The Center Fellowship
The Center Fellowship

Life’s Great Treasure

The week after next, I’ll be speaking in South Dakota, to all the regional heads of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). They really like the book, The True Measure of a Man.

Let me pray. Lord, we love You, we thank You for Your goodness and Your mercy, just Your compassion on us, we thank You that You are a God who forgives. Lord, we acknowledge our need for You. We ask that You be here in our presence, that You’d speak into our lives, that You would teach us Your ways, that You would use this study in each of our lives this morning. We do thank You. In Christ’s name, Amen.

I had a guy who was here, and he said this lesson spoke more to me than any other lesson you’ve ever taught, so, it’s kind of like, you just never know, so I’ll be curious to see what you think. You know when Jesus speaks, everything He says, I think everything that’s recorded in the Gospels is significant. But, as you know, there are times that He’ll say something and you’ve kind of got to perk up and hear what He’s saying because you know it’s very significant, and, to me, you’ll see from time to time, Christ will say the Kingdom of Heaven is like, and then He’ll say something. Usually, it’s a parable. In fact, in the last 6-8 months, we’ve looked at a number of parables, and we’re going to look at two short back-to-back parables. I’ve never taught on these, but was intrigued by them. We did read one of them, but I didn’t teach on it. We read the second one when we finished up the series on contentment, but I want to look at both of these and I want to compare and contrast them, and then I want to kind of dig in to the first one today, and then the next one next week. So, if you would, turn to Matthew 13 and we’re going to look at verses 44—46. Matthew 13:44-46. Greg Pyburn, would you read for us? Matthew 13:44-46.

Greg: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; 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; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

RS: Okay. Let me ask you this. What I’d like to do is just stop and ask you to look and compare these two parables. What’s similar? And what’s different? Do you see any similarities? There’s one glaring one.

Audience member: He sold everything.

RS: They sold everything. Each of them came upon something of great value, and it was of such great value, they were willing to sell everything they had to get it. Anything else? What about differences?

Audience member: He hid it.

“The Bible tells us over and over that Jesus often hides spiritual treasure under a field of ordinariness and you will never find it unless you seek and penetrate the surface.”

RS: He hid it, and in the first one and the second one, he didn’t. Now, let me just say this. You wouldn’t know this, but, I read a number of commentaries on this, and that word “hidden” also means “concealed”, or buried. It was something that was not obvious. It was hidden from sight. But the pearl merchant was seeking pearls and probably found this other pearl of great value, with another pearl merchant, so it was not hidden. Now, this might be a stretch, but in reading the commentary, if the treasure was buried, the guy was likely plowing the field, you see, he didn’t own the field, but he was probably plowing in the field, because that’s what farmers would sometimes do. They wouldn’t own the land, they’d rent it, and they’d plow it up and grow crops on it, but they didn’t own it. But the pearl merchant, in all likelihood, I mean, you’ve got to be careful, you can read too much into a parable, but, this was a man who was not of great means, versus a pearl merchant. Pearl merchants who lived back then were wealthy people. They had to have great wealth to basically buy their inventory of pearls. You know, they didn’t have diamonds. You know, a pearl was just something of unbelievable value. But, the real question is, as you look at these two simple parables is what was it all about? What was Jesus trying to get at? What was he trying to teach us?

Let’s start with the first one, the first parable. You know, you read this, you think, this is kind of far-fetched. But, it’s really not. Back then, they didn’t have these nice secure banks with these nice secure vaults, and so, often, wealthy people would bury their gold and silver in various places and, if they die suddenly, and they never told anybody, it’s lost until somebody finds it. And, in two different commentaries, they both said, in Jewish law, if you somehow stumble on a hidden treasure, and you don’t know whose it is, it’s yours. Now, I don’t want to go into too many details because I want us to figure out, what is Jesus really trying to tell us in this first parable. Now this is a good place to start and ask this question. Do you think after this event, now we don’t know the amounts or anything like that, but do you think that after this event, this treasure impacted his life? For instance, he found this treasure, and let’s say, it was worth a million bucks and he had to go scrape up $10,000 to buy the piece of land. Would you say it changed his life? Yeah.

You see, that’s the thing we need to understand about the Gospel and the treasure of the Gospel. True spiritual treasure just improves your life, it remakes you. It transforms you, and you’ll never be the same.

