Stories, thoughts and reflections on the Bible from the WSFC Staff.
A number of years ago, in a teaching series on the Kingdom Parables of Jesus, I came to Matthew 13:44-46 and was anxious to explain the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl. These twin parables, at first glance, communicate a simple message regarding the cost of discipleship. Frankly, I needed a simple teaching concept that week in that I had been tirelessly active in the church and the demands of leading, feeding, correcting, planning, and teaching had begun to wear me out. Like most preachers, I was hoping the scriptural text would develop easily, and yet that I could present the Word with accuracy despite my waning emotional state.
I began a time of study by praying that the Holy Spirit would illuminate the passage and help me to form thoughts that would be beneficial to the hearers. I then proceeded to read the text only to be overwhelmed by a sense of new understanding that came to bear upon a passage that I had read many times prior. It is with this new understanding that I taught Matthew 13:44-46 years ago and will now give support to in this thought.
The new understanding seemed to be in contrast to what is overwhelmingly taught regarding the twin parables. The majority of commentators support the following construct: the parables are descriptive of the value of the Kingdom and the process by which an individual lays hold of that Kingdom. In other words, the classic overtones are that mankind is searching for a treasure or pearl of incredible price and, once it is found, will go to any length to obtain. Jeffrey A. Gibbs asserts, “virtually every exegete from Irenaeus through modern times…the vast weight of centuries of Christian study and exposition supports the view of Christ as the thing of value. We must lay hold of him.” Theologian and scholar Dallas Willard suggests, “These little stories perfectly express the condition of soul in one who chooses life in the kingdom of Jesus.”
However, I want to take an alternative look at Matthew 13:44-46.
I believe the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl are to be jointly understood as the atoning work of Jesus Christ. He sought us. He found us. He purchased us with his blood. We are his treasure and his pearl of great value. A growing number of biblical theologians, as well as significant scriptural passages agree with this proposition.
Throughout the Old Testament one finds the clear imagery of God’s children being his treasure – those that he shall redeem. Isaiah 52:3 exhorts: “You have sold yourselves for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” The prophet’s message turns into a song of praise confirming God’s plan of redemption, “Break forth joyously, sing together, you wasted places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed you!” The prophet Malachi captures the heart of the Lord: “They shall be mine. On that day I will make them my jewels or special treasures.”
Perhaps no Old Testament allusion is as supportive as the command given to Jeremiah in which he is told to buy a field from his uncle Hanamel. Hanamel’s premise for the purchase was clear: “Buy my field…since it is your right to redeem it and possess it.” A fellow prophet, Zechariah, agrees “the Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.” Various passages such as Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; and 26:18 each describes the children of Israel as “my treasured possession.”
Jesus, therefore, now is the agent of redemption who finds the treasure and searches for the pearl, much in the same way that he is the one who scattered the seeds and planted the mustard seed. Jesus is the one who is active in the midst of this age and who comes as both the treasure-hunting man and the pearl-seeking merchant. Congruency is achieved with the Scriptural teachings in which Jesus “seeks and saves those that are lost.”
George A. Buttrick asks the question: “How can the kingdom of God be at once a gift of heaven’s grace and a purchase by man?” The answer, fundamentally, is that human works can never acquire the Kingdom. Jesus, however, offers his life as a payment. Gibbs believes, “The many do not have to offer up their lives, for his life is an exchange for theirs. He pays the necessary price. In this saying, the concept of’ ‘sell and buy’ describes the redemption by which Jesus brings freedom from sin, death, and devil.”
Acts 20:28 assures that the “church of God [has been] bought with his own blood.” In Titus 2:14 Paul writes that Jesus Christ “gave himself on our behalf, in order that he might ransom us from all lawlessness, and purify to himself a precious people.”
Scripture tells the story of God’s activity in Jesus to purchase and possess his people – his treasure and valued pearls. J. Dwight Pentecost supports this viewpoint, “Since entrance into the kingdom is based on the new birth (John 3:5), this [the classic interpretation] would teach a false doctrine of salvation. Therefore, it seems better to view the parables from a divine viewpoint. The man in the first [parable] and the merchant in the second [parable] would represent Christ Himself.”
It is Christ Himself that responds with joy to the found treasure. Likewise, Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross” in order to redeem mankind. The imagery of joy and rejoicing is found in Luke’s parabolic trilogy of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son. In each parable the finding evokes rejoicing. One could contend that each of the parables in Luke 15 symbolically portrays Jesus as the finder and the treasure (one sinner who repents) is worth any price!
I am grateful for the reality of Jesus’ grace. His redemption is a wonderful display of unlimited grace towards me.
He found me.
He bought me.
He loves me.
I am his treasure, his pearl of great value. It is this message that I now want YOU to hear and understand. Indeed no price can be paid to purchase the Kingdom. There is not enough money in all the banks of the world. The King of the Kingdom must and will always purchase us…by grace. Only he has the resources to do so.