The Parable of the Lost Treasure
Matthew 13:44, A Message by Pastor Eric Chang
Today we continue our study in the Word of God in Mt 13:44. I never cease to be amazed when I study the words of the Lord Jesus, how much riches he can put into a single verse. In fact if you look at v44, the whole parable is in one sentence. Now we come to the parable of what is often called “The Treasure in the Field.” As we go along we may find a more comprehensive name for this parable. In Mt 13:44, this is what the Lord Jesus says: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Now this is a very short parable, but how much riches are in there!
Treasures in Earthen Vessels
Let us try to look at the picture. The Lord Jesus says the kingdom of God is like this man who is walking through a field. Maybe he is working in the field; maybe he is just walking through. All this is not told us. Too many commentators have assumed too many things. They have assumed that this man is working in the field. The Lord does not say so. It may be just that he is passing through the field. But either way, it does not matter too much. Let us, for a moment, just assume that he is walking through the field. As he walks through the field, he is looking around at the field and he observes something there that might look like a rock, maybe a stone, but it looks a little too smooth. His attention is attracted by this object in the field. He goes over and has a careful look. What does he discover? Surely it is no rock, no stone. In fact it is a jar. It is an earthenware vessel. And he knows what that means. It is because, in those days, earthenware vessels or earthen jars, were used to store treasure! The treasure was usually coins, maybe silver coins, maybe gold coins, maybe jewels of one kind or another, precious stones, things of value. These things were put inside a jar, because earthenware, often used to hold water, was of course waterproof and therefore served as a very good protection to these treasures inside it. These coins or jewels were all stuffed into the jar. It would then be closed, plugged, sealed and then buried in the ground.
In those days, you did not have banks and safe deposit boxes. There was no such thing. So, what are you going to do when you want to store up some riches? You cannot go to the local bank, as I said; they have not got a strong room with a safe deposit box where you can put your diamonds and whatever it is you want to put in there. So, where are you going to put it? Money is always uncertain. As you know in this world of inflation, to put things in money is always dangerous. And so the usual thing in times of inflation is that people switch from currency – from money – to objects of value that will be lasting, such as gold. Why? It is because money has a way of devaluing; it keeps going down. And you have heard that the price of gold goes up all the time. People do not trust money and so they put it into valuables. People buy jewels as an investment; they buy diamonds. They find these things do not lose their value; they might go down for a while but in the long term, the value always goes up. They do not lose their value.
What is more, these valuables are easier to carry around. If you buy a house, you cannot carry your house around. You can live in it, but people do not want to invest in that kind of thing especially in Palestine, where there are constant wars. You buy a house and you have a war. Your enemy comes and burns your house down, and so, you lose everything. You do not invest in property in wartime. If you have lived in wartime situations such as we have done in China, you will know that a house can be worth next to nothing in wartime. Nobody wants to buy a house because it is a liability. It is dangerous. The enemy comes and bombs the place, or fighting takes place and the whole thing is ruined.
But you also do not want to invest in money; you do not want to keep paper money. Those of us who used to be in Shanghai still know. With the money you got as your salary, you had best rush off! And people rushed away to the money dealers quickly to change the paper money into silver dollars. Because if you did not change to silver dollars, you would be left with a whole pile of paper money which is not going to be enough to buy yourself one “大饼 - one big loaf of bread”. In fact, in those days you would be paid with a suitcase full of money and you would rush off with this suitcase, to the nearest silver coin dealer or gold dealer. So, immediately, you exchanged your paper money for that which is of value.
So that is exactly what people used to do – they looked for security, and so they stored their valuables in this earthen vessels. And then they went to the field and they hid their money there. Of course, it was important that you could remember where you put your money! You have to remember it is 20 steps from this tree and 13 steps from the oak tree in this direction. But if anybody goes and cuts down the trees, you have an awful big problem because where are you going to find your treasure if the landmarks are gone?! This is the reason why there were lots of lost treasures – treasures which the owners could not find anymore. They got lost! They hid it but they could not find them again. Another reason could be that the owners were killed in war or they became captives in war, and were carried away, deported to another place! This often happened to the Jews, and so they could not come back to claim their treasure again. Others hid their treasure and never told anybody else about it. When they got sick and died, or if they got killed, the treasure was lost! Whatever the reason, these hidden treasures are still coming to light through the archeologists. People dig in the field and, time and again, they find treasure. Even today, sometimes the bulldozers are clearing a ground in Israel and they come across hidden treasure in the ground – Roman coins or gold coins, various valuables hidden in this way.
The Lord Jesus is talking about a situation which was very common in those days. It is not common today because we do not normally hide treasure in this fashion, but in those days, it was not uncommon for people to be working in a field and to come across an ancient treasure. It may have been hidden hundreds of years before. Or it could have been hidden more recently by some person who either could not find it, or had himself got lost or captured or killed. And of course, the rains might have washed the earth away, thus revealing a little bit of the top part of the jar. A person walking through the field, then, might chance upon it. Seeing this thing, he sees it looks a bit like a stone. An earthenware jug in the ground might look like a stone, or it might look just like a broken piece of potsherd that is sticking out of the ground. If you go to Palestine, you will find lots of broken pieces of pots. They are all over the place, and so, you might not take notice. But this person noticed this thing and he went to have a closer look. As he took a closer look, he found that it was a vessel, and that it was sealed – and he knows what that means! Treasure!
