This morning we are going to be continuing on in the series that we began last week called “What is a disciple?” Last week we learned that a disciple spends time with Jesus and we looked at some practical ways that we can do that. This week we are going to see that a disciple loves Jesus supremely.
When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He said this in Mark 12:29-30 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” In other words, a disciple loves Jesus more than anything else that this world has to offer.
This is another one of those statements that is easy to say and easy to give mental assent to BUT it is much harder to actually live out. In our time this morning, we are going to explore what it means to love Jesus supremely and to do this we are going to look at two parables – the parable of the a hidden treasure and the parable of the valuable pearl. These two parables are found in Matthew 13:44-46.
Let’s begin by looking at the parable of the hidden treasure. This is seen in verse 44. Burying your valuables in the ground sounds strange to us, but it was a very common practice in the first century. Today we usually put our money in a bank. We keep our valuables in a safe deposit box. But, back in those days, there were no banks for the common people. Only wealthy folks had access to banks, which in those days were not very safe places to keep your money anyway. Have you ever heard of wealthy old men who don’t trust the banks, so they stuff all their money in their mattress or they hide it all around the house? Well, that’s what the people of the first century did; only they didn’t have mattresses, so they buried it.
This was especially true in Palestine because it was a place of frequent warfare. Burying their valuables protected them against any enemies who might raid their homes and try to steal everything. Over the years, the ground of Palestine became a genuine treasure house. When the owner of a buried treasure died or was forcefully driven from the land (like during the Babylonian exile), his treasure would be lost forever unless someone discovered it. So, in those days, it wasn’t uncommon at all for a person who was ploughing or digging in a field to accidentally come across a treasure. So, Jesus’ parable described a very feasible situation.
Now, there is a concern that people sometimes have about this parable. At first glance, the man in the parable seems to be dishonest. Honest behaviour would demand that this man tell the owner of the field about the treasure, since it was on his property and rightfully belonged to him. Right? Not necessarily. Jewish rabbinic law said that “if a man finds scattered fruit or money, it belongs to the finder.” So the people listening to the parable would not have perceived the man’s actions as unethical at all.
In fact, the man had a right to what he found. If a man came across money or valuables that were obviously lost and whose owner was dead or unknown, the finder had a right to keep what was found — even if was found on someone else’s property! It’s obvious that the treasure didn’t belong to the man who owned the field. If it did, then he would have dug up the treasure before he sold the piece of ground. But he didn’t know it was there. Apparently it had belonged to a previous owner, who had probably died in battle or by accident, which prevented him from recovering it.
So, really, the man who found the treasure was extremely honest. He didn’t have to buy the field. He could have just taken the treasure.But he doesn’t. He buys the field. In fact, he didn’t even use the treasure to provide him enough money to make the purchase. Instead, he liquidated everything he owned to come up with the money. So the man didn’t do anything unethical. But we need to be careful not to lose sight of the main point of the parable which is this: A man found something so valuable that he sold everything he had to get it. He was so excited about finding the treasure that he was willing to do whatever he had to do in order to purchase it.
Let’s now look at the parable of the pearl. This is seen in verse 45-46. Here’s a man who was a merchant. The Greek word is “emporos“, from which we get the English word “emporium”. The merchant was a man who would buy things wholesale and sell them to a retailer. In the parable, he is looking specifically for beautiful pearls. It was common for entrepreneurs in that day to look for pearls to sell and at the same time look for high-quality pearls for themselves. In those days, people would invest in pearls. Pearls were perceived in the first century in much the same way we view diamonds today. They were the most valuable gem in the world at that time. If you owned a pearl, you owned a fortune.
And there was a good reason for it. Pearl hunting involved immense danger. The fine quality pearls are obtained from the pearl oyster. Since that oyster thrives at an average depth of 40 feet, a pearl isn’t a treasure you just stumble across as you walk along a beach. Pearls aren’t found like that. In biblical times they were obtained at great cost in human terms — many people died while pearl hunting. They didn’t have the equipment that’s available today. In those days, your equipment consisted of a rope and a rock. A pearl diver would tie a large rock to his body and jump over the side of a little boat, allowing the weight of the rock to carry him down to the oyster beds. He risked danger from sharks, moray eels and other creatures to scour the mud below for oysters. An average of only one oyster in a thousand contains a pearl. All the while, he had to hold his breath and hope he wouldn’t drown.
You can see why pearls were so precious. The Jewish Talmud said, “Pearls are beyond price.” The Egyptians actually worshipped the pearl, and the Romans copied that practice. When women wanted to show their wealth, they put pearls in their hair. When a Roman emperor wanted to show how rich he was, he would dissolve pearls in vinegar and then drink them in his wine, in much the same way that a millionaire might light his cigar using a hundred-dollar bill.
The Bible also stresses the value of pearls. Jesus said in Matthew 7:6 that we’re not to cast our pearls before swine. In other words, “Don’t give something of such great value to a pig; it’s a foolish thing to do!” In Revelation 21, when John described heaven using earthly figures of speech, he mentioned the streets of gold and the gates of pearl. Tremendously valuable! So this parable describes a man who goes around looking for beautiful pearls and then sells them to retailers for a profit. But when he finds the most beautiful pearl he has ever seen, he sells everything that he has to obtain it for himself.
