The Hidden Treasure
by Aneel Aranha
Please note that these parables have been adapted from a set of oral teachings and, consequently, retain some of the flavor of the spoken word. They have also been considerably abridged. The orginal teachings will be made available in audio and video format from HSI A/V Ministries shortly.
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. (Matthew 13:44)
Exactly one sentence long, this little parable is one of the shortest that Jesus ever told, but it is as deep as any of the rest, and if we are prepared to dig a little, like the farmer in this story, we will discover real treasure.
For a moment, let us leave whatever we are doing and in our mind's eye travel to that field. It is quite an ordinary field. There is nothing to distinguish it from thousands of other fields around the world. In the middle of the field walks a man. He is an ordinary man. There is nothing to distinguish him from thousands of other men in the world. He is plowing the field. It is a hot afternoon, and the sun blazes overhead. He sweats, waiting for the day to get over, so that he can go home and have a refreshing shower followed by a hot meal with his family.
As he is plowing, his plow suddenly hits something hard in the ground making him stop. He curses, thinking he has hit another rock. He gets down to his knees and begins digging the earth with his bare hands. To his surprise, he doesn't find a rock, but a chest that looks like it might contain treasure. His heart beating fast, he pulls it up out of the ground, wondering if he has found something valuable.
He opens it, and there before his eyes lies treasure more valuable that he could ever have dreamed of in his wildest imagination. Even if he had worked for a thousand years, he could not have earned the wealth that lay before him now. He was rich! So what does he do? Take it home and show it to his wife and celebrate his new fortune? No! He puts it back into the ground, covers it with earth again, goes home, takes an inventory of everything he owns, sells it all, comes back and buys that field so that he could own that treasure and everything else the field contains!
What a story!
Now one of the first questions that may come to many of us who study this parable is the ethics of the entire situation. Didn't the treasure rightfully belong to the owner of the field and wasn't the ploughman, consequently, obliged to give the treasure to him? As with all other parables that we study, we need to look at it in the context of its times.
In the days before Jesus, invasions by marauding armies were frequent and they would often loot and pillage entire towns and villages. So what the occupants of these towns and villages would do was bury their valuables under the ground. Unfortunately, what often happened was that the owners of the treasure would die, without letting anybody know where it had been buried. The land would pass on to somebody else, and nobody would know there was treasure hidden in it, until somebody stumbled across it. Now because the treasure did not actually belong to the owners, the law stated that it would become the property of whoever found it. Therefore, this farmer could just have easily taken the treasure home and not thought twice about it, but instead he ensures he really does the "ethical" thing by purchasing the field in which it lies.
Now what does this parable mean?
Jesus is trying to tell us that the Kingdom of heaven is something that is extremely valuable. So valuable, in fact, that nothing we own can match its worth. It is priceless. There are many stories of men who, like the farmer in the field, have discovered treasure accidentally. Perhaps one of the most famous is found in Scripture itself. It's the story of a man named Saul who, after he found treasure, became Paul.
Saul was a Jew. He was a Pharisee. Pharisees were famous for their righteousness—many would say self righteousness—but even among them, Paul was in a league of his own. He believed in the law and he believed that one should follow it right down to the last letter. He was an intelligent man who in all probability learned at the feet of the famous Jewish rabbi Gamaliel. He knew the Scriptures; he knew the Word of God. And because he knew the Word of God, he thought he knew God. And like anyone who thinks he knows God, he was arrogant about his faith. So when he heard about Jesus and the people who followed him, it made him mad. He was determined to exterminate them.
One day, Saul was on his way to Damascus, armed with a bunch of letters from the high priests that gave him the authority to arrest anybody he found preaching this new religion in any of the temples. We'll pick up this story in Acts Chapter 9, verse 3.
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied.
As we just saw, Saul was a man who knew Scripture. And because he knew Scripture, he thought he knew God. And because he believed he knew God, he felt he had treasure. But here on the road to Damascus, when he really met God, he discovered that he had been living a lie. Here was truth. Here was real treasure. And as he discovered this, I am sure his mind would have flashed to an encounter he had a few weeks earlier with another man. A man called Stephen. Let's rewind to Acts Chapter 6 and 7.
The number of disciples were increasing and one of the problems that they faced was with the distribution of food. So one day the Twelve got together and decided to appoint seven other men to look after food while they themselves, continued with their work they were doing, preaching the gospel.
One of the seven men that they chose was Stephen. Now Stephen, as it says in Acts 6:8, was a man full of God's grace and power. He did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
Needless to say, this angered the jews who cooked up false charges against him. They had him brought before the Sanhedrin where they asked him to defend himself. Stephen began a long speech, talking about Abraham and Joseph and Jacob and Moses, finally ending with these words.
You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it."
When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.
And Saul was there giving approval to his death. (Acts 7:31-60)
I can't imagine what went through Saul's head as he had listened to this uneducated man speak about God and the things of God with such authority, and then watch him go to his death, praying for those who were killing him. But Saul must have surely realized that there was something special that Stephen had. Something valuable. He could see it in the face of this man, which Scripture says was like the face of an angel (cf Acts 6:15).
On the road the Damascus Saul discovered what it was. And he realized its worth. As he would say later in his letter to the Philippians, "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." (Philippians 3:8)
Most of us reading this have found the treasure that is Jesus. But how many of us really know the value of the treasure we have found? Many of us are like Rob Cutshaw, a rock hound who owned a little roadside shop outside Andrews, in North Carolina. A rock hound is a person who hunts for pretty rocks, which he sells to collectors or jewelry makers. Rob knew enough about rocks to decide which rocks would sell, but not enough to know how much they were worth.
One day, Rob found a big blue rock, and he thought it would fetch him about five hundred dollars. But nobody was willing to pay that much for it, so he tucked it under his bed, deciding that he would sell it in an emergency; if he ever had to pay the water or electricity bill and didn't have enough money. Fortunately, Rob didn't run into an emergency because it turned out that the rock he had was the largest, most valuable sapphire ever found. Now known as “The Star of David” the rock is worth about 5 million dollars!
We have great treasure in Jesus, but do the equivalent of tucking him under our beds, keeping him there for an emergency. When we are sick, or in financial difficulty, or in other need, we believe we will find a use for him, not really understanding the value of the treasure we have discovered. Paul discovered its value. And he gave up everything because he knew that it was all worthless when compared to owning Christ. He understood what that man in that field understood. He understood what Stephen understood. He understood what every man who truly discovers Christ understands. That everything else in the world is rubbish when compared to the kingdom of heaven!
May the Spirit be with you.
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