Or if the case is that the person is working in the field, then as he was digging in the field or plowing in the field, he strikes an object. Though others might think it is just a stone, immediately he stops to have a look at it and he finds treasure! What does he do? Of course, he is filled with joy. To find treasure is not something that happens everyday. Sometimes we walk on the street and we find 10¢ lying on the ground. That is not bad! Or sometimes it is 25¢! But it is not everyday that you find hidden treasure. No, no! So he is filled with joy, and what does he do? He goes and sells all that he has and he buys that field.
Why Buy the Whole Field?
Now, immediately, there are one or two legal questions we have to ask. The question is: Why did he not just pick it up and walk away with it? Clearly, to dig it up – it was partly concealed and partly revealed – would not be a moment’s work; it would take a little while. But you would have a legal problem. To be digging in somebody’s field constitutes trespassing and you could be hauled into court for that. What is more, the owner of the field will not only take you to court for trespassing, you will lose the treasure to him. You have no right of claim upon that treasure so long as the field is his and you are trespassing on his field. Once you understand the legal situation, you will see why he does not dig up the treasure right there and then. It is because even if he took it out then and nobody noticed it, if he was questioned where he found the treasure, then he would have to say that it was in such and such a person’s field. The question that arises is: Who gave you the right to dig in his field? You would again be caught on a charge of trespassing. In fact, trespassing in this case would amount to stealing.
But there is another side to the matter. The question then might have been this: Does not the treasure belong to the owner of the field by right? In fact, under Jewish law, it does not belong to the owner of the field. This is the other side of the matter, of the legal question, that you have to understand. Under Jewish law, that treasure does not belong to the owner of the field because when he bought that field, he bought simply the field. He did not know that there was any treasure in it. He could not have bought what he did not know was there. That is Jewish law. So, you cannot claim that treasure as yours because you did not even know it was there. That is the way Jewish law reasons. Therefore, this treasure does not belong to the owner of the field unless he himself found it. But since, in this case, it is somebody else’s field, made clear by the fact that the person who finds it actually goes and buys the field, we know it is not his field.
To summarize this legal point very briefly, we find it is very clear: he does everything correctly. He understands that the treasure does not belong to the owner of the field under Jewish law, but he also understands that he may not go and dig up that treasure because to do so constitutes trespassing on someone else’s property. Now sometimes a path does go through a field. As you will see, often in the gospels, you find a path going through a field. The disciples walked through a field and they plucked the ears of corn. This is allowed under Jewish law. You may walk through a field, but you may not go and work that field. Digging the field will constitute trespassing. Thus, the only way he can now claim this treasure legally would be to go and buy that field. There is no other way. Once we understand the legal position, we see that everything is done correctly. There is nothing immoral or wrong in this matter at all. Everything is done correctly.
What the Hidden Treasure Represent?
So, now, let us come to the meaning of the parable. What then does the parable mean? What is the Lord Jesus saying to us? There are actually only two alternatives. Either this hidden treasure is the Lord Jesus who is found by us; we find Jesus in the field, that is, in the world. Or alternatively – it is the only other alternative – it is that Jesus finds us. We are the treasure in the field that Jesus finds as he comes into the world. Which of these two would be correct?
I would like to say right at the start, expounding the Bible is not a matter of personal interpretation. Bible exposition is not a matter of opinion. The Word of God is not to be decided as in one person likes to take it this way and another person likes to take it that way. It is not a matter of opinion. There are correct and strict procedures for expounding the Word of God. Just as in any legal document, it is not a matter of private interpretation of a legal clause. There are rules to expounding what a statement in the law means. And so, in the same way, it is not a matter of guesswork, or simply that you happen to like it this way and I happen to like it that way.
Let me tell you that the general trend today is the view that this treasure is Jesus and that we are the people who happen, somehow, to find this treasure in the field. That is the general view. I would also like to tell you that that was the view that I held for a great deal of the time. I thought that this was the right view for some time, but having studied and analyzed the situation more carefully since then, I find that I have to depart from this view. I am going to tell you the reasons why and I am going to let you be the judge of the matter. You will see, again, like last parable, the evidence is so overwhelming that it is not by any means a matter of a fine balance; the evidence is overwhelming. I asked myself: Why did I not see it before? The reason why I did not see it before is because of my prejudice. And I am going to confess to you my prejudice so that you may see that it is our prejudices, or maybe what we have been indoctrinated with before, that closes our eyes to the meaning of God’s Word.
When I was tackling this parable, I worked on both assumptions honestly and faithfully exegetically, to work it out to its conclusions. I said, “I don’t have any axe to grind. I don’t mind who is right, who is wrong. I just want to know what the Word of God says. I am on nobody’s side in this matter. Just let the Lord speak to me and may I be so open that I can hear what he has to say.” But I discovered that I had more prejudices than I realized and that is what I would like to confess to you.
Who Is the Treasure?
Let us consider the problems very briefly, because I want to get on to the meaning of this verse. It is so wonderful and so rich once you begin to see what it really means. Let us begin with the view that this treasure is Jesus, and that we are the ones who find this treasure. As I said, that was the view I once held. I tried to work it through exegetically one more time recently, but I could not. It would not go through. Now, this is what I find with the Word of God, that when an exegesis is wrong, you simply cannot get it through. In other words, you have to force the issue through because it will simply not conform to an accurate exposition of it. Let me tell you what I mean by this.