These are a couple of interesting little stories but what is the message that Jesus is giving? It seems clear that the focus of both these stories is that being a disciple of Jesus (i.e. having a relationship with Him) is worth whatever sacrifice one has to make. Even if one gave up everything he or she had to follow Jesus, it would be well worth it. Let’s look at three implications for us from these two parables.
The first implication or lesson we learn from these parables is: Loving Jesus supremely is of great value. When you think about how much it means to us to have a relationship with God, to know that Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross so that we might live, to know that we can approach the throne of Almighty God and call him “Father”, how much is that worth to you? I mean, how do we begin to compare those riches with the material things that we’re familiar with? How can we compare the blessing of prayer with a brand new car? How can we even begin to calculate the value of the death on the cross as compared to a house?
In Matthew 16:26, Jesus used the image of a pair of scales when He asked the question, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Pile up everything in this world on one side and put salvation on the other side and it comes out very lopsided on the side of salvation. The salvation of our souls is worth so much more. That’s what Jesus wants us to understand in these two parables. Loving Jesus supremely is a treasure beyond comparison.
The second implication or lesson for us from these parables is: loving Jesus supremely involves “sacrifice.” Have you ever seen something that you just had to have, something that you were willing to make any sacrifice to get? Maybe when you were a kid it was a special bicycle that you saved up for months to get, giving up candy bars and going to the movies so you would have enough money to get that bicycle. Or maybe, as you got older, it was a car or something for the house, something that was so special that you were willing to give up going out to eat twice a week, you were willing to give up any new clothes, you were willing to give up any “extras” in life so you could get that something special. Both of these parables involve men who bought things of great value. But, they had to make sacrifices, selling everything that they had to obtain their treasures.
Someone may say, “Wait a minute, are these parables saying that a person has to buy their salvation?” Absolutely not! The Bible makes it abundantly clear that you can’t buy your salvation with money or with anything else for that matter – it is a free gift of God offered by His grace and love. Nevertheless there is a cost of salvation. It is the price of commitment. Luke 9:57 says, “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’” Here was a man who wanted to be a follower of Jesus. And Jesus responded by saying, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus said, in essence, “Here’s the price for following me. You will have to give up your comfort in order to follow me.”
There is a cost involved in being a follower of Christ, and Jesus wants us to understand that. I realize that I’ve grown up in a generation that doesn’t know much about sacrifice. To people my age, the Great Depression is just a boring story about how terrible things were in the ancient long, long ago. We’re used to having things easy. And sometimes that attitude carries over into the church. And so we want to enjoy all the blessings of a relationship with Jesus, but we don’t want to do anything, we don’t want to give anything, and we certainly don’t want to sacrifice anything. I like this quote from John Calvin: “The natural meaning of the words is, that the Gospel does not receive from us the respect which it deserves, unless we prefer it to all the riches, pleasures, honours, and advantages of the world, and to such an extent, that we are satisfied with the spiritual blessings which it promises, and throw aside every thing that would keep us from enjoying them.” Loving Jesus supremely involves “sacrifice”.
The final implication or lesson for us from these parables is: loving Jesus supremely is a source of joy. Notice, Jesus said that the man who finds the treasure “in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” This man doesn’t just sell everything he has, but he does so with joy. He doesn’t regret it. He doesn’t complain about the sacrifice he has to make. In fact, he probably doesn’t even consider it to be a sacrifice. He gives a lot for the field, but he gets so much more in return. The great missionary, David Livingstone, said, “Over the years I have given up many things, but I have never made a sacrifice.” In other words, all of the comforts and pleasures which he forfeited by serving the Lord in Africa were not anything compared to the rich rewards he found in Jesus Christ. By devoting his life to serving Jesus, he had a priceless pearl – he had found a treasure of immense value.
Paul said in Philippians 3:7-8, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” Did Paul make sacrifices to follow Christ? Certainly he did, but he did so with joy knowing what he gained. Perhaps the real test of our commitment is not so much whether we are willing to make sacrifices for our Lord, but whether we are able to make those sacrifices with joy.
There are people who would say that you have to give up a lot to be a Christian, and in a sense that’s true. But if I asked you to give up $500,000 in Monopoly money to buy a 2005 Mercedes Benz, I think you would make the “sacrifice” with joy. In the same way, if I asked you to give up everything that this world has to offer and accept all that Christ has to offer that will last eternally, the term “sacrifice” takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? Loving Jesus supremely is a source of great joy.
There are really two things that stand out in these parables: (1) What we need to give up and (2) what we stand to gain. This morning, for us to know the joy of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we must be willing to give up everything. Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” The world says that’s foolish. The world says, “Take what you can get and enjoy it!” But I can promise you that if you’ll make the “sacrifice”, you’ll gain in return something far greater that you could ever imagine. For, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:18 “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
As we conclude this morning I want to ask us three questions. First, do you see loving Jesus supremely as something of immense value? Is it worth more to you than anything this world has to offer? Second, are you willing to make “sacrifices” in order to love Jesus supremely? Are you willing to give up what you cannot keep, to gain what you cannot lose? Finally, is loving Jesus supremely a source of great joy to you? Are what appear to be sacrifices to others really acts of joy for you? Loving Jesus supremely is a priceless treasure that exceeds all earthly riches and advantages combined!