September 9, 2001

DISCOVERING TREASURE

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. Matthew 13:44

Carlos wasn’t looking for treasure. He was just doing his job. He made his living in landscaping and lawn maintenance, and one day he was mowing a piece of property which a real estate company had just divided into lots and was trying to sell to people who wanted to build new homes. The company wanted the lots to look appealing, and it was up to Carlos to cut the grass and weeds and pick up any junk that was lying around.

The mower was roaring along when suddenly one of the wheels hit a strange bump. Carlos thought it might be a rock or a hunk of junk, so he stopped the mower. Something was sticking out of the ground. He couldn’t quite see what it was, so he clawed away some dirt with his hands. It looked like the corner of a box of some sort. Carlos grabbed a shovel from his equipment and dug some more. Soon he had unearthed a large trunk. It looked old, very old. It was so heavy he couldn’t lift it. With his heart pounding, he pried the lid open and looked inside. His jaw dropped in disbelief. The trunk was full of gold coins!

For a moment Carlos just stared and held his breath. Then his face lit up in a smile. He knew what he would do.

He closed the lid and shoveled the dirt back over the chest. He finished mowing and cleaning up the property. Then he left. The very next thing he did was to check out how much money the real estate company was asking for that particular lot. It wasn’t cheap. Carlos didn’t have that kind of cash. However, he did have a car and a small house with some equity. In his excitement he sold the house and the car. He still didn’t have quite enough money, so he sold his furniture and even his TV set. When he put all the money together, he had just enough. Carlos bought the lot, claimed the treasure, and became an instant millionaire.

Let me ask you: do you feel sorry for Carlos? Do you think to yourself, “Poor man! That treasure sure cost him a lot. First he had to interrupt his work, then he had to sell everything he had.” You don’t feel sorry for him at all, do you? He didn’t give up anything compared to what he got.

Now listen to Jesus. In the Bible he says, “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” (Matthew 13:44). The story I made up about Carlos is a retelling of Jesus’ parable. The point is this: Jesus is a priceless treasure, a joyful discovery. When you find God’s riches in Christ, you have to give up some things, but so what? You get infinitely more than you give up.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, says Jesus, and faith is like finding that treasure. Faith isn’t a matter of learning a few dry facts or forcing yourself to do some unpleasant religious duties. Faith is the thrilling discovery that God is real and that he is supremely valuable and desirable. Faith is the joyful certainty that in bumping into Jesus, you’ve come upon a treasure that’s precious beyond price, a treasure you didn’t earn, a treasure you can’t possibly pay for–and yet a treasure that’s yours for the taking. It only costs you everything you have.

Before You Can Benefit

When it comes to secret treasure, a few things are needed before you can benefit from it. First, you need to know it’s there. You can’t benefit from treasure you don’t know exists. Second, you need to delight in its value. It does no good to know it’s there if you think it’s junk and have no desire for it. Third, once you know it’s there and rejoice in its value, you need to seek for a way to have that treasure for yourself.

So it is with God. Before you can benefit from him, you need to know he’s there, you need to delight in how supremely precious he is, and you need to seek to have him in your life. Anything less than that isn’t a living faith: it won’t help you, and it can’t please God. As the Bible puts it, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Do you believe that God is real and that he is rewarding? If you’re like most people, you believe that some sort of Supreme Being exists. You believe God is real–but do you believe he is rewarding? Is Jesus your greatest treasure and your sweetest pleasure, your highest love and your deepest joy? You may say you believe in Jesus–but do you delight in him? If not, then you don’t really know Jesus or his heavenly Father at all.

One of the deadliest plagues in our society is fake faith, the notion that faith is just a matter of believing that God exists or knowing a few facts about Jesus. Well, Satan and his demons believe those facts too. They believe God exists. They believe Jesus is the Son of God. They believe he died and rose again. But those beliefs don’t make those demons Christians. They just tremble with fear and hatred. They don’t delight in the Lord, and because they don’t delight in him, they’re not willing to give up even one thing for him, let alone surrender all they have in exchange for God’s riches. So don’t fool yourself. If you have a head that believes in God but you don’t have a heart that desires God, your beliefs won’t save you, any more than the demons’ beliefs will save them.

In his powerful book Desiring God, John Piper writes, “We are surrounded by unconverted people who think they do believe in Jesus. Drunks on the street say they believe. Unmarried couples sleeping together say they believe. Elderly people who haven’t sought worship or fellowship for forty years say they believe. All kinds of lukewarm, world-loving church attenders say they believe. The world abounds with millions of unconverted people who say they believe in Jesus.”