Look at this parable. Where are the problems? The problems are enormous when we take the view that Jesus is the treasure. First of all, it makes this parable simply a repetition of the next one. The two parables say nothing different. The next one is the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. So, what happens is that you simply have two parables saying the same thing. Now why would the Lord Jesus want to give two parables saying the same thing? Does he like to repeat himself? Or is there any reason why he wants to repeat himself? That is the first point. But that does not matter. Maybe the Lord Jesus likes to repeat himself. He has the freedom, the right to repeat himself if he wants to. That in itself is not a fatal objection, though it is an exegetical objection because I do not find that the Lord Jesus ever wastes words, to say again what does not need saying again.
But secondly, the objection is this: what is the field? What is the field? The more you realize this, the worse is the problem. In Mt 13:38, only a few verses before that, we find that the field is the world. So, we find that Jesus is hidden – remember this: hidden – in the world. The more you think about it, the more meaningless this gets. First of all, from last parable we saw that God does not hide Jesus in the world because who would hide Jesus? Jesus is the treasure; somebody hid that treasure, so that somebody must be God. God hides Jesus in the world? Now at first sight, that sounds plausible enough, but not when you begin to understand Bible exposition. We saw that God does not hide the Gospel and he does not hide his salvation. He wants us to be saved, so, what is the idea of hiding salvation? Jesus is the Savior. Do you find anywhere in the Bible the teaching that Jesus is hiding in the world? I cannot find it. If you can find it, perhaps you can tell me where you can find it. You see, this is the reason for the prejudice.
We saw last time that the commentators took the leaven to mean something good, which we saw in the Bible always means something evil. For some inexplicable reason, they decided to say that the leaven is the kingdom of God, that God hides his kingdom in the world – this is with no exegetical reason. Nowhere can you prove this. The more I think about it, the less I can understand their view that God hides the kingdom in the world. We saw that God does nothing of the kind. Nowhere does God hide the kingdom.
We also saw that Paul says in 2 Cor 4:3-4, that if our gospel is hidden, it is not because God hides it; it is hidden from those who perish because the god of this world blinded their eyes. He says our gospel is not hidden! If it is hidden, it is the god of this world who hides it from you. Let us not attribute to God what Satan does. If there is any concealed aspect of the kingdom of God, it is not because God conceals it. Oh no! It is because Satan conceals the kingdom from our eyes by seeking to blind our eyes. That is the only teaching in the Bible. Nowhere can I find anywhere that God’s kingdom is concealed. Jesus came into the world to be the light of the world, the sun in the world, in Jn 8:12. He came to reveal God’s light, not to conceal it. The light of the world is not hidden. In fact, that is what he says, “No one lights a lamp to put it under a bushel.” He has said all these things. It is so clear to us.
In fact, even if Jesus wanted to hide himself, he could not. That is what the gospel says in Mk 7:24; he tried for a brief moment to hide himself physically from those people who were just looking for him to seek the benefit of his miracles. What does Mk 7:24 say? “…but he could not be hidden.” [NKJV] He could not be hidden! Such is the nature of Jesus that you could not hide him, and he could not hide himself if he tried. The gospel makes it so plain to us that, first of all, God does not try to hide. He lights a lamp, not to put it under a bushel, but to let the light go forth. And even if for a brief moment Jesus tried to conceal himself from the people who sought him for the wrong reasons – even then – he could not be hidden. Not even from those who sought him for the wrong reasons could he be hidden. How plain is the meaning! Nowhere in the Bible can I find anything about Jesus being hidden. And I challenge you to find that. No, he came to be the light of the world.
In the great feast he stood up and cried aloud for everyone to hear: “Come to me, all you who thirst, and I will give you the water of life.” [Jn 7:37-38] He stands up time and again, and he cries aloud. So, he says to the people, “I stood in the public places everywhere. You heard me teaching in the temple.” It was the most public view. In fact, this is the greatest stumbling block.
Now what is more, the field is never, as I say, the church. Nowhere is this in the Scriptures. The field is the world! And what is the church? In the previous parable, we saw it is the wheat. The wheat is the church. The tares, the darnel, are sown among the wheat, that is, in the church. The church is the wheat. The crop is the church, the kingdom of God; it is not the field. The field is left behind. It is the crop that is taken away at the harvest, not the field.
So, we can find that as you go on in this way, the only other thing the commentator can do, as they often do, is to ignore the matter of the world and say, “Well, let’s not press every point. Let’s just drop them out.” Now, that is fine if it suits your purpose to drop the points and not press the point. The fact is that when you look at the rest of the parables, in fact, the two foundation parables, we saw that every aspect of the parable contains meaning. What is more, the field is one of those aspects of the parable where a definition is actually given to it. So, what gives us the right to drop out an element which has already been defined? So, you can see how great are the problems when you try to understand it in this way; the problems are insurmountable.
