One of Jesus’ most powerful parables is also one of his shortest:
The kingdom of heaven is like a 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.” (Matthew 13:44)
Fifteen minutes before this man’s discovery in the field, the thought of selling all that he owned to buy it probably wouldn’t have crossed his mind. If it had, it would have seemed foolish, even excruciating. But fifteen minutes afterward he was off to do it with joy. What made the difference?
The treasure. This man suddenly found something that transformed his whole outlook on life. It restructured his priorities. It altered his goals. His values changed. The treasure revolutionized the man.
Now, there was a cost to obtaining the treasure. Viewing it one way, it was a high cost. Imagine being his neighbor. You would have been bewildered as you watched him liquidate his assets. You might have questioned him. You might have warned him of the dangers of imperiling his family. You might have talked to other neighbors, wondering if the man was going bonkers. You would have been puzzled at his joy.
But viewing it another way, the cost was very small. The man was shrewd. Standing there in the field he did a quick cost-benefit analysis. It didn’t take much time to realize that selling all his possessions was going to make him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. What he did might have appeared foolish at first. But in reality the benefits so far outweighed the costs that he would have been foolish not to sell everything.
What this parable doesn’t tell us is how difficult it was for the man between the time he sold everything and the time he had full, complete access to and experience of the treasure. It doesn’t describe the moments he wondered if the treasure had been an illusion, the fears that might lose it, the temptation to buy back what he had sold, the hardship of not knowing if he could make ends meet while he waited.
As Christians, that’s where we are living right now—in the treasure-is-already-ours-but-we-don’t-have-it-in-full-yet world. Much of the rest of the New Testament was written to fill in this gap for us, and teach us how to keep the treasure in view during the long wait.
Paul is a great example of how to do this. Sitting in prison writing to his dear friends in Philippi, he was reflecting on the treasure’s cost when he wrote, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).
And what a cost. He had sold all that Saul the Pharisee once valued: an admired vocation, a stellar reputation, influential friends, his home. He lost any dreams he may have had for a wife and children. He lost financial security—all earthly security for that matter. Now in prison he had lost his freedom. And he knew the loss of his life for Christ’s sake was only a matter of time.
Imagine a friend from Paul’s old Pharisee days visiting him in prison after all those years. What might he say? “Saul, what have you done? You abandoned a promising life to buy the precious treasure that your rabbi taught about, and what do you have to show for it? A scarred back, a broken body, poverty, constant danger, constant stress, and now prison. Oh, and a few small groups of adherents to your creed sprinkled here and there who, like lambs among wolves, will be wiped out when you’re no longer around to guard them. Some treasure, Saul.”
I imagine Paul responding, “Some treasure, indeed. In fact, ‘I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.’” (Philippians 3:7-8).
Having lost all things, what had Paul gained? Jesus Christ. Paul’s treasure wasn’t his possessions, achievements, or legacy. His gain was the forgiveness of all of his sins through Jesus’ substitutionary, atoning death on the cross. And through that he had also gained Jesus’ perfect righteousness, which meant that Paul now had continual access to the Father for any request and enjoyed the Father’s pleasure resting on him—the pleasure that the Father has in his Son. And Paul was now an heir to all that Jesus was inheriting from the Father. He had gained the promise that God would work all things together for good for Paul and that none of his labors, as feeble as they might appear, would be in vain. He gained the promise of the resurrection from the dead, eternal life without any indwelling sin. And, above all, he gained the promise of the perfect fellowship with the triune God, the Heart of Paul’s own heart whatever befall, the High King of Heaven, his Treasure.
Some treasure, indeed. But not everyone has eyes to see the treasure for what it is. And even those of us who do need to be reminded and encouraged frequently. Therefore we at DG want to serve you by pointing you regularly to the Treasure of treasures. One way we can do that this month is by sending you a little book we’ve just produced titled, In Our Joy. It contains a few select chapters from John Piper’s book, What Jesus Demands from the World, that are written to help us persevere through the time between selling all and receiving the treasure in perfect fullness. I think it would encourage your soul and it would be a great little book to pass on to someone you know who needs encouragement.
You can read In Our Joy online for free. We are able to provide hundreds of free online resources like this because God provides for our financial needs through the gracious financial support of friends of DG. If you would like to join us in pointing others to the real treasure, we have tried to make it easy for you to give a secure online contribution. Any gift is deeply appreciated.
Yes, the treasure is real. But there is a cost to obtaining the treasure. We must be realistic about it. It will cost us everything. But if we’ve really discovered the treasure, the most realistic conclusion is that we would be foolish not to go and in our joy sell all that we have to get it.
Your fellow Treasure-seeker,