Thursday, March 2, 2017

Parables: Hidden Treasure and Fine Pearls

You may not know this, but I am something of an expert at the stock market.  I am an expert trader in the same way that people without children are expert parents.  Until you have children of your own, you have all the answers.  You are an expert.

Until you buy and sell stocks yourself, you can still be an expert.  One day, I may give it a try.  I have never really been in a position where I wanted to give up time that I have allocated to other things to get smart on stocks and trading and knowing when to act.  That’s my choice.

I have put money into a mutual fund where someone else buys and sells and I hope they know what they are doing.  As far as giving it a shot myself, that one remains on my bucket list as an unfulfilled task.  I understand the philosophy of buy low and sell high; I just don’t have clue what to buy low because it will soon be worth much more.

But if I did and I saw the perfect stock, one very much undervalued and ready to launch, how much would I invest?  Would I put 10% of my liquid assets.  How about 50%.  Would I be so bold as to take all the cash that I had on hand and in the bank and just go for it?

Modern investment gurus preach boldness, but never committing everything to one particular purchase.  Every investment is tempered with the fact that there really is no such thing as a sure thing.

But what if there was?

Would I take everything that I had, sell my vehicles and home, and liquidate everything that I could to buy it?  Would that be signing my own admission form to the insane asylum?

Who would do that?

Jesus had been explaining the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of things that the people knew.  A small seed that grew into a big plant told them and us that God’s kingdom was meant to grow.  Yeast working its way through an entire batch of dough helps us understand that God’s kingdom is permeating our entire being.

Jesus is explaining something that only he could explain.  The teachers of the law had never seen God’s kingdom and could not describe it.  Jesus knew it well but was talking to people who understood things in terms of the world that they had known since birth.

It is sort of like framing a house.  When you just have one wall up, it doesn’t look too much like a house and it is surely too early to start putting up sheetrock or installing the kitchen sink. 

Jesus explained the Kingdom of Heaven with many analogies.  These two parables speak to the unbelievable value of what God has in store for us when we profess Christ and choose to follow him.  They also speak of what we would give up for what is in store for us.

There are more parables that speak to the kingdom, but for now we have analogies to hidden, perhaps buried treasure and the finest of pearls.

The first of these two short analogies speaks to the kingdom being like the treasure itself.  The Kingdom of Heaven is being compared to a thing—a thing of incredible value but a thing nonetheless.

The second compares the kingdom to the merchant who is looking for a good deal on fine jewelry and finds it.  In both cases, the people involved act to procure these treasures regardless of whether they are buried or in plain sight.

It’s a good thing that I am reading this parable 2000 years later and not sitting in the original audience.  It’s not really clear if these parables are being told only to the few disciples or if Jesus has ventured outside again and has a crowd, but it’s a good thing that I wasn’t there.  I might have been chewed out by Jesus.  Why?

I would have interrupted with questions.  Why is this guy out wandering in someone else’s field?  Did he have a treasure map?  How do you just come upon a hidden treasure?

Was there a market for this fine pearl?  If you are going to sell everything that you have to buy it, what do you do until it sells?  I hope that you have some good buddies that will carry you for a while.

Part of the beauty of these parables is that in both, the person who made the discovery did extreme things to get what they had found.

Jesus used extreme exaggeration in his teaching.  Today, we would call it hyperbole.  If your eye offends you, pluck it out.  Cut off your hand if it is keeping you from entering the kingdom.  Jesus didn’t want a bunch of blind amputees.  He was emphasizing how important it was to come to know life in him.

Jesus is describing a kingdom that people would give everything they had to be a part of—a impractical approach to investing.  If this doesn’t work out, I’m busted.  I’m broke.  I’m the laughing stock of the town.  I’m not very good at begging.

What could be so valuable to risk everything we have to obtain it?  Jesus said that his Father’s kingdom is such a thing.  The Kingdom of Heaven was such a thing.  We think of heaven as being something beyond our belief and beyond this earthly realm; but we should remember that Jesus is describing a kingdom that people can enter now.

