Hidden Treasure

I wonder if you remember the jokes about Skoda cars that did the rounds a while ago. Eg: 'Why do Skodas have heated rear windows?' Answer: 'To keep your hands warm while you're pushing.' My favourite was the one about the man who needed a new petrol filler cap. He went to the garage and said to the assistant, 'Could you give me a filler cap for my Skoda?' And after a pause for thought the assistant said, 'OK. That sounds like a fair exchange to me.'

We spend a lot of time in life weighing up whether things are a fair exchange. Deciding how much we're prepared to pay for something. And at what point we say, 'It's not worth it.' Not worth the time, the money, the commitment, the hassle, or whatever. The question set by these two parables of Jesus in Matthew 13 is this: how much are we prepared to pay for being Christians?

Some of us are just looking into Christian things. Thinking what it would cost to have Jesus as Lord of our lives. What would have to change? What other people would think? While those of us who've turned to Christ already know something of the cost in our experience. And whichever we are, at some stage, we're bound to ask, 'What am I prepared to pay for being a Christian? Is it really worth it?' And that's what Jesus is on about in these parables.

I've got two things to say, and the first is this:


Firstly, THE GAIN OF BEING A CHRISTIAN IS INFINITELY MORE THAN THE COST

Matthew 13.44:

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.

So picture this poor farm labourer. He's digging or ploughing away, and suddenly he turns up this pot. And discovers that it's stuffed with more gold than he could earn in 100 lifetimes. So he hides it again, races home, sells the house, sells the car, narrowly decides against selling his grandmother, empties every savings account he's got, and makes his boss an offer for the field that he can't refuse. Is there a cost to what he does? In one sense, yes. He sells all he has. But in another sense, no. Not really. Because what he gains is infinitely more than what he pays for it. And Jesus says, v44, 'the kingdom of heaven is like' that.

To be in the kingdom of heaven means to have Jesus as your King. It means that you've stopped living as if you were your own Master. That you've been forgiven for doing that, through Jesus' death on the cross. And that you've begun a new life with Jesus as your King. Which is a relationship that will last through death and into heaven. Now is there a cost to all that? Well, in one sense, yes. Just turn back over the page to Matthew 13.20-21. Where the Lord Jesus likens peoples' response to him to the results of sowing seed. Verse 20:

The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word [ie hears Jesus' claim on his life] and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. (13.21-22)

So the cost here is to do with people. How other people react to us being Christians. 'Trouble (ie hassle) or persecution comes because of the word.' Because we've accepted Jesus' claim to be our rightful King and we now live for him and stand for him. While others don't accept his claim and don't like it when we remind them of it, either by how we live or by spoken witness. And that costs us. It costs us peoples' approval. It costs us popularity. It's uncomfortable. It's awkward. It makes for disagreement, for standing as a minority of one. It can cost relationships - at least, strain them. In many parts of the world, it could cost us our lives. So it's tempting to look at being a Christian and say, 'Is it really worth it?'

At the church I last worked at, we had a building project. And we decided to sell the church's medieval silver to raise some of the money. The silver was worth about £30 000, and held in a bank safety deposit box. Or so we thought. Because when we phoned the bank to get it, they denied all knowledge of it. Panic! About the same time, one of our Parish Assistants, called Jem, had done a clear-out of one of the store rooms. Some things he'd already chucked into a skip. Some things he'd labelled 'K' for 'Keep'. And some things he'd labelled 'T' which meant 'Throw away, but check first just in case'. And we found the £30 000 of silver in a rusty old box which Jem had labelled 'T' for throw! And on the surface of it, you could hardly blame him. Any of us would have looked at the box and said, 'That isn't worth keeping.'

And it's easy to do the same when it comes to being a Christian. It's easy to look on the surface of things and say, 'It isn't worth the cost.' And it's not just the cost of hassle or persecution. There's the constant external cost of swimming against the tide. And the constant internal cost of resisting temptation. But, says Jesus in v44: 'The kingdom of heaven is like treasure.' It would be crazy to label it 'T' for 'Throw' just because of the surface costs. Because the gain of being a Christian is infinitely more than the cost. We may lose the approval of some people in this life, including people close to us whose approval matters a lot to us. But turn back to Matthew 10.32. Jesus is talking about the day of judgement, when we'll all meet him. Matthew 10.32:

'Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.'

On that day, we will not doubt that the gain of having Jesus' approval is infinitely more than the external cost of losing a bit of human approval in this life. Or turn to Matthew 18.8, where Jesus talks about the internal cost of the struggle with sin and temptation:

If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. [Not literally, of course. What he means is whatever tempts you to sin, deal absolutely ruthlessly with that temptation. And that costs, compared to just letting sinful desires take us where they please. But he goes on:] It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.

There are two pathways to be on. One is the Christian way - where you've been forgiven your past rejection of Jesus and you're now seeking to live for him as King all the way to heaven. (And we know there's a heaven beyond death because Jesus rose from the dead to go back there.) And that way has all the discomfort of struggles with the external world and internal temptation. The other way is to reject Jesus. Which means you can be comfortable in the external majority and comfortable with internal sin. But that pathway is heading for judgement and eternal loss in hell. And it would be a crazy calculation to look at the surface cost in this life of having Jesus as King, and forget the cost in eternity of the alternative, ie of rejecting him. Yes, it is more uncomfortable for the believer in this life. But I bet after the Paddington train crash there were no people back in second class who wished they'd been at the front in first class comfort. And there'll be no believer in heaven who looks back and says, 'I'd rather have had comfort in that life and be in hell now.'

