Because of joy 2

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.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:44-46

To develop a different understanding of this passage and more coherent view of the parables, we would first need to understand the context. This is how Jesus decoded the Parable of the Weeds just before He told these other parables:

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Matthew 13:37-39

If we applied this to the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, it flips the whole meaning of the parable on its head. Christ is the active finder – not us. The field is the world – not an undetermined environment or object. The joy belongs to Christ – not us. The price of attaining this treasure is made by Christ. Two verses come to mind that ties this together:

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2b

You were bought at a price;
1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23a

The price of purchase was Jesus Himself, “enduring the cross, scorning its shame”, but He did so for joy! The picture this parable paints of salvation stands Christ, not in ourselves or what we have to give (since we have nothing to give). The question still remains as to who is the treasure and why was it hidden when it was found. The bible gives us clues.

There are four ways treasure is viewed in the bible: as earthly riches such as gold and silver (Daniel 11:43; Matthew 2:11), as intangible things that are precious such as wisdom or the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:7; Colossians 2:3), as heavenly riches (Matthew 6:19-21; 19:20; 1 Timothy 6:19) or Israel (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 135:4). The only one that would have any meaning here is that God’s treasure is Israel. God’s hiding of Israel would literally have to be a hiding – something that covers Israel to ensure that it is not found. Something like Israel’s captivity!

Israel ceased to exist as a state under Babylonian rule, Hellenistic rule and Romans rule. In fact, their reputation as a nation was far from being a treasure. They were indeed hidden. Thus, the “un-hiding” or purchase of Israel wasn’t in a political move to establish the Jewish state again, but in a spiritual reclamation and reconciliation back to God through Christ (and not just for the Jews, but for the whole world).

This parable is turned on its head and we see not just how precious God is to us, but how precious we are to God! This is our God, who joyfully pays the price for redemption and reconciliation. Even for a nation as unfaithful as Israel, He paid the full price by sending His own Son to death on the cross. There truly is no limit to God’s mercy and grace!

How then do we view the Parable of the Pearl and the Parable of the Net? Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Because of joy

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.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:44-46

These two parables is the fifth and sixth of the seven parables recorded in Matthew about the Kingdom of Heaven. Parables one to four were told to a public audience by the lake where a large crowd of people gathered to hear Jesus teach (Matthew 13:1-2). Parables five to seven were told in private to his disciples in the house (Matthew 13:36), and they were told in close succession, connected with the words “again” (v45) and “once again” (v47). There is a close connection between the last three parables.

These two parables impress on us the preciousness of the Kingdom of Heaven, so precious that it is worth losing everything to attain (Matthew 19:20). The Kingdom of Heaven is depicted first as a hidden treasure (similar to 2 Corinthians 4:7) and second as a fine pearl. The protagonist in both parables upon finding the treasure/pearl and considering its value to be much more than that of everything that he has, sells everything to attain the treasure/pearl. In fact, it writes that he is happy to do so. He does so in joy!

When we consider these parables in the context of Jesus explaining the parables of the weeds and the net, it gives us the idea that those who will be saved are those who find so much joy in the kingdom that they willingly lose everything to attain the kingdom. As if to say that these are the ones who will be like the “righteous” who will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43) and like the good fish who escape “the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42, 49-50)

There are a few incongruent details in this interpretation with the first parable.

  • How is it that the “treasure is hidden in a field”? Romans 1:19-21 makes it clear that the kingdom is not hidden.  
  • Why would the man hide the treasure again? Did he perhaps hide it again in the same spot? Was it figurative for hiding it in his heart? There is no such idea given here. Nowhere is this congruent with the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” kingdom expanding in the New Testament (Matthew 5:13-16).  
  • Was he being dishonest, since the field wasn’t legally his? Why would he be digging in someone else’s property and then having to purchase the field to legally own the treasure? Isn’t it deceptive for him to hide the treasure from the current legal owner to get a cheaper price on the land?  
  • Does this parable mean that we need to purchase our salvation? (More on this in a short while)

And more in the second parable.

  • The parable starts with a “merchant looking for fine pearls”. But we all know that men, in their unregenerate state do not seek God (Romans 3:11). Salvation is God initiated, not man initiated (Romans 8:30).
  • What has the merchant got to sell? Before Christ, we have absolutely no value! There is nothing we have that we can trade for our salvation (Isaiah 64:6). We have nothing good that we can use to trade (Romans 3:12).
  • Salvation is a gift (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 6:23), not a purchase!

One a whole the incongruency of these interpretations is even greater.

  • Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl seem to be a deviation from the explanation of the Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Net.
  • The parables end with Jesus saying “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52) The treasure here is an obvious reference to the treasures in the previous parables. What then are the old treasures? Is it the Old Testament law? That can’t then be right!

We could say that this is reading too much into the details of the parable, when the moral of the story is simply that the kingdom of heaven is precious. However, the details of the story is what builds the moral of the story. Imagine if the father didn’t run to the son in the Parable of the Prodigal’s Son; or if the son didn’t fall to the point of eating pods for the pigs. You get the point.

There is another way to understand this parable with more congruence in the context. More to come, stay tuned.

Quiet and loud

The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
Zephaniah 3:17 NASB

God isn’t just ok or lukewarm towards me. There is no way that anyone can read that verse and think that God tolerates me or permits me to live. No. God rejoices over me. The joy He feels overflows. There is a huge party going on in heaven because what was once lost is now redeemed by the work of Christ. This is truly undeserved grace.

It says that He is quiet in His love and rejoices with shouts of joy. He is both quiet and shouting with joy. Who can rejoice with shouts of joy and savour joy with quietness at the exact same time? Who else but God. He can, simply because He is God.

This week has been very trying. I was told that I might not have a job at the end of the month. Hurtful words were said to me. Yet when I come to God with all my troubles, I know that God is good and that He rejoices in me. When I am defeated and down, the words “victorious warrior” stand out to me. He isn’t a defeated warrior or once-was-great retired veteran, he is the victorious warrior. This warrior rejoices in me. Wow.

It is Friday. TGIF. I’ve been carried through this week by His word. Here are a few that carried me through.

You are good, and you do good;
Psalm 119:68

When the fig tree does not bud,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
when the olive trees do not produce,
and the fields yield no crops;
when the sheep disappear from the pen,
and there are no cattle in the stalls,
I will rejoice because of the Lord;
I will be happy because of the God who delivers me!
Habakkuk 3:17-18

Joy beyond measure

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him.
Luke 15:20

Now picture this with me: a composed, rich, dignified old man dressed in the finest, most lavish clothes money can buy. He sits comfortably in his front yard. Suddenly, his eyes spot someone in the horizon. Someone he thinks he knows – his lost son. He blinks a couple of times just to be sure. He is not mistaken. His eyes are fixed; he gets up and starts walking toward the horizon More Info. Quickly, he speeds up to a jog, a run, a sprint. He dashes towards a mud covered, pig smelling, humiliated and unworthy young man. And tears streaming down the Father’s aged face, he embraces his son, who has now come home.

Somehow not quite the scene one would normally expect but it depicts perfectly the joy (Luke 15:7,10) of the Father in redeeming people to Himself. He has no patience and no composure when it comes to receiving His sons and daughters back. It says that the father’s “heart went out to him”. That is the same deep, explosive expression of love and joy that God feels; that drives Christ upon the cross.

If there was a defining moment in this story, a climax, this would be it. The father, filled with joy, tosses aside his composure and throws off his outer robe as he runs toward his son. Just how far did the father run? Just how undignified did he get when he embraced his pig mud covered son? Romans 5:8 says it all.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

The Lost Thing

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:3-10

Taken together, the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin and the prodigal’s son paint a vivid picture of God’s actions and desire in repentance. Focusing on the lost sheep and coin, we see the picture that Jesus paints before going into the prodigal’s son, giving us an even greater view of the context from which he launches perhaps his most famous parable.

These parables were told in response to the Pharisees’ criticisms (Luke 15:1-2). It is the beginning of the build up of criticism against the Pharisees that would eventually lead to a direct comeback (Luke 16:14-18). From the writer’s perspective, Luke was bringing out the themes of repentance (Luke 16:30) and Jesus’ mission to the lost (Luke 19:10).

  • God’s priority is for sinners (Luke 15:4)
    Comparatively, the value of the sheep and the coin was greater when it is lost. God’s priority is with sinners, not the righteous. This is again reflected in verse 7 that says “there is more rejoicing in heaven” over the one sinner saved, compared to the already ninety nine already righteous. Notice that Jesus wasn’t speaking about the self-righteous, but the already righteous. This parable shows God’s comparative concern and priority between sinners and the righteous. This is not to say that God’s is limited in anyway shape or form to provide for or care for either group. It simply shows His priorities.
  • God goes hard after the lost (Luke 15:8)
    Look at the amount of labour the woman goes through to recover that one coin, that gives us an idea of how much God puts in to retrieve one lost sinner. It didn’t matter that it was dark or at night, the woman lit a lamp. It didn’t matter that her house was cluttered and dirty, she swept through the whole house. It didn’t matter that the coin was small either, she searched extremely carefully.
  • There is great rejoicing on earth that includes friends and neighbours (Luke 15:6, 9)
    The rejoicing extends beyond the household to the people around – the community. It was a declaration that what was once lost is now found. Whatever the value of the item was, whether it was the sheep or the coin, it was priceless once it was found. Jesus’ mission fulfilled gives joy to all those around the saved person.
  • There is great rejoicing in heaven along with the angels (Luke 15:7, 10)
    There is a giant party going on in heaven when just one soul is found. The joy is shared with all the angels of heaven. Jesus’ mission is for the joy of God.

Repentance is the work of God – it is God who prioritizes the lost and searches for them.

Repentance brings joy to the community, to God and the whole of heaven.