“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.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
(Matthew 13:44-46 ESV)
These verses were on the original list to blog about in this series on joy. I intended to share that it is a joy to give all we have in pursuit of the kingdom of heaven. To give until it hurts. To take up our cross and follow Christ. To lay down our lives in love for others just as he did for us.
I think all of these ideas are true and Biblical and corroborated by other parts of Scripture. But when I was discussing it with Jordan, he shared a series from White Horse Inn on parables, and as we listened, I found myself in utter confusion regarding the interpretation of these parables. Michael Horton (and the other contributors) talk about Jesus’s use of parables, their intended purpose, and their current misuse. They describe parables as pointing to the current state of things in Jesus’s day, often meant to expose the proud, sinful heart of the Pharisee. They said that in each parable is the theme of grace and judgment. And that, often, the listeners are not the characters they would expect to be, finding themselves not under grace, but under judgment.
Today, however, they claim that parables are almost entirely misused. That instead of reading them as Jesus intended, we have reduced them to little moral lessons, much like Aesop’s fables. But in doing that, we have lifted them from their context and have removed their punch.
I’ve only listened to the first couple of episodes in the series, and they walk through several familiar parables and share what they think are the proper interpretations of them. I recommend them, even if it is simply to challenge you and cause you to think critically about how quick we are to jump to application in Scripture without really considering the original intent.
When they got to the above passage, I was taken aback. Hadley and I had memorized it as part of this Scripture memory series. The ESV commentary says this:
Matt. 13:44 Treasure was often hidden in fields, since formal banks did not exist (the “bankers” of 25:27 were money-changers who exchanged currency and also seem to have loaned money at interest). Buys that field does not suggest earning one’s salvation; instead, the parable emphasizes the supreme value of the hidden treasure (the kingdom of heaven), which is worth far more than any sacrifice one could make to acquire it (sells all that he has).
Matt. 13:45–46 Unlike the man who stumbled upon the hidden treasure (v. 44), this merchant searched diligently for the fine pearls. But when he found the one pearl of great value (the kingdom of heaven), his reaction was the same: he sacrificed all that he had and bought it (see note on v. 44).
And while I haven’t read this entire transcript, I’m pretty sure John Piper shares this common interpretation, as did I as we memorized it.
I read this blog post awhile ago, where the author says, “Jesus died for me. What a treasure I must be! I can think of a number of times over the years when I’ve heard people say something like this. And typically they were people I knew read the Bible frequently. But this idea isn’t in the Bible. Jesus didn’t die to purchase treasures. He died to ransom (Mark 10:45) enemies (Romans 5:10). We’re not the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:46); Jesus is.” It really resonated with me as I was preparing to speak at the Cru women’s retreat. I wanted to confront the idea that we have any merit on our own. In the name of being loving or encouraging, we have neglected the doctrine of total depravity and thus downplayed God’s gracious initiative in rescuing sinners.
Horton and gang, however, would call all of this a misuse of the parables. That parables are not an exhortation on how to live but a description of how things were at the time. And so they say that Jesus was describing himself – that He was the one who gave up all he had to redeem us.
So basically, I’m confused, and I wanted to go ahead and document my confusion so you could join on in.
Regardless of how this passage is to be interpreted, here’s what I know:
For the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross (Hebrews 12). He gave everything – his very life – in pursuit of reckless sinners. He was the perfect elder brother who went out in search of all the prodigals. And it was his joy to reconcile us to the Father, to issue new birth certificates, and to share his inheritance with us.
And it is for my joy that I would take up my cross and follow him, because in losing my life for Christ’s sake, I will find it (Luke 9).