1. What's It Worth To You? (Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price)Related Media
This text is a modified transcription from the audio.
I. Series Introduction
We are jumping into a brand new series today, and it is a series on the parables of Jesus, the master storyteller. When many of you think about the parables, you get excited because these are the great and fun stories that Jesus told. That is true, but they are also some of the most convicting teachings in all of Scripture. Yes, they are going to be fun stories for us to look at over the next fifteen weeks, but prepare to have your socks convicted off at the same time!
We will talk about what the parables are and what they are not, and why Jesus spoke in parables. I will give you a sampling of what is to come in the next fifteen weeks. The second half of today, we are going to talk about a couple of parables. We are going to look at two of Jesus’ brief parables, and we are going to look at what God would have us learn today.
Let’s jump in and talk about the parables. First of all, what is a parable? A parable is a short, instructive story that contains an analogy. It comes from the combination of two Greek words para, meaning “beside,” and ballo, meaning “to cast or to throw.” Parable means “to cast beside” or “to throw beside.” It probably does not mean that while Jesus is walking along, he is throwing parables alongside the road to those who would listen. It probably means that for each parable there is a central truth”one kernel-nugget truth. A parable is a story cast alongside the kernel truth to amplify that truth.
Jesus could have just come out and spoken the truth in didactic form. He could have just stated the truth in one or two sentences, but he chose not to communicate that way. Most of the time, he chose to package the truth in the form of a story, in the form of narrative, in the form of a parable. He cast a story alongside that kernel of truth. What happens ultimately is that truth is amplified. The impact and the power of that truth hits much harder in the heart than it would if he had spoken the truth explicitly.
C. H. Dodd says this about the parable: “At its simplest, the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its application to tease it into active thought.” I love that. In other words, it makes you think! With truth, maybe you can just accept it and move on without allowing it to penetrate your heart. A parable leaves you with sufficient doubt about its meaning to tease the mind into active thought. You have to wrestle with these things! The truth is not always that apparent with the parables. Now, what exactly are you getting at here, Jesus? Is it this point, or is it that point? With every single parable, we are drawn into the story”forced into the story. Our mind is forced into gear. We have to think, and every time we are forced to make a decision. Ultimately our decision every time regards Jesus Christ.
You see, with some ancient near-eastern teachers, the teachings could be separated from the person. With Jesus, you cannot do that. To understand Jesus, you have to understand his parables. About one-third of everything he spoke was in the form of parable, in the form of a story. In order to understand Jesus, you have to understand the truth of the parable, the story, that is cast alongside the kernel of truth. He engages your mind to think about it, and he forces you to choose, to make a decision--to choose one way or the other about Jesus himself.
Another person said this: “The parables are not merely clever stories, but proclamations of the gospel inviting a decision.” It brings us to a point of choice every time. What are we going to do with Jesus? For the next fifteen weeks, that is what we get to prepare for. We will not just be hearing cleverly devised stories that Jesus casts for the people, but conviction that every week we will come in and we will have to choose. The text will bring us to a point of decision every week. What will we do with Jesus Christ?
When some of us think of the parables, we think of all rural parables. We think of the agricultural parables. We think of the sower and the farmer and the seed and the weeds and the plants. Those elements are in some of the parables, but Jesus had a broad audience and he cast his parables in different contexts. Often he would cast them in a rural setting. He would speak of them in agricultural terms, but sometimes he spoke of them in metropolitan terms. Let me give you a few examples. There is a metropolitan judge in one of his parables that would particularly appeal to a city person (a person who lived in town). There was a story of a Pharisee and a tax collector in the temple. It is a metropolitan story geared for an urban audience more than for a rural one. There are talents with banks and earnings on investments. That would appeal to a business person, rather than to a farmer. Jesus cast his parables in different ways to appeal to the broader audience. There is even a banquet later that is attended by people of the city streets. Again, he is casting that parable for people who are familiar with street people--for city people, those who dwell in the city--not for people in rural areas. There is a broad range of use in the parables, but all of them come down to the decision, “What are you going to do with Jesus Christ?” You cannot divorce his teachings from him as a person.
Why did Jesus speak in parables? I’m glad you asked that! In fact, the disciples also asked that, and we will look at that in a minute. Let me give you the short answer: Jesus spoke in parables both to reveal and to conceal his identity.