I know that was true for me in my life. When I became a Christian, my life never has been the same since. You see, the Gospel is not like some self-help book that will improve your life and make you feel better. It changes the essence of who you are because it changes your heart and the Holy Spirit comes in and takes residence. Now, as you read the parable, wouldn’t you agree that, on the surface, this appears to be just an ordinary field? It was just a field, and what you see beneath the soil of this ordinary field is this incredible treasure. The treasure is beneath the surface. And the only way to find the treasure is to go beneath it. Listen to what one commentator said. He said, “The Bible tells us over and over that Jesus often hides spiritual treasure under a field of ordinariness and you will never find it unless you seek and penetrate the surface.” Now, what I find is most people don’t..(recording breaks at 10:29). but it you think about this, this is a real problem with our world today. We’re always looking on the surface of things. In fact, the culture that we live in always seems to assess value based on externals and that which is superficial. Let me give you an example and I need you to kind of think through this with me. Whenever you meet another man for the first time, how do you size them up? I mean, think about it? What is the criteria that we use? As I was doing this, I was thinking back to my years in the insurance industry and I remember, on a number of occasions, I had the opportunity to go on these lavish, I mean wonderful, trips that insurance companies paid for, and often, you’d take your wife, and you’d be with agents and brokers from all over the country who you’ve never met before. And it was interesting, we would go, and sit at a table, there might be five couples at a table, and you couldn’t help but try to size up the people that you’re with. Now when you meet somebody for the first time in a scenario like that, what is the criteria you use when you start to size up another person? What are some of the criteria?

Audience member: Appearance.

RS: How they look, how they dress, what else?

Audience member: Their wife.

(Laughter)

RS: Their wife. Seriously. They got a trophy wife? What else?

Audience member: How they talk?

RS: Yeah, how articulate are they? How intelligent are they? Where did you go to college? What else? I mean, there are all kinds of questions. Do you own your own business? Do you work for a brokerage firm? What’s your title? What do you do? And then, if you have a lot of time, where do you vacation? Where do you live? And you know what one of the biggies is? Your kids. How accomplished are your children? “My son goes to Harvard Law School.” That’s one of things, where your kids go to college. This is a good question, guys, if that is the criteria that our world uses, and, unfortunately, that is it, so, this is a great question, how well do you do based on that criteria? How do you measure up? Because, as I was thinking about this, I’m not sure that I would do so good based on the criteria. I mean, I’m old, Alex sold me this shirt a couple of years ago, my shirt looks pretty good…

Audience member: You got a trophy wife, though.

RS: Yeah, you would like my wife. That’s for sure, if you don’t know her. But, you know, I work for a non-profit organization, I drive my four-year old car, live right over here in Homewood, I’m not sure how well I would do. How would you do? The problem, though, guys, with the criteria, it’s all about the externals of life. What is quite clear, outwardly, you can look great, but inwardly, and relationally, you can be bankrupt. You may have a trophy wife, but have a horrible marriage. Conversely, when it comes to the externals, you might find somebody that appears to be quite ordinary, but internally can be rock solid. And this is a big issue in the sight of God. Let me stop here. Comments, questions, anybody.

Audience member: Richard, this isn’t exactly on point, but what struck me about these two parables, is they came upon their object of great value in different ways, and I take from that that God comes to us not always the same way, and not always in the same time.

RS: No doubt about it. That’s a great point, I didn’t ever think about that. That’s a great point.

Audience member: He speaks to that in James too, about showing partiality to those who appear to have more.

RS: That’s a big issue in James, it’s the big issue…(break at 15:38) Anybody else? Do you remember, I’m not sure if we’ve studied this, if we did, it’s been a long time ago, and a lot of you guys probably weren’t even here, but in I Samuel 16, God basically has told Samuel we’re going to have a new king because basically, all that Saul did in disobedience to God, and all that God tells Samuel, a very Godly prophet, is the new king is going to be one of Jesse’s sons. And , as I recall, Samuel goes to Jesse’s house and Jesse marches out all of his sons, all of them except the youngest, David, who is out looking after the sheep. Somebody’s got to look out for the sheep, it might as well be the youngest, and the first person that kind of is presented to Samuel is the oldest son, Eliab. What do you remember about Eliab?

Audience member: He was tall and good-looking.

RS: Tall and good looking. He was the perfect specimen of humanity.