The parable of the treasure found in the field was probably a spinoff of other stories that people knew with other outcomes.  A worker or servant might find a treasure in a field.  Banks and safe deposit boxes were not the common practice.  Hiding one’s treasure may have been more common.

If a landowner died before retrieving his treasure, it would lie undiscovered when the land went to the next owner.  So when the worker discovered it, it truly was a discovery.  His earthly master told him to plow where the old owner never plowed and so he came across this treasure.  He would hide the treasure once again, get as much money as he could by hook or crook and buy the field and be the legitimate owner of the treasure as well.

The secular stories along these lines surely embraced insider trading principles and most always ended up with the person who acquired the instant wealth squandering it quickly. 

These secular stories might have been along the lines of Aesop’s Fables with some sort of moral at the end; perhaps one along the lines of easy come, easy go.

It is not like Jesus is telling a story that’s really out there; it’s just that the point of the parable as Jesus told it was what would someone give for something so valuable.  We don’t know what happened to the man who bought the field as this is not the essence of the parable.

So we return from the parable to the present day and find that the question to us is:  What are we willing to give up to have the Kingdom of Heaven right now?

Don’t think that we have had a doctrinal shift to where you can buy salvation.  We will not be singing She’s buying a Stairway to Heaven as our closing hymn.   Tom will not be selling indulgences in the fellowship hall to help raise money for church camp.

Salvation is a gift but what would we give to fully live in God’s kingdom now?  We sing I Surrender All but do we really mean it?

Do you recall the account of the rich young ruler?  It appears in Matthew’s gospel as well as Mark’s.  I actually like the one in Mark’s gospel better as before Jesus tells the man to sell all of his stuff and give the proceeds to the poor, the text reads:  Jesus looked at him and loved him.

Jesus would not withhold the truth from this man.  As much as this young man—who had a pretty solid GPA with most of the commandments—as much as he wanted affirmation, Jesus knew he needed to choose between this earthly kingdom and his Father’s kingdom.  Only the latter held life, life abundant, and life eternal.

The young man went away sad because he was heavily invested in this world.  Jesus offered something of immensely greater value but this young man did not grasp what was at stake and so he went away sad.  Paul Harvey did not come on the scene until 2000 years later, so we don’t have the rest of the story as far as this young man goes.

Consider what we are talking about here.  Salvation is free.  It costs us nothing but the Kingdom of Heaven comes with a cost.  To say what we sing, I have decided to follow Jesus, comes with a cost.  Discipleship comes with a cost.

Most of us will not be asked to sell everything that we own.  All of us are called to give up our citizenship in the world.  We are citizens of God’s Kingdom.  We reside here on earth but our citizenship in in God’s kingdom.

One day, we will live fully in that kingdom and be surrounded by the glory of God in every moment. The lion and the lamb will nestle up together like a couple of puppies and there won’t be any light switches on the wall because God’s light will illuminate everything.

Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what the Lord has in store for those who love him.  We will know what he has in store for us at some point in our future but we are called to give up our roots in this world now.

We don’t have to purchase the Kingdom of Heaven but we do have to go all in to live in it now.  We have been here before.  We can be a tourist or we can be a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven while we live in these bodies of flesh and blood.

This kingdom that Jesus is framing with parables is one of disciples.  If you are following Jesus entering the kingdom that he has described will be the deal of a lifetime.  Think to the account of James and John wanting to sit at the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom. Perhaps their mother wanted this more for them than they did.

Jesus asked them if they could drink the cup and undergo the baptism that he would.  Would they give up their lives for him?  Would they give up their lives to gain them?

Both said yes to those questions.

If you recall, Jesus gave these two glimpse of their immediate future.  He said you will indeed drink the cup of bitter suffering that I must endure.  You will endure the baptism of suffering that I have been given.

That’s what the disciples wanted.  They wanted to live in the kingdom where Jesus lived.  They were not asking for recliners and big screen televisions.  They wanted to be with him wherever he was.  The desire of their hearts was to be wherever their Master was.

They did not fully understand what they were saying or what was ahead of them, but their hearts desired to be with their Master and be in his kingdom.  It was worth it!

