Buried treasure and a precious pearl

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

At first glance, these two brief parables appear to reinforce the first commandment—“You shall have no other gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5:7)—and the greatest commandment—“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). After all, these commandments are first and greatest because they are important. God created the universe. He made each of us. He has the right to tell us how to live. He deserves to be our highest priority. Our lives are best when we put God first and put everything else under him. If we could love God perfectly and unceasingly, we would never break any of his other commandments.

Over the centuries, Christians have made many sacrifices for God. Some have abandoned homes and families and jobs to live in voluntary poverty, dedicating their lives to prayer and to the service of God. Others have turned aside from opportunities for wealth and fame to lead careers in church work, receiving only a fraction of what the world would have paid them. Many have gone out on missionary journeys, spending long years far away from everything that is familiar and comfortable for them.

Moreover, Christians have been persecuted. They have been abandoned by family and friends because of their relationship with Jesus Christ. They have been driven out of their homes and their communities. Some have been fired from their jobs because of their faith. Some have been imprisoned. Some have been beaten. Some have been killed. They lost everything they had for the sake of Jesus Christ and his kingdom.

But what of the rest of us? Are we unsaved because we have not given up everything for the kingdom of heaven? If we have not lost money or fame or popularity for the sake of the gospel, does that mean we are not truly Christians? Because we have not been rejected, fired, imprisoned, jailed, and killed, are we barred from the kingdom of heaven?

One of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven is that we cannot earn God’s love and mercy and grace. We cannot earn our salvation. Those who try to earn salvation are locked out of the kingdom. Those who plan to stand before the throne of judgment and demand that God give them what they deserve will be denied a place in God’s kingdom, because every one of us has sinned and has fallen short of the kingdom of God.

What, then, did Jesus mean when he told these parables? He did not mean to identify himself as a treasure or a precious pearl. Instead, he calls each of us buried treasure and a precious pearl. Rather than being a treasure purchased by others, Jesus is the man who gives everything he has to claim us for himself.

As treasure, each of us is hidden. We are buried under our own sins and under the world’s evil. With regret we recall the times when we did things God told us not to do. With sorrow we remember the times that we failed to do what God commanded us to do. With repentance we realize that we have not always given God first place in our lives. Other things have been more important to us than God is. We have not loved him wholeheartedly, because we have reserved parts of our hearts for other loves.

Seeing our sin, Jesus decided to rescue us. At the command of his Father, he willingly left his throne at the Father’s side and entered creation. He was born to a young Jewish girl, wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger. The God who knows everything learned how to walk and how to talk and how to read and write. The God who is perfect and almighty grew up to be a man. Even as an adult, he remained in poverty—“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Of course the distance between the Son of God and the richest person on earth is far greater than the distance between the richest person and the poorest person on earth. Jesus humbled himself to be one of us, to be tempted as we are, to face the dangers we face, and to have the same needs we have.

Then, when he had lived a pure and sinless life for more than thirty years, Jesus even surrendered what little he had in this world. When trouble threatened, his friends abandoned him and denied knowing him. Brought into courtrooms, he was denied justice. Beaten, slapped, and flogged, he lost his health. What little he owned—the clothing he was wearing—was taken from him. Finally, after hours of suffering, he sacrificed even his life on the cross.

Jesus gave everything he had to claim his treasure. We were buried in sin, but Jesus paid all that he had to make us his people. Without Jesus we were no treasure, but now with Jesus we are treasure. To him each of us is like the finest pearl, for which he willingly sacrificed all, even life itself. Having paid that price, he says that now we belong to him.

Of course we should make God our first priority. We should love nothing more than him. When we fail to meet this standard, though, we have not lost our place in the kingdom of heaven, because Jesus is not a treasure that we have to find and purchase. The secret of the kingdom of heaven is that Jesus has found us and has purchased us. We belong to the kingdom of heaven, not because of any price we have paid, but because of the price Jesus paid to redeem us.

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10 thoughts on “Buried treasure and a precious pearl

  1. This came up in my devotions last night:

    For the coming of God’s kingdom to us happens in two ways: (a) here in time through the Word and faith [Matthew 13]; and (b) in eternity forever through revelation [Luke 19:11; 1 Peter 1:4-5]. Now we pray for both these things. We pray that the kingdom may come to those who are not yet in it, and, by daily growth that it may come to us who have received it, both now and hereafter in eternal life. All this is nothing other than saying, “Dear Father, we pray, give us first Your Word, so that the Gospel may be preached properly throughout the world. Second, may the Gospel be received in faith and work and live in us, so that through the Word and the Holy Spirit’s power [Romans 15:18-19], Your kingdom may triumph among us. And we pray that the devil’s kingdom be put down [Luke 11:17-20], so that he may have no right or power over us [Luke 10:17-19; Colossians 1], until at last his power may be utterly destroyed. So sin, death, and hell shall be exterminated [Revelation 20:13-14]. Then we may live forever in perfect righteousness and blessedness” [Ephesians 4:12-13].

    —Large Catechism III 53-54

    In other words, His Kingdom has come AND His Kingdom is coming. Both are true. I don’t pretend to understand how that all works, but I think it’s helpful to remember when we look at the parables which speak of the kingdom of God – The Kingdom is Now; The Kingdom is Coming.

    This is why the Lord teaches us to pray “Thy Kingdom come” – not that He needs our prayers to bring the Kingdom, but rather that His Kingdom would come and His will be done *among us* as we dwell in it, now and eternally.

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    • Entirely true. (Of course who would dare argue with the Large Catechism?) The mystery of “now but not yet” is part of Christian living, both as individuals and as the Church. We accept it without understanding it. J.

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  2. I hold to the traditional interpretation of the parable. The series is all about finding the kingdom of God and that is only something that comes from finding the One is the way and the truth and the life.

    We do give up everything. Jesus said it Himself: “If anyone wishes to come after Me must deny himself, aqnd take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Jesus was not saying we can buy salvation. He was saying we have to sell out to Him. That’s what this parable is saying, too.

    Becky

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    • Thank you for your comment, Becky. I respectfully disagree. If we could obey the greatest commandment and find the kingdom for ourselves, we would not need redemption through the cross. When Jesus had told his disciples what was necessary for our salvation, he then accomplished what was necessary, denying himself and taking up a cross for us all. He is the Shepherd who seeks and saves what is lost; until our Shepherd finds us, we are dead in trespasses and sins, helpless to find our way to Him. (This will become more plain in my next two posts.) J.

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      • I agree with all this, but that’s not what Jesus was addressing. He was making a statement about discipleship and following Him with our whole heart. The Church for centuries has understood this, but only in recent times have we separated holiness from the kingdom of God. He wants all of us, not as a means to reconciliation, but as a result of it.

        But I understand we may have to disagree on this one.

        Becky

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      • Have you read my previous post, the introduction to the book on parables? That might help place the buried treasure and the pearl in a different context. J.

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  3. Certainly an interesting to the most common interpretation of this parable. I like it. My question would be that we are termed “pearls” before he bought us. While we were yet sinners he died for us. We had the possibility of being a pearl after he redeemed us. Before that we were certainly loved and bought and perhaps considered a pearl in his loving eyes. Just discussing the situation. It will definitely be used by me in any further teaching/participating in study of this scripture. Thanks, I always learn from you.

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  4. I have just passed this on to several friends from our Sunday School class, since we are studying the parables and have just discussed these two. You’ve shared a terrific insight.

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