Audience members: He was in the FCA…he was in the choir…

(Laughter)

RS: And he is presented to Samuel, and even the Godly Samuel looks at him and says, “surely this must be the Lord’s anointed”, and then you know what God said to Samuel, and this is a great verse, I Samuel 16:7, I’ve had my kids memorize it, I think it’s so significant, “And God says to Samuel, ‘Don’t look at this man’s appearance, God sees not as man sees, man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'” What a great statement. And therefore, I agree with that commentator, God often hides spiritual treasure under a field of ordinariness. In fact, I think God often works through ordinary people, and not necessarily superstars. In fact, Paul pretty much says this about the Christians in the church at Corinth. In fact, turn, if you would, to I Corinthians chapter 1. While we’re turning, anybody have a comment, a question.

Audience member: You know, I think it’s funny, in that verse, it says do not let his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. Those are the things God rejects.

RS: Yeah, I’ve rejected him, I’m not impressed with that at all.

Audience member: To take that one step further, Paul was not physically (unintelligible 19:11) was he?

RS: No, and nor was Jesus, and we’re going to get to that in a moment. That’s the interesting part. Are we at I Corinthians 1:26-29. Warren Lightfoot, you want to read that for us?

Warren: I do.For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

“For look at your own calling as Christians, my brothers. You don’t see among you many of the wise (according to this world’s judgment) nor many of the ruling class, nor many from the noblest families. But God has chosen what the world calls foolish to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world calls weak to shame the strong. He has chosen things of little strength and small repute, yes and even things which have no real existence to explode the pretensions of the things that are—that no man may boast in the presence of God.”

RS: You know, when you read the Bibles, there are two or three primary translations, you’ve got the New American Standard, you’ve got the NIV, most of us have one of those two, but then you’ve got the New King James, those are all translations, where the translators take the words in Greek, and literally translate it as best as you can into English, but then you have what is called the paraphrase, and I mention this because it’s where you more paraphrase rather than translate, and most people consider the Phillips translation, or the Phillips paraphrase to be the best. C.S. Lewis, in fact, had kind of read through it, this was back in the fifties, and approved it, and he wrote the introduction to it, and I want to read to you the Phillips translation of these verses that Warren just read. And you’ll see that the Christians in Corinth were just pretty ordinary people. They weren’t gifted. It says, “For look at your own calling as Christians, my brothers. You don’t see among you many of the wise (according to this world’s judgment) nor many of the ruling class, nor many from the noblest families. But God has chosen what the world calls foolish to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world calls weak to shame the strong. He has chosen things of little strength and small repute, yes and even things which have no real existence to explode the pretensions of the things that are—that no man may boast in the presence of God.”

You know, a great example of all that we are talking about was in the blog that I wrote right before Easter, and all of this was not in the blog, this is from the book Safe Passage, and it’s about Tolstoy. Tolstoy lived into his 70s, and he hit it big when he was young. Some of his greatest writings were when he was young, so he was very wealthy, and he hung out with the aristocrats of his town, but he lived with this incredible fear of death, and basically he found no hope in religion of any kind because he thought it was all foolish. It says for many years of his adult life he deeply pitied the Christians in his native Russia. How was it, he asked, that these miserable impoverished peasants, confronted death with peace and with dignity, content that their days should end, and that they would be with their God? After many years in the comfort of his aristocratic surroundings, a world of ideas without purpose and privilege without consequence, insulated from the hardships of poverty, physical stress, and psychological trauma, Tolstoy’s pampered existence slowly begins to unravel, and eventually he contemplated ending his life at his own hands. However, his imagination and creative spirit took a radical turn, his life and perspective on death was completely transformed, and ironically he began to find encouragement and optimism in, of all places, the community of old uneducated Christian peasants in his town, whom he now realized, were wiser and more in touch with the realities of human existence than his educated aristocratic friends. Tolstoy then turned to the New Testament and he read the words of Jesus and each page seemed to speak to him lucidly. Over time, by faith, Tolstoy embraced the love of Christ and as he did, he tells us that the dark menacing figure of death was transformed into the bright promise of life. And these are his own words, he says, “For thirty-five years of my life I was, in the proper acceptation of the word, a nihilist – not a revolutionary socialist, but a man who believed in nothing. Five years ago, my faith came to me. I believed in the doctrine of Jesus, and my whole life underwent a sudden transformation. Life and death ceased to be evil; instead of despair I tasted joy and happiness that death could not take away.”

You know, Tolstoy is saying I’ve found that great treasure. But, where did he find it? Who had the impact on his life? These poor uneducated peasants. These ordinary people. Who on the surface, appeared to be ordinary, but, within them, internally had this great treasure that the Gospel offers. Any comments on this?