The most valuable thing that they could think of was being closer to their Master.  They had very much given up their stake in the world to follow him

I would think that Peter, James, and John had thoughts of more boats and nets and bigger business somewhere on their horizon.  I would think that Levi—Matthew if you will—had a decent individual retirement account started with other people’s money.

These disciples left their lives and surely their comfort zones to follow Jesus.  While Jesus does not use these words in these parables; they are surely in the realm of the last will be first and the first will be last paradigm with which he confounded so many who had a big investment in this worldly kingdom.

So we ask ourselves:
·     Where is our citizenship?
·     Where is our loyalty?
·     Where is our love?
·     Where is our treasure?  For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.

How much do we want to live in God’s kingdom now?  Are we willing to be the servant of all in this life?  Will we truly put God first in all things?  Will we regard others more highly than ourselves?  Can we be humble or do we seek to exalt ourselves?

Jesus is not saying that we must be poor, but we must regard everything that we have in this world’s kingdom as temporary.  His kingdom is eternal.

All of our money and wealth and things and investments in this world will stay here when we leave.  If we are wise and have lived a godly life, many of those assets will go to our children and their children as the proverb counsels.

But our treasure and true rewards are in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The question for us is do we want to be the first in this world and the last in God’s kingdom?

Perhaps the other way around is the ultimate wise investment.

Jesus proffered, what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  What good is it to gain the whole world but lose your soul?

I can think of no better time to examine ourselves than now.  Lent is underway.  We should desire to turn away from the world and follow only Jesus, so let’s ask ourselves a question.  I will make it a multiple-choice question.

Are we:

A)  Citizens of the world
B) Sitting on the fence undecided
C) Playing the hokey-pokey putting one foot in the kingdom then taking it out
D)  “All in” with the Kingdom of Heaven. 

If it is not “All in” then what are we going to do about it?  What in this world could hold such value to us?  What in this secular kingdom reigns over us?  Why would we not go “all in” on the Kingdom of Heaven?

There are many, many Christians getting splinters in their behinds sitting on the fence and many more singing the hokey-pokey ad nauseum.  It is time to go “all in!”

We can only serve one master.  Are we wise enough to serve our Lord and Savior fully now?  Are we savvy enough to live in his kingdom now?

Here is the crazy thing about going “all in.”  If we seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness first—that means before anything and everything else—then he gives us all of the good things in the world that those who do not know God have made into their gods.

Sell whatever you have to, but buy the field.

Liquidate your assets and buy the pearl.

Know that everything we have in this world is temporary but living in God’s kingdom is forever and worth living there now.

We will be with God forever because of the blood of Jesus.  That’s a gift like no other gift in all history, but we can choose to live in his kingdom now.  We can enter the Kingdom of Heaven now.

In the many things that somehow end up on my desk, mainly because other people have held on to them for years and don’t know what to do with them, was one hand written note on a little piece of paper from the Loftiss—Hackney—Lee Funeral Home in Cordell, Oklahoma.  I think it was from 1986.

It was about a preacher who was talking about heaven and how great it will be.  The preacher was getting all worked up about how fantastic heaven would be and so he asked:  Who wants to go to heaven?

Every hand shot up right away except for one young boy.  After the service, the preacher asked him why he didn’t raise his hand.

The boy replied that the preacher had been so excited about heaven that he thought that he was getting up a load to go tonight.

There is the heaven that we all envision as the place we will dwell one day and there is the Kingdom of Heaven that is ready to receive us this day.  It is a kingdom of discipleship.

It is a place where we pick up our crosses each and every day and follow Jesus.

It is a place where we have taken the yoke of our Master and learn from him.

It is a place where we give up our very lives so that we can truly live.

It is a place called discipleship and it is worth the price.

It is the Kingdom of Heaven and we can enter now.  I think the transition to the kingdom that awaits us will be nearly seamless for those who have gone “all in.”

If you don’t already live here, come into that kingdom today.  If you have not yet taken on the easy yoke and light burden of our Master, take it today and learn from him.

Live in the Kingdom of Heaven today.  It is to grow inside of you and break out all around you and it is worth the price of admission.


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