The parable becomes like this, if you take it this way: Jesus is the treasure that you discover in the world, and having discovered him, you conceal him back in the world again, whatever that is supposed to mean. Then you go away and you sell all that you have. And what do you do? You go and buy the field, the world. Now that is an impossible situation, isn’t it? You can make no sense of this except by distorting the various elements and trying to make them mean something which they do not mean in the Lord’s own definition.
Prejudice Can Land Us in Great Error
But now, having dealt with that, let us look the other way around, and then the riches come forth! The meaning pours out in abundance. In fact, what is happening here is not that Jesus is the treasure in this particular parable – we may find him to be that in the next parable – it is us, the church, that is that treasure in the field.
I said to you that I confess my blindness or that I was blinded by doctrinal prejudice. Why? Perhaps you are blinded by the same prejudice. It is because we are simply not accustomed to thinking of people as treasure, thinking of ourselves as treasure, are we? No! The more I pondered it, the more I asked myself: Why did I resist this very plain meaning of the Lord Jesus? Why did I close my mind to it? Why did I reject it? Why? Quite simply it is because of this: It is because I was brought up, as a Christian, on the Doctrine of Original Sin, on the total depravity of man that says that man is utterly rotten, corrupt, sinful and utterly diseased, sick, vile – rotten! So, what value can there be in man who is totally depraved, who has inherited “original sin”, who is rotten to the core of his being, who is sick beyond remedy? As far as he himself is concerned, he is utterly rotten and corrupt! Now, I can see the value in a box of apples which are all good and wholesome. I can see the value of that. But could you find any value in a box of rotten apples, which are rotten to the core, which are even smelly and full of stench? Well, they are worthless and rubbish; you would throw them out into the garbage bin. Now, brothers and sisters, that is the way I was brought up to think of the sinners. Was that not the way you were brought up to think?
I thank God for the words of the Lord Jesus! It is like a sword that pierces into the heart and examines your intentions and your understanding, and it revealed my attitude to the unsaved. I felt humbled, ashamed of myself when I had to confess that when I was brought up on this kind of doctrine, I regarded the unsaved people as basically diseased, rotten people who really have not much value at all: “Unless God put some value into them, they have no value in themselves. How can you love them? You do not love rotten apples. They are fit only for the garbage, as we saw. You cannot do anything with sinful man. There is nothing you can do with sinful man. He is rotten! Corrupt! To be rejected!” Now this kind of thinking has so penetrated the Christian, brothers and sisters, that it has the most disastrous effect upon the way we look at the non-Christian.
This view is taken to its logical consequences by Brethren, especially Plymouth Brethren and some of the more exclusive types of Brethren. They, in fact, want to be so secluded from this rotten bunch of mankind as to have absolutely nothing to do with them lest they, good apples, become polluted by the rotten apples. “You must be absolutely segregated from them. You look with pity and condescension upon perishing mankind. Pity, yes, because they are so rotten, so bad, and useless.” Now, you combine that with the Doctrine of Predestination, brothers and sisters, and see what happens: What will be my attitude to the non-Christian? Nothing but utter abhorrence: “They are not only rotten, but condemned by God’s predestinarian purpose to the fires of hell!”
Now, I tell you, for any Christian who thinks like this, needless to say, his attitude to the non-Christian will be one of utter contempt. If not contempt, it would be at least one of condescension. Condescension! “I, an elect of God, walk through this world of corrupt men who are predestined to destruction.” Let me tell you that such a doctrine is most horrifying and disgusting in the light of scriptural teaching! Yet this is the kind of doctrine I was brought up on. I thank God for the words of the Lord Jesus that revealed the spiritual arrogance of my heart. It is arrogance. It would be nothing but spiritual arrogance under any other name; there is no use saying it is the grace of God and whatever. If ‘God’s grace’ inculcates arrogance into your heart, then God forbid that that can be called grace.
I pray that God may so change my heart that I may look at people as Jesus sees them. How does he see them? He sees them as treasure! The more I study the Lord’s teaching, the more it strikes me, amazingly! He never saw them as rotten apples. No, no! He never saw them as a worthless metal. He never saw them as just so much garbage. Oh no! He saw them as precious. Precious! Only when we can see people with Jesus’ eyes will we go out to them in love, with Jesus’ love. Only when we can put away these corrupting doctrines which have corrupted our minds and instilled the subtle spiritual arrogance into our hearts – and it is a subtle pride – will we look at people with love. It is only then that we can say that it is all grace. Do you see? For what kind of grace is it that makes you proud?
The Israelites fell into that pit and we pray that we may not fall into that same pit. When the Israelites said, “We are the chosen of God. We are God’s chosen people. We stand many cuts above these multitudes; they are ‘massa damnata’ – this condemned mass.” Massa damnata! Strange – the words of Augustine in Latin! These are the words he dared to use. With all due respect to Augustine, whatever he meant with that, it is a fearful phrase to use. A damned mass of people? A condemned mass?
What condemned mass? They are a treasure in Jesus’ eyes, I would like you to look! When God opened my understanding to this and I looked at the Lord’s teaching again, I was amazed to realize that Jesus never regarded the lost person in this way. He never regarded the unsaved person in this way. Look at the parables in Luke Chapter 15. Consider them. The first parable in Luke Chapter 15 is the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The second parable is the Parable of the Lost Silver Coin. The third parable is the Parable of the Lost Son. Are any of these things valueless? The sheep is most valuable even today, but even more so to the poor Palestinian farmer. The silver coin that the woman lost is of great value to the woman; it is part of her dowry. What is more, if that point is not clear enough, the Lord Jesus speaks of the lost son.
