Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 January 14, 2018
“The Exceeding Worth of the Kingdom”
During the final semester of my Master of Divinity work at Erskine Seminary in upstate South Carolina—Spring 1994—I was a member of Dr. John Blumenstein’s course on the parables of Jesus. I still remember our major project for the course. Each student developed a sermon series from the parables—not only for the course, but also for use in our then-present or then-future pastoral ministries. I entitled my sermon series The Parables of Discovery, and I preached those sermons in the late spring and early summer of 1994 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Elberton, Georgia—where I served as supply pastor.
Almost twenty-four years have passed since that assignment. The material remains as timely now as then. The parables of that series—namely, the two in Matthew 13:44-46 and the three in Luke 15—relate something either discovered or recovered, and in these parables we see joy either in prospect or at a result. We’ll look at the two parables of Matthew 13:44-46 today, and—God willing—we’ll look at the parables of Luke 15 in weeks to come. Let us hear Jesus Himself as we heard His words from Matthew’s Spirit-led pen.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Before we launch ourselves into these parables, a brief remark is in order about parables generally. Matthew Henry calls them extended similitudes—and this brief definition is as good as any I know. Jesus, via parables, teaches us what His Kingdom is like. By Kingdom, we mean His righteous reign over all things in every realm—and we also mean life with Him and His people. Now let us look at two very brief parables that do teach us something about the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ.
We consider first the parable of the hidden treasure (13:44). Jesus places His protagonist in a field not his own. This man finds hidden treasure in this field. I know not exactly how he discovered it, but evidently this treasure was not obvious to all. This situation was common in first-century Palestine. Ordinary folks did not use banks or the equivalent institution of the day. They buried their treasures in the earth, for they felt God’s good creation the safest repository of their earthly treasures. Moreover, the man’s find apparently was serendipitous; it does not appear that the man’s primary purpose in the field was to seek for treasure. Furthermore, we do not know whether the man discovered the treasure as part of his usual labor or not. What we do know is that rabbinic law of the time accorded ownership of the treasure to the one finding it. The law was, in effect, “finders keepers.”
The finder decided to make doubly sure his gain. He hid the treasure again. Then he went away and sold all he had in order to raise funds to buy the land. Apparently the treasure conveyed; in gaining the land, the buyer gained the treasure also. Note also the motivations and gains for this man. Upon discovering the treasure, he felt great joy—sufficient joy to move him to part with all he had in order to gain the treasure. The treasure is great gain for the buyer, for no matter the worth of what he had before now, the value of the treasure now in hand surpasses the sum of what he owned previously.
We now consider the parable of the pearl of great price (13:45-46). A merchant, in the ordinary course of his work, sought fine pearls. In due course, either in the water or in the public or private market, he found one of surpassing value. We don’t know how long he sought for such a pearl. Likely the pearl’s value rested in its excellence, and likely its relative rarity raised its value too. The merchant knew his trade, and he knew the value of his find—so he too went and sold all he had to buy the pearl. Now the merchant, like the land buyer earlier, knew that his find was worth more than the sum of all his holding—and he gladly parted with them to obtain the pearl. The merchant, now having the pearl of great price, either resold it and reaped a presumably sizable profit or retained it—either to enjoy it or to wait for further appreciation before reselling.
The respective points of these parables actually is one and the same: The Kingdom of our God and of His Christ—that is, His righteous reign, His society, and life with Him—is more valuable than both anything else in itself and everything else considered together. We have Scriptural illustrations of this truth.
A first positive illustration occurs in the life of the Apostle Paul. He tells his readers (in Philippians 3:2-11, esp. 3:7-11) both of his impressive credentials in Christ, his both by birth and by attainment, and of his later estimation of them as lost for Christ’s sake. Paul reckoned his earlier status and achievements as rubbish—even as dung (Greek skubala [skubala])—compared to the excellence of knowing Christ. Even the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s suffering—being united with Him in His death—ranked far above all of Paul’s previous holdings, for he knew that to be identified with Christ in His death is to be identified with Him in His abundant, eternal life.
A second positive illustration occurs in the lives of Jesus’ disciples, expressed through the mouth of Peter, their frequent spokesman. Peter exclaimed for the group, “We have left everything to follow You,” (Mark 10:28) and Jesus in turn tells them of their surpassing gain in forsaking all to follow Him (Mark 10:29-31). At another time, after Jesus’ extended teaching at Capernaum, many no longer followed Jesus. He then asked His Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter replied, “Lord, to Whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). The disciples, even in the face of wholesale defections from Jesus, remain steadfast to Him by His power—and there was great gain in the staying.
Alas, there is a negative example—in the rich young ruler—of the Kingdom’s surpassing value (Mark 10:17-31 par., esp. 10:21-22). The man comes to Jesus wanting to inherit eternal life. His external obedience to the Law is exemplary, yet Jesus—knowing his heart and what he truly loved—told him to give his wealth to the poor and to come follow Him. At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had great wealth.
Jesus does not call all of us to give away all of our material things, but in the rich young ruler’s case, Jesus called him to give away the thing he loved more than Himself. In the same way, any of us who does not renounce all he has cannot be His disciple (Luke 14:33). We cannot prize anything in our triune God’s created order above God Himself. This at times is hard, and the forsaking of those beloved things at times hurts.
Yet there are rewards, as Jesus told His disciples after the rich young ruler went away. We receive, in view of what we left to follow Jesus, thirty, and sixty, and hundredfold in this life—and in the age to come we receive eternal life. This squares well with what we read in these two parables today. Therefore, let us, for the joy both in present blessing and in blessings yet to come, step out in faith and follow Him.