Coming Home to God
Coming Home to God
Chapter 6—Treasure Hunt: Finders and Seekers
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."
Almost everyone likes stories of hidden treasure. In the early 1800s Charles IV King of Spain, whose estate included a precious collection of antique clocks as well as the crown jewels of Spain, knew that Napoleon was about to invade his country. In one room of the palace, he had the clocks walled in. In another room, he had the crown jewels walled in. A faithful servant kept samples of the draperies of both rooms to remember which of the 365 rooms of the palace contained the treasures.
Sure enough, Napoleon conquered Spain and installed his brother Joseph on the throne. In 1814, when Charles's son Ferdinand VII recovered the throne, of course he wanted to find the crown jewels. Every king needs his crown! The faithful servant brought back the swatches of cloth from the draperies. The only problem was that Joseph had changed all the draperies in the palace! Ferdinand was faced with tearing the walls out of 365 rooms—or writing off his loss. He wrote it off. The whole story was considered a legend until a few decades ago, when plumbers found the collection of clocks. It is probable that somewhere in the walls of the palace the crown jewels of Spain are just waiting to be discovered. Someday someone will have the surprise of a lifetime, discovering hidden treasure. (Smithsonian, October 1983, p. 140)
Jesus told two stories about coming back to God, comparing this return with finding hidden treasure. Jesus often spoke of "the kingdom of God," simply meaning the rule of God in a person's life. Other times, He referred to "the kingdom of heaven." In Jesus' stories, the kingdom of heaven means ordering your life according to the ideals and character of Jesus. "Thy kingdom come" equals "thy will be done." Some are surprised to return to the kingdom of God; they find it as an unexpected treasure. Others seek the highest good in life and find the kingdom of God. Whether you are a surprised finder or a serious seeker, you must risk everything for the unique opportunity of knowing God's will in your life.
Each of Jesus' parables presents a past picture and tells a timeless truth. Let's look at the picture half and the truth half of these stories to understand how we come back to the rule of God in our life.
Finding Unexpected Treasure
This parable presents a past picture, telling of a man who suddenly finds what he is not seeking at all—treasure. A poor day laborer plows the field of another man. The sun sears his back; the simmering soil burns his feet. Just to finish the day is his goal; all he wants is to take his denarius and go home. Suddenly the plow strikes a strange object. The animals jump, the plowman awakes from his half-sleep. He claws at the ground with his hand to find an earthenware jug. Tearing off the top, he sees bright yellow gold. He steals a glance in all directions; no one has seen. He throws some dirt over the jar, runs to the landlord and tells him that he must leave work immediately. By law he was not required to tell the owner of his find, for it had been buried years before by ancient Amorites. Transported by joy, in a state of delirious exultation, he knows that his whole life is about to change. He immediately sells everything he has and buys the field—which would have been a good value for what he paid. But he forgets the field; he has the treasure.
Hidden treasures today are rare. In the ancient biblical lands, however, they were common. Palestine, caught as a land bridge between Egypt and the great empires, was repeatedly invaded, ravaged, and captured. Multitudes buried gold. There were no banks. The government, nobility, clergy, and Arab invaders all robbed the common people often and without warning. Because of this, the people quickly buried treasure in the ground, in walls, in tree trunks, or wherever they could. Earthquakes could cover up entire cities and bury gold with them. All kinds of people quickly buried what they had in the face of invasion or political change. They left, they died, they were captured, and no one knew where the treasure was hidden.
W. M. Thompson was a missionary in Syria and Palestine for thirty years. He told of workmen digging up a garden in Sidon. They found several copper pots of gold. They did exactly like the man in the parable—concealed their find with care. But then, wild with joy, they could not keep their mouths shut. The governor of the city caught them, and recovered two of the pots, and it was found that they contained eight thousand pure gold coins of Alexander and his father Philip. Thompson saw hundreds of persons all over the country spending their last penny looking for such treasure. Until this century, finding buried treasure was the ancient working man's equivalent hope of winning the lottery today.
