Matthew: The Parables of the Kingdom, Part 5: The Treasure, the Pearl, and the Dragnet

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on June 9, 1998

Matthew 13:44-50

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with met to Matthew chapter 13 beginning in the 44th verse.  As we have studied Matthew 13 in these kingdom parables, we have noted that there are seven parables of the Lord Jesus in this passage, and that all of them contain descriptions of the way the Lord Jesus’ kingdom is.  And the reason each of these parables describe different aspects of the kingdom is because the disciples had certain expectations about the kingdom that were different from the reality of the kingdom.  And so by the parables, the Lord Jesus is explaining to His followers what it is to be in the kingdom, what the kingdom is like, and specific aspects of the nature of the kingdom. 

So far we’ve looked at four of the parables.  The very first parable in Matthew 13 is the parable of the sower.  And we’ve seen that that parable teaches us that there are many who will reject the King and His kingdom.  There are many who will reject the Messiah and the message.  It doesn’t matter how glorious the Messiah is, it doesn’t matter how glorious His message is, there are many soils which are not ready to receive that message.  There are many hearts, in other words, which will reject the message of salvation.  And that parable was told because the disciples expected the Messiah to announce His presence and for all of Israel to turn immediately to Him.  And they had been surprised when that didn’t happen.  And so the Lord Jesus had to explain that there were many hearts which were hardened to the message of salvation.  It’s the same message that both saved and condemned those who rejected it.  What was the difference?  The hearts of those who rejected it were closed to the glory of the gospel. 

And then in the parable of the tares, Jesus taught that the kingdom itself would be imperfect until the time of the final judgment.  The disciples expected the kingdom of God to be set up in a pure fashion in which all the righteous were in the kingdom and all the wicked were outside of the kingdom.  And the Lord Jesus tells them something surprising.  And that is, that there will be many who are included in the outward, visible form of the kingdom. They will be part of the church, and yet they will not actually be true believers.  And we won’t ultimately know until the judgment; when the angels separate the wheat from the chaff; when the angels  separate the wicked from the righteous; those who are truly citizens of the kingdom and those who only pretended to be.  And so He focuses His disciples on the task of proclaiming the kingdom rather than attempting to establish a church which is perfectly pure of unbelief, because Jesus says there’ll never be such on this earth until the final judgment. 

And then in the parable of the mustard seed, we learned that we were not to despise small beginnings for the gospel.  The mustard seed to look at is not very impressive.   In fact, Jesus says it’s the smallest of the garden seeds.  And yet it grows up into a massive tree, ten or fifteen feet tall, the largest of the garden plants.
In other words, don’t underestimate the kingdom through it begins in an unimpressive way.  It will grow, it will prosper, but don’t measure the kingdom by it’s apparent size.  And so we also learned that important lesson as the disciples expected the kingdom to come in a glorious form, and they were not prepared for the humble form of the kingdom which the Lord Jesus Christ was ushering in. 

And finally, in the parable of the leaven, the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us never to underestimate the impact of the kingdom, even if it works silently and without our observing it, just like leaven, just like yeast in bread, causes the whole of the loaf to rise, so the kingdom permeates everything that it touches and has a broad impact even if we are not drawn to it with regard to our attention.  Even if we don’t notice how totally it is impacting everything that it touches, the kingdom is going to work.

And so today we come to Matthew 13 verses 44-50, and we’ll look at three more of Jesus’ parables. Let’s hear God’s holy and inspired word beginning in verse 44: 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

Father, we bow before You.  This is Your word meant to build Your disciples up in the faith as the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ as those who trust in Him.  We would be instructed by Your word in Spirit.  Apply this truth to our own hearts and our own circumstances and by the Spirit Lord, keep us from failing to see the glory and value of the kingdom.  We ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

In these three brief parables, Jesus reminds us of three things.  First, He reminds us that the true value of the kingdom is hidden to some.  His disciples couldn’t believe it.  Surely not the glorious kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Surely no one could underestimate how valuable that is.  But He reminds us here that the true value of the kingdom is hidden to some.  Secondly, He reminds us that belonging to the kingdom is worth more than everything else.  And then in the third parable, He teaches us that though the kingdom is mixed in this age, yet it will be purified in the judgment.  And if we are truly citizens of the Lord Jesus’ kingdom, then these truths will make a practical difference in our lives, in our thoughts, in our attitudes, and in our priorities.  And so I’d like to study them with you today.   

I. The true value of the kingdom is hidden to some.
The first one you’ll see there in verse 44 as Jesus tells the story, or the parable, of the treasure hidden in the field.  There we learn that the true Christian sees the worth of the kingdom, even though it is hidden to the eyes of the world.  Look at the parable.  The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field which a man found and hid again, and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and he buys that field.  Jesus, by the way, is apparently speaking these last three parables directly to His disciples.  They had already asked Him to explain one parable.  He had volunteered them another explanation of the parable of the tares.  And these parables come after that explanation, indicating that Jesus shares these parables in addition to the ones that He had given to the multitude with the express purpose of helping His disciples understand the nature of the kingdom that they were supposed to proclaim.  I mean, it’s a bad thing to send someone out to proclaim a message that they don’t understand.  It would be like sending me out to explain to you a computer manual.  These disciples need to understand the nature of the kingdom, and so the Lord Jesus is explicitly honing and reemphasizing certain aspects of the kingdom that He has previously taught them. 

For instance, the third parable in this text, this parable which concerns the dragnet, clearly reiterates the truth with which He had taught them in the parable of the tares and the wheat.  Apparently He thought that this was a truth so important that they could not fail to understand that if they were going to effectively proclaim the kingdom.  And after all, that’s what He was sending them out to do.  He told them that they were to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven. That was their job.  And so it was essential that they understood what it was that they were to proclaim. 

Now even if we’re not called to proclaim that good news as Christians, we must understand the nature of this kingdom lest we miss the blessing of it as it is set forth in the word.  And so, here in this parable Jesus highlights certain aspects of the kingdom to edify His disciples, to reinforce certain things that He’s already stressed to them, and to correct misunderstandings they had about the kingdom of God.  The story that He first tells here in verse 44 focuses on a man who, while digging in a field, unexpectedly comes upon a treasure.  And when he finds that treasure, the treasure is so valuable that it’s worth more than the field and it’s worth more than everything else that he has.  And so he goes out, he gives away everything that he has in order to purchase the field, and he obtains the treasure. 

And the story is actually a very commonplace kind of story.  It would have not been uncommon for people in Jesus’ time to bury family heirlooms and treasure.  There were not secure places available to common folk, and in times of war or raids or because of fear of burglary, it would not have been uncommon to bury family heirlooms.

There’s a story from my family’s past that approximates this one.  When my father was a little boy growing up in Union County, South Carolina, every family reunion, on the afternoons, all the cousins would spend the afternoons with shovels on the old family home, the McDowell home at Liberty Hill, South Carolina, digging for the family silver, which had been buried during the War between the States to save it from the invader.  And they would dig and dig and dig, and throughout his childhood years they never found it.  Now there’s a tag at the end of that story.  In the 1960s, my father went into one of his cousins’ homes whose mother had just passed away.  And up on the mantle piece there was a very large piece of silverware, like a serving tray.  As dad grew closer to it, there was a London silver mark on it, and it was so thick and so laden that he could actually bend it with his fingers.  That’s how silvery it was.  And he said to his cousin, “Is that the McDowell silver that we were looking for when I was a child?”  And the cousin said, “Yes.”   “Well, how did you get it?”   Obviously there were some parts of the family that were left out of that secret during those family reunions.  At any rate, this man buys a field and in it he finds a treasure.  We’re not told why it was that he was digging in a field that he didn’t own in the first place.  Perhaps he was a renter.  But he comes across a treasure, and he recognizes that this treasure is more valuable than anything that he has, and so he is willing to sell everything in order to obtain this treasure. 

Jesus tells this parable precisely to counter the disciples’ expectations about the kingdom.  The disciples expected the kingdom to be obviously valuable to everyone.  And they expected the people of Israel to diligently be seeking after that kingdom because it was so valuable.  Now listen to the parable as Jesus tells it.  The kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field.  And a certain man unexpectedly comes upon it while he’s digging and he sells everything that he has in order to buy it.  Jesus, in this parable, indicates that the treasure is hidden to many.  Not all will see the value of the kingdom of heaven.  Not even all those in Israel will see the value of the kingdom of heaven.

Notice three aspects to the story.  First of all, the treasure is hidden.  It is not openly displayed for all.  Not all see the value of the treasure. 

Secondly, notice that the treasure is found unexpectedly.  This man was not in the field digging for treasure.  He was digging for something else.  Perhaps he was plowing his field.  And he stumbles upon this treasure.  So he wasn’t even looking for it when he found it.     

And finally, notice this treasure is worth everything.  Jesus indicates that there is nothing in this man’s life that can match the value of the treasure which he has found.  And so this parable shows the incalculable preciousness of salvation for those who discover it and obtain possession of it without ever even looking for it.  This parable reminds us of the exceeding preciousness of the kingdom, even if the world doesn’t value the kingdom in that way. 

Now this parable can serve as a diagnostic for our hearts. We have to ask ourselves this question: “What is the kingdom worth to us?   Is the kingdom my priority?”   Because our estimation of the worth of the kingdom tells us whether we are in the kingdom or not.  If we do not value the kingdom as the greatest treasure, if we do not value saving eternal relationship with Jesus Christ above all else, then we have cast our lot with those who do not have the treasure, because that is the treasure, and it is worth losing everything else to obtain.

Listen to what William Hendriksen says about this parable:  “The point of this parable is that the kingdom of heaven, the glad recognition of God’s rule over heart and life including salvation for the present and for the future for soul and ultimately also for the body, the great privilege of thereby being made a blessing to others for the glory of God, all this is a treasure so inestimably precious that one who obtains it is willing to surrender for it whatever could interfere with having it. 

It is the supreme treasure because it fully satisfies the needs of the heart.  This is the one needful thing.  This is the one thing that satisfies, the one thing that we need, and nothing else matches up to it.” 

Have you made that estimation on Christ and His gospel?  Or is that just one of a number of things that  are significant to you which you place alongside of the most important things in your life?  Is it the one thing?  Is it the priority?   Is it the treasure of your life?         

The Apostle Paul, friends, is a living illustration of this parable.  If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Philippians chapter 3.  In verse 8, and the first half of verse 9, the Apostle Paul gives us a little glimpse of the aftermath of his own conversion.  Remember, Paul was on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians, and unexpectedly he encountered the treasure.  And he rightly saw the value of the treasure and he gave up everything in order to embrace that treasure.  And here’s what he says about it in Philippians 3:8:  “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ.”

Paul literally did lose everything.  He lost his career, his reputation, and it is not difficult for us to imagine losing all of his family and his friends.  For he had sided with Jesus the Nazarene, and that meant to the people of his day, as to many of our Jewish friends today, to turn his back on his culture and his heritage.  And he was ready to give it all.  And not only to give it all, my friends, but never to regret having giving it all.  Never does he look back and say, “Well, maybe I would be more satisfied now if I haven’t given up all things.”  No.  In his eyes, everything that he has given up is rubbish in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. 

Many of you have read the wonderful book by J.I. Packer called Knowing God, and in the second chapter, he tells the story of a colleague who, because of his commitment to Christ and Christian principles had lost any possibility of advancing through the British university system to a higher level as a professor.  And Packer tells the story of walking with him in the woods one day, and he asked his friend whether he ever regretted the choice he made, and whether he resented what had happened to him.  And his friend’s response was simply this: “I have known Jesus Christ and they have not.”  He was happy to have foregone the loss of an advancement of a career because he knew Christ. 

Now how many of us can say that honestly about our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?  There are so many things that are tugging us to be the priority of our lives.  It may be friends, it may be families, it may be relationships, it may be gain or wealth, or status.  There are many things tugging at us to be the very pride of our life, the treasure of our life.  The Lord Jesus Christ says that His people, the true Christians, see the value of His kingdom, and they are ready to give up everything in order to obtain it.   

II. The true Christian values the kingdom above everything else.
We see a second lesson in verses 45 and 46, in the parable of the merchant seeking pearls.  In that passage, Jesus emphasizes one of the points that He’s already made in the parable of the hidden treasure.  And that is the truth that the true Christian values the kingdom above everything else.  Notice again the story.  The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value he went and sold all that he had and bought it.  Pearls were very rare and they were fabulously expensive in the near east, and they were relatively more expensive then than they are now.  They would have been priceless, unobtainable by any but the very rich.  They were only found in the Persian Gulf or in the Indian Ocean.  And Jesus tells this story about a merchant who dealt in jewels and stones who was on a search for the very best pearls that he could find.  It sort of reminds you of the Neiman-Marcus book,  Quest for the Best.  This merchant was on a quest for the best.  And lo and behold, he finds the best.  He finds the most perfect pearl he’s ever seen.  But, it’s going to cost him the sum total of everything else he has in order to purchase that pearl.  He does not hesitate.  He buys the pearl. 

And again, that parable is designed to make a point to the disciples about the kingdom.  The disciples are quite confused.  They’ve been expecting a glorious kingdom, and Jesus announces that His kingdom will come in in a very humble form.  Then, they are confused about the fact that not all the people of Israel highly value the kingdom.  And they were expecting all of Israel to value the kingdom and see it as the greatest thing that had happened in the history of Israel, and to flock to the Lord Jesus Christ.  And so they are confused.  And the Lord Jesus wants them to know, ‘Look, even though My people have by and large not valued the kingdom, they’ve despised Me, they’ve despised My message, they have undervalued My kingdom, what I’m bringing to them, I want you to know that it’s the most valuable thing in the world.  Even though they have undervalued it, there is nothing more valuable than My kingdom and all My children know it.  They are like that merchant who has found the one, and he’s willing to give up everything now that he’s found it.

Again, notice three things about the kingdom in this parable.  First of all, in this case, the merchant is searching for the kingdom.  He is searching for the pearl.  The merchant is looking for a treasure and he finds it.  In the first parable, the one who is digging doesn’t even know there is a treasure in the field.  This time there is intentionality.  The merchant is looking for a treasure.

Second of all, he values this treasure above everything else, and notice he is willing to embrace that treasure at great personal cost.  And Jesus is teaching by those things that all who are true citizens of His kingdom will see its value and they will seek it first.  J.C. Ryle says this about these parables:  “These two parables are meant to teach us that men really convinced of the importance of salvation will give up everything to win Christ and  eternal life.  Those who have truly seen the kingdom, those who have seen its value, those whose hearts have been made by the grace of the Spirit to see the value of the kingdom, the value of salvation, the value of the Lord Jesus Christ are ready to give up everything else for it.” 

Think of the Ethiopian eunuch, a great career for public service in Ethiopia and yet he is searching for something beyond that.  And Phillip leads him to find it in the exposition of Isaiah 53.  Think of Cornelius, a Roman centurion.  Important, prominent, successful, and yet seeking for the truth, he finds it as God leads Peter to him to tell him the way of salvation.  And Cornelius is brought into the kingdom of God because he values that treasure above all else.  No matter what it will cost him in terms of his political advancement and his career goals.  These men seek the kingdom and they find it. 

And yet we all know people who would love to embrace the kingdom, and yet there is something in their lives that’s holding them back.  They want to be on both sides of the fence.  They want the kingdom and they want their sin. They want their kingdom and they want their worldliness.  They want the kingdom and they want their materialism.  They want their kingdom and they want their illicit relationship.     

There was an evangelistic team in St. Louis, Missouri, that I participated in with a local church. They went out and visited on a regular basis, especially visitors that came to the church, and one evening we were talking to a young woman who had visited the church on a couple of occasions.  We shared with her, and we talked about a lot of things, we shared with her the gospel that night, and she seemed greatly drawn by the truths of the gospel and she seemed interested in hearing more.  So we talked about it a good bit.  The whole time we were talking with her, there was a gentleman in the kitchen sort of puttering around doing this and that in the back of the house.  And we noticed that on the registry she had not signed herself as married, and we noticed that she was wearing no wedding band on her left hand. And sure enough, the conversation eventually turned to that.  It turned out that this was her boyfriend.  And as she began to ask us more about the gospel, and more about how one embraced the Lord Jesus Christ, we began to talk with her about faith and repentance.  When we came to repentance, we ran into a brick wall.  She asked this question to us: “Does embracing Christ mean that I will have to stop living with my boyfriend?”  Now she asked it, we didn’t.  And we turned it over to the pastor at that point.  And he said, “Embracing Christ will involve renouncing sin.”  And she said, “Well, I just can’t.”  There was something more important to her than Christ.  There was something more important–that relationship was more important to her than the kingdom and she could not leave that relationship, at least in that form, for the sake of the gospel.

We all have things that tug at us that we value perhaps more, some of us, than the kingdom itself.  These parables are given to make sure that we ask ourselves the question, “What do we love the most?  What do we seek for first?” 

III. The true Christian realizes that the kingdom, now imperfect, will be perfected at the judgment.
The final thing you’ll see in verses 47-50 is the parable of the dragnet.  There, Jesus teaches again that the true Christian realizes that the kingdom is imperfect now, but that it will be perfected in the judgment.  This parable is similar, as we’ve already said, to the parable of the tares among the wheat, and it reminds us of the mixed character of the kingdom.  The disciples were expecting a pure kingdom with the righteous on the inside and the unrighteous on the outside.  And Jesus said, “Well, let Me give you some news.  The kingdom is going to be mixed.  There will be many who profess faith who do not actually embrace Me, and yet they are a part of the outward kingdom.”  So Jesus is warning against this, as He repeats His warning with regard to the final judgment.  He stresses the certainty of that final judgment by repeating it.  The disciples, though they had expected the kingdom of Christ to clearly divide the righteous and the wicked, learned now that that division will not happen at the beginning of the kingdom, but at the end of the kingdom as the judgment day comes in.  Jesus’ order of priority for them, then, is proclamation now, perfect purity only then.  They were to focus their attention on the proclamation and not expect the kingdom to be perfectly made up of only those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. 

And so we must recognize that there will be many in the churches who profess Christ but who don’t really know Him.  And our business is to make sure that that is not a description of us.  Listen to what William Hendriksen says: “Not all of those that enter the kingdom in it’s visible manifestation; that is not all of those who enter the church visible are truly saved.  This will only become evident in the great day of judgment when the angels will separate the wicked from the righteous.” 

And so it is well for us to ask the question, “How highly do we rate the kingdom?”  “Are we ready to give up all for the kingdom?”   “Is it the most important thing for us?”  It ought to be a settled principle, my friends, that we not rest our salvation on church  membership or a past prayer or decision, but that our salvation, our confidence, is based on a current living, active, vital, saving trust in Jesus Christ alone.  It is in embracing the King and the kingdom that salvation and assurance is found.  And we must not fool ourselves, by going through the outward motions of church life, into thinking the inner realities and currents of the kingdom are in us.  These parables are here to bring us back to that very important consideration.  J.C. Ryle says,  “These plain words need more belief and consideration than they do exposition.”  Jesus’ words are crystal clear.  They really don’t need explanation.  They just need us to think about, “Where are you today.  Is Christ,  His kingdom your treasure.  Or is it on a shelf with other treasures?”  Or, heaven forbid, is it even under your greatest treasures.  Are those treasures relationships?  Are those treasures family?  Material blessings?  Wealth?  Power?  Money?  Status?  Whatever the blessing that you crave greater than Christ, I pray that God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, would give you the power this day to slay that blessing and to give all for the sake of the kingdom.  May the Lord bless His word. 

Our heavenly Father we thank You for the truth of Your word.  We ask that You would help us to choose wisely, that we would choose the treasure, the one treasure, the one true treasure.  And that we would only enjoy all other blessings as we enjoy that blessing first.  In Jesus’ name we ask it, Amen.

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