Audience member: Unintelligible question

RS: Yeah, the guy that I mentioned a while back that called me yesterday, that was the exact thing he said, you know, the thing that really spoke to me, even thought I didn’t mention it, was just the significance of humility. You know, as Andrew Murray says about humility, it’s the root of all the virtues, and, I mean, if you asked me, if there was one trait you could possess above all others, it would be humility.

Audience member: Paul says in I Timothy, he says command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant (unintelligible commentary)

RS: Yeah amen.

Audience member: I’d think you wouldn’t find much of that humility at your insurance meetings.

RS: No, there wasn’t. Everybody was trying to impress each other. I mean, seriously. Good point, Terry.

Audience member: You know in that story of Tolstoy, I could see a parallel with Paul on the road to Damascus when he was struck blind and then the scales fall from his eyes and all of a sudden he could see everything different. That’s the way Tolstoy did.

Audience member: The thing about humility is it’s not something you can just conjure up and say, I’m just going to be more humble. It’s totally an attitude of where you think you got whatever it is you possess.

RS: Yeah, I would say this, humility is something you have to cultivate in your life. We’ve talked about the fact that the Bible says to humble ourselves. It says that a lot, and we’ve been through and talked about the various ways you can humble yourself. But, as Gary says, you can’t just say I’m going to try to be humble. It’s something ultimately you cultivate and it becomes who you are. In fact, after talking about it, we’ll probably come back sometime soon and talk about humility. I’ve read a couple of interesting books recently, some new interesting insights that we’ll come and share.

The person that’s had the biggest impact on my life spiritually was a guy by the name of John Riddle. Do any of ya’ll know John? John is, if you spend any time with John, he’s pretty ordinary. I say that with all due respect to him. He doesn’t have a dynamic personality at all, speaks in a monotone, he’s a pretty ordinary guy, but the wisdom he possesses is unbelievable, it’s a great treasure and he dispenses it to the world. And you know what’s amazing? And we shouldn’t find this offensive in any way, but Jesus, the Man, was quite ordinary. He didn’t stand out at all. Now, how do we know this? There are three things I want to share with you. First, go back to the Old Testament to Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53. Does anybody remember what Isaiah 53 is? It’s probably the most famous chapter in the Old Testament, or one of the most famous, to us as Christians, because it’s the chapter on the suffering servant to come, the Messiah, even though they didn’t get it at the time. Because we’re told He’s pierced through for our transgressions. Let’s read verses 1-5. Sonny, would you read those for us? Isaiah 53:1-5.

Sonny:Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by man, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hid their faces He was despised, and He was not esteemed. Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

RS: Isn’t this interesting? He grew up like a tender shoot, but He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance to attract us to Him, nothing that we should desire Him. You know, I don’t know about you, but if I was God, and I was going to send my Son, I’d make sure he really looked great, that he was impressive, that people would be drawn to him by his looks and his personality. But this seems to say that’s not the case. And then, and this is significant, I think, and I personally almost find it a little comical when you try to envision this, but when Jesus began his public ministry, do you know where He announces it? Does anybody remember it? In the temple of His hometown, in Nazareth. Let’s look at it real quick. Luke 4. Luke 4:16-22. Jeff Grantham?

Jeff: He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Then He rolled up the scroll, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. He began by saying to them; today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.”

RS: Okay. Ya’ll got the picture here? Here’s Jesus in the synagogue and they read the scriptures. They pull out the scrolls and they read them, and He reads from Isaiah. Isaiah 61:1-2, and do ya’ll know what He’s reading, what this is? Basically Isaiah is talking about the coming Messiah. And so, Jesus reads it, sits down, and then almost matter-of-factly says today this scripture is fulfilled in your sight. They said they appreciated what He was reading, but I don’t think they got it, then they looked at each other and said, who is this guy? Isn’t this Joseph’s son? I mean, guys, He’d lived there all of his life and they weren’t even sure who He was. My point is, He had not even made a big splash in His own hometown. As you keep reading, then they try to run Him out of town because of these outlandish claims that He makes. Now, you might say, they didn’t know who He was because it was such a big city, but Nazareth was a Podunk city. In fact, Steve Roe yesterday shared how last year he went to the Holy Land and went to Nazareth and he said, it’s just a nothing. There’s nothing to it. There’s nothing there, and we know that Nazareth was a Podunk city because of what we read in John chapter 1. So, turn over to John chapter 1 real quick, and Phillip has met and seen Jesus and had an encounter with Christ. Go down to verse 45. Phillip found Nathaniel and said to him, we have found Him of whom Moses and the prophets of the law wrote, It’s Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nathaniel said to him, can anything good come out of Nazareth? So, you see, Nazareth was just a little nothing city. There’s no way the Messiah could come out of Nazareth. So clearly, Jesus not only was ordinary, He might have been less than ordinary as the man. Let me stop here, comments?