Such stories of plowmen finding treasures have historical basis. The rabbis told of a man whose ox suddenly sank into the ground as he was plowing. The ox had fallen into a treasure trove which became the property of the happy plowman.
Jesus' parable tells a timeless truth. Many find the rule of God in their lives without seeking. They stumble onto joy.
By accident, by sudden revelation, by a sunburst of unexpected light, Jesus Christ invades their life. Their experience is recorded in Romans 10:20: " 'I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask forme.'"
The Bible is full of people who suddenly encountered the ultimate treasure of God's invasion of their lives. It included the shepherds watching their flocks by night, who were suddenly surprised by a multitude of the heavenly angels singing to them. You can rest assured they were not sitting around Bethlehem's pastures expecting a concert by a thousand angels! But suddenly it happened. All they wanted was to keep their toes from freezing off in the winter wind and to keep the wolf from snatching their sheep. All they wanted was to find the meager grass in the rocky soil. But suddenly angels sang to them. They found an unexpected treasure.
A woman of Samaria found an unexpected treasure at Jacob's well at noon, when she went there alone. Other women always went in the cool of the day, but she went at noon, in the heat, alone. Ashamed. The Jews rejected the Samaritans as half-breeds. She was a Samaritan rejected by other Samaritans. On a hot day she wanted some cold water for her hot tongue; but she went alone because her hot passions had ruined her life. Then she met Jesus beside the well. She came looking for water to drink; but she left with the water of life. John adds the detail that she left her water pot at the well and ran to tell others. Just like the plowmen who eagerly sold his cup, cloak, and whatever else because of the joy of the find, she left her water pot. She found unexpected treasure.
The jailer in Philippi had just gone to sleep. It had been a hard day at the jail. After two preachers caused a riot, he had finally gotten them into stocks—and then they started singing in the middle of the night. He had just gone to sleep when the whole earth shook. In light of Roman law, he was ready to kill himself if his prisoners escaped. Then Paul told him how to rescue more than his prisoners, how to save his very inner life. The jailer got all shook up when the jail shook down, but he found hidden treasure.
Did you stop looking for hidden treasure in God a long time ago—stop believing that Jesus Christ could add an exciting, different dimension to your life? For some of you it stopped in childhood. Perhaps you remember warm summer days in Vacation Bible School when Jesus seemed to be alive. For others of you the treasure hunt stopped with the cynicism of college years. Some professor told you that the Old Testament was no different from other Semitic books and the New Testament was a patchwork of human invention. Maybe that's when you stopped thinking of Jesus as a life-changing reality. For others, perhaps you lost any expectation of hidden spiritual treasure amidst the demands of a career, or as little compromises dulled your ethics, or because of the constant pull of the material world.
If that's your situation, your whole life now belongs to the ritual rut of the routine. Like the man in the poem, "Morning, evening, afternoon—you measure out your life with coffee spoons." You plow through life the same way every day. You have no expectation at all that your plowshare will strike a treasure.
I have news for you. Today—in a moment—you can find hidden treasure, the rule of Christ in your life. It will cause you to invest everything you are, just to have that treasure. Your life can change suddenly—for the mere joy of it. If you are sitting there thinking, What does it cost to be a Christian? What do I have to invest? you've misunderstood the story. The emphasis rests on the great joy that seized the plowman. It surpassed all measure; it carried him away. It penetrated his innermost being; everything else lost its value. That he surrendered everything most valuable to him was a matter of course. He was carried away by joy, compelled by joy, in a state of hilarious exultation. The fact that he had to sell his old cup, his cloak, or anything else meant nothing to him.
That means right here, while you read, you can discover hidden treasure. Are you willing to grasp the moment and place everything on the table in order to return to God? There is an element of urgency and risk. The plowman sold everything that he had in order to capture the hidden treasure. Jesus expects you to risk everything in faith in order to come back to God.
Seeking the Highest God—and Finding His Rule
Some are surprised at the opportunity to come back to God. Others are seeking fulfillment in life and stumble onto Jesus Christ in the search. This is the meaning of the parable of the pearl merchant.
