions, including Christianity, but none of these has proved the truthfulness of their religion. Their deaths merely proved they believed what others had told them about their religion.
The testimonies that ultimately count are those dealing with the credibility of a religion’s first teachings. This is what Christianity offers. We have evidence that could stand up in a court of law. Our faith is built on competent authorities.
Rarity, durability, usefulness, and competent authorities are needed, but do not help if we remain unwilling to recognize the worth of an object. It is possible to have an item of huge value, yet not know it, and let it slip through our fingers.
In our parable, the worth of the buried treasure-trove was recognized by the finder. He reburied it in a more secure spot for fear someone else would find it.
God’s Kingdom can not help us until its infinite value is properly assessed. Some refuse to recognize the Kingdom’s worth. Its value is not accepted by all.
The Kingdom can be stumbled on. A word overheard, a Bible casually read, a TV preacher heard – seeming accidents can capture an unbeliever’s fascination.
Some momentarily mull over this unexpected occurrence, but then cast it off as inconsequential. They quickly throw a shovelful of dirt on God’s Kingdom and walk away, leaving it behind. Out of sight, out of mind.
Others surprised by the Kingdom take time to seek God’s truth. But seeking is not enough. The Kingdom has to be deemed valuable enough to be acted on.
The essential thing is not whether we’re seeking, or even how long or earnestly we have sought, but whether we have found. Thus we face a question.
How can we know we value the Kingdom enough? Not when we hear of it, not when we consider it, not even when we are seeking it. According to Jesus, we adequately value His Kingdom when we are willing to renounce all else to have it.
In order to have the treasure, Rabbi Long John Silver gave up everything, his house, his possessions, his other property. To family and friends he appeared to be a fool. His lunacy may have been the talk of the town. Neighbors probably thought he was insane, trading everything for a nondescript parcel of ground.
His acquaintances feared he was having a mid-life crisis or a nervous breakdown, but while they worried, he was deliriously happy. He gave up everything and felt he had made no sacrifice at all. Thus it is with coming to Christ. It is not a painful religious duty. It is a delightful personal relationship.
Receiving Jesus is worth any sacrifice, including its requirement of total commitment and unconditional surrender. Everything contrary to His Lordship has to go: aims, ambitions, habits, preconceived notions, sins, selfishness, pride.
The process, to an unbeliever, sounds like a tearing of the flesh, but once the die is cast, once the Rubicon is crossed, the sacrifice seems inconsequential.
For all who come to Jesus, loss is gain. Paul gave up position, power, fame, and family to come, but deemed the loss trivial. “Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ” (PH 3:8b).
Any who give up all for Christ go, like the Ethiopian Eunuch, on their way rejoicing. The Kingdom of Christ is precious, valuable, worthy of any cost.
(My secretary, as she typed this sermon from my handwritten notes, added an exclamation of joy at the end of the message: “Amen!! We haven’t given up anything. We’re now rich beyond measure!”) I gladly “Amen” her “Amen.”