He came to the world to die for worthless mankind. Why? To say that God loved him is no explanation. Why does he love the rotten and corrupted in whom there is no goodness whatsoever? It gives us no explanation whatever. “…what is man that thou art mindful of him…?” What a misinterpretation of Ps 8:4! Look at Ps 8:4 again sometime. The point of Ps 8:4 is that God is mindful of man! That is the whole point of it. And the Psalmist is amazed that God is mindful of man. Great as God is, why is he mindful of man? But the fact is that he is mindful of man. And the next verse, v5, gives us a clue, “…thou hast made him little less than God”. Wow! No wonder he is mindful of man, after all, there the explanation is given. “Thou madest him a little lower than God.” Not that much! He made us in his image. He wants us to be his sons and his daughters. We are precious to him. What is all this about rotten apples?
In Ps 115:12 it says, “Thou art mindful of us…”. Well, you cannot get plainer than that. He cares for us, he is mindful of us, because we are valuable to him! This becomes even plainer in the OT: “He that touches you, touches the apple of my eye.” [Zech 2:8] “That is what you mean to me,” and he says that to a nation that is rebellious, disobedient – they are still precious to him! In Hosea, he speaks of this disobedient and rebellious nation as his “wife”. Now what is more precious to a man than his wife? But of this rebellious, this disobedient nation, he speaks of: “My wife that I have loved” and “I will love and do everything I can to redeem them from their sins.”
Then we see in the NT, the picture is no different at all. As we saw, whenever the Lord speaks of those who are lost, he speaks of them as things of value: as sheep, as coin of silver and as son. Take that parable in Lk 15:8-10 of the Lost Coin. There you see that Luke has individualized that parable. Each sinner individually is one lost silver coin. Think for a moment. If you take an awful lot of lost silver coins and put them together, what have you got? You have got a treasure. A whole lot of lost treasure! That is exactly what happens in Matthew. Contrary to Luke, who tends to individualize the point, that is, applying the matter to the individual, in Matthew, we find he tends to multiply it. He generally speaks of two or more. So, you take a lot of lost coins and put all these lost sinners together and you have lost treasure.
The Unsaved are Lost Treasure
Now we begin to get the point of the parable in Matthew. What is the hidden treasure? It is a lost treasure. Do you see what it means? It is a lost treasure. We saw already that the treasure is found by somebody else because the person who originally owned it was killed or deported or had died of sickness or simply could not find the treasure anymore. He simply lost it. So, somebody else finds it. In other words, this parable in Matthew is really the Parable of the Lost Treasure and is Matthew’s counterpart to Luke’s Parable of the Lost Coin! Now, the meaning of it all begins to emerge. But do you see, once we can get past our prejudice, that the lost person is not a valueless piece of garbage fit only for the fires of hell in God’s eyes – no! Indeed, he is most valuable to God.
But you say what about the darnel? Well, I hope you have understood the Parable of the Darnel. The darnel is indeed worthless. But the darnel are not unbelievers; we saw that they are false Christians. And what about the chaff? The chaff are also false Christians. Remember that chaff used to be part of the wheat. We saw that wheat in the Bible is always referring to Christians. The meaning then begins to emerge. The only kind of persons who are spiritually valueless in God’s eyes are the spiritual hypocrites, for whom there is no remedy. These are the kind of people who are valueless, not the unsaved. The unsaved people, in contrast to these false, phony Christians, are precious in God’s eyes. They are lost, but they are a lost treasure that God wants to reclaim, that Jesus came to reclaim. And do please well remember that you and I were all part of that lost treasure, whom now in his grace, he has found.
Once we begin to realize the correct meaning of this whole matter, the picture is exceedingly beautiful! First of all, it reveals God’s heart to a lost mankind. Remember this! I hope you will remember that they are precious to him. They are a treasure, though they are lost. Jesus has come with this very purpose: to find them. That is why he came into this world: to find you and me. You and I were part of that lost treasure.
The Unsaved – Buried Treasure
But notice further the beauty of the symbolism in this parable, once we begin to see it correctly. This treasure is lost and buried in the world. Being buried is always a sign of death in the Bible! “dead in trespasses and sins”! [Eph 2:1-KJV] Lost! Concealed in this world! And Jesus finds us! This is so beautiful. It is so beautiful. Now that I understand the parable as the Lord teaches it, the whole meaning comes forth with significance and riches. And then, we find as we go on, how inexhaustible are these riches.
Let us look at this word ‘treasure’ for a moment. We saw that the treasure consists of an earthen jar in which were hidden golden or silver coins, jewels, and so forth. The remarkable thing is that this picture is exactly what the Apostle Paul uses, applying it to Christians. In 2 Cor 4:7, he says, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels”. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is this: that the Christian is now a ‘found’ treasure, whereas as a non-Christian, he was a ‘lost’ treasure. But we have this treasure, even more treasure now than before – ‘now’ because apart from those other treasures, we have now the treasure of the gospel in us. We are even of greater value to God now that we have this treasure of the Gospel in us. The Christian is of greater value, not because of himself, but because of the treasure that God put in him. It does not mean that the non-Christian is not treasure. The non-Christian is exceedingly precious to God. Let us try and grasp this thing.
