These posts are summaries of the messages on Sunday and are put here mainly for the benefit of our regulars who either missed the service, or would appreciate the chance to review the big ideas.
“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 ESV)
At the heart of these parables is the idea of making a trade. We’ve all made trades in life, beginning on the playground at primary school; it’s just part of getting along in life. Some of the biggest decisions we ever make are transactional. When you get married you’re trading in your singleness and your options in preference for ‘the one’.
What makes the trade at the heart of these parables so challenging is the absolute nature of it. Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God as something that is all-encompassing and demands your all. There’s no room for straddling the fence. You can’t have a bit of Christ whilst hanging on to your autonomy in other areas of life. This is a confrontation: what will you do when you’re faced with the opportunity of acquiring the treasure or the pearl? What does Jesus want you to do?
Jesus wants you to give everything. Both of the parables make that clear: “sells all he has… sold all he had…” It’s like going ‘all-in’ on the poker table. It’s the very definition of putting all your eggs in one basket.
This is meant to capture the fact that every aspect of your life is meant to come under the rule of Christ. Conversion is a death experience; you’re buried with Jesus (Romans 6.3–4). The Bible talks about executing your old life and your sinful nature (Romans 8.13); it talks about presenting yourself as a sacrificial offering (Romans 12.1–2).
One of the most vivid pictures in the Bible of what it means to give everything is the story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his precious son, Isaac, on mount Moriah in Genesis 22. That is the test: can you give to God that which you count most precious in life?
For many, the reason they don’t want to follow Christ is that the bar is simply too high. Jesus encountered such people now and again. Men approached him wanting to be his followers but when they realised the cost (homelessness, saying goodbye to family) they weren’t prepared to go through with it. Others were directly invited by Jesus, but couldn’t let go of their present commitments (Luke 9.57–60). One man was simply too rich and couldn’t bear the thought of parting with his cash (Mark 10.21–22).
But decide you must. It’s both a one-off decision at the commencement of your life in Christ, and an ongoing decision as you resolve every day to pick up the instrument of your execution and die again and again (Luke 14.26–33).
Jesus tells us you get one thing. You give everything, and you get just one thing. Both of these men give all for the treasure or the pearl. Their discovery becomes their obsession.
This singular obsession in the men of the parables is a mark of true faith in the Bible. The person who has truly seen Christ is a person who becomes obsessed by him. All of life fades into black and white as Christ alone is there before your eyes in full colour. You can see this singleness of focus in the Psalms:
One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.
(Psalm 27:4 ESV)
Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart [give me an undivided heart] to fear your name.
(Psalm 86:11 ESV)
How is it possible to make such a choice? How can we give everything to gain one thing, and do so willingly?
You’re motivated by joy. There’s the promise of reward, the recognition that you’ve found something much, much better in Christ than everything you gave up.
So long as we think of repentance and dying to ourselves as something entirely negative then we’re in trouble. If you can only picture a life of self-denial and barren emptiness then nothing on earth could convince you to give everything.
But the Bible puts before us the promise of joy as the motivator. Both of the men in the parables can quite easily sell all they have because they realise they’ve found something far superior in their respective treasures.
Admittedly Christians don’t always portray the fact that Christ is better. They can appear miserable and anti-everything. But Biblical Christianity is full of joy and appeal. And the motivation the Bible puts before the world is that you can have rewards in Christ and his kingdom that far outstrip anything you might have had in this life.
In fact, we’re commanded to pursue rewards, to pursue joy. Look again at this well-known verse in Hebrews:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
(Hebrews 11:6 ESV)
We usually focus on the first part of the verse (faith) and ignore the latter part (rewards). But the meaning is clear. As John Piper has put it, “You cannot please God unless you come to him in search of a reward.” That is shocking, but that is surely the meaning of the verse. You cannot please God unless you come to him (by faith) for rewards!
That is what it means to embrace the treasure and the pearl. You do it because you realise it’s far better than all you sold. So we’re not talking here about gritty, cold, grim, world-hating, pleasure-renouncing, self-denial. Whatever denial there is is in order to gain far more.
And this is what we see in the lives of the saints in the Bible. Moses gave up the unimaginable wealth of Egypt precisely because he’d found something better (Hebrews 11.24–26).
Therefore, in being confronted with the choice to give everything and embrace Christ and his kingdom, there is definitely a cost, but the logic is clear: you will gain far more than you lose.
Abraham discovered that when he stood on the mountain and pulled his hand back ready to strike Isaac with the knife. At that moment the angel stopped him and the ram was provided in place of Isaac. It’s a picture of what it means to follow Christ. You discover that, while God may require you to make sacrifices, he has already given you far more than you could imagine when he provided the sacrificial ram in Jesus himself, and he will never stop being our provider.