We recently began a new series of messages over the parables of Jesus. Over the course of this extensive study, we will analyze around 3 dozen distinct parables that Jesus taught during His earthly ministry. These parables have been divided into several categories based upon their primary theme or topic. We will tackle them one category at a time over the next several weeks.
So far we have studied 4 parables dealing with the Kingdom of God. We have read about a sower faithfully scattering seeds on different types of soil, a plant that grows on its own without requiring any assistance from the sower, a tiny mustard seed growing into a glorious tree where many birds come to nest, and a small amount of leaven affecting a much larger lump of dough. These stories have focused upon the manner in which God’s Kingdom grows and the extent to which it will grow.
In today’s message, we will discuss the last 2 parables in this category. As Jesus continued to teach about His Father’s Kingdom, He used this pair of stories to illustrate its immeasurable value. We have all heard the saying that “There are some things that money can’t buy.” This is certainly true when it comes to the Kingdom of God.
I. THE PARABLE OF THE HIDDEN TREASURE - Matthew 13:44
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure is found only in the book of Matthew. It is expressed in a single verse, making it one of the shortest parables spoken by Jesus. In part due to its limited length, the story is very memorable and easily repeatable. It has been depicted in various works of art. The major thrust of this parable is to highlight and underscore the incredible value of the Kingdom of God.
The parable tells of a man who discovered a treasure hidden in a field. However, he did not own the field - he was perhaps a laborer who worked there. Upon finding it, the man quickly hid the treasure again so that no one else would locate it. He then joyfully went out and sold everything that he owned in order to accumulate enough money to buy the field. Presumably, once he owned the field, he would then have an indisputable claim to the treasure that was hidden there.
The parable begins by stating that the Kingdom of God is comparable to the hidden treasure. Obviously, it is of immense value. When a person comes to know Jesus and discovers God’s remarkable kingdom, he or she should be overjoyed - just as the character was is the story. In addition, the new believer should willingly give up all of their worldly possessions and pursuits in order to attain God’s Kingdom. Such behavior speaks to its immeasurable worth.
It is important to note that the value of the treasure mentioned in this story is not demonstrated by its monetary measure (which is never stated) but rather by the man’s willingness to sell all he had in exchange for it. The story could have just as easily been of a man who found a valuable treasure, took it for himself, ran off, and became extremely wealthy. But if this were the case, the acquisition of the treasure would have cost the finder absolutely nothing. This would have taken away from the meaning of the illustration. Jesus intentionally described a man who gave up all he had in order to attain something far greater.
The grace of God is freely bestowed upon all who will receive it. Jesus paid the full price for our sins, and offers forgiveness and salvation to all. It is wholly a gift - something we can’t purchase or buy for ourselves. That said, the Bible also clearly and repeatedly teaches that the Christian life will be and is quite costly. We as believers are called to give up the things of this world in order to acquire that which is eternal. Simply put, just because something is free doesn’t mean that it won’t cost you anything…
This parable also presents a good opportunity to explain to dangers of over-analyzation. Someone who scrutinizes the details of this story might conclude that we are to hide or conceal the Kingdom of God so that we might be able to keep it for ourselves. Obviously, this is not the intent of this parable and is inconsistent with the broader teachings of Scripture. When seeking to understand the parables, we are wise to stick with the most obvious and pertinent interpretations and not try to generate or extract hidden meanings that may or may not have been intended.
II. THE PARABLE OF THE COSTLY PEARL - Matthew 13:45-46
The Parable of the Costly Pearl is included only in Matthew’s gospel. It is coupled with The Parable of the Hidden Treasure, which we just studied above. As expected, these two parables share a common theme. Both stories, in uniquely different ways, ascribe tremendous value to the Kingdom of God. Like its partner, The Parable of the Costly Pearl, which is also known as the Pearl of Great Price, is also very short and easy to remember.
This parable tells of a merchant who was actively seeking beautiful pearls which he presumably intended to buy, sell, and/or trade. One day he came across a particular pearl, far more precious and spectacular than any of the others he’d ever seen. His desire to own it was so great that he sold all that he had in order to purchase this single, magnificent pearl.
Like the hidden treasure in the previous parable, again we are told about an item of immeasurable value. In this case, it is the Pearl of Great Price. Like the man in the field from before, this time around we are told of a merchant who willingly gave up all that he had in order to acquire the pearl. Again, the value of the prize is reflected by the sacrifice made to attain it. The two stories are incredibly similar, and are generally regarded by most scholars as having the same meaning.
There is a difference worth pointing out between these 2 parables. The man who stumbled across the hidden treasure in the first story did so purely by chance while the merchant in the second story was intentionally searching for precious pearls. In the same way, the Kingdom of God is something that can be discovered suddenly and unexpectedly, but can also be something that can be and should be purposefully sought after.
In addition to the traditional interpretation of the parable, I want to offer an alternative. Look at the story again carefully. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God was like the merchant - not the pearl. This is quite different than before. When we consider the story from this perspective, it is the Kingdom of God that is doing the seeking rather than being found. In other words, the kingdom is finding us as opposed to us finding it. When understood from this vantage point, we are the pearl that Jesus himself sacrificed everything to secure. What a wonderful thought.
Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is of far greater value than anything else we can ever possess. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and The Parable of the Costly Pearl both serve to illustrate its staggering worth. These 2 stories challenge us to give up any and everything we have on this earth if necessary in order to attain citizenship into this Kingdom.
Salvation is free, but discipleship is costly. Thousands of people have sacrificed greatly, some even to the point of martyrdom, for the Kingdom of God. Jesus set the supreme standard by leaving His heavenly home, coming to this fallen world as a man, suffering relentless ridicule and shame, and dying on the cross for us. He paid the ultimate price, and warned His followers that they’d pay a price too.
Don’t be fooled my beloved… anything worth having will cost you something. Authentic Christianity, the that kind Jesus talked about, the kind described throughout the Bible, always requires some degree of sacrifice. It demands that we surrender every relationship, every possession, every ambition, and every aspect of our lives to the lordship of Christ. But rest assured my beloved… that which we are called to lose for Jesus’ sake pales in comparison to the unspeakable value of that which we shall gain when we inherit the Kingdom of God.