God Seeks Out the Lost
But notice the next thing. Let us look at the word now for ‘find.’ We saw that the word ‘treasure’ is used of people, of human beings, of the church in particular in 2 Cor 4:7. Now look at the word ‘find.’ When we look at the Bible, we find, time and again, that God seeks us. He looks for us and he aims to find us. There is a beautiful verse in Ps 119:176. These are the beautiful words of this psalm where the Psalmist says this: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep”. Does that remind you of the parables? “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant, for I do not forget thy commandments.” He has been lost, yet something of God’s commandment is still with him. It makes me think of Paul and his ‘lostness’ when he says, “With the mind, I serve the law of God; but with the flesh, I serve the law of sin.” [Rom 7:25] I am a slave of sin, but I still know what is good.
Have you seen how many non-Christians often have as clear an understanding of what is right and wrong? Has it ever struck you that a non-Christian also has a conscience? That a non-Christian also many times does deeds of kindness, not in order to save themselves, nor to establish any righteousness? That the non-Christians also give to the poor? In fact, without the support of non-Christians, many relief organizations would shut down. The non-Christians can also have a conscience. Let us not forget that and Paul concedes that. He states that in fact in Romans Chapter 2, that the non-Christian also has a conscience [vv14-15]. Now with his mind he often seeks to do what is good, though he lives under bondage to sin. He cannot overcome the power of sin; that is precisely what his ‘lostness’ is about. Now there are some non-Christians, of course, whose thinking is evil continually (no one will want to deny that), and there are others who do have a conscience – God seeks for the lost of every sort. Here the Psalmist pleads, “Seek for me; I am lost.”
And then, we notice this again in Ezek 34:11,12&16, where God speaks again and again that he seeks his lost sheep, “I will seek the sheep that are lost.” And in Ezek 34:22, he says, “I will save my flock”. To seek is to save. The purpose of the seeking is to save. Again, all this we have seen already in the parables of Luke Chapter 15. In every age, in every generation, God seeks people. In this generation, he is also seeking his people. He is looking for his sheep. I wonder if you are one of those.
God is Searching for Those Who Share His Heart for the Lost
In every generation, he looks for men that are willing to serve him, to function as light in this world, to bring others to salvation. We see this beautifully stated in Ezek 22:30, where God says, “I sought for a man to stand in the breach and I could not find one.” “I sought for somebody who would come to the rescue of Israel, who would proclaim the truth to Israel… someone who would be my servant in Israel….” But in that generation he could not find one, so, Israel was destroyed. Maybe he is trying to find some people here today who might be those who stand in the breach to save the world, to save the church. We are saved in order to save others, not just to save our own skins. And so in 1 Sam 13:14, we find those beautiful words when God found somebody and that person was David, “I have found a man after my own heart who will do all my will.” Can he find such a person today?
In Jn 4:23, the Lord Jesus says that, “Those who worship God are those who worship him truly in spirit and in truth”. In the next sentence, the Lord Jesus says, “And the Father seeks those who will worship him in this way.” He seeks people who know how to worship in spirit and in truth. God is looking for them. Do you not think that when he finds them, he finds treasure? When he finds the people who worship him in spirit and truth, who are willing to turn away from their sins, to be cleansed by the blood of Christ, to be made pure, to be set free from the bondage of sin, so as to worship him in spirit and in truth, he finds treasure. God is looking for such people today! I tell you, when he finds them, he finds treasure. That is what the Lord Jesus says, “When one sinner repents, all the angels in heaven rejoice.” So precious is each sinner to God! What is this talk about garbage, about rotten apples, about junk metal? Each sinner is so precious to God, that when one turns back to him, all the angels of heaven rejoice! We cannot grasp that, can we? It is because we have been indoctrinated to believe that a sinner has no value. What is the point of angels rejoicing? He has value to God! He has! How precious is this parable!
The First Instance of ‘Hide’ – Hidden Because of Sin
And then notice the word ‘hide’ – “hidden in a field”(i.e., in the world). When you make a careful study of the word ‘hide’ in the Bible, you will find that the word ‘hide’ always has to do with sin in the Bible. Without exception, it has something to do with sin or a consequence of sin in some way. I have not been able to find any exception. You go and look at a concordance and see if you can find an exception. It starts right at the beginning. When Adam sinned, what did he do? He hid himself from God (Gen 3:10).
When we sin, God hides his face from us. It is sin that hides God’s truth from us. And God will hide his truth only from those who harden their heart. It is said that their eyes are closed. They cannot see that truth. It is concealed from them, not because God wants to hide it, but because they have hardened their heart against his truth. And so also in Amos 9:3, there it says, “Though you hide yourself from me, yet my judgment will catch up with you.”
Adam tried to hide himself. Have you noticed that every time you sin, you hide from God? It is not God hiding from you. When Adam sinned, it was not God that did not come into the garden. It was Adam who was hiding himself from God. Remember it is not God who hides his salvation. It is we who hide ourselves from God and therefore he is concealed to us. His truth cannot strike us anymore because we are hidden, not he is hidden. We hide from his light, so how can we see his light?
