In 1984 there was a young woman who was working in Washington D.C. She loved art. She had a friend who worked in the art community and kept her up on the latest happenings in the art world. The friend had told her about a well-known artist named Bill Woodward who had a gallery in Chinatown. His work was fascinating and the two women would oftentimes go to his studio to watch him work. One day, in the heat of the summer, they decided to go on their lunch break. It would be a quick trip because their time was limited. When they arrived at the studio they ran up the stairs to the second floor studio where Mr. Woodward would be working. The young woman was flushed by the time she got to the top of the stairs. There was another artist, a struggling artist, who was working in Mr. Woodward’s studio at the time. When she got to the top of the stairs he noticed her, introduced himself, and said, “I’ve got to paint you.” She didn’t think much about it and kind of brushed it off. He said, “No, I’m serious. I’m trying to get a portrait in this gallery in New York. You’ve got so much color in your face…you are just the subject I’m looking for!” He didn’t know she had sprinted up the stairs. She said, “Well, I live in Virginia so it would be difficult for me to make the trip to D.C.” He said, “I’ll pay you $1,000 to come and sit for me.” He didn’t know it, but she had a deep desire to go to Europe. The paycheck was just what she needed to make the trip a reality. So, she went for eight weekends in a row and sat for the artist. The portrait was so good, so beautiful, it was placed in Portraits Inc. in New York.
In 1989, Nancy Reagan was touring the gallery and saw the portrait of my friend. She was so taken by it that she hired the artist, Nelson Shanks, to paint the official portrait of President Ronald Reagan. Today, the portrait hangs in the American Presidents exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The once struggling artist would never struggle again. He painted portraits of Pope John Paul II, President Bill Clinton, Luciano Pavarotti, Princess Diana, and many other famous people in the United States and Europe.
Nelson Shanks loved and excelled at the contemporary realist expression of art. He wanted to do everything he could to further the cause so in 2002 he started Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia where he lived to inspire and teach aspiring young artists. By this time Mr. Shanks was known all over the world. One day, in 2002, my friend got a phone call from Mr. Shanks. He had decided to sell many of his paintings and he wanted to give her the opportunity to buy the portrait he had painted almost 20 years earlier. She was so excited to think that she might be able to acquire the portrait that literally launched Nelson Shanks’ career. She told Mr. Shanks she would love the opportunity and then she asked how much it would cost? When he told her, her heart sank. It was an exorbitant amount of money. Her husband knew of the call from Mr. Shanks, but he was equally overwhelmed by the asking price. Who would pay that amount of money for a painting? Then he told his wife, “We’re buying it.” “We can’t buy it,” she said. “We’re buying it.” It didn’t matter that the portrait launched the career of Nelson Shanks. It didn’t matter that he had also painted the portraits of Pope John Paul II, Princess Diana, or of presidents–the painting was of his dear wife.
I sat in the living room looking at the painting this week as my friend told me the story. I got chills. What an amazing story! What a mind-boggling story! Now let me share with you the Scripture I had been studying all week when I heard that story. Turn with me to Matthew 13:44-46.
44 “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. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46 NIVO)
My friend is like the man who found the hidden treasure, he was like the man who searched high and low to find the pearl of great price. My friend had been given an opportunity to buy a portrait of the love of his life and nothing was going to stand in his way of gaining it for himself.
In the parable we find one man who was caught off guard. He wasn’t looking for the hidden treasure. He was just going about his business when he stumbled upon it, but when he found it nothing would stop him from gaining it. Another man was aware of the treasure, the pearl “of great value” as Jesus described it. He searched high and low until he found it. When he located it he sold everything he had in order to get the pearl of great price. What can we learn from these two parables? First of all, before we take a look at the individual parables I’d first like to ask a question: “What kind of person would do such a thing?”
Both men willingly gave up everything, sold everything they had in this world to obtain just one thing. Investment advisers would say that’s foolish. You need to diversify. You don’t ever want to put all of your eggs in one basket, right? We don’t know what kind of treasure the man stumbled upon in the field, but we do know the second man went searching and found a pearl unlike any other. But, what if the market for pearls took a downturn, lost their value, and he had nothing else to fall back on? That’s not wise. Not prudent at all. People shouldn’t be so narrowly focused. In our day, people who are as obsessed as the man seeking the one pearl are diagnosed, they have a disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder.
Here’s what you need to know from the start: The pearl is not a jewel it is a Person. The treasure Jesus had in mind when He shared these parables wasn’t gold bullion, a horde or diamonds, or a stock portfolio with millions of shares of Apple or Amazon stock. The treasure is a Person and His name is Jesus. The prized pearl, the pearl of inestimable value, and the hidden treasure can also be understood to be the Kingdom of God. If you gain the King, you get the Kingdom!
The sad reality is that most people would be far more excited about the discovery of a huge cache of Apple or Amazon stock or a bucket full of diamonds than they would be in really considering that Jesus is the Treasure of all treasures. I’m not talking about those out there who have no interest in Jesus or those who are atheists, I’m talking about many who proudly proclaim they are followers of Jesus and are involved in church activities to one degree or another. We can be busy with activities and never know the King. Pastor Wilbur Rees was born in 1925 and evidently the same situation was present during his years of ministry. He wrote,
I would like to buy $3 worth of God. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep. Just enough to make me feel like a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of God to cause me to love someone who is difficult or pick beets with a migrant worker. No, I want ecstasy not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb not new birth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper bag. Just $3 worth of God please. (Rees, Wilbur. Three Dollars Worth of God.)
A person who simply wants $3 worth of God wouldn’t even think about selling everything they own to be able to gain the one thing that we were created to never live without. Oh but there are those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. There are those who have discovered that this world has nothing for me. There are those who have experienced and learned that He sticks closer than a brother, that He is the One, the only One, who will never leave us or forsake us and for these there is nothing they wouldn’t give up to know the One who is the Treasure of all treasures, the Pearl of infinite value and worth. We run into people like this in God’s Word. Let me give you just a sample of what I’m talking about. Turn to Psalm 84:10 with me and let this thought soak into your heart and mind.
10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. (Psalm 84:10 NIVO)
The Sons of Korah wrote those words, along with ten other Psalms. Let me tell you Korah’s boys had tasted and seen that the Lord is good. You will know that those boys had found the hidden treasure when you read, “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs for you O God” (Psalm 42:1)
I don’t know who wrote the 119th Psalm, but I know whoever it was, he had found what he had long been looking for because he wrote, in Psalm 119:127-128,
127 Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, 128 and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path. (Psalm 119:127-128 NIVO)
King David had power, he had all the money he could have ever wanted at his fingertips. In the eyes of the world–he had it all. Yet, he wrote, in Psalm 19:9-10.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. (Psalm 19:9-10 NIVO)
I could go on and on highlighting those in God’s Word who had found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, but I must show you one more. Turn with me to Philippians 3:7-8 while I set up the scene for you. Paul was writing his resume for the people of Philippi. It was impressive to say the least. Let me put it in our language. He was from a blue blood family, had graduated from the most prestigious university, and if that weren’t enough, he was number one in his class. Once he graduated his star only gained brilliance. What a resume! And yet, he writes,
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, 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… (Philippians 3:7-8 NIVO)
Paul had found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price and nothing he had ever done, nothing he had ever had held any value to him any longer. Did you notice that all of these people, Korah’s boys, a nameless psalmist, the greatest king in the history of Israel, and a Pharisee who became a missionary of