44 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, 48 which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
51 Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?”
They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”
52 Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”
53 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there.
54 When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” 57 So they were offended at Him.
But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” 58 Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
When was the last time you got a great deal on something? When you paid far, far less than an item’s actual value. Sometimes you even find things of great value that people are throwing away. In the retirement community my parents live in, there is constantly almost-brand-new stuff out on the curb. Just about every year that they come back for the summer, I get a really nice birthday present.
In our passage, Jesus tells some parables are that are sort of like this. People see the kingdom of heaven and have wildly disparate evaluations of it. Some people think it is absolutely worthless, while others think draining their entire life savings for it is the deal of a lifetime. So the question for you as we look at these things more closely, is, “how do I value the Christ’s kingdom?”
Treasure in a Field and Pearl of Great Price (44-45)
Jesus tells two very short parables in these verses, and despite how short they are, they are packed full of meaning. I remember hearing the first many times growing up and never being able to understand it. A man finds treasure in a field and then buys the field? Why didn’t he just take it? Why did he buy the field?
Well, if he simply took the treasure he would be stealing it. Because he bought the field that contained it, that treasure is lawfully his. But some people reading this passage think the man is deceitful and underhanded. They believe he is committing insider trading. “He should tell the owner of the field about the treasure before he buys it. Otherwise, he is still kind of stealing it.” This presumes the owner of the field is unaware of the treasure hidden there. Because of the context that Jesus tells this parable, and the context of His entire ministry to Israel, it is safe to assume the owner knew full well the treasure was buried in the field. The second parable, the pearl of great price, testifies to this by making a similar point. This merchant knows his stuff. He has travelled the world searching for beautiful pearls. He knows when he sees one of value. And so if he is spending all that he has on one single pearl, he is getting the deal of a lifetime. You can imagine this merchant, seeing a pearl the size of your head and asking the seller “how much” to which the merchant offers his whole net worth, and the seller says “fine.” The merchant knows he has made off like a bandit. In both these parables, there is a common theme both obvious and less obvious. We all know when we were little kids in Sunday school, if the teacher asked a question the safe answer is always “Jesus?” And so if I ask you what does the treasure in the field and the pearl of great represent? Here the Sunday school answer is right. The treasure and the pearl do represent Jesus. But then who is the owner of the field, and who is the seller of the pearl? Who is it that views the field and the pearl as worth far, far less than “everything you own”? Who does that represent? Remember the context here. Jesus begins preaching in parables instead of straightforwardly as a judgment. A judgment upon whom? Israel. Remember, before He started preaching in parables, the Pharisees accused Him of working with satan and then demanded He show them a sign (after providing countless signs prior). And at the close of our passage, and this section, the people of his hometown, the people who should know Him the very best (and therefore believe in Him) totally reject Him. If you want to know who the bad guy is in Jesus’s parables, the safe Sunday school answer is “unbelieving Israel.” We can take what Jesus is saying here one level deeper. Is there an example of someone in the Bible who has something very valuable and shows his contempt for that thing by selling it for far, far less than its value. Yes, Esau. Esau is hungry and too lazy to make himself some food, so he trades his birthright to Jacob for some stew. Some people wrongly think Jacob is the bad guy in that story just like they wrongly think the man who buys the field and the merchant are the bad guys. No, they are righteous. The one who refuses to rightly value Jesus is the bad guy. Throughout the Bible, Esau is shown as the bad guy. God says “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.” Esau is not a victim, he wasn’t cheated, he wasn’t swindled. He took a valuable gift God gave him and threw it in the trash. It sure seems like that is who Jesus is comparing Israel to.
Its the End of the World as We Know It (47-53)
Jesus tells another parable, this time of a dragnet. This parable is very much like the parable of the wheat and tares. The main difference is that it is based in the sea rather than on the land. You have angels coming at the end of the age separating the wicked from the just. And like the parable of the wheat and the tares, we can be tempted to immediately assume “this must be talking about the final judgment.” There are angels separating the good from the bad, and fire, and weeping and gnashing of teeth. It must be the final judgment. We know that there is indeed a final judgment from very clear passages from the Apostle Paul in Romans and 1st and 2nd Corinthians. So when people read these two parables, it is just assumed “well that must be what Jesus is talking about.” But if we are thinking about the context of Jesus ministry and the immediate context of Him giving these parables; who is He talking about? Israel. Is He warning Israel about the final judgment? Maybe. But doesn’t it make more sense that He is warning them about what will happen when they reject the witness of the Son and the witness of the Holy Spirit? The phrase He uses “end of the age” might seem like it must be at the end of time. But it just as easily could mean the end of the Old Covenant age which was quickly coming to a close. Jesus ministry shows the “Kingdom of Heaven is here” the kingdom has already arrived and is invading this old covenant. The new wine has entered the old wineskins. What did Jesus say was going to happen to those old wineskins? What the parable means is that the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven has forced the issue, the dragnet is already going out. Unbelieving Israel, the people who have rejected Jesus, the people who threw away the treasure in the field like trash going to a landfill, the people who threw the pearl of great price on the ground and treated it like pig slop, they are going to be gathered up. Jesus is speaking prophetically about Israel. It makes very little sense to assume He is laser-focused with these parables about Israel and her unbelief, then jumps ahead thousands of years to discuss the end of time and space. He is speaking like Isaiah and Jeremiah did about Israel. They, too, talked about end of ages, and judgment, and fire, and the day of the Lord, and stars falling from the heavens. And the whole time there were talking imminent judgment coming upon Israel for her unbelief, not the end of time. But people often take those things too and assume it is about the end of the world, just like they do here with the wheat and tares and dragnet. It is understandable why they would do that. We don’t have to worry about the judgment facing Israel for their unbelief. We do have to be concerned with the final judgment. So it is understandable that we would assume that anything that kinda sounds final judgment-y has to be. But given everything Jesus is doing and saying, and given the entire point of the these parables, it is hard for that assumption to be sustained.