Thus, many times in the Bible, we read (especially in the Psalms) that God hides himself, hides his face from us because of our sins. He hides himself, his salvation, his truth. He hides because of our sins. But it is our sins that cause it, not that he wants to do it. The most beautiful thing about God hiding his face – which you will see in Scripture Ps 13:1, Ps 27:9, and there are so many references that you can find – is this: that when we stop hiding from God, we are on the way to salvation. When we draw near to him, we find him drawing near to us. He is far from us only because we are far from him. And so, we find these beautiful verses also in the OT, for example in Ps 32:5. There, the Psalmist says this wonderful thing, “I did not hide my sins from you”. Now when you can do that, when you can stop hiding from God, when he seeks you out and you do not run away from him, then you are on the path to salvation. Look at these words in Ps 32:5: “I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity”. Unlike Adam, who hid himself, the Psalmist does not hide himself. “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.” Oh, isn’t that wonderful?
It is when we stop hiding when he searches us out, when he calls us and we do not hide, when we confess our sin to him, when we do not make excuses like Adam, saying, “It was because of the other person. It was this person or that other person,” but you say, as the Psalmist said, “I didn’t conceal my sins from you, I am a sinner. I beg your forgiveness. I hide nothing from you,” then the Lord forgives your sins! You see, the first step of salvation is when you stop hiding. When this treasure comes out of hiding, then it is going to be saved. Of course, in the nature of this parable, you cannot say it in that way because the treasure cannot walk out of the ground itself. But this hiddenness always has to do with sin. It is very important to realize this. But when we stop hiding and confess, then his salvation comes to us.
The Second Instance of ‘Hide’ – Hidden in Christ
But now, you say, “What about the part in which Jesus hides us; that having found the treasure, he hides that treasure?” We have seen that when we tried to apply it to the Lord Jesus, we could make no sense of it at all. But when applied to the church, the meaning is very plain; it all comes out. Why do you hide anything at all? Why was the treasure hidden in the first place? To keep it safe, of course! To protect it that it would not be lost. But now, this second concealing after it is found is exactly for that purpose – to keep it safe. When we look at the Gospels, we find it all the time this way.
Firstly, the Lord Jesus hides his own, that is, he protects them from the judgment of God, from the wrath against sin. Look at Lk 13:34 for example: “How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers its chicks.” What does the hen gather its chicks for? To hide them! To hide them from what? From the judgment of destruction! From that hawk or that eagle that is above, seeking to devour those chicks. So, when we are saved, Jesus hides us in himself, or rather, he hides us now, in the world, in himself. We are still in the world. We are left behind in the world, but we are concealed in a certain sense for our protection.
Secondly, we find that he conceals us for the protection from evil men. This comes out so beautifully in Jn 18:8. There, we read that when the people came to arrest the Lord Jesus, he gave himself up, but he sheltered, he hid his disciples. He says, “You take me and you let them go,” exactly like this hen hiding its chicks under its wings, sheltering them, protecting them. But it is also well to be remembered that all this is done in the world. And then we notice that this is what God constantly does, that he protects his own. We read that also in the Psalms where he shelters his own. But I think I will skip these references for the moment, since there are too many. [Cf. Ps 27:5, 31:20]
Thirdly, he hides us from the enemy. We find that in Col 3:3: “Our life is hidden in Christ with God.” We are hidden in this world. The body of Christ is in this world, let us remember this. We are that body of Christ. And so, the Lord Jesus says to his disciples, “I am going to leave you behind in the world. In the world, you will have tribulation; but in me, you will have peace.” [Jn 16:33] So, we are both in the world and in him. But we are this time hidden by him – we are not just ‘lost’ anymore, but concealed by him. It is important to notice that. [We are] hidden by him, although in the world. So, we find the riches and the beauty of all this coming forth for us. But let us now press on quickly.
Jesus ‘Goes Away’ to Die in Order to ‘Buy’ the Field, the World
We notice the word “go away”. Again the meaning becomes very rich. This word “go away” in the Greek is the same word that the Lord Jesus uses of himself: ‘leaving’ and ‘going away’ from this field, from this world. We find this constantly stated. This very same Greek word is used in Jn 13:3, 33, 36 and on and on, so many times. Each case he says to his disciples, “I have to go away. I have to leave you behind in the world. Where I go, you cannot follow. You have to stay in the world. I am going to protect you in the world. Don’t be afraid! I am not going to leave you as orphans in the world. But I myself have to go away.” That is exactly what he does.
What does he do in the first place when he goes away? He goes away to “buy the field.” Notice this word “buy”. The “going away” of course, means to die. He goes to the Father. Through his death, he departs to the Father. But now notice this word “buy”. This same Greek word “buy” is used in 1 Cor 6:20 and 7:23. In both places it says, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price.” Jesus bought you! Now that is exactly what this parable is saying. Jesus is saying. Jesus bought you, he redeemed you to himself. In 2 Pet 2:1, we find the same statement there; these are false Christians who denied the Lord that bought them. This is remarkable. Remember this: that they were also bought by the Lord, but they denied him who bought them.