The kingdom of heaven [having Jesus as our King] is like treasure hidden in a field [it's better, although uncomfortable now; and it's brilliant beyond death, in sin-free bodies in a sin-free world]. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. In one sense there was no cost to count. It was perfectly obvious what was the sensible thing to do. Only a fool would have put the treasure back and said, 'I can't face the hassle of buying the field.' The gain of being a Christian is infinitely, eternally, more than the cost.

And in this World Mission Gift Week, some of our giving will go towards Christian Solidarity Worldwide which works to support our fellow-Christians undergoing severe persecution and death. They need us to give and pray. But we need them and their example to remind us how relatively soft we are, how bound up with this world we are, and how little eternal perspective we have. Whereas they suffer and die for Christ because they believe he's treasure.

That's the first thing: the gain of being a Christian is infinitely more than the cost.


Secondly, THE GAIN OF BEING A CHRISTIAN IS INFINITELY MORE THAN THE COST

I take it that when God says something twice it needs saying twice. Verse 44:

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.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13.44-46)

So this time, picture a rich businessman. And he's looking for fine pearls. Maybe for himself. Maybe he has the personal agenda of the private art collector. Or maybe for business. Maybe he has the personal agenda of making money in order to finance his dreams and ambitions. He's a man who knows what he's looking for in life, a man with ambitions and aims. Until one day he's stopped in his tracks by one thing. And that one thing replaces everything else in importance:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls [plural]. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13.45-46)

He finds this one pearl and sells the whole collection, the whole business to get it. All his carefully laid plans and ambitions go out of the window and are replaced by one thing. So perhaps it's not a straight repeat of the point. Perhaps in this parable, Jesus is hinting at the cost of priorities. How being a Christian will affect the shape of our lives.

You may still be weighing up Christian things. And one issue on your mind is; 'What would have to change? What would I have to give up?' Well there are certainly some things we all have to give up. But the point of this parable is that in having Jesus as King, we have to give over everything. We 'sell up' the right to run our own lives and live for our own plans and ambitions and dreams and agendas. And we say to him, 'Your will be done. Your kingdom come.' Ie, from now on, I want to serve your plans and purposes. And that's a cost at which some people stumble. Again, turn back over the page to Matthew 13.22:

The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

The 'worries of this life' means the many concerns we have - many of them legitimate, some of them not so necessary. Concerns about the house or the childrens' education or pensions or holidays or retirement or our standard of living, or whatever it is. All our ambitions and agendas. And Matthew 13.45-46 says that having Jesus as King replaces them all. At least, it will if we've understood who Jesus really is. And that the only plan worth investing in is his plan to get the gospel to the world and bring people from all nations back to himself in his church, and ultimately into heaven.

And again, in this World Mission Gift Week we're giving towards the Bible translators we support - Alan and Ritva Brown working in Finland and PNG and Jock and Katie Hughes in Indonesia. They need our giving to get the Bible published in these new languages. But I think we need them very much. We need their example of radical, self-sacrificial lifestyles for the sake of God's plan to reach the nations. It was great to see Alan Brown at our Mission Focus night last week holding up Genesis and Mark's Gospel in the Kobai language and saying, 'It may sound hard to believe but I can't tell you how much it means to me to see these finally in print, and in the hands of the Kobai people.' We need their example of being 'people of one thing', as John Wesley used to say. Because although their skills and situation are different, we are all called in principle to the same thing. Jesus and the gospel first.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13.45-46)

But again, is that a cost? In one sense, yes. Jesus overturns all our priorities. But in another sense, not really. After all, who wants to invest in plans and things that ultimately won't last? The 'worries of this life' and 'the deceitfulness of wealth' - deceitful because it all looks so solid and worthwhile. As someone put it, 'Many of us are ultimately concerned with things that are not ultimate.'

How much are we prepared to pay for being Christians? Is the cost worth it? Well I can't answer for you. But we'll never answer 'Yes' unless we're convinced about these things. That Jesus truly is God and King. That he died for us and rose for us. And that heaven and hell are realities. Only if we see those eternal things as they really are, will we see the costs in this life as they really are. And be prepared to pay them.

On some of the Indian Ocean islands they have a clever way of trapping monkeys. They drill a whole in a coconut, hollow it out and drop a peanut inside. The monkeys can just get their empty hands in through the hole. But with the peanut in their hands, they can't get them out again. And with a coconut stuck on their arm, they can't run away. So you can just catch them. And the reason it works is simply that they won't let go of the peanut. One lousy peanut. Hardly a fair exchange for life.

We have to let go of things - and sometimes people - to have Jesus as King. They can seem very big. They can seem so worth holding onto. They can rob us of joy in being Christians. They can stop us from ever becoming Christians. But in eternal terms they are just one lousy peanut. Jesus said: 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.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13.44-46)

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