Even though this is a twin to the parable of the plowman, the picture presented is very different. This is no day laborer plowing a field. Jesus presents a traveling pearl merchant— not a shopkeeper, but a man of business on a grand scale— who traveled to the pearl fisheries of the Persian Gulf or India in search of pearls. He was not a collector, but a dealer. What he bought in the East he could easily sell in the West for vast sums. Here is a man such as few men are. Immediately this picture is different. There were many plowmen in fields, but there were only a few such men as this. He would not be surprised by a treasure; he was looking for it, seeking the very best.
He was seeking excellent pearls, until late in the nineteenth century the most valued of all gems. Diamonds now have replaced them in status; but in biblical times diamonds were so rare as to be unheard of. In the ancient world, Pliny says, Cleopatra had two pearls worth the equivalent of four million dollars. Julius Caesar presented the mother of Brutus with a pearl worth $350,000. So now we have more understanding of this merchant who was seeking pearls. He had great skills to gauge the shape, tint, and smoothness of pearls. And he was worth a fortune.
Suddenly he finds even more than he was seeking. He finds one pearl of great value, a pearl above all others. One can almost imagine the setting in the Middle East. He contacts a sheik of the pearl trade and is invited to the sheik's grand tent. After many pleasantries and obligatory greetings, he is taken further into the tent. Then the sheik produces a silken purse. Out of it he palms a pearl of perfect proportion.
There is a quickening of breath as his eyes meet the pearl merchant's. Immediately the pearl merchant must have it. The emphasis rests on the suddenness of his possession. At once he sold everything that he had. The purchase cost him the possessions of a long career. That means that he not only traded all the other pearls that he had, but also everything else. He liquidated every asset that he had. He recognized that he found something beyond price. It was as it is with the Hope Diamond. Twice the 44.5-carat diamond was taken from the Smithsonian Museum. It went once to the Louvre and once to South Africa. Both times it was insured for a million dollars—but the money meant nothing. You cannot place a value on an irreplaceable object. The pearl merchant knew that. He had found something beyond value.
Such incredible love of a pearl is not without example today. In 1917 New York socialite May C. Plant traded a house on Fifth Avenue for a pearl necklace valued at one million dollars. In 1905, when Ceylon announced the opportunity to fish in a new pearl fishery, forty thousand gem dealers, divers, and others descended on Manaar. In six weeks five thousand divers retrieved eight-one million oysters. Only two oysters out of a thousand contain a natural, round pearl. When Jesus' pearl merchant found a pearl above all others, he had found a rare thing in the earth.
The day laborer had been surprised by treasure. The pearl merchant found what he had always been seeking.
This parable tells a timeless truth. There are those actively seeking the best things in life: meaning, purpose, reality, escape from futility and frustration. Maybe you're one of these people, seeking a sense of well-being in high and honorable ways. You seek it in work, but work becomes a stern taskmaster which yields no ultimate meaning. You seek it in human love, but even that does not fill the void in your heart. You seek it as physical discipline and become the master of your body in diet and exercise; but that does not fill the emptiness. You seek it in learning, and you accumulate degrees; but that does satisfy. You seek it in position and power over others; but that is like saltwater—the more you drink such power, the more power you want. Every one of these examples may be a pearl— but not the pearl you really want. Your reach always exceeds your grasp. You almost touch it but you do not have it. It is like chasing your shadow.
In contrast, Jesus promises that seekers can be finders. The Gospel of Luke includes the story of Anna and Simeon, two very old, tired seekers, waiting in the temple for years to see the Messiah. They became finders, held the baby Jesus, blessed God, and went on to eternity. Seekers do find. The Ethiopian eunuch had traveled to Jerusalem to learn the Jewish law and enter the Jewish temple—two pearls in their own way. But on the way home the seeker became the finder. He met Philip, who explained to him how the prophecy had been fulfilled. Philip baptized the eunuch and he "went on his way rejoicing.