Jesus goes on, because He is speaking to His disciples, even though He is still speaking in parables, He wants to make sure they understand what He is saying. And they confirm that they do. Because of this, He says, they are the new scribes. They are the ones bringing out the treasure; new and old. What is the old treasure? The old testament. And what is the new? The words breathed out by the Spirit of God, that many of these men would record, including the disciple, Matthew, who wrote down the very gospel we are walking through right now. That is the treasure the disciples bring out to display. There are the masters of a great house displaying the treasures inside for all to see. The whole point of the new is to display the old, the whole point of the New Testament was to show that treasure buried in the field and pearl of great price that the Old Testament contained. And you see this if you read the New Testament. You have a hard time finding a page without a direct quote the Old Testament, and an even harder time finding a verse that doesn’t have some allusion to the Old Testament.
Welcome Back (54-58)
Jesus leaves and goes back to His hometown. People often take this passage as proof you just can’t do ministry in your hometown, so it is best to go elsewhere. There are taking away the wrong thing from this. In fact it is the opposite. If anyone should believe in Jesus it is the people who know Him best. They should know His character and righteousness. But instead, they clearly despise Him. Nazareth is a place that is totally blinded and under judgment. That is what it means to be scandalized by Jesus. They are like the Pharisees. They are the one who gives the treasure in the field away. They are ones who gladly part with the pearl of great price. They are the tares. They are the bad fish. And so Jesus says to them a statement that is a condemnation of them: A prophet is not without honor; except in his homeland and in his own house. This isn’t an aphorism about how you can’t ever go back home and be respected. It is a condemnation of them because they of all people should recognize and honor Him. And because of this, because of their rejection of Him, He refused to do any signs there. That is what that means, not that He has superpowers that get charged up based on how much faith they have. No, because of their unbelief, He is condemning them.
Having said again and again that these things are about Israel, does it mean anything for us? Absolutely it does. These words are given for our instruction in righteousness. It absolutely does apply to us.
It is easy for us to sit back and observe Jesus condemnation of Israel for their unbelief and think “well, if I were there, I would’ve believe Him.” “Of course, I would’ve sold all I had, given up all my hopes and dreams, and followed Him.” It is easy to write yourself as the good guy in the story. But remember the question I asked in the beginning. “How do I value Christ’s Kingdom?” Is it worth more to me than everything I have? Would I drain my entire savings account and sell my home and cars and everything I own if Jesus required it of me? Would I take that big pile of chips and bet all of it on Him? Is that how I view Christ’s kingdom? Does the kingdom of God consume my entire life or is it just a social club I am part of that meets on Sunday mornings? Does everything I do connect to it? How I raise my kids, how I go to and do my job, why I go to and do my job, etc. etc. Is it the great cause and great purpose I have devoted my life to? Or is it just something I do on Sundays before I go watch golf or the Vikings?
If you hear the parable of the wheat and tares and dragnet and then hear me say “that seems to be about the imminent judgment coming to Israel in the first century” and think “oh whew, glad it’s not about the final judgment” you are getting the wrong idea. What is going on in Israel in the first century is just what the kingdom is like throughout the world now in a microcosm. You’re not off the hook. Pun intended. The same division of sheep and goats happens at the very end. We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. We all have come across that field and seen the treasure. We have all seen that pearl of great price. And have we been willing to go completely all in on it? Does that treasure and that pearl mean more to us than anything else in the world? That is what these things mean for us. So, trust in Jesus Christ. Devote your life to Him. In doing so, you are placing the a bet with the one life you have been given, that you are being given a treasure far greater than our finite minds can imagine. You are given one life to spend. You can spend it on things that are fleeting; pleasures that are here today and gone tomorrow. Or you can devote that one life you have to Jesus Christ and His kingdom. Place your bets. Buy that field. Buy that pearl. And you will find at His right hand, pleasures forevermore.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!