First of all, he spoke in parables to reveal his identity. Here is a statement: “Truth embodied in a tale shall enter in at lowly doors.” Howard Hendricks at Dallas Theological Seminary always talked about it this way: “When you preach, especially to young children, make sure you put the cookies on the bottom shelf.” In other words, put it at a level where they can grasp it. The parables do that. They reveal Jesus in very simple terms”in terms that we follow. He has our attention. Stories do that, right? They keep your attention, your interest, all the way to the very end, to the conclusion of the story. He puts the cookies on the bottom shelf to reveal who he is. That is also why he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt 13:9). The assumption is that some people here have ears to hear. Some people in his audience were prepared and ready to listen, and so this parable will reveal Jesus Christ to them. That is why I advocate teaching parables to your children. There are about thirty-five parables in the New Testament spoken by Jesus. Take one a week and walk through it with your children or your grandchildren, teaching them these stories about Jesus. He is putting the cookies on the bottom shelf so that even children can understand the simple truths captured in the story.
Part of the reason he speaks in parables is to reveal himself, but part of the reason he speaks in parables is to conceal himself. That is harsh. That is hard to swallow. I am going to show you a passage here in a second, but first, let me explain what I mean. I believe that the Spirit of God goes forward and prepares hearts. We will even be looking at the parable of the sower here in a couple of weeks, and we are going to learn that there are four types of soil”four types of hearts, four conditions of preparation for the seed, the Word of God, to land on. When a hearts is prepared to hear a parable, or the truth, or the Word of God, then for that person, Jesus speaks the parable to reveal himself. However, there are other people who have hard hearts, and for those people, Jesus speaks the parable to conceal who he is from their hard hearts.
Open your Bible to Matthew 13. Fortunately, we are privileged that the disciples asked Jesus, “Hey, why do you speak in parables? Why don’t you just tell us plainly how it is?” Jesus is going to answer the question: he speaks in parables both to reveal his identity and to conceal it, depending on the listener. Matthew 13:10: “Then the disciples came to him and said, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’” Great question! He replied, “’You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not. For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance.’” If you have an abundance prepared, and you are ready to receive what God would speak to you, if you are humble and your receptors are up, and you are ready to embrace God’s truth, then even what you have will be added to, and you will have an abundance to overflowing, Jesus is saying. For you, I am speaking this parable to reveal my identity so you can choose me.
“’But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him’” (Matt 13:12b). For some people, I am speaking in parables to conceal my identity, so that even what they have will be taken from them. Their hearts are hard. This parable will only serve to harden their hearts more. Remember, every parable brings us to a point of decision. To those who have, they will even be given more, up to an abundance and overflowing. In other words, they are ready to receive what Jesus is ready to reveal. They will choose Jesus and grow in their relationship with him, but to others who do not have, even what they have will be taken away. For them, Jesus speaks in parables to conceal his identity, and they will choose against Jesus.
Matthew 13:13-15: “’For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand. And concerning them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says, “You will listen carefully, yet will never understand, you will look closely, yet will never comprehend. For the heart of this people has become dull; they are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn [choose Jesus], and I would heal them.”’” For some people, Jesus is revealing himself to those who would choose him. For others, he is concealing himself from those who would reject him, and their hearts are hardened all the more.
How many of these parables did Jesus speak? He spoke about thirty-five in all, roughly split between Matthew and Luke. Mark include a few parables. He only includes one parable that is not included, though, in Matthew or Luke. So, for our series, we’ll be bouncing back and forth between Matthew and Luke. Some of the parables occur in more than one gospel, and when they do, we will talk about both accounts of the parable and see how they might be similar, how they might differ, or how they might contain different messages. About one-third of all Jesus’ teaching comes in the form of parable, or of story. He is casting a story alongside the kernel of truth to amplify the truth.
What are some of the parables? I have a list here of many of the parables, just as a sampling. This may be about half of them. Maybe some of them are familiar to you. We will be looking at many of them over the next fifteen weeks: the parable of the sower, the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, the parable of the unforgiving servant, the parable of the good Samaritan, the parable of the prodigal son, the parable of the rude children, the parable of the two debtors, the parable of the rich fool, the parables of the unfinished tower and the rash war, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the parables of the persistent friend and the persistent widow (coincidentally, both in the book of Luke”we will look at that to see how he uses each of those differently), the parables of the banquet and the great supper. That is just a sampling to whet your appetite.
The parables: they are stories that Jesus tells. He puts the cookies on the bottom shelf, yet there is usually a very complex truth to be uncovered for those who would wish to dig deep enough. A parable is a story. Paraballo”casting alongside a kernel of truth in order to amplify that truth and bring us to a point of decision. Today we are going to look at two parables. Both of them are really short”two of the shortest parables that I could find. Today’s message is entitled, What’s It Worth to You? I believe that is the question Jesus is asking with both of these two parables. They are back to back in Matthew 13.
