We gathered at the beach for our annual baptism service and potluck. Always a highlight to preach in the open air with the lapping waves and morning breeze coming off of Lake Minnetonka.
I resisted making mention (this time!) that just a few hundred yards down the shoreline Bill Bright housed the Campus Crusade headquarters (c. 1961) where he trained young missionaries to go bring the gospel to the entire world. I didn’t make mention of the legend that the Four Spiritual Laws were first scrawled out in these very sands. I didn’t mention another young man preached under a big tent in 1950 near this beach as well, and then went on to bring the gospel to the entire world. His name is Billy Graham. While I didn’t mention these tidbits, I always sense their missionary fervor whenever I preach by Lake Minnetonka. Most importantly, I feel the special presence of Jesus who preached many a sermon on sandy shores. But I digress.
This Sunday I invited us all to do some digging and treasure seeking as I unpacked Jesus’ parable of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl Merchant. These power-packed, provocative little stories invite us to imagine a certain kind of a world — a world shaped by and immersed in the values and priorities of the Kingdom of God Jesus came to usher in.
I read the story of the Hidden Treasure to the children, and then we released them to the sandy beach to dig for treasures while I preached. (We could have used more treasures to match the length of my sermon!) But the photo is priceless. In fact, its probably worth far more than all the words I’ll type for this post (see photo above).
Here’s the passage and a summary of the message.
44 “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.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Jesus invites us to imagine a world where…
1. People actively seek the Kingdom. You don’t find treasure sitting on the couch. Nor do you discover all the riches of deep faith casually sitting in a pew each Sunday, hoping it comes dropping from the sky onto your lap. You gotta dig a little deeper. You need a faith that gets under your fingernails. You need to put yourself where Kingdom treasures are likely to be found. A great place to start digging for treasure is in your Bible each. In a world of spiritual “consumers” Jesus is inviting us into a world of spiritual treasure seekers. Elsewhere he says simple, “Seek and you will find.” I assume the opposite is therefore true. Don’t seek, won’t find.
The kids digging at the beach didn’t go empty handed. Will we leave this Earth with nothing but sand falling through our finger tips? May we “Seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt 6:13). Another reason its so important for us to not be idle but seeking after Life in Christ, is that we have an Enemy who is tirelessly seeking hard after us — “The thief comes only to seek, kill and destroy” (John 10:10ff). Yes, beware lest we be found sitting on our hands, twiddling our spiritual thumbs, lost in worldly distractions only to be caught off guard by the Devil who “prowls like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “Be sober and alert, therefore.”
2. People recognize and chase after what’s really valuable. This parable is coupled with the Parable of the Pearl of Great Value. The merchant spends his life in search of pearls of value, to be sold for a profit. Some oysters provide little, others a fortune. Jesus’ story emphasizes the priceless worth of this particular find! The treasure seeker and merchant are both willing to give anything to possess it.
Let’s face it: The tragedy of our times is not that most people are not seeking (see point above); the real tragedy is that most people are seeking hard after worthless trinkets and cheap imitations — things that don’t really last or matter when the game is over. Jesus invites us to imagine a world where everyone recognizes what really matters, and runs hard after those things, and turning our back on worldly pursuits. “What does it profit you if you gain all the world’s treasure but it costs you your very soul” (Mark 8:36)?
I offered my own parable to amplify this point. Consider a loving Father who makes a sandbox out of love for his small children, and fills that sandbox with all kinds of good treasures to delight his children — not least of which is a vial full of the water from the fountain of eternal youth! He says to his beloved children, “Go, play, have fun and enjoy all the richest to be found in this sandbox.” Before leaving them to play, he tells them to stay in the sandbox and not go digging outside it. Danger and destruction of every kind awaits any who dig outside the sandbox. The kids nod their heads in understanding as they briefly notice the Father’s DANGER signs posted all over the yard. The Father returns to the house, and with great delight He watches his children play through the window. He turns his back for a split moment, and when He returns to the window he finds his children digging in the yard. With tears streaming down his face, he weeps for their downfall and destruction that follows. Let all who have ears, listen.
Jesus imagines a world where the curse is lifted, where the descendants of Adam and Eve learn from their parents’ mistake, and refuse to throw their lives away living and digging and chasing and seeking and playing outside the Father’s sandbox. Take a look around today, and observe where people are digging. The “abundant life” Jesus came to offer (John 10:10) is found in living within the bounds of God’s Kingdom and values. Let’s store up riches in Heaven, not on earthly riches that don’t last. Jesus himself is the greatest treasure of all — worth giving our entire lives in pursuing. That leads to the final point.
3. Jesus imagines a world where people joyfully give up anything to get Jesus and the Kingdom! “Selling out” isn’t necessarily about money. It is about giving away or giving up something of worth for the sake of the Kingdom. True, God asks us to give up anything that we are tempted to put before Him. Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything in order to follow him only because he loved his material wealth more than Jesus and the Kingdom. To others he may ask you to sell out to him by giving of your precious time in an already busy season of life. He may ask you to offer your talents to serve the Kingdom instead of Wall Street, and making much less in return. He may ask you to sell out by giving up your love of security and comfort by going to serve the poor in a Third World country on a missions trip. We give up our privacy and peace at times when we welcome high-needs people into our homes and onto our calendars. But when we have grasped the incalculable worth of the Kingdom Life, we discover this a joy-filled sacrifice more than worth the price. The blessings of the Kingdom far outweigh the costs of discipleship!
Peter had to learn this lesson. He once complained to Jesus: “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.”
In other words, count the blessings at the same time you are counting the cost. Let’s take moment to count some of the blessings. When we possess the Kingdom Life, we receive the gifts of:
1. Eternal life
2. No more fear of death
3. Forgiveness of sins; no more condemnation
4. New family of faith to journey with
5. New power to overcome strongholds
6. New beginning, clean slate (new birth)
7. Hope in times of trials
8. New sense of purpose
9. New heart that loves God & others, not self
10. New spiritual gifts to bless faith community
11. New identity & sense of worth
The Seeker of seekers
Finally, just as we begin to think we’ve figured out what this seeking and finding is all about. Just when we think this story is mainly about me going out and seeking Him, about me selling out in order to possess Him, we’re reminded of the true scandal of the gospel of amazing grace and our reckless God.
Standing at the beach, sun beaming through the maple tree, kids squirmy in parents’ laps as the preacher goes on and on. How do we get from the buried treasure in the sand to the waters of baptism?
Here is the real hidden treasure worth grasping: The Seeker of seekers is God himself, who didn’t leave Adam and Eve alone, naked and ashamed in the Garden (outside the Father’s sandbox). God went searching for them, calling out, “Adam, where are you?” In Christ, God went searching again for his beloved treasure — you and I, buried under the dirt and sand of our own sins — but never beyond his merciful reach. Christ counted the cost, left all the riches of Heaven to come in search of us. The Father told the Son, “Seek and ye shall find.” He considers us treasure worth selling all to get back. “The son of man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
We seek first the Kingdom, because He came seeking us (Lk 19:12).
We sell everything to possess Christ, because He sold everything to possess us.
So, let us imagine ourselves into a new world where we 1) actively seek and dig after God’s richest, 2) forsaking a life of searching after cheap trinkets and temporary treasures, and 3) let us joyfully count the cost and give all He asks of us in order to receive the countless blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus!