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12. The Parable of the Lost Treasure

 

Chapter 12

The Parable of
the Lost Treasure

Matthew 13:44

Eric H. H. Chang

Montreal, September 3, 1978

 

The Lord Jesus says,

“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.”

Why is a treasure hidden in a field?

Today, we continue our study in Matthew 13:44, where the whole parable is in one sentence. I never cease to be amazed when I study the words of the Lord Jesus, how much riches he can put into a single verse. Now we come to the parable of what is often called “The Treasure in the Field”. As we go along, we may find a more comprehensive name for this parable.

Let us try to look at the picture. The Lord Jesus says the kingdom of God is like this man who is walking through a field. Maybe he is working in the field; maybe he is just walking through. All this is not told us. Too many commentators have assumed too many things. They have assumed that this man is working in the field. The Lord Jesus doesn’t say so. It may be just that he is passing through the field. Either way, it doesn’t matter too much. Let us for a moment just assume that he is walking through the field. As he walks, he is looking around at the field, and he observes something there that might look like a rock, maybe a stone, but it looks a little too smooth. His attention is attracted by this object in the field, and he goes over to take a careful look.

What does he discover? Surely, it is no rock, no stone. In fact, it is a jar, an earthenware vessel. And he knows what that means because, in those days, earthenware vessels or earthen jars were used to store treasure! The treasure was usually silver coins or gold coins. Or it could be jewels, diamonds and precious stones. In those days, what do you do when you want to store up some valuables? You cannot put them at a local bank where there is a vault with safe deposit boxes. These riches were stuffed into a jar, because earthenware, often used to hold water, was waterproof, and therefore served as a very good protection to these treasures inside it. It would then be sealed and buried in the ground.

Money is always uncertain. In this world of inflation, money tends to devalue, so people don’t trust money. They buy gold, jewels or diamonds as an investment as these don’t lose their value. They might go down for a while, but in the long term, the value always goes up. What is more, these valuables are easier to carry around. If you buy a house, you can live in it, but you cannot carry it around. So people don’t invest in property in wartime, especially in Palestine where there are constant wars. In a war, the enemy comes and burns your house down, and you will lose everything. If you have lived in wartime situations such as we have done in China, you will know that a house can be worth next to nothing in wartime. Nobody wants to buy a house because it is a liability. It is dangerous. The enemy comes and bombs the place, or fighting takes place and your house is destroyed.

You also don’t want to keep paper money. In fact, in those days, people would be paid with a suitcase full of money, and they would rush off immediately with this suitcase, to the nearest silver coin dealer or gold dealer, to exchange their paper money for that which is of value. If you didn’t do this, you would be left with a whole pile of paper money, which is not going to be enough to buy yourself one big loaf of bread!

People in Palestine also looked for security, so they stored their valuables in these earthen vessels, and hid them in the field. Of course, it was important that you could remember where you put your riches! You have to remember, say, it’s 20 steps from the oak tree to the east, and 13 steps from another tree. But if anybody cuts down the trees, you will have an awfully big problem, because how are you going to find your treasure if the landmarks are gone? This is the reason why there were lots of lost treasures. The owners hid them but could not find them again! Another reason could be that the owners were killed in war, or they became captives in war, and were deported to another place! This often happened to the Jews, so they could not come back to claim their treasure again. Others hid their treasure and never told anybody else about it. When they got sick and died, or if they got killed, the treasure was lost!

Whatever the reason, when archeologists dig in the field, time and again, they find treasure. Even today, sometimes when bulldozers are clearing a ground in Israel, they come across hidden treasure in the soil. Roman coins or gold coins, and various valuables are hidden in this way.

The Lord Jesus is talking about a situation which was very common in those days. It’s not common today, because we don’t normally hide treasure in this way, but in those days, it wasn’t uncommon for people to be working in a field and to come across an ancient treasure. It may have been hidden hundreds of years before. Or it could have been hidden more recently by some person who either could not find it, or he was captured or killed.

And of course, the rains might have washed the earth away, thus revealing a little bit of the top part of the jar. So a person walking through the field might see it looking a bit like a stone. An earthenware jug in the ground might look like a stone, or it might just look like a broken piece of potsherd that is sticking out of the ground. If you go to Palestine, you will find broken pieces of pots all over the place, so you might not take notice. But this man noticed something, and as he took a closer look, he found that it was a vessel, and it was sealed, and he knows what that means—treasure!

Or the man may be digging or plowing in the field, and strikes an ob­ject. Although others might think it is just a stone, he stops immediately to have a look at it and he finds treasure!

Of course, he is filled with joy! To find treasure is not something that happens every day. Sometimes we walk on the street and we find a dime (a 10-cent coin) lying on the ground. That is not bad! Or sometimes, it’s a quarter (a 25-cent coin)! But it’s not every day that you find hidden treasure. So he is filled with joy, and what does he do? He goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Why buy the whole field?

1. He could be charged with stealing

Now immediately, there are one or two legal questions we have to ask. The question is: Why did he not just pick it up and walk away with it? Clearly, it was partly concealed and partly revealed, so to dig it up would not be a moment’s work; it would take a little while. But you would have a legal problem. To be digging in somebody’s field constitutes tres­passing, and you could be hauled into court for that. What is more, the owner of the field will not only take you to court for trespassing, you will lose the treasure to him. You have no right of claim upon that treasure so long as the field is his, and you are trespassing in his field. Once you understand the legal situation, you will see why he doesn’t dig up the treasure right there and then. It is because even if he took it out then without anybody knowing, if he was questioned where he found the treasure, he would have to say it was in that person’s field. The question that arises is: Who gave you the right to dig in his field? Then you would be charged with trespassing. Trespassing in this case would amount to stealing.

2. The treasure doesn’t belong to the owner of the field

But there is another side to the matter. The question might have been this: Does the treasure belong to the owner of the field by right? In fact, under Jewish law, it doesn’t belong to the owner of the field. This is the other side of the legal question that you have to understand. Under Jewish law, that treasure doesn’t belong to the owner of the field, because when he bought that field, he only bought the field. He did not know that there was any treasure in it. He could not have bought what he did not know was there. So he cannot claim that treasure as his after the field was sold, because he did not even know it was there. That is the way Jewish law reasons. Therefore this treasure doesn’t belong to the owner of the field unless he himself found it first.

In this case, we know it is not his field; it is somebody else’s field, made clear by the fact that the person who finds it actually goes and buys the field. To summarize this legal point very briefly, we find it’s very clear the man does everything correctly. He understands that the treasure does not belong to the owner of the field under Jewish law, but he also understands that he may not dig up that treasure, because to do so constitutes trespassing on someone else’s property.

You may ask, “Why did the man go into someone else’s field?” Now sometimes, a path does go through a field. Often in the Gospels, you read about a path going through a field. The disciples walked through a field and plucked the ears of corn. This is allowed under Jewish law. You may walk through a field, but you may not dig the field as it constitutes trespassing. Thus the only way he can now claim this treasure legally would be to buy that field. There is no other way. Once we understand the legal position, we see that there is nothing immoral or wrong in this matter at all. Everything is done correctly.

Two views on explaining the parable

What then does the parable mean? What is the Lord Jesus saying to us? There are actually only two alternatives. Either this hidden treasure is the Lord Jesus, and we find Jesus in the field, that is, in the world. Or the only other alternative is, we are the treasure in the field that Jesus finds in the world. Which of these two would be correct?

I would like to say right at the start, exposition of the Word of God is neither a matter of guesswork, nor is it decided by a matter of opinion, that you happen to like it this way, and I happen to like it that way. There are correct and strict procedures for expounding the Word of God. In the same way, it is not a matter of private interpretation of a legal clause in any legal document. There are rules to expounding what a statement in the law means.

The general view is that this treasure is Jesus, and that we are the people, who somehow happen to find this treasure in the field. I would also like to tell you that I thought this was the right view for some time, but having studied and analyzed the situation more carefully since then, I find that I have to depart from this view. I am going to tell you the reas­ons why, and I am going to let you be the judge of the matter. You will see again, like the Parable of the Leaven, the evidence is overwhelming. I asked myself, why did I not see it before? The reason why I did not see it before is because of my prejudice. And I am going to confess to you my prejudice, so that you may see that it is our prejudices, or maybe what we have been indoctrinated with before, that closes our eyes to the meaning of God’s Word.

Wrong view: the hidden treasure represents the Lord Jesus

When I was tackling this parable, I worked out both assumptions honestly and exegetically faithfully to their conclusions. I said, “I don’t have any ax to grind. I just want to know what the Word of God says. I am on nobody’s side in this matter. Just let God speak to me, and may I be so open that I can hear what He has to say.” But I discovered that I had more prejudices than I realized, and that is what I would like to confess to you.

We shall consider the problems first, because I want to get on to the meaning of this verse. It is so wonderful and rich, once you begin to see what it really means. Let us begin with the view that this treasure is Jesus, and that we are the ones who find this treasure. As I said, that was the view I once held. I tried to work it through exegetically one more time recently, but it would not go through. Now this is what I find with the Word of God, that when an exegesis is wrong, you simply cannot get it through. In other words, you have to force the issue through because it will simply not conform to an accurate exposition of it. Let me tell you what I mean by this. The problems are enormous when we take the view that “Jesus is the treasure”:

1. A repetition of the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

First of all, it makes this parable simply a repetition of the next one, the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. The two parables say nothing different. So you simply have two parables saying the same thing. Now why would the Lord Jesus want to give two parables saying the same thing? Does he like to repeat himself? Or is there any reason why he wants to repeat himself? That is the first point. But that doesn’t matter. Maybe the Lord Jesus likes to repeat himself. He has the right to repeat himself if he wants to. That in itself is not a fatal objection, although it is an exegetical objection, because I don’t find that the Lord Jesus ever wastes words to repeat what doesn’t need repeating.

2. Does God hide Jesus in the world?

In Matthew 13:38, only a few verses before that, we are told that the field is the world. So this view takes on that Jesus is hidden in the world. Jesus is the treasure; somebody hid that treasure, so, that somebody must be God. The more you think about it, the more meaningless this gets. So the second objection is this: Would God hide Jesus in the world? Now at first sight, that sounds plausible enough, but not when you begin to understand Bible exposition.

From the Parable of the Leaven, we saw that God does not hide the gospel, and He does not hide His salvation. He wants us to be saved, so, what is the idea of God hiding Jesus, the Savior-king He sent? Do you find anywhere in the Bible the teaching that Jesus is hiding in the world? I cannot find it. If you can find it, perhaps you can tell me where. The commentators took the leaven to mean something good, but we saw it always means something evil in the Bible. They decided to say that the leaven is the kingdom of God, that God hides His kingdom in the world with no exegetical reason. Nowhere do you find that God hides the kingdom. The more I think about it, the less I can understand their view that God hides the kingdom in the world. We saw that God does nothing of the kind.

We also saw that Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, our gospel is not hidden! If it is hidden, it’s the god of this world who hides it from those who perish. Let us not attribute to God what Satan does. If there is any concealed aspect of the kingdom of God, it’s not because God conceals it. No, it’s because Satan conceals the kingdom from our eyes by seeking to blind our eyes. That is the only teaching in the Bible.

I cannot find anywhere that God’s kingdom is concealed. Jesus came into the world to be the light of the world, the sun in the world, in John 8:12. He came to reveal God’s light, not to conceal it. The light of the world is not hidden. In fact, he says, “No one lights a lamp to put it under a bushel” (Mt. 5:15). He has said all these things. It is so clear to us.

Even if Jesus wanted to hide himself, he could not. Mark 7:24 says, “but he could not be hidden.” He tried to hide himself physically from people who sought him for the wrong reasons—to get the benefit of his miracles— but he could not be hidden even for a brief moment! Such is the nature of Jesus that you could not hide him, and he could not hide himself if he tried.

John 3:14–16 makes it plain to us that God does not hide the Christ He sent into the world:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

How plain is the meaning! Nowhere in the Bible can I find anything about Jesus being hidden. I challenge you to find that. No, he came—to be lifted up high on the cross—for whoever is willing to gaze at, in order to be saved from God’s judgment of the disobedient, and to have God’s eternal life.

At the great Jewish Feast of Shelters (Booths) in Jerusalem, he stood up and cried aloud for everyone to hear: “Come to me, all you who thirst, and I will give you the water of life” (John 7:37–38). He stands up time and again, to teach, preach and speak. He says to the crowds, “I stood in the public places everywhere. You heard me teaching in the temple which is the most public place, and why did you not arrest me then? You come in the night to arrest me. I do nothing in the dark” (cf. Mt. 26:55). So we find there is simply no Biblical ground to stand on; no way you can exegetically demonstrate this view about Jesus being hidden in the world.

3. Having discovered Jesus, do you hide him again?

If Jesus is the treasure you discover in the world, then you hide him in the world again, sell all you have to make him your own possession, what exactly does that correspond to in the Christian experience?

Now Rudolf E. Stier, the German commentator, has great problems with all of this. He tries most unsuccessfully to wrestle with this problem. He says, “Well, actually we conceal Jesus in our heart.” So one moment the field is the world, and the next moment it becomes our heart. This shows the kind of twisting and juggling you have to resort to, to try to make some sense of it. It is in the world that the treasure is hidden. Let us keep our facts straight.

4. Do we have to sell all to buy the world?

Following the logic of the view that Jesus is the treasure, what do you do after you sell all that you have? You buy the field—the world. Now that is an impossible situation, isn’t it? You can make no sense of this distortion.

Stier again tries to wrestle with this, and again, gets himself into an awful mess. He says that the field is the church. Well, nowhere in the Bible is the field the church! So now you just talk through your hat. You don’t produce any more evidence and you just keep talking. The field is never the church. Nowhere in the Scriptures do you find this. The Lord Jesus has already told us that the field is the world in Matthew 13:38. What gives us the right to say that the field is the church? What is the church? In the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel, the wheat is the church, and the darnel are sown among the wheat, that is, the church. The crop of wheat is the church, the kingdom of God, not the field. It’s the crop that is taken away at the harvest, not the field. And what does it mean that you give up everything to buy the church? Is that any kind of meaning?

Then Stier says you appropriate the church. Well, we don’t appropriate the church. The church appropriates us. The church doesn’t become my church. I become part of that church. There is no way you can make any sense out of this by this view. In fact, this is the greatest stumbling block.

As you go on in this way, the only other thing the commentators can do as they often do, is to ignore the matter of “the world” and say, “Well, let’s not press every point. Let’s just drop some of them out.” Now they think it’s fine to drop some points if it suits their purpose, but when you look at the rest of the parables, we saw that every aspect of each parable contains meaning. What’s more, “the field” is one of those aspects of the parable where a definition is actually given to it. What gives us the right to drop out an element which has already been defined? You can see how insurmountable are the problems when you try to understand it in this way.

So the parable becomes like this: Jesus is the treasure that you discovered in the world, and having discovered him, you hide him back into the world, whatever that is supposed to mean. Then you go away and sell all that you have and buy the world. Now that is an impossible situation, isn’t it? You can make no sense of this except by distorting the various elements, and trying to make them mean something which they don’t mean in the Lord Jesus’ definition.

Doctrinal prejudice blinds our understanding of the Bible

Having dealt with that, let us look the other way around, and then the meaning pours out in abundance! In fact, Jesus is not the treasure in this particular parable. We may find him to be that in the next parable. It is us, the church, that is that treasure in the field. I said that I confess I was blinded by doctrinal prejudice. Why? Per­haps you are blinded by the same prejudice. It’s because we are simply not accustomed to thinking of people as treasure, thinking of ourselves as treasure. The more I pondered it, the more I asked myself: Why did I reject this very plain meaning of the Lord Jesus? Quite simply, it’s because I was brought up as a Christian on the Doctrine of Original Sin, on the total depravity of man that says that man is utterly rotten, corrupt, sinful and utterly diseased, sick, vile! So what value can there be in man who is totally depraved, who has inherited “original sin”, who is rotten to the core of his being, who is sick beyond remedy? As far as he himself is concerned, he is utterly rotten and corrupt!

Now I can see the value of a box of apples which are all good and wholesome. But could you find any value in a box of rotten apples which are rotten to the core, which are even full of stench? Well, they are worthless and rubbish. You would throw them out into the garbage bin. Brothers and sisters, that is the way I was brought up to think of the sinners. Was that not the way you were brought up to think? I thank God for the words of the Lord Jesus! It is like a sword that pierces into the heart and examines our intentions and our understanding (cf. Heb. 4:12), and it revealed my attitude to the unsaved. I felt humbled, ashamed of myself that I was brought up on this kind of doctrine. I regarded the unsaved people as basically diseased, rotten people, who really have not much value at all. Unless God put some value into them, they have no value in themselves. How can you love them? You don’t love rotten apples. They are fit only for the garbage. There is nothing you can do with sinful man. He is rotten, corrupt, to be rejected!

Now this kind of thinking has so penetrated the Christian that it has the most disastrous effect upon the way we look at the non-Christian. This view is taken to its logical consequences by the Brethren, especially Plymouth Brethren, and some of the more exclusive types of Brethren. They want to be so secluded from this rotten bunch of mankind as to have absolutely nothing to do with them lest they, the good apples, become polluted by the rotten apples. You must be absolutely segregated from them. You look with pity and condescension upon perishing mankind, because they are so rotten, so bad, and useless.

Now you combine that with the Doctrine of Predestination and see what happens. What will be my attitude to the non-Christian? Nothing but utter abhorrence: “They are not only rotten, but condemned by God’s predestinarian purpose to the fires of hell!” Needless to say, for any Christian who thinks like this, his attitude to the non-Christian will be one of utter contempt. If not contempt, it would be at least one of condescension! “I, an elect of God, walk through this world of corrupt men who are predestined to destruction.”

Such a doctrine is most horrifying and disgusting in the light of Scriptural teaching! Yet this is the kind of doctrine I was brought up on. I thank God for the words of the Lord Jesus that revealed the spiritual arrogance of my heart. It would be nothing but spiritual arrogance. There is no use saying it is the grace of God. If God’s grace inculcates arrogance into your heart, then God forbid that that can be called grace.

I pray that God may so change my heart that I may look at people as Jesus sees them. How does he see them? He sees them as treasure! The more I study the Lord Jesus’ teaching, the more it amazes me! He never saw them as rotten apples. No, he never saw them as worthless metal. He never saw them as just so much garbage. Oh no! He saw them as precious! Only when we can see people with Jesus’ eyes will we go out to them in God’s love. Only when we can put away these corrupting doctrines, which have corrupted our minds, and instilled a subtle pride into our hearts, will we look at people with love. It’s only then that we can say it is all grace. Do you see? For what kind of grace is it that makes you proud?

The Israelites fell into that pit and we pray that we may not fall into that same pit. When the Israelites said, “We are God’s chosen people. We stand many cuts above these multitudes. They are massa damnata—this condemned mass.” Massa damnata are the words of Augustine in Latin! With all due respect to Augustine, “a damned mass of people,” or “a condemned mass” is a fearful phrase that he dared to use. What condemned mass? They are a treasure in God’s and Christ’s eyes!

God values the lost person, but finds the hypocrite abominable

When God opened my understanding to this, and I looked at the Lord Jesus’ teaching again, I was amazed to realize that Jesus never regarded the unsaved person in this way. Consider the parables in Luke Chapter 15. The first parable in Luke Chapter 15 is the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The second parable is the Parable of the Lost Silver Coin. The third parable is the Parable of the Lost Son. Are any of these things valueless? The sheep is most valuable even today, but even more so to the poor Palestinian farmer. The silver coin that the woman lost is of great value to the woman; it’s part of her dowry. If that point is not clear enough, the Lord Jesus speaks of the lost son.

Why did God send Christ Jesus to the world to die for worthless mankind? Why does He love the rotten and corrupted in whom there is no goodness whatsoever? This gives us no explanation whatever. But what a misinterpretation of Psalm 8:4—“what is man that You are mindful of him?”! Look at Psalm 8:4 again sometime. The whole point of Psalm 8:4 is that God is mindful of man! And the psalmist is amazed that God is mindful of man. Great as God is, why is He mindful of man? The next verse, verse 5 gives us a clue, “You have made him little less than God.” Wow! No wonder He is mindful of man, after all, the explanation is given there. He made us in His image. He wants us to be His sons and His daughters. We are precious to Him. What is all this “rotten apples” about?

In Psalm 115:12 it says, “You are mindful of us.” You cannot get plainer than that. God cares for us. He is mindful of us because we are valuable to Him! This becomes even plainer in the Old Testament. God says in Zechariah 2:8, “He that touches you, touches the apple of My eye.” And He says that to a nation that is rebellious. They are still precious to Him!

In Hosea 2:2,19–20, God speaks of Israel, this disobedient and rebellious nation as, “My wife that I have loved, and I will love and do everything I can to redeem them from their sins.” Now what is more pre­cious to a man than his wife? God will not give them up, He will redeem them from death, He will heal their apostasy (Hosea 11:8, 13:14, 14:4).

Then we see in the New Testament, the picture is no different at all. As we saw, whenever the Lord Jesus speaks of those who are lost, he speaks of them as things of value: as sheep, as silver coin, and as son. Take that parable of the Lost Coin in Luke 15:8–10. There you see that Luke has individualized that parable. Each sinner individually is one lost silver coin. Think for a moment. If you take an awful lot of lost silver coins and put them together, what have you got? You have a whole lot of lost treasure! That is exactly what happens in Matthew. Contrary to Luke, who tends to apply the matter to the individual, we find that Matthew tends to multiply it. He generally speaks of two or more. So when you put together a lot of lost coins, you have lost treasure, which represents all lost sinners. Now we begin to get the point of the parable in Matthew! What is the hidden treasure? It is a lost treasure. We already saw that the treasure is found by somebody else, because the person who originally owned it was killed or deported, or had died of sickness, or simply could not find the treasure anymore. He simply lost it. So somebody else finds it. In other words, this parable is Matthew’s counterpart to Luke’s Parable of the Lost Coin! Now the meaning of it all begins to emerge. Once we can get past our prejudice, do you see that the lost person is not a valueless piece of garbage fit only for the fires of hell in God’s eyes? Indeed, he is most valuable to God!

But you will ask, “What about the darnel?” Well, I hope you have understood the Parable of the Darnel. The darnel are indeed worthless, but they are not unbelievers. They are false Christians. And what about the chaff? The chaff are also false Christians. Remember that chaff used to be part of the wheat, which in the Bible is always referring to Christians. The meaning then begins to emerge. The only kind of persons who are spiritually valueless in God’s eyes are the spiritual hypocrites, for whom there is no remedy. These are the kind of people who are valueless, not the unsaved. The unsaved people, in con­trast to these false, phony Christians, are precious in God’s eyes. They are lost, but they are a lost treasure that Jesus came to reclaim for God. And please remember well, that you and I were all part of that lost treasure, whom Jesus has found in God’s grace.

Once we begin to realize the correct meaning of this whole matter, the picture is exceedingly beautiful! First of all, it reveals God’s heart to a lost mankind. I hope you will remember that they are precious to God! They are a treasure, although they are lost. God sent Jesus into this world for this very purpose: to find them, to find you and me. You and I were part of that lost treasure.

Notice further the beauty of the symbolism in this parable, once we begin to see it correctly. This treasure is lost and buried in the world. Being buried is always a sign of death in the Bible! In Ephesians 2:1, Apostle Paul describes the sinner to be “dead in trespasses and sins.” We were once lost, concealed in this world, and Jesus finds us, and “God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us … made us alive together with Christ” (v.4–5)! This is so beautiful! This is the significance of the Lord Jesus’ parable, and the whole meaning unfolds with these inexhaustible riches that we find as we go on.

Let us look at this word “treasure” for a moment. We saw that the treasure consists of an earthen jar in which were hidden gold or silver coins, jewels, and so forth. The remarkable thing is that this picture is exactly what the apostle Paul uses, applying it to Christians. He says, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7) The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is this: the Christian is now a “found” treasure, whereas he was a “lost” treasure as a non-Christian. The Christian has this treasure of the gospel in him, so he is of even greater value to God, not because of himself, but because of the treasure that God put in him. It doesn’t mean that the non-Christian is not a treasure. The non-Christian is exceedingly precious to God. Let us try and grasp this. So the word “treasure” is used of human beings, of the church in particular in 2 Corinthians 4:7.

God aims to find the lost

Now look at the word “find”. When we look at the Bible, we find time and again, that God looks for us and He aims to find us. There is a beautiful verse in Psalm 119:176 where the psalmist says, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments.” Does that remind you of the parables? He has been lost, yet something of God’s commandment is still with him. It makes me think of Paul and his “lostness” when he says, “With the mind, I serve the law of God; but with the flesh, I serve the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25). I am a slave of sin, but I still know what is good.

Have you seen how many non-Christians often have as clear an understanding of what is right and wrong, that they also have a conscience? Has it ever struck you that a non-Christian also often does deeds of kindness, and gives to the poor, not in order to save themselves nor to establish any righteousness? In fact, without the support of non-Christians, many relief organizations would shut down. Let’s not forget that the non-Christians also have a conscience, and Paul concedes that in Romans 2:14–15. He often seeks to do what is good with his mind, although he lives under bondage to sin, and cannot overcome the power of sin. That is precisely what his “lostness” is about. Now no one will want to deny that there are some non-Christians, whose thinking is continually evil, and there are others who do have a conscience. God seeks the lost of every sort. In Psalm 119:176 the psalmist pleads, “Seek me, I am lost.”

Then we notice this again in Ezekiel 34:11,12,16, where God speaks again and again, “I Myself will search for My sheep that are lost,” and in verse 22, He says, “I will save my flock.” The purpose of seeking is to save. Again, we have seen all this already in the parables of Luke Chapter 15. In every age, in every generation, God seeks people. In this generation, he is also seeking His people. He is looking for His sheep. I wonder if you are one of those.

In every generation, he looks for men that are willing to serve Him, to function as light in this world, to bring others to salvation. We see this beautifully stated in Ezekiel 22:30, where God says, “I sought for a man to stand in the breach, who would proclaim the truth to rescue Israel, someone who would be my servant in Israel, and I found none.” He could not find one in that generation, so Israel was destroyed. Maybe He is trying to find some people here today, who might be those who stand in the breach to save the world, to save the church. We are saved in order to save others, not just to save our own skins.

So in 1 Samuel 13:14, we find those beautiful words when God found somebody, and that person was David: “I have found a man after my own heart who will do all my will.” Can he find such a person today?

In John 4:23, the Lord Jesus says, “Those who worship God are those who worship Him truly in spirit and in truth.” In the next sentence, the Lord Jesus says, “And the Father seeks those who will worship Him in this way.” He seeks people who know how to worship in spirit and in truth. God is looking for them. Don’t you think that when He finds them, He finds treasure? When He finds the people who worship Him in spirit and truth; who are willing to turn away from their sins; to be cleansed by the blood of Christ; to be made pure; to be set free from the bondage of sin, so as to worship Him in spirit and in truth, He finds treasure. God is looking for such people today! That is what the Lord Jesus says, “When one sinner repents, all the angels in heaven rejoice.” So precious is each sinner to God! What is this talk about garbage, about rotten apples, about junk metal? Each sinner is so precious to God, that when one turns back to Him, all the angels of heaven rejoice! We cannot grasp that, can we? It is because we have been indoctrinated to believe that a sinner has no value. What is the point of angels rejoicing? He truly has value to God! How precious is this parable!

“Hide” occurs twice in the parable

Notice the word “hide” which occurs twice in this parable—“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid” [Mt. 13:44a NAS].

Do not hide, confess sin and God will save

When you make a careful study of the word “hide” in the Bible, you will find that without exception, the word “hide” always has to do with sin, or a consequence of sin in the Bible. I have not been able to find any exception. Look at a concordance and see if you can find an exception. Starting right at the beginning of the Bible, what did Adam do when he sinned? He tried to hide himself from God (Gen. 3:10).

Have you noticed that every time you sin, you hide from God? It is not God hiding from you. When Adam sinned, it was not God who did not come into the garden. It was Adam who was hiding himself from God. Remember it’s not God who hides His salvation. It is we who hide ourselves from God, therefore He is concealed to us. His truth cannot strike us anymore because we are hidden, not He is hidden. We hide from His light, so how can we see His light?

Often in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, we read that when we sin, God hides Himself, His salvation and His truth from us. It is sin that hides God’s truth from us, not that He wants to do it. And God will hide His truth only from those who harden their heart. It is said that their eyes are closed and cannot see that truth. It is concealed from them, not because God wants to hide it, but because they have hardened their hearts against His truth. Then God spells the final consequence of their rebellion: “Though you hide yourself from Me, yet My judgment will catch up with you” (Amos 9:3)

Now when God seeks you out and you don’t hide or run away from Him, you are on the path to salvation. Look at these words in Psalm 32:5 [NJB], “I said, ‘I shall confess my offence to Yahweh.’ And You, for Your part, took away my guilt, forgave my sin.” Oh, isn’t that wonderful? Unlike Adam, who hid himself, the psalmist doesn’t hide himself. When we draw near to Him, we find Him drawing near to us. He is far from us only because we are far from Him (Ps. 13:1,5; 27:9,13–14).

When God calls us and we don’t hide but confess our sin to Him—not making excuses like Adam, saying, “It was this person or that other person”—but say, as the psalmist said, “I didn’t conceal my sins from you, I am a sinner. I beg your forgiveness. I hide nothing from you” (Ps. 32:5), then He forgives your sins! The first step of salvation is when you stop hiding. When this treasure comes out of hiding, then it is going to be saved. Of course, in the nature of this parable, you cannot say it in that way, because the treasure cannot walk out of the ground itself. But this hiddenness always has to do with sin. It’s very important to realize this. When we stop hiding and confess our sins, God’s salvation comes to us.

We have just seen the first “hide”, and we will now look at the second “hide”.

Jesus hides the church

You will say, “Why did the Lord Jesus hide the treasure—the church—after he found it?” Why do you hide anything?

Firstly, the Lord Jesus hides his own to protect them from the judgment of God, from the wrath against sin. This second concealing after it is found is exactly for protection, to keep it safe. When we look at the Gospels, we find this all the time. Look at Luke 13:34 for example, “How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers its chicks.” What does the hen gather its chicks for? To hide them! To hide them from what? From that hawk or that eagle that is above, seeking to devour those chicks. So when we are saved, Jesus hides us now, in the world, in himself. We are left behind in the world, but we are concealed for our protection from the judgment of destruction!

Secondly, he hides us from evil men. This comes out so beautifully in John 18:8. There, we read that when the people came to arrest the Lord Jesus, he gave himself up, but hid his disciples. He said, “Take me and let them go,” exactly like this hen hiding its chicks under its wings, protecting them. He does what he sees his Father do. We do well to remember that God is constantly protecting His own in the world. We read that He shelters His own, for example, in Psalm 27:5, 31:20.

Thirdly, he hides us from the enemy. We find that in Colossians 3:3: “Our life is hidden with Christ in God.” We are hidden in this world. Let us remember that we are that body of Christ in this world. So we are both in the world and with Christ. The Lord Jesus says to his disciples,

“…yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” ( John 16:32b–33, 17:15).

Therefore it is important to notice in Matthew 13:44, that we are not “lost” anymore as in the first word “hidden”, but we are hidden with Christ although we are in the world, as in the second occurrence of the word “hide”. So we find the riches and the beauty of all this coming forth for us.

Jesus goes away to sell all that he has to buy the field

We notice the word “go away”. The Lord Jesus uses this word, “go away” of himself going away from, leaving this field, this world. We find this constantly stated. This very same Greek word translated as “go away” is used in John 13:3, 33, 36, and many other references. In each case, he says to his disciples, “I have to leave you behind in the world. Where I go, you cannot follow. You have to stay in the world, but I am going to protect you in the world. Don’t be afraid! I am not going to leave you as orphans in the world, but I have to go away.” That is exactly what he does. The “going away” means to die. Through his death, he departs to the Father.

What does he do when he goes away? He goes away to “buy the field.” Notice the same Greek word for “buy” is used in 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23. In both places it says, “You were bought with a price.” Jesus bought you! He redeemed you to himself. Now that is exactly what Jesus is saying in this parable. In 2 Peter 2:1, we find the remarkable statement, “even denying the master who bought them,” which is said of the false Christians who denied the Lord Jesus who bought them.

This brings us to a very important point. Matthew 13:44 says “buys that field,” that is, buys the world. Indeed, that is exactly what Jesus did. Now I would like you to remember this very clearly in Scriptural teaching: Jesus did not only die for the Christians, he did not only die for the church; he died for the sins of the whole world! That is Biblical teaching. You see that in 1 John 2:2, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus bought the whole field. In other words, all the lost treasures in this world, all the lost sinners in this world are his by right. He bought them all! No wonder he rejoices when a lost sinner returns. Can you understand this? He died for the sins of every person walking out there on the street. He died not only for the sins of those of us who became Christians, the found treasures, but for the sins of the whole world. Now that is something very different from the Doctrine of Predestination, in which it is said that he only died for the righteous. I don’t know where they get this in the Bible. The Bible tells us plainly that the whole world was bought by him.

Thus we find that the Lord Jesus sold all he had to buy the world. He laid down his life to redeem the world to himself.

This word “sell” means that he gave up everything for us. That is exactly what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, that “though he was rich, yet for your sake, he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” He sold everything he had, so of course, he became poor. He gave up everything “that he might redeem us” (Titus 2:14). “And he died for us, when we were yet sinners” (Rom. 5:8, 10)! Paul tells us in Colossians 1:21–22, that he died for us when we were yet his enemies—when we still rejected him—to reconcile us to God.

He died for the sins of the whole world. He died for my sins before I ever believed in him, when I was still his enemy. Now that touches my heart. That is beautiful, isn’t it? The Lord Jesus’ teaching is so fantastic, because the whole gospel is summed up in a nutshell by this parable! How else could you say it more clearly than that?

Although this whole field has been redeemed, it doesn’t mean that the field is now Jesus’ possession. For although John says in 1 John 2:2 that Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world,” he also says in 1 John 5:19, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” God created the world, and sent Jesus to redeem the world, so this world belongs to God, and to Jesus. God also sent Jesus to set us free—for all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (Mt. 28:18)—because we simply cannot set ourselves free from Satan’s power over the whole world.

Oh, this teaching is so wonderful! Jesus sold everything to buy us. You are bought with a price. You don’t belong to yourself. Don’t you go and live as though you belong to yourself! Nothing that you are or that you have belongs to you. You see this jacket that I have, this necktie, this watch, my house, every cent in my pocket, everything belongs to Jesus! I was bought with a price, therefore everything I have, every moment I live, every breath I breathe, every minute I have, belongs to him. And “you and I belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3:23), because God sent Christ to buy us so that we are God’s treasure now. Already in the Old Testament, we read that Israel is God’s “treasured possession,” for example, in Exodus 19:5, Malachi 3:17. We read in 1 Peter 2:9 [NAS] that Christians are “God’s own possession”, a people belonging to God and are precious to Him.

The three parables in Luke 15

Now I would like to say that the following objections to the exposition of the found treasure being the church, and the lost treasure being the lost sinner, apply just as much to the three parables in Luke Chapter 15—the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son—which all indisputably refer to the lost person.

Objection 1: The sinner has no value until he is saved

There are still some who think that a sinner is of no value whatsoever, before he totally commits himself to God to be saved, that he acquires any value only after that. That shows just how deeply the old ideas stick with us. If that is the case, the same objections would apply to Luke Chapter 15, for then the sheep would somehow have no intrinsic value, or the coin is some­how less valuable, because it doesn’t happen to be in the owner’s pocket. Or the son is less valuable to the father, because he doesn’t happen to be at home. It’s hard for us to get over all prejudices, isn’t it? Isn’t a son as dear to the father when he is at home, as when he is not at home? Surely, the son is always valuable; he is nonetheless precious to the father even if he is lost. Surely, a silver coin is still a silver coin whether it’s in your pocket, or whether it is in somebody else’s pocket, or for that matter, whether it’s lying on the street until someone picks it up. Surely, a sheep is of value; it is still valuable even if it’s not in the fold for the moment.

So you can see how the old prejudices die hard until we can learn to think in God’s way, and as Christ thinks—that a sinner is precious even though he is lost in sin, even though he is not yet a sheep in the fold.

Objection 2: God is not actively seeking the hidden treasure

Another objection that is raised is that there is no active seeking of the treasure. It is just said that the Lord Jesus found the treasure. The element of him seeking the treasure is not being stressed. But it doesn’t say he doesn’t look for the treasure. We are simply assuming that he doesn’t. In the Parable of the Lost Son in Luke Chapter 15, the father seems to be completely inactive. He doesn’t go searching for the son. It is the son who returns to the father.

So we can find that one parable is not designed to cover every aspect of the gospel. It is designed to emphasize one particular thing. The Parable of the Lost Son does not emphasize God searching for the lost, because it wants to emphasize only one thing: the repentance of the sinner is necessary to being found. In the same way, the Parable of the Hidden or the Lost Treasure wants to emphasize only one thing, namely, the finding of the treasure is very, very costly. God sent the Lord Jesus to sell all—to pay with his life, in order to buy the field and lay claim on the treasure.

Objection 3: Doesn’t God know where the lost treasure is?

It is objected that the Lord Jesus could not be looking for a hidden treasure, because it implies that God, whom he represents, doesn’t know where the treasure is. This kind of objection again is quite useless, because the same objection would apply to Luke Chapter 15. You can say that looking for the lost sheep implies that God doesn’t know where the lost sheep is. If He knew where the lost sheep is, it would not be lost. Or He doesn’t know where the coin is, so He has to search through the house looking for that coin. But again, this is to miss the point here.