II. Introductory Kingdom Parables
If you have your Bible, open to Matthew 13 and we are going to start in verse 44; two parables in only three verses. Matthew is the only author who includes these two parables of Jesus. Now the other writers of the gospels perhaps knew of them, but chose not to include them for one reason or another. These are two of Jesus’ shortest parables. In Matthew 13, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. He is going through a whole list of comparisons: the kingdom of heaven is like this, and this, and this. We are going to capture two places where he compares the kingdom of heaven to something. These are in the form of parable--in this case, really short stories--to bring us to a decision. What’s it worth to you?
In Matthew 13:44, Jesus says, “’The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid. Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field.’” Here is a guy who is marching along through a field. We do not know whether he is trespassing, or maybe taking a short cut. We do not know what he is doing in this field. We do not know why he is digging in someone else’s field, but, nevertheless, he finds treasure in a field that he does not own. Instead of stealing the treasure, he puts it back and covers it up! He says, “I am going to go empty out my bank account. I am going to go put my house on the market. I am going to go sell my livestock and my Ferrari and everything else I have, and I am going to go purchase this land that I do not own because I want the treasure that is hidden there.” At the end of the day, he is left with nothing. That is the point. He has nothing! He has given up everything he has for the treasure, and--maybe you saw it”the joy that goes along with the treasure.
Verses 45-46, again, continue the same line in the next parable. Verse 45: “’Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it.’” Again, the same kernel of truth around which this story is cast: he is left with nothing. At the end of the day, he has emptied his bank account, his savings and his checking accounts, and he has cashed in his 401K. He has sold his car and his house and anything else that he holds precious. He is left with nothing, but he has a pearl. So, what’s it worth to you?
Let me comment on the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, for just a minute. We are going to be seeing this all throughout the series of parables. Often in a parable, Jesus is describing a component of the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, so what is this kingdom? That is a great question!
First of all, “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” are two different ways of saying the same thing. For the purpose of this series, we are not always going to show any distinction between those two. Matthew prefers the term “kingdom of heaven.” Other authors prefer the term “kingdom of God.” They are exactly the same. They are one and the same, but what is this kingdom? What is this precious, valuable kingdom that people would give up everything they have in order to acquire?
Is it a kingdom that is still future, that we have no part in yet, but are holding out and waiting for? Or”is it a present reality today because the King has come? I would answer, “Yes!” Both are true. There is still for us a future kingdom, a literal thousand-year millennial reign of Jesus Christ. We, the church, will reign with him over Israel. There are promises that were given to Israel in the Old Testament that have not yet been fulfilled, which ultimately will be fulfilled for them--directly for Israel. There is a future kingdom. Jesus Christ will be reigning on the earth. His feet will be touching the ground and he will be our King for a thousand years.
However, there is also a present kingdom. That kingdom has been, as we say, inaugurated already. It will find its ultimate fulfillment in the thousand-year reign, but, folks, the King has come! He arrived at the incarnation. He already set his feet on the ground one time. The King has arrived. Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is upon you,” or, “The kingdom has come near.” What he is saying is, “I am the King. The kingdom is wherever I am, and I have arrived on the earth.” In the first parousia (the first coming of Jesus Christ), he inaugurated the kingdom. You and I are members of the kingdom of heaven here on earth (the kingdom of God here on earth) because we have pledged allegiance to the King. When we have pledged allegiance to the King, that makes us members of his kingdom. Even here, right now, in this community of believers, we can say that the kingdom of God has been inaugurated on earth, here with us”because we are constituents of the King.
It involves salvation. It involves a relationship with the King. It involves being a part of a believing community”being part of this kingdom which is ruled over by the Sovereign King. That is what the kingdom of heaven is. That is what this hidden treasure is. That is what the pearl of great price is. They are valuable because they represent our salvation”our very relationship with God through Jesus Christ--the privilege we have of being members of this community. For us, it is a free gift, completely free, that costs us nothing.
We went to the Union Gospel Mission two nights ago. Several members of our church were there, and we were able to bring a brief program as Trinity Bible Church to the Union Gospel Mission”to two hundred fifty homeless men down there. A member of our church gave his testimony and shared what Jesus Christ has done in his life freely, costing nothing. We sang hymns about the glory of Jesus Christ, that has been freely given to us. I preached a short message on Jesus Christ’s forgiving our sins freely, and ten men came forward and indicated a decision for Jesus Christ. It was freely offered to them, and they took it. It is the best offer in town. My Savior, I want to be part of the kingdom! I have nothing to offer, but he requires nothing of me! I will embrace Jesus Christ as my Savior. It costs us nothing.