You might protest, “But doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’?” (Acts 16:31) Yes, the Bible says that. But when the Bible speaks of believing in Jesus, it means more than just taking a few facts about Jesus and filing them away in your brain. The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure. What happens when you find hidden treasure? You don’t just think some thoughts about it. You rejoice in it! And in your joy, you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do. You give up whatever you have to give up. Finding hidden treasure thrills you and changes your life. So, too, when you find Jesus, you don’t just think some thoughts about him. He thrills and changes you.

John Piper writes, “Conversion is what happens to the heart when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy. Saving faith is the heartfelt conviction that Christ is both solidly reliable and supremely desirable. The newness of a Christian convert is a new spiritual taste for the glory of Christ.” Do you have a spiritual taste for Jesus? Is he worth more to you than anything in the world?

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,” says Jesus. “When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

Riches In Christ

The apostle Paul was one man who found this treasure and was so overjoyed he was willing to give up anything for it. When we look at Paul’s letters in the Bible, we find that he prized the Lord Jesus over everything else. Paul often spoke of Christ in terms of treasure, wealth and riches. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote in chapter 1 of “the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” in Christ (1:7-8), in chapter 2 of “the incomparable riches of his grace,” (2:7), in chapter 3 of “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (3:8). In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (4:29). In his letter to the Colossians Paul said the goal of his ministry was that people “may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3). I could quote more, but you get the picture: Paul delighted in Jesus as a priceless treasure.

In fact, Paul treasured Jesus so much that everything else seemed worthless by comparison. Paul wrote, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (3:8). Paul was a real-life example of what Jesus meant when he spoke of a man who found hidden treasure and joyfully sold all he had for the sake of that treasure. Paul went through all sorts of troubles and lost many things–even his own life, eventually–but it was worth it as long as he could have Jesus. That’s how valuable Jesus is.

“But,” you might think, “that was just Paul. All this stuff about riches and treasure and joy and giving up all you have may be fine for a superstar saint like Paul who was really ‘into religion,’ but for ordinary people? Get real! I believe in Jesus, but I’m not all that excited about him. I’m like most normal people, even most churchgoers. We’re more interested in our bank account or our next vacation than in some supposedly thrilling relationship with Jesus.”

Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re certainly right that many people feel this way–but you’re dead wrong if you think it’s okay. It’s not okay; it’s horrible. As Paul bluntly put it, “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:18-20).

In other words, if your main delight and desire is for earthly things, your gut is your god, and you’re headed for hell. But if you have an appetite for God, if you rejoice in Jesus and are eager for him to return in glory, it means you’re already a citizen of heaven even as you live on this earth.

Pursuit of Happiness

You see, our biggest problem isn’t that we desperately desire happiness. Of course we have desires! Of course we want to be happy! St. Augustine wrote, “It is the decided opinion of all who use their brains, that all men desire to be happy.” God gave us that desire. The Bible doesn’t tell us that it’s wrong to want happiness; it tells us that we count on the wrong things to make us happy.

Sports Illustrated told about a flashy basketball player on the outdoor playgrounds of New York City. The guy had his heart set on a luxury car and said he’d do whatever it took to get the money to buy one. He wanted to make it in pro basketball, but if he couldn’t, he would just sell illegal drugs instead. He wanted that car so badly. At the time the article was written, he didn’t have the car yet, but he did have some scars from gunshot wounds.

This young man was wrong in his willingness to deal drugs, but that wasn’t his deepest problem. His biggest problem was worshipping the wrong god. A car was his god. He may never drive that car he’s after, but the car drives him. He’s driven by the passion to have that car and the status that goes with it.

This young man grew up in the crime-ridden inner city, but how different are people out in the respectable suburbs? They’re just as eager for wealth and status. They may have more respectable options for getting what they want, but their desires are basically the same.

If you’re deepest desire is for wealth and status, you’ve got a problem. Your problem isn’t that you’re too greedy; it’s that you’re not greedy enough. You want wealth, but the wealth you want is trash compared to the wealth of real riches. You want status, but the status you want is nothing compared to the status of real glory. You should want wealth and riches; you should want status and glory. Those desires are built into you. But nothing can satisfy those desires but God himself. So get greedy for God!

Why settle for something as cheap as a car when you could have infinite treasure? Why aim for the empty glory of impressing some mushy-minded people when you could have the gigantic glory of ruling with the King of the universe and judging angels? Why chase empty little dreams when you could be pursuing God himself? If you ever found God’s treasure hidden in Jesus, you’d be overjoyed to give up your cheap thrills in order to have true riches. You’d happily be ignored or despised by people in order to get praise from God. You wouldn’t consider it a sacrifice, any more than a person who sold his house and car and TV to gain a great treasure would think it a sacrifice.

“I Never Made a Sacrifice”

David Livingstone was a follower of Jesus who gave most of his life to exploring Africa, and showing the love of Jesus to the people there. Some folks back in England thought he was a great hero and was giving up a great deal in order to carry out his work. But how did David Livingstone see it? He said:

I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa… Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? … It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege.

Livingstone didn’t pretend it was always easy. He said,

Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but he added let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.

Those are the words of a man who found hidden treasure and knew its great value: “I never made a sacrifice.”

Hudson Taylor, a great missionary to China, echoed those very words. When asked about the hardships of serving God, he said, “I never made a sacrifice. Unspeakable joy all day long and every day, was my happy experience. God, even my God, was a living bright reality, and all I had to do was joyful service.”

A New Taste

At this point, you might object: “How does any of this apply to me? I’m not really wild about Jesus, but I’m not a car-crazy kid who’d sell crack, either. I’m just a normal, ordinary person. I’m not such a saint that I’d give up my comfortable life, and I’m not so rotten that I’d sell drugs. I don’t see how these extreme cases have anything to do with me.”

Well, whether you realize it or not, all of us have an ultimate desire that shapes our life. For some people, that ultimate desire is luxury; they’ll do anything to get it. For other people, that ultimate desire is the glory of God in Christ; they’ll do anything to glorify him. For still others, the ultimate desire may be a comfortable, pleasant, problem-free life–and everything you do or decide not to do is directed toward that goal. In that case, you have a god just as surely as the person who worships the Lord or the kid who worships a car.

Unless Christ is your dearest treasure, you’re worshiping idols and you’re on the road to hell. You need to know that, but that’s not all you need to know. If you feel shame over your half-hearted mediocrity or you feel afraid of hell, it can alert you that something is wrong, but it can’t make things right. The only way you can turn away from a worthless way of life to find something better to turn toward. The only way you can become a Christian, a person with a truly new life, is to find hidden treasure and really treasure it.

And how can that happen? Only when the Holy Spirit of God changes your inner being and creates in you a new taste for Jesus and a longing for eternal life. John Piper says it well:

The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an “extra” that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your “faith” cannot please God. It is not saving faith.

Saving faith is the confidence that if you sell all you have, and forsake all sinful pleasures, the hidden treasure of holy joy will satisfy your deepest desires. Saving faith is the heartfelt conviction not only that Christ is reliable, but also that he is desirable. It is the confidence that he will come through with his promises and that what he promises is more to be desired than all the world… Behind the repentance that turns away from sin and behind the faith that embraces Christ is the birth of a new taste, a new longing, a new passion for the pleasure of God’s presence. This is the root of conversion.

When the Holy Spirit gives you this new passion, then you see Jesus and his heavenly kingdom as a priceless treasure. Oh, I pray that the Spirit is stirring in you right now, teaching your mind to know Jesus and moving your heart to treasure him.

Marvel at his majesty. Prize his perfection. Wonder at his wisdom. Bask in his beauty. Revel in his riches. Glory in his greatness. Tremble at his holiness. Delight in his love. Adore Jesus as the one through whom the entire universe was created. Praise him for entering human life that we might taste the life of God. Drink in his teachings and his truth. Celebrate his miracles. Trust his blood, precious beyond price, to pay for you sins. Rejoice in his resurrection. Exult that he makes his home in you by his Spirit, and that you will be at home with him forever. And whatever he calls you to give up for his sake, count it a blessing, not a burden. Gladly give up your trash for his treasure, and find your joy in Jesus.

PRAYER

Father in heaven, don’t let your treasure in Christ remain hidden from us. Unless you shine into our minds, we cannot find your treasure. Unless you awaken our desires, we do not prize your treasure. Unless you open our hearts, we will not receive your treasure. And so, Lord, we plead: By your Spirit shine into our minds the light of Jesus, awaken in our desires a longing for Jesus, and open our hearts to make room for Jesus, that we may find and prize and receive your riches in Christ. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.