Similarly, Lydia, the seller of purple, went to the riverside at Philippi, because that is where Jews gathered to seek God in the absence of a synagogue often men. As she listened to Paul's message there, "the Lord opened her heart." Because she sought, she found. The greatest Christian theologian of the early church sought everywhere. Augustine of North Africa, who tried every philosophy of his day, found the pearl of pearls in Christ. C. S. Lewis lost something he called joy in his boyhood and sought it for a lifetime—until he found it in Christ.
There are certainly searchers reading this, pearl merchants of the inner life. This could be the end of your search.
Jesus Christ meets you today. You can hand to Him every other pearl and have the one you've looked for.
But some will not. You would rather have paste pearls than the real one. Spiros Zodhiates tells of a young couple on a fast track in their social life. As the season approached, they went to the social matriarch of their city, an old friend, and asked her to loan the ambitious young woman her priceless necklace of perfect, natural pearls. After some thought, the matriarch of society loaned the pearls for the duration of the season. The very first night they were stolen. But more than that, the young couple on the fast track knew that their life's ambitions for fame, visibility, and social prominence were gone with the pearls. In a panic, they flew to a distant emporium, described the necklace to a master jeweler, and had the strand recreated. It cost them everything they would ever have. At the end of the season, they presented the matron with the replacement necklace.
It ruined their entire lives. At enormous cost they paid for years. When the older woman was about to die, out of guilt the young woman went to her bedside. She confessed the whole charade. The older woman shrieked from her bed: "You fool! Those were paste pearls. No one ever loans the real ones. You've wasted your life for paste pearls."
Be careful that you don't come to the end of the way only to realize you have worked, learned, loved, and played for paste pearls.
Taking the Risk
The similarities between the finder and seeker outweigh any differences. In these parables, Jesus again argues from the lesser to the greater. If a day laborer will dispossess himself of everything he has in order to have a worldly treasure, how much more should we risk everything for the kingdom of God? If a shrewd merchant can value one pearl so highly that he is willing to commit everything he has to its purchase, how much more highly should we value the kingdom of God and risk everything to have it?
It is exactly the opposite of the excuses given by those invited to the king's banquet described in the parable in Matthew 22. So urgent is the opportunity presented that Jesus says we are to cut off hands that get in its way (Matt. 5:30), let the dead bury their dead while we follow Him (Matt. 8:22), and leave parents and family (Matt. 10:37). This is no lame, same, tame Savior calling for modernized, trivialized, bargain-basement, discount religion. We are to risk everything for the kingdom of God.
What does "everything" mean? Does it mean that we must literally sell out, liquidate? No, for Jesus did not ask everyone to do that. But it does mean that we should be willing to give up everything that prevents God's rule in our lives. Relationships, businesses, hobbies, property—if it prevents God's rule in our lives, out it goes.
You will find then that life is like another parable from another land. A blind Indian beggar sat beside a road, fingering the rice in his little bowl. Wearing only a loin cloth, he sat in poverty beside a road that stretched into nowhere both ways. The scarce travelers occasionally gave him a little rice. One day he heard the thunder of a chariot in the distance. It was the grand entourage of the maharajah. This was a moment that had never come before. Surely the great one would stop and give him baskets of rice.
Indeed, the golden chariot of the maharajah stopped before the poor beggar. The great one stepped down and the beggar fell before him. Then the sky seemed to fall in. "Give me your rice," said the great one. A fearful, hateful, scowl masked the face of the beggar. He reached into his bowl and thrust one grain of rice toward the maharajah. "Is that all?" said the great one. The beggar spat on the ground, cursed, and threw him one more grain of rice. The great one turned, entered his chariot, and was gone.
The beggar—angry, empty, and crushed—fingered the remaining rice he had hoarded in his bowl. He felt something hard, different from the rice. He pulled it out. It was one grain of gold. He poured out his rice, caring nothing for it now. He found one other grain of gold. Had he trusted the great one, he could have had a grain of gold for every grain of rice.
So it is with Christ. You purchase the kingdom—you come back to God—by giving your grains of rice for His grains of gold. Why not come back now? You win in the exchange.
Homesick for God.