I went to San Antonio last week and brought home some goodies for my family. I had to bring home some things for my two daughters, a five year old and a two year old. I had to bring home some things for my wife and little girls. I brought my daughters a note pad each so they can write notes and take grocery lists (they are getting into that type of thing), and then I brought them each a southwestern purse from San Antonio that they could strap on. Each purse has a zipper, and the girls can put their little note pads in their purses. Commemorating my trip, I brought them both umbrellas because it had rained the entire time we were there! They are really cute umbrellas, colorful, with little whistles on them. Of course, the girls marched around the living room with their little umbrellas and their southwestern purses on! I spent about forty-five dollars on my two little girls.
Then, I went to my wife and handed her a brand-new Bible. I said, “Sweetheart, this is my gift to you.” She looked at me and took the Bible and said, “You got this for free, didn’t you?” I started a lesson for her, saying that just because it did not cost anything did not mean it was not valuable, right? “Yes, as a matter of fact, it was given to me freely, so I am giving it to you freely!” But it is the truth, right? Just because it did not cost me anything did not mean that it wasn’t free. Just because it did not cost me anything did not mean that it did not cost someone something!
Some days I wish that our salvation were not free! Some days I wish that it did cost us something”that we would have to give up something in order to enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ. That way, we would know who is serious and who is not serious. We would know who really means it (who is serious in their relationship with God in Jesus Christ), and who is really just taking advantage of God. We would know people’s intentions if salvation cost us something. More people would potentially pass up the offer if it cost us something. Even more than that, it would remind us that just because it is a free gift to us, that does not mean that it is free.
Our salvation is not free! Our salvation cost God his only Son, and he stood and watched his Son dying on the cross for us. It is a free gift to us. Salvation is freely offered to us, but it was not free to God! It was not free to Jesus Christ! It cost them dearly! It was worth the Son of God to the Father. What’s it worth to you? You do not have to pay. You do not have to sell out everything. You do not have to sell all you own and be left with only your salvation. But what’s it worth to you? Out of gratefulness and a grateful response to this free gift, what’s it worth to you?
Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliott had given up some things in order to follow Jesus Christ onto the mission field, and he died prematurely as a martyr for his faith there. He said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Its value rests more that its price tag, because its price tag to us is “nothing”! It is free, but its value is far greater than that, so, what’s it worth to you?
Anyone who has kids realizes their value to you is more that their price tag, right? For my two daughters, it cost about ten thousand dollars just to get them out of the hospital”each! And then, of course, it just keeps accruing after you get them home! I am paying more and more all of the time! But there is a value number attached to them, of how much money I have paid out for my kids. However, if you offered me that, I would not take it, because their value to me is greater than their price tag! Salvation is a free gift. The price tag says, “Zero,” but what’s it worth to you? How much do we treasure our salvation? Are we willing to give up everything for the kingdom of heaven? Are we willing to sell out everything for him?
Dietrich Bonnhoeffer wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship. It is a good read, but you will probably only get about ten pages through the first chapter, which contains enough conviction for a lifetime! In the first ten chapters, he contrasts “costly grace” versus “cheap grace.” He captures, I think, these two parables. Listen to what he writes: “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field. For the sake of it, a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy, for which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace is the gospel, which must be sought again and again”the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly, because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son. Ye were bought at a price, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the incarnation of God.”
Salvation cost me nothing, but does that mean it is worth nothing to me? We sing a song here at Trinity Bible Church, and we say, “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.” It is putting us in the shoes of the Father just for a moment to say, “We’ll never comprehend, Father, how much it cost you! That is costly grace, to see your Son on that cross, bearing our sin penalty, so that you could scratch out the price tag and give it to us freely. I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.” What’s it worth to you? That is what a parable does. It is a story. Jesus could just tell us the truth in a simple nugget, in one or two sentences, but he puts it in a picture. He puts it in story form. He casts a story alongside that kernel of truth, and it amplifies the truth. It makes us come to a decision, right now: what are you going to do with Jesus Christ? What’s it worth to you?
We all love the parables. They are simultaneously rich in depth and content, and simple to understand. They are pure story from beginning to end. They are also Jesus' favorite means of communicating God's truth to people. He doesn't pull any punches with parables, but aims these powerful stories directly at our hearts.
Today we begin a new series on the parables of Jesus from the Gospels. According to my calculations, Scripture records about 35 different parables spoken by Jesus. We will look at more than half of them during this series. What a privilege it is to sit at his feet for next few months and learn from him how we should live. Our prayer for this series is that the stories Jesus told 2,000 years ago would impact our story--our journey with Him.
Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)