This brings us to a very important point. It says “buys that field” – buys the world. Indeed, that is exactly what Jesus did. Now I would like you to remember this very clearly in scriptural teaching: Jesus did not only die for the Christians; he did not only die for the church. He died for the sins of the whole world! That is Biblical teaching. You see that in 1 Jn 2:2, “He died for our sins – not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus bought the whole field. In other words, all the treasures in this world, all the lost sinners in this world are his by right. He bought them all! No wonder he rejoices when a lost sinner returns. Can you understand this? He died for the sins of every person walking out there on the street. He died not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. Now that is something very different from Predestination, in which it is said that he only died for the righteous. I do not know where they get this out of in the Bible. The Bible tells us plainly that the whole world was bought by him.
Jesus ‘Sold’ – Gave Up Everything – to Set Us Free from Satan’s Power
Thus, we find that the Lord Jesus sold all he had to buy the world. He laid down his life to redeem the world to himself. This word ‘sell’ means that he gave up everything for us. That is exactly what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Cor 8:9, “that though he was rich” – the Lord Jesus was rich – “for our sake, he became poor.” No wonder! He sold everything he had! Of course, he became poor. He gave up everything to redeem us. “…though he was rich, yet for your sake” – for our sake – “he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” “Through his poverty” [KJV] – the Son of God became poor! Now that touches my heart. “…[so] that he might redeem us.” [Tit 2:14] “And he died for us, when we were yet sinners!” [Rom 5:8] Paul tells us in Col 1:21-22, “When we were yet his enemies, when we still rejected him – that is when he died for us.” He died for the sins of the whole world. He died for my sins before I ever believed in him, when I was still his enemy. Now that is beautiful, isn’t it? It is so fantastic – the Lord’s teaching. The whole gospel is summed up in a nutshell. You could not say it more clearly than that – the whole gospel! How else could you say it more clearly?
And so, this whole field has been redeemed. But that does not mean that the field is now the Lord’s possession. For though John says in 1 Jn 2:2 that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, he also says in 1 Jn 5:19, that though this field belongs to Jesus by right by right of redemption – Satan still has the power over this field. He has dominated the field; he has come in and grabbed the field. So 1 Jn 5:19 tells us: “the whole world is in the power of the evil one.” The whole world is in the power of the evil one. That is why Jesus came to redeem us: because the world is in the power of the evil one. It cannot set itself free. Jesus came to set us free.
Oh, this teaching is so wonderful! He sold everything to buy us; you are bought with a price. You do not belong to yourself. Do not you go and live as though you belong to yourself. Nothing that you are or that you have belongs to you. You see this jacket that I have, that belongs to Jesus. This necktie belongs to Jesus. This watch belongs to Jesus. Every cent in my pocket belongs to him. Every chair in my house, the house itself – everything belongs to him! I was bought with a price, therefore everything I have, every moment I live, every breath I breathe, every minute I have, belongs to him. Because he bought us, we become his! We are his treasure now. “You belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God” I Cor 3:23 No wonder the Bible speaks of God’s people as his “special possession”, his precious possession. We read the same thing in 1 Pet 2:9: “a people of God” – a special possession of God, precious to him.
The Truth of God’s Word Should Transform Us
So, I leave you to see: Do you think that it is a matter of opinion? Or do you not see that the Word of God is clear and unambiguous. It is striking, in every aspect of the picture; once you see it correctly, every part of the picture has meaning! Every part of it vibrates with the life of God in it! But when you get it wrong, no part of it can come out meaningfully; you cannot make sense of it anymore. Such is Biblical teaching. Such is the Word of God. It is not a matter of private interpretation. It is simply a matter of the truth, that once we have the key to it, it opens every door of the rooms in the house. But if you do not have the key, you simply cannot open anything; everywhere you turn, the door is closed.
So now, we see the whole parable open up to us. Again, for me the most precious point about it all is this: the love of God through Jesus for us, that he looks for us. What is most revolutionary to my own mind, as I close now in summing up, is the fact that it changes completely my attitude to the non-Christian. As I said at the beginning, I confess my error. I could not love the non-Christian because I do not love rotten apples. I could not love the non-Christian because I do not love junk metal. But when I begin to realize that these people are precious to God, that they are treasure, even though they are lost treasure, then I love them because God loves them.
And again I say, a doctrine that regards the non-Christian as worthless, fit only for the fire – a doctrine which regards them a mass of condemned people; a doctrine which regards them as predestinated to destruction – is a doctrine not fit for the Gospel, not fit to go under the name of Christianity. It is revolting. It is a perversion of the truth. I pray that you and I may learn as we go forth today, to see the world, the lost sinners in the world, as God sees them. “God so loved the world….” I could never understand that verse in the light of my spiritual upbringing. Now I can understand. God so loved because the world is precious to him. The lost sinner is precious to him.
Now I will go forth by God’s grace and look at these people, no more with arrogance: “I am the chosen; you are not chosen,” but simply as “I am a found treasure and you are at the moment a lost treasure.” You are a treasure just as much as I am a treasure. The non-Christian is a treasure, just as much as a Christian is a treasure. The only difference is one has, by God’s grace, so far been found and the other one has not yet been found, but soon to be found, we pray. So, we praise God for his wonderful word. His transforming word changes our attitude and conforms us to his image; his Word makes us think as he thinks and see the non-Christian as he sees them. So, may God help us to go forth thanking him for this wonderful love that sought us!
End of message
All Scriptural quotations in italics are from the Revised Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church