Audience member: I was looking at this map here in my Bible, and I thought it showed Jerusalem, Judaea, then above it Samaria, then Galilee and I thought He was called the Galilean, so, what was the significance if you were a Galilean, it seems like a bumpkin town.

RS: It was, Galilee was more of a region, and Nazareth; and this was the armpit of the world, the Roman Empire. It was, just, you know, it was. History tells us that Pilate hated being there, because it was a low place to be. Anybody else?

Audience member: Richard it strikes me what you’re saying about the pearl hidden in the field, the treasure, here’s the Messiah, right there in front of them, announcing Himself, and they can’t see it.

RS: They can’t see it, yeah. I’m serious; I think, part of it was that He was just an ordinary guy. Who is that, is that Joseph’s son? Who is that guy? I want to read some words from, C.S. Lewis saw this so clearly, and I want to read some words from The Great Divorce, and in the narrative, you have this young man who goes to Heaven, and he has this guide that is guiding him through, and he’s walking around this guide, and suddenly, around the corner comes this enormous parade of people, this enormous entourage of people. And you see, these young boys and girls dancing around this central figure, you can’t quite see who this central figure is, but then you see men and women dancing around this same figure, and he finally gets a glimpse, and it’s a woman, and she is beautiful and she comes around the corner and the guide who is narrating, and the young man who was with the guide, says he could hardly look at her, he says, “the unbearable beauty of her face, she was just filled with light,” and he asked his guide, who is this woman? He says, “well, it’s someone you’ve never heard of. Her name on Earth was Sarah Smith, and she lived at Golder’s Green. She seems to be, well, a person of particular importance. She is, she is one of the great ones. You’ve heard that fame in this country, and fame on earth though, are two quite different things.” And he proceeds to tell him how Sarah Smith had a tremendous impact on all those she came in contact with, and then the guide says, “and now, the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into everybody else. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.” Lewis had a way of saying things. Then we learn who Sarah Smith was. The guide says, on earth she was a nobody. She lived at Golder’s Green, which was a nowhere little town. The guide says she never got married, she never made any money, but she became someone of such enormous love and she changed so many people’s lives because of the love, joy and the peace in her. Then he says again, have you not heard that fame in heaven and fame on earth are two very, very different things? You see, Sarah Smith, guys, was a treasure in an ordinary field. And really, this is what God wants to do in each of our lives. And what I find, it’s so easy for men to think, you know, God can’t really use me to impact the world. Well, you know what, is what He wants to do is a work in each of our lives. Where there is a joy, and where there is a peace, where there is an inner strength, where there is courage in our very being. That’s what it means to have treasure in our very ordinariness. But you know what the problem is? Nobody, no man I know wants to be considered ordinary. And the reasons most Christian men never experience this internally, is because we get too focused on the externals of life. How do I look? What do people think of me? How successful am I in the world’s eyes? You see, guys, we have got to get over and away from the world’s standards if we are truly going to be men of God. And, as I was preparing this, and really, kind of, finishing this up, it struck me like a thunderbolt. A verse, and it’s a verse that I pray over, in my own life, a good bit, and its Galatians 1:10, do you remember Galatians 1:10?

“Am I seeking the favor of men, or am I seeking the favor of God? If I am still trying to please men, I cannot be a bondservant of Christ.”

So, what’s it going to be? He’s saying that you can’t do both. You cannot live your life trying to please God and trying to impress the world. And yet, there is something within us, I’ve thought about this, there’s something that’s natural in us, I think it’s part of our depravity, that we feel this great need to impress the world, so then we feel like, now I’m really somebody important. My life really matters. And God is saying that’s not what it’s all about. CS. Lewis was really on target when he said, “Have you not heard that fame in Heaven, and fame in Earth are two very, very different things?”

Okay. We will finish up next week, by studying the Parable of the Pearl of Great value, and it’s dynamite. Great little parable, and we’ll look also at what does He mean in both parables where it says that they go off and they sell everything to obtain either the treasure or that Pearl.

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