Recently there was a BBC report of an extremely rare Ferrari found in a French barn, covered and forgotten under a pile of magazines for almost fifty years. Now to any of my respected women readers, for some of us crazy men, Italian cars (Ferrari, Maserati) and motorbikes (Ducati, Aprilia) are works of art vying with a Monet painting or Michelangelo sculpture. Mind you, the closest I’ve I’ll ever get to a Ferrari is my 2005 Italian Fiat cheapy! Coming back to the Ferrari in the barn, it was an extremely rare Blue California Spider, one of only thirty-seven ever made, once owned by the French Actor Alain Delon, and sold at a recent Paris auction for $ 16 million! (I can almost hear my name being scribbled down on prayer lists…)
In that NT chapter jam-packed with fascinating stories and puzzles, Mt. 13, Jesus the Master story-teller shares a two-sentence puzzle with any would-be followers (he prefaced it with a solemn, “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”): “God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then suddenly found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic – what a find! – and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field!” (v.43-44, MSG).
Throughout his gospel-account, Matthew carries the story of ‘the kingdom of heaven’: in fact, he refers to it some thirty-three times! Why? Because the Master was always talking about it, it was his central message. By ‘the kingdom of God’ Jesus meant, not the longed-for political kingdom of Second Temple Judaism, but rather God’s sovereign intervention of righteousness and peace through his Christ, a present reality and future hope for all who believe. He meant by it that realm in which God’s will is as perfectly done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt. 6:10). What Jesus is saying in 13:43-44 is that it is worth anything in all the world to enter, share in, live in and proclaim that kingdom! Ultimately the kingdom is, as Peter discovered, the King himself, i.e. ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Mt. 16:16). To summarise, no earthly aim, ambition, habit, pleasure, material thing, position, prestige, relationship, friendship, way of life or honour can compete with the urgent, present and future glory of Jesus’ kingdom. NT scholar Floyd Filson wrote, ‘It is wisdom to surrender everything else to obtain the joy and privilege of sharing in the Kingdom.’
Does our profession of faith and our lifestyle reflect this ‘selling everything’ to buy Matthew’s ‘hidden treasure?’ Earlier Jesus himself had said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where you treasure is your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21). As one Keswick speaker put it, “Before we can pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ we must pray ‘My kingdom go.’ What rules us as those who bear Christ’s name? Or better, who rules us? What constrained people like James Hudson Taylor to give up all for the salvation of the Chinese people and Mother Theresa for the poor of India? Better, who constrained them? Make no mistake, the kingdom is something to be proclaimed, not sat upon: when Jesus was indicating ‘the signs of the end of the age,’ he added ‘At that time many will turn from the faith… the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’ Sadly, these days folk who have a genuine concern for the salvation of the lost and the needs of the poor are labelled old-fashioned, ‘religious’ and social do-gooder’s: what if they are not driven by guilt and duty but compelled by Christ’s reconciling love? (2 Cor. 5:14ff).
How do our faith-communities shape up in the light of Mt. 13:44? When planning a local world missions conference last year (2014) the organising committee was hard pushed to come up with the name of one preacher/congregation in our city of 1.5 million people and many hundreds of congregations where one would be guaranteed to regularly hear ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ and the name ‘Jesus.’ Self-fulfilment and self-improvement courses aplenty, pop psychology, principles of godliness and success, the ‘gospel’ of prosperity, justification by faith alone (for which I am eternally grateful to Martin Luther), ‘what you need is sound doctrine’ (if information changes people, why do so many medical doctors smoke?), morality, the ten commandments, our ‘Hebrew roots’ (I am eternally grateful to that Jew from Nazareth) and a Torah life-style, evangelicals’ ‘you didn’t get it right (i.e. living for Jesus) the first time, just try harder,’ etc. Yes, all these, but ‘the gospel/good news’ of the kingdom?’ The apostle Paul exclaimed ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…’ (2 Cor. 5:17-18). And then there is his vision of a totally and gloriously restored creation! (Rom. 8:18-25) (cf. Rev. 21 & 22).
O to discover, or re-discover (as I did, by sheer grace, some years ago) the ‘hidden treasure of the kingdom!’ A few nights ago, half-way between consciousness and sleep, I thought of Charles Wesley and the ecstacy he must have felt when he penned
‘O for a thousand tongues to sing
My dear Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
‘Tis life and health and peace.
He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.
My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honours of Thy name!’