It is a serendipitous story, which is a story about serendipity. Serendipity, isn’t that a great word? It is probably one of my favourite words. You know what serendipity means right? Serendipity means an unexpected discovery. You know when you are looking for something and you find something else. You know you drop the remote between the cushions on the coach and when you are digging around looking for it you discover a twenty-dollar bill instead. Whoa, that is serendipity. If you find an old pizza crust that isn’t serendipity it simply means you have kids.
It sometimes happens to me when I am reading; I will be enjoying a novel, kind of zoned out, I read fiction for the same reason most people watch TV, for entertainment not enlightenment.
And then all of a sudden I will come across the most incredible phrase or an idea for a message. And that wasn’t what I was looking for. It is serendipity, which is not to be confused with fortuitous.
And this is a serendipitous story. The hero of the story is working in a field that he does not own, we don’t know if he was hired to do whatever he was doing or if he was helping someone out as a favour. All we know is that in the process of doing something he unexpectedly found something and the something that he found was of greater value than the something he was doing or even of the field he was doing something in.
We are told that he immediately covered the treasure up, went and liquidated all of his assets and bought the field, and presumably the treasure as well. I don’t know how he explained his sudden affinity for the field to the previous owner but it is just a story.
This is one of the eight times in the New Testament that Jesus begins a parable with the words “The Kingdom of Heaven” or “The Kingdom of God” is like a . . . A parable is simply a story with a meaning. Kind of like a fable but parable sounds more spiritual. Aesop told fables, Jesus told parables. They could also be called allegories, but they aren’t they are called parables.
And so, we begin our journey to discover what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. And Jesus begins to draw a variety of pictures which describe his Kingdom. Matthew 13:44 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.
And you might be smarter than me, and this might make perfect sense to you but these thirty-six words make me ask a whole pile of questions.
What was the man doing in the field? How did he find the treasure? What type of treasure was it? Was what he did entirely on the up and up? What is actually buried on Oak Island?
Well the last question didn’t come out of the scripture but it had to do with treasure and the scripture made me think of the Oak Island Treasure. I personally am torn between it being Captain Kidd’s treasure and the lost treasure of the Knights Templar. The Oak Island Treasure, not the treasure in the field, but I regress.
The answer to most of those questions, including the Oak Island one is that we don’t know. And it obviously wasn’t important or Christ would have told us, it’s just a parable. The important part of the story is that the man found something he wasn’t necessarily looking for and was willing to give all he had in order to obtain it.
Upon first reading and without putting it in a historical context it is easy to question the ethics of the man in the story. He finds this treasure that doesn’t belong to him and he doesn’t tell the owner of the land about it, instead he reburies the treasure and negotiates the purchase of the land, which apparently would have been worth more if the treasure had of been figured into it.
So here is the question, who owned the treasure? The simplest answer would be: Whoever hid the treasure in first place. But apparently, they were no longer in the equation, it couldn’t have been the land owner because he was willing to sell the land with the treasure still buried, so it can be assumed that he didn’t even know the treasure was there.
So, if the original owner was no longer present than the short answer is: whoever owned the land owned the treasure. But here is the caveat, only if he knew about it.
Let’s put it in a modern setting. Next Saturday as you are driving out of whatever estate you live in you notice a yard sale and so you stop and as you go through the treasures that the home owner is selling you come across a really ugly painting that has $8.00 marked on it, you ask the person if that is the best they will do and they agree to drop their price to $5.00 and you purchase the painting.
Now if the painting had been done by Bob Smith it would be worth $5.00 and the seller would have received what he wanted and all would be well with the universe. But what if the painting was a Jackson Pollock and was worth $200,000,000.00? The seller still got the $5.00 he wanted from the painting.
But, shouldn’t he get some of the $200,000,000.00? What about the person he got the painting from? And perhaps the person that person got the painting from? And what if it was a painting that Jackson Pollock had sold in 1948 for $5.00 because he wasn’t famous yet and sold it for the price of the canvas.
If you knew it was a Pollock would you have a moral obligation to tell the seller what you knew? Or would you be within your rights to simple give him what he wanted for the painting?
Sources tell us that 2000 years ago it was very common for people to bury items of value.
There were no banks or investments companies as we know them, no safety deposit boxes and the area was constantly being conquered and re-conquered. There had been the Assyrians, and the Babylonians, and the Greeks and now the Romans.
And so if it appeared that the occupiers were going to take your valuables you might bury them, or if you were going on a trip and wanted to make sure that your valuables were safe while you were gone you would bury them.
Remember the story of the man who gave the money to his servants to invest, two of them did exactly that and saw the money increase but do you remember what the remaining servant did with the money he was given?
Sure you do, Matthew 25:18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
The downside of course was if something happened to you and nobody else knew where you hid your money, oh well.
In the Daily Study Bible William Barclay tells us “Jewish Rabbinic law was quite clear: "What finds belong to the finder, and what finds must one cause to be proclaimed? These finds belong to the finder--if a man finds scattered fruit, scattered money...these belong to the finder." In point of fact this man had a prior right to what he had found.” Or roughly translated “Finders Keepers.”
So, if the man was ploughing or digging or whatever he was doing and found the treasure and the owner of the land did not know it was there than it belonged to the person who found it, that was the common law at the time, and we wouldn’t even have been having this discussion because everyone would have understood the concept. When people heard the story, their reaction would have been “dude that is so cool, wish I found a treasure.”
I think it’s interesting that instead of just taking the treasure, which apparently he was entitled to do that instead he purchased the land before he claimed the treasure.
And so as I worked on this message I was thinking about what the treasure was. Was it God’s love? Was it God’s Grace? Was it Salvation? The answer is: Yes.
Because the treasure is: The Kingdom of Heaven. The question that Jesus is answering here is not: what is the treasure? That is the answer not the question. The question is: what is the Kingdom of Heaven? And the answer is Matthew 13:44 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. And we all know what a treasure is right? It’s a treasure. It’s not ordinary and every day, it’s special and it’s valuable. In this case it was worth more than everything else the man owned.
The Treasure Was There for Whoever Found it the scripture doesn’t say that he was a special man, just that he was a man. He didn’t find the treasure because he was special, he was special because he found the treasure.
I think it’s interesting that the man wasn’t even looking for treasure, he was just going about his life. We talk about those who are on a spiritual quest, looking for answers and seeking a higher meaning. And that is wonderful because the word of God promises us in Hebrews 11:6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
But it’s not always like that, most times God simply interrupts our lives, but too often we ignore him.
The night I met God, that wasn’t the plan, it wasn’t on my agenda, my day planer didn’t say: get up, putter around the house, go for a long drive with the roof down, have supper, go to church as a favour to a friend, become a Christ Follower and feel called to the ministry.”
I was just a fisherman home from the Gaspe for a few days; I wasn’t on a spiritual journey or on a quest, certainly wasn’t looking for a treasure.
And yet I found it, or maybe it found me. In this story, the Kingdom of God was hidden but it could be found, and it could be found by whoever was open to finding it. We don’t know if others had come close or perhaps it had even been stumbled on before but those who found it either hadn’t recognized it for the treasure it was, or perhaps they didn’t know what it was they had found.
What I love most about the Gospels is the calling of the individual apostles. Some like Andrew came looking for Jesus, but for many of them they were just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives when they discovered the Kingdom of Heaven. They were fisherman and government employees and accountants and people trying to overthrow the government, in other words they were just people.
Seven years ago I received an envelope that had for a return address “The Protocol Office” It was an invitation to a reception being held in the presence of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh here in Halifax. Just Angela and I , Liz and Philip, and 10,0000 other people, but that is beside the point. It was a very classy invitation. I later discovered that I was put on the list because I am considered to be a community leader. Cool. But that isn’t what I was trying for, I am just doing my job.
There is a great statement that closes the Bible, in Revelation 22:17 we read “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. In the King James Version it says “whosoever will”. The Kingdom of Heaven is not limited by our nationality, or our skin colour, or our gender, it is open to whosoever will. The invitation 2000 years ago was Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. And the invitation is there for you today, maybe not the invitation to the reception for the Queen of England, but the opportunity to meet the King of the Universe, and that trumps the House of Windsor.
The Treasure was Free: It was not Cheap We understand that the Grace of God is free and it is there for whosoever will, but it is not cheap. Several times in the Gospels Jesus is asked by people what they needed to do to follow him, or to have eternal life and his answer was “Go sell all you have and give it away.” But that wasn’t a requirement of everyone. How come? Because it wasn’t about what they possessed it was about what possessed them. And the fact that Jesus didn’t require it from everyone only brings comfort to those he would require it from.
But it’s not our possessions Jesus wants, it’s our loyalty. He wants to be number 1 in our lives, not number 37 or 25 or 4 or even 2 he wants to be number 1. He wants to be the priority. Luke 16:13 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
You may think you can serve two masters but there will come a time in your life that you will have to decide: where do my loyalties lie? What is my priority in this situation? Where will I give my time? Where will I give my money?
One of the stories that I was talking about is found in Matthew 19, a young man comes to Jesus and asks “what must I do to have eternal life?” Good question. And Jesus tells him to keep the commandments and we pick up the story in Matthew 19:20-22 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?” Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away very sad, for he had many possessions.
He discovered what he owned and what owned him.
Jim Elliot was a missionary who was working with Wycliffe Bible Translators to bring the gospel to a remote South American tribe in the late 50s, and he was killed in the process. And just days before he was killed he wrote in his journal, “He is no fool - who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” In a very real way the hero of our story gave up what he could not keep to gain that which he could not lose.
Whatever the treasure was that the man discovered, it was worth everything the man had. And that is the lesson that Jesus is teaching. The Kingdom of Heaven is worth everything we have. We might think we have it “all”, but “all” will pale in comparison to what God has to offer. The offer of a past that is forgiven, and of a future that is assured.
Because the secret of the Kingdom is that in giving up you get more. You say “But Denn, my family has to come first” or “My career is a priority” or or or. But remember the words of Jesus when he said Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. When the Kingdom is your priority and you live the way that Jesus wants you to live then you become a better parent and you become a better spouse and you become a better employee and you become a better employer and you become a better person and ultimately you gain what you were seeking all along.
And if there is a conflict between the Kingdom and what you want, it may appear that in the short term your way is the most advantageous but it won’t prove that way in the long term.
You probably all remember the WWJD phase that the church went through. What would Jesus do? But that isn’t the question, because we aren’t Jesus. The question is WWJHMD “What would Jesus Have Me Do?” And it’s only when we are focused on his Kingdom that we are able to ask that and answer it.
Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. So if you have determined in your life that your treasure is the Kingdom of Heaven then our hearts follow. But don’t expect everyone to see the value of the Kingdom, it was Wesley who said “The kingdom of God within us is a treasure indeed, but a treasure hid from the world” and Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.
Here is the confusing thing: Even though the man found the treasure The Treasure is Still There. It wasn’t that the man didn’t find all the treasure, it is the mystery of faith that the same treasure that was found by Peter and James and Paul, the same treasure found by Augustine and Wesley and Calvin, the same treasure found by Mother Theresa and Billy Graham is still there for us today. The Bible promises us in Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
And the Kingdom of Heaven is still waiting to be discovered by you.