A treasure is lost in order to bring out the lostness of the treasure. It has to be implied that the person who is looking for it doesn’t know where it is. That is not the point of Scripture. We are lost and God seeks us to get our response. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t know where we are. But that cannot be brought out in the picture language of the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, because the point here is the finding of the treasure, and the seeking is not even stressed. So the Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son bring out that God seeks the lost to get their response, and this is not to question God’s omniscience.

From all this discussion, you can see that none of the objections to the exposition of the hidden treasure as the lost sinner, and the found treasure as the church, are valid in the light of the parables of Luke Chapter 15.

Colossians 2:3

One of the reasons I was inclined to think of the hidden treasure not as the church but as Christ, was because of a verse in Colossians 2:3, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The Greek word for “treasure” here is the same as in Matthew 13:44. This verse tells us that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ, as though justifying that Christ is the treasure. Now that is the verse that greatly influenced me to think of the treasure as Christ. But when I began to think much more carefully and much less superficially, I realized that it does not apply.

Colossians 2:3 is not speaking of a treasure but “all treasures,” and also all these treasures are in Christ, not in a field. The only way to make Colossians 2:3 be more applicable to Matthew 13:44 would be to say that Jesus is the field in which this treasure is hidden, and we buy the field in order to obtain the treasure.

Now the problem with that exposition would be two-fold. First of all, nowhere in the Bible is the Lord Jesus ever pictured as a field, or the world. And the second serious objection to it is that you buy the field, Jesus, not because you are interested in Jesus, but because you are interested in the treasures of wisdom and understanding in him. In other words, Jesus only becomes a means to spiritual wisdom and understanding, and not the means to God, who gave him all wisdom and understanding. That is a very serious problem, and we cannot accept that as Scriptural teaching. For example, when Jesus says he is the way, the truth and the life, he is saying that he is the only way to God, he is the Christ appointed by God, there is no salvation apart from him. Therefore if we want salvation, Jesus must be our Lord, and we must not abuse him to obtain from him.

You can see that this simply doesn’t hold as an exposition. We shall discover that Colossians 2:3 applies to the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, but not to this one. Having given the matter very careful consideration, I think you will see that the exposition of Matthew 13:44’s hidden treasure as the lost sinners whom Jesus finds, is the only really exegetically correct one.

Christians are God’s “hidden ones”

Now in this Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the treasure was found and then hidden by Christ in the field. He hides the Christians because it’s so fully documented in Scripture that God hides His servants. The Lord Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19)

It’s remarkable to discover that in the Old Testament, in Psalm 83:3 for example, the saints of God are called “the hidden ones” in Hebrew, that is, hidden by God. It is the Hebrew word “to hide”. The Revised Standard Version translates it as “the protected ones”. We can go on through the Bible right up to Revelation 12:6, the woman representing the church or the kingdom of God, is hidden by God in the desert. He prepares a place for His people in the wilderness.

Jesus lays down his life to save the lost

If the Parable of the Hidden Treasure does not refer to Jesus sacrificing everything, selling all in order to save us, then I would like you to bear in mind that this most central element of the Lord Jesus’ teaching actually occurs nowhere in all of the Lord’s parables. That would be very surprising indeed, that his own saving work does not occur in a single parable. But once we realize that this refers to Jesus’ saving the lost, then this element of the Lord Jesus’ teaching of redemption does appear in the parables.

We must change our attitude towards the non-Christian

So I leave you to see. Do you think that it’s a matter of opinion? Or don’t you see that the Word of God is clear and unambiguous? Once you see it correctly, every part of the picture has meaning! Every part of it vibrates with the life of God! But when you get it wrong, no part can come out meaningfully. You cannot make sense of it anymore. Such is Biblical teaching. Such is the Word of God. It’s not a matter of private interpretation. It’s simply a matter of the truth, that once we have the key to it, it opens every door of the rooms in the house. But if you don’t have the key, you simply cannot open anything; the door is closed everywhere you turn.

As I sum up, we see the whole parable open up to us. Again for me, the most precious point about it all is this: the love of God for us. He sends Jesus to look for us. What is most revolutionary to my own mind is the fact that it completely changes my attitude to the non-Christian. As I said at the beginning, I confess my error. I could not love the non-Christian because I don’t love rotten apples. I could not love the non-Christian because I don’t love junk metal. But when I begin to realize that these people are precious to God, that they are treasure, even though they are lost treasure, then I love them because God loves them.

Again I say, a doctrine that regards the non-Christian as worthless is fit only for the fire! A doctrine which regards them as a mass of condemned people, a doctrine which regards them as predestinated to destruction, is a doctrine not fit for the gospel, not fit to go under the name of Christianity. It is revolting! It is a perversion of the truth. I pray that you and I may learn as we go forth today, to see the lost sinners in the world as God sees them. I could never understand that verse, “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son,” in the light of my spiritual upbringing. Now I can understand. God so loved because the world is precious to Him. The lost sinner is precious to Him.

Now I will go forth by God’s grace, no longer looking at these people with arrogance: “I am the chosen, you are not,” but simply as “I am a found treasure, and you are at the moment a lost treasure. You are a treasure just as much as I am a treasure.” The non-Christian is a treasure just as much as a Christian is a treasure. The only difference is one has so far been found by God’s grace, and the other one has not yet been found, but will soon be found, we pray.

So we praise God that His wonderful, transforming Word changes our attitude and conforms us to His image. His Word makes us think as He thinks, and see the non-Christian as He sees them. May God help us to go forth thanking Him for His wonderful love, and to continue growing in it.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church