The undying devotion of Jesus to pursue a relationship with us is the treasure we should never give up.
I want to talk about pursuing devotion. I’m using two tiny parables that Jesus taught and gave us. I don’t want to assume everyone knows what a parable is. A parable was a story. Jesus would often use little stories to illustrate spiritual truth. It was designed to help us understand a principle that He was trying to get us to pay attention to and understand. He would use stories that were often things that were very relatable to the audience He was speaking to. They invite us to do a couple of things. One, to understand what it was that Jesus was trying to get at. Two, to use our imagination. There are a lot of times when Jesus gives us a little parable or a little story and He doesn’t say specifically what each piece means. He’s inviting us to think, be imaginative, engage Him with the story form, and be open to what He’s trying to say to us.
You can follow along in the handout, your Bible, or Bible app. The first one is Matthew 13:44-46. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven.” We talked about this last week, the kingdom of heaven. He’s talking about God’s reality. “Not only the God of the universe who reigns over all things but the one who’s present among you and wants to dwell with you and wants to be the king of your life.” He’s talking about Himself. He has come and wants to give who He is to us. His reality, truth, and way, He wants us to embrace it. He invites us to do so, as the king who has come. He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like this.” He uses two examples. I’m imagining Jesus talking. “How would I describe this to you? The kingdom that I’m talking about. The kingdom that comes from above. The kingdom that I represent. The kingdom that I want you to enjoy, to have. It’s like a treasure that’s actually hidden in a field, which a man when he finds it, covers it up.” Look at that 44th verse. “And then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Another way to say what I want to say to you is that “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who is in search of fine pearls. He’s a pearl merchant who, when finding one pearl of great value, a pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and he bought it.
Those are the two little tiny parables that Jesus gives, and they’re sometimes viewed as twin parables. Both of them emphasize the supreme worth of what Jesus wanted to bring to people, what He had come to offer. I was thinking about the treasure, the little one, the hidden treasure in the field. Jesus invites us to use our imagination and try to think about what He is getting at. They would’ve understood it. They often saw men who were plowing in the field. Sometimes working for someone else in their field to plow it through with a team of oxen. The field was rough, had rocks in it, needed to be worked, needed to be cleaned up, needed to be able to get prepared for planting. So it was not uncommon for someone to be working in the field. It was hard work.
I can imagine someone in the heat of the day. They’ve got their hands on the plow pushing through the ground. What would happen sometimes is that as they were making their way through, they would hit something. They would hit like a rock. All of a sudden they’d have to stop, pull off, and dig out the rock. That’s how the walls were built, by the way. The rocks that were in the field that was being tilled would be used then to build walls around it. It was hard work. It was dusty. It was a hassle because you wanted to get some good momentum going. Imagine in the heat of the day, he’s thirsty. He’s dry. He’s hot. He’s dirty. He’s been working hard. Hits something again, this one’s not budging. He has to get down there. He starts digging out. He hits it. And all of a sudden, he realizes, “Whoa, that’s not a rock. There’s something else in here, a box.” In Jesus’ day, the land of Israel was what the Romans renamed Palestine. But the land of Israel was a place that had been for years, generations actually, one of the primary battlefields of the world. Consistently, empires were fighting in that land space. Part of the reason was that it was strategically located at the confluence of three continents, Africa, Asia, and Europe, all converging by the Mediterranean Sea. This little piece, the Levant, was such valuable space. So many wars were fought there.
The Jewish people, the people of Israel, were constantly being dispossessed, constantly being invaded, constantly being overwhelmed. Anyone who lived in the region was accustomed to warfare, conquerors, the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, the Babylonians, and the Greeks with Alexander. The Romans at the time of Jesus were actually the ones ruling the land. They were paying taxes to Rome and hated it. Rome had given them some degree of autonomy that was not necessarily given to every nation that was conquered, but that was in order to keep things at peace. The bottom line is that the people of Israel were accustomed to having raiders and conquerors come. Generation upon generation understood that nothing that you possessed was actually totally safe.
There were no banks to put stuff into for safekeeping. You had possessions. You had coins and jewelry and precious things that were valuable. What did you do with them? Where did you put them? How could you secure them? A lot of times people, feeling like they had no other choice, would find a spot in the ground and bury valuables in a place only they would know about. The only thing is if something happened, they died or were taken away, deported, something transpired, and they weren’t able to communicate with anybody where they actually placed it, it could perish with nobody even knowing where it was. I’m saying in Jesus’ day, it was not as uncommon as we might think for someone to come across something of value that was buried in the ground. It was the only place that some people felt they could put their valuables safely and then it was forgotten.
So what’s happening here? Jesus says, “There’s this man working. He thinks he has a rock. He’s uncovering it. All of a sudden he opens it up and sees coins and jewelry. You can feel his heart pumping, adrenaline shooting through. “Oh my, oh my.” As soon as he realizes what’s happening, he probably has another feeling to overcome him, fear. Fear that someone sees what he’s found and does. “He covers it up,” Jesus says, “and he makes it all look like nothing’s happened.” He starts thinking to himself, “What am I going to do about this?” He starts calculating his next move. The law of the day: whoever owns the land owns what’s in it.
So he thinks to himself, “No matter what, I have to buy this land. I have to find a way to buy it. I’ll sell everything I have and borrow if I have to, but I’m going to buy this field because I know what’s in it.” That’s what Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like when you find it. That’s his first example. Jesus says, “Let me give you that other example.” He says, “It’s like a man who is a pearl collector.” He buys and sells. It’s his business. He’s good at it. Some of you have things that you collect. You know your business well. Others might see something and think, “I don’t know its value.” You might say, “I know what its value is.” It might be art, it might be memorabilia. It might be something we collect. I don’t know about human beings. Why do we collect things as human beings? Where does this desire come from? We can display and look at them. It’s an interesting part of human nature.
“This man knows pearls,” Jesus says. “He buys them. He sells them. He knows when it’s a good one, and he can tell the difference.” He’s been searching. He’s been looking. He finally finds something. He stumbles onto it. He sees it and realizes, “This is a pearl-like none other I’ve ever seen. This is a pearl that I may never see again in my lifetime. I need to make a call here. I have a vast collection. I have a vast amount of resources, but in order to obtain this pearl, this magnificent, beautiful exquisite piece, I have to make a decision. I have to decide what it’s worth to me.” Jesus says he makes the call and says, “I will sell everything I have, every part of what I own to obtain this one pearl of great price.” Jesus says, “Such is the kingdom.”
These are the two stories. The common theme is obvious, isn’t it? The common theme is the joy of discovery. It’s the joy of finding something of supreme worth and value. Yet, if you think about it this way, they’re both the same and they’re both different. Not just because one’s about treasure, jewelry, coins, and things like that, hidden treasure in a field. The other one’s about a pearl. No, the difference is, one has to do with how one person finds it, the other has to do with how the other person finds it. In other words, the treasure in the hidden field, he’s not looking for it. He’s just working. He’s just engrossed in life. He stumbles upon something of supreme value. But he wasn’t looking for it. The other example Jesus gives us is this man’s been searching. He’s been looking. He keeps his eye out. He’s watchful, he’s been seeking. I would say some of us discovered God when we weren’t looking for Him. I talk to different people. Like the plowman, we were just making our way through life, working hard, living life. All of a sudden, like Saul of Tarsus, we were apprehended. The king walked by and touched our eyes. I was blind, now I see.
For some of us, it began with a simple conversation with a coworker, a friend or a family member, or somebody who was doing some type of service for us, inviting us to church. We came, just to come. Maybe part of us had some stuff going on in our life. We said, “Ah, I’ll go with you.” We showed up. And all of a sudden, it’s like we were appended. We weren’t looking for anything. For others, maybe it had to do with a post someone shared and it got our attention. Maybe it was something someone said at an AA group. Or somebody left something and shared it with us or handed us something. We thought about it and it triggered an interest in us. I don’t know all the different ways we could see it. It would be amazing, all the different connections, stories, and ways in which we find the Lord. If you will, stumble into the kingdom, get ourselves in the door and say, “I want to buy the field.” Different ways.
Maybe someone left something on a table. I’ll do that every now and then. I just leave a church brochure on a coffee table. I do that. Just ways to share Jesus, subtle. Moreover, I never want to underestimate what He can do with a little bit of effort extended on His behalf. Some of us stumbled on the treasure. We weren’t really looking for it. It found us as much as we found the Lord. Our life has never been the same because of it. We stumbled in and we found it, and it’s changed everything. Others found Him, or I should say He found us. We were found by Him after a long search, like the pearl merchant. We were actually searching. I’ve met a few of you. You’ve been searching. You were spiritual seekers on a spiritual journey. It brought you back in some circuitous way to the treasure in the field. It brought you back to Jesus, and it changed everything. You found the pearl of great price.
They’re the same in the sense that they both discover something. They’re different in the sense that one wasn’t looking and the other one was searching, but then they come back together again. So it’s like they’re together, they go apart, and then they come back. What is the “coming back together?” The coming back together of both stories is regardless of whether or not it was something that was being sought or stumbled onto, in both cases, they make a decision. It’s too good to pass up. They’ll sell everything they have to get it. That’s the common thing. Both of them will give everything to obtain it. It’s devotion’s pursuit.
I want to put a couple of things up, have us sit with it, think about it, and interact with this. I want to suggest that the kingdom of heaven, the way of Jesus, is both a gift and a purchase. In that sense, it’s a paradox. It’s something we must receive with humility and pursue with devotion. A field can have tremendous potential, but it must be worked. A book can have tremendous knowledge in it, but it must be read. I have in my house something that I try to remind myself of, I’ll look at it every now and then. It’s a poster of Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens, he’s sitting there. Underneath it is something he said. It’s something I try to remind myself of. He says, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the one who cannot read them.” The one who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the one who can’t. It’s this amazing gift that we have, unless it’s utilized, put into play, then where’s the real advantage? That’s what He’s getting at.
I think about what Jesus said. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for what is right, righteousness. They’ll be filled.” Think about what He’s implying. Both of those things, hunger and thirst, they’re powerful drivers. They call out passionate pursuit. When we’re hungry, our body starts to feel it, our stomach growls. When we’re thirsty, that’s even more intense sometimes than hunger over time. We know that for a fact. But what is Jesus saying? He’s saying essentially that even though the kingdom of Jesus is something we must receive, it is something also that we must really pursue. It will not come as a result of a kind of casual whatever, half-hearted, “Eh, whatever,” half-hearted way. It’s going to come differently.
Jesus says that when you understand it, you’re going to have to decide something. Do you want to sell all for it? To use his language. That leads us to this thought, which is this: to make the kingdom purchase is going to cost us something. It’s free, but it isn’t cheap. It cost God everything. It’s going to cost us something too. Anyone who says differently is not being honest. Put another way, there are some things, as Jesus said, that must be relinquished if we want the field or the pearl. Some things must be sold off, let go of, cashed in to make the purchase. They may be things that we value, even treasure, or find great pleasure in. But if it is required of us to sell it in order to obtain it, then let it be so.
I’ll show you a verse. It’s a hardball verse, but I think you need to hear what Jesus said. In Luke 9, he said, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” You can see both things going on here. We have to decide, are we serious about following Him? It’s like the field comes with a cost, but it’s so valuable. That’s the point Jesus is making, it’s so valuable. The second part of that statement Jesus makes, this idea of following, there is a joy in following Him. He invites us into the joy of discovery, the joy of fellowship, the joy of being His disciple. Jesus said, “My words I give to you.” I think He said it in John 15, “I want my joy to be in you. I want your joy to be full. I want it to overflow with life in you.” So it’s both things.
I’m not denying the idea of sacrifice, but I am going to suggest that when it comes to cultivating followership with the Lord, there’s a couple of things we can do. I want to talk about how to have a long haul life with God. Once we make the decision to purchase the field, if you will, and to buy the pearl, that we can sustain that in a way that is life-giving and filled with joy. Let me just suggest a couple of things. One thing is that it’s going to involve our need to stay close to Him. You may say, “Well, that’s stating the obvious.” I’m talking about intimacy with the Lord, vulnerability. I’m talking about the time we spend with the Lord in meaningful ways. There really is no substitute. Depth does not come without devotion. No relationship develops without time, honesty, and vulnerability. It will never have depth to it.
In order to have a quality life with God is going to involve us, practically speaking, carving out time to understand and study His words, to love and talk to him. I talk about the value of journaling, writing out our prayers, creating time and space to meet with God, to listen for His voice. To say that we can be healthy in our life with the Lord, not do that, and not spend time with Him, then we become like the ones we worship. The ones we spend time with. We adopt their characteristics and qualities. If we spend time with the Lord in the Lord’s house, with others who long to love Him, follow Him, then that’s going to affect us.
The other thing is to stay fresh. To me, that speaks of vitality. I realize some of us are just beginning our walk with Jesus. You might feel very excited about that. I need to say that one of the real challenges, especially after you do this for a while, I’ve noticed that sometimes as the years go by, we can start to lose something. There was that initial discovery that happened. “Oh, I got the treasure in the field or this pearl of so much value.” It’s so special to us. What is it about us as human beings? We take things for granted. I don’t know why that is. Sometimes the best gifts, the best people in our life, we get accustomed to. All of a sudden it’s like, “Ah, that used to thrill, but it’s not that big of a deal.” There is something about that. I think the Lord is getting at you, saying, “Don’t ever forget what you have in me. Don’t ever forget it.” I’m making the case that we have to be thoughtful about keeping our hearts alive with God and staying excited about Him. That’s not something that just happens. How do I sustain that love for Him? He talks about it. You read the last book of the Bible, Revelations, the third chapter. Jesus is talking about people who love Him who have forgotten. Who start taking it for granted, forgetting to keep that love alive in their hearts. They become habitual and rote, and it’s something I do, I believe in, but it’s not alive in me.
I think there are times where we’re going to have to say, “Lord, how can I keep this alive in me?” Maybe it means I’ve got to shake some things up, shake some patterns up with you, build some new relationships with people who love you. Maybe get into a group that I haven’t been in before. Think about starting a ministry. Maybe there’s something I need to sheer back on. Maybe I need to prune that tree a little bit so that I can create a new branch, a new shoot, something that keeps us alive. That’s what I’m talking about. The Lord wants us to do this because we can get stagnant and lose what it was meant to be. Find ways to stir things up. Keep it alive. “Lord, help me.”
This is key. Right on the backside of that is I think it’ll help us to do it. “Along the way, stay childlike.” I’m talking about how to live in the kingdom. Be open to wonder and easy faith. I don’t mean a faith that costs us nothing but a faith that works easily. Avoid cynicism, apathy. Choose to be a discoverer of new treasure. Don’t say, “Ah, I know everything I need to know.” There are new things in the Lord. There are new things He wants to open up to us. There are new things He wants to teach us about ourselves. There are new areas of our life He wants to grow. As long as we’re here on this side of life, there is stuff that God wants to do in our life. There are things that He wants to have emerge in new ways. I think the Lord wants us to be a discoverer of new treasure and challenge negativity, which stifles creativity. One of the main things we need to guard against is just allowing negativity and cynicism to begin to creep into our hearts, become critical, angry, and resentful. That does not help anything at all.
I came across a writing of something a writer said that I greatly admire. It weds these two concepts. This was E. Stanley Jones. He was a great missionary to India, especially, but also China. He was also a friend of Gandhi and had often talked to him about Jesus. They had a lot of wonderful interactions together. E. Stanley Jones also made it on the cover of Time magazine. A lot of people don’t know that or who he is. He was actually a very significant person in the 1900s who made a huge difference for Jesus all over the world. He wrote, “Look, if we are not positively creating and producing, the machinery of life will get out of gear, for we were geared to creation.” We were made for new things. We work best when we’re creating something. Look how he balances that out by talking about alignment in our life, staying open, staying creative, and not getting closed down. He says, “One of the things that close us down is negativism. Therefore not only does it keep us from achieving,” but he says something else happens. Not only does it stifle creativity in our life when we allow ourselves to become negative people, but he says, “The personality breaks down under negative attitudes.” We don’t work well this way. It’s not how God made us.
I’ll put it in a different way. Emerson said, “Most of the shadows of life are caused by us standing in our own sunshine.” We’re the ones. A lot of times, I am my own enemy and critic. That leads me right into this last one. I’m going to suggest that you stay gentle. Stay gentle. I’m talking about being gentle with yourself, especially when you’re struggling. A lot of times we just tighten everything up and start to feel like a failure. We start to talk like we’re a failure. We shouldn’t be afraid of struggling. It’s okay to struggle. For those of you who never struggle, you’re the cut above everybody else. For those like me, I have areas where I do struggle at times with my walk with God. Things that I might fall back into or words that I said I should have said differently and attitudes that I’m letting creep in.
For some of us, it might have to do with all kinds of stuff. We might struggle with certain addictions, things of our past, attitudes that we have, anger or resentment that we hold onto that define us. We’re letting it simmer inside of us. It might have to do with things related to our purity or stuff that we don’t even really want to have happening in our lives. We feel bound up by it. We’re struggling. I had someone come to me and say, “You know what? I feel like I’m not really worthy. I feel I’m just constantly battling and da, da, da.” I said, “To me, struggling is a sign.” I’m not saying I want us to have problems and not be able to do our best for the Lord. But to me, the fact that you’re struggling here is a sign of what you actually care about. If you didn’t care for the things of God, it wouldn’t even matter to you. It matters because you care.
I need you to quit beating yourself up. Maybe for right now, be gentle with yourself. “But the Lord wants me.” I know, but He also loves you. He said, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, weighed down. My yoke is easy and my burden is light. I want to give you rest.” He said that. He said, “I want my joy to be in your life. I want it to overflow in your life.” There’s a time to contend for things and to be fierce in what we’re confronting. There’s also a time to say, “I am so weak right now. I feel so discouraged right now. I feel so vulnerable right now. Lord, I just need to trust you.” I need to remind everyone about a verse that means so much to me. I talked about this passage in Second Corinthians 12, when the Apostle Paul’s talking about what he sees as a clear weakness in his life, in verses 7-10. In the ninth verse, what the Lord says to him is basically, “My strength works best in weakness. My grace is all you need.” I love that phrase. My power works best in weakness. How good is that? What are we saying? We’re saying that in our weakest places sometimes is where God shows up in the most amazing way. I love it. Second Corinthians 12:7, “My power works best in weakness.” His strength works best in weakness. Keller said, “The deeper the darkness, the more beautiful the stars.” I love that. When I first saw it, I said, “Oh, that’s Helen Keller, right?” It was actually a different Keller. It was Tim Keller.
“The deeper the darkness, the more beautiful the stars.” It tells me I get to choose. Am I going to focus on the darkness? Or am I going to focus on the star? Lord, help me to focus on the stars, the darker it is, to see what you can do. My strength works best in weakness. Not that I want to be weak, but I’m not going to be afraid of it either. I need to be okay welcoming in struggle. Anyone who wants to follow the Lord needs to do this because it’s a place of dependency. We begin to realize how much we’re loved and what He can do in our weakest zones. How beautiful, how wonderful, how precious His kingdom is. What He means when he says, “I tell you what I have to give you, it’s like a man who stumbles onto treasure in the field. When he realizes what he’s found, he sells it all to have it. I tell you, what I have to give you is like a pearl merchant who, when he finds a pearl that he’ll never see again anything like it, he sells everything he has to have it.” That’s what I’m talking about. He’s worth it. He’s the best, better than the rest, Jesus.
I’ll leave it here with this one. Once you have Him, never let Him go. Let Him always be our greatest treasure, for He is the only one that we can truly, truly carry with us. No one, nothing else, no person, no gift, no possession can ever be carried over to the other side. Nothing is going. No person, no possession, nothing. Jesus said, “Don’t ever forget what makes a person truly, truly wealthy. Don’t forget what true success is.” Jesus kept reminding us. He says, “Don’t get stuck in the pursuit of what the culture tells you. Don’t ever assume that greatness is what it seems. Don’t ever assume that having everything you need and want will actually be what’s most important. Never think that way. Don’t ever forget what is most important. Don’t ever forget what is the pearl of great price.” He’s saying, “Just remember what you take with you. There’s only one thing you take with you. It’s what you have with me.” Now, that’s what he taught us. These other things, as beautiful as they are, will be left behind.
That’s why when I hear the words of Jim Elliott, I absolutely love the man who gave his life to bring Jesus to others. He said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Everybody’s going to invest in something. Jesus says, “Invest in the best.” For some of us, this is the time. This is the year. This is the time to buy the field. This is the time to make the purchase for the pearl. For some of us, we can feel Him in our hearts. He’s calling. The one who’s passing by is passing by to remind us, follow me. He’s calling. This might be the time. This is the year. May it be so. Some of us say, “This is the time to get back.” This is the time to do it. This is the time to respond to the Lord. For others, it’s time to refresh things. Remember how beautiful it is to be one who owns such a thing as this. Never underestimate its value, ever. Oh God, don’t let me get caught up in vain pursuits and forget what matters most. “If you have Him, you have the best. Other things come and they will go. Enjoy them. If you have me, you have a treasure no one can ever take from you.” It will carry you through this life, into the next.
Let’s pray. Lord, I just thank you for this word. I thank you for your words. I pray that you will keep working in our lives. I ask that you would remind us, don’t let people like me forget what a beautiful gift you are, what a wonderful thing it is. Remind me, you’re the pearl of great price. For those of us, wherever we are, remember what we’re being exposed to, remember the opportunity. It’s the deal of a lifetime, better than anything. I ask for you to bless these closing minutes. Maybe as we’re hearing this song, some of us will feel like in our heart, there are some things we’re supposed to lay down and some things we’re supposed to move into. We just pray for that, Lord. Keep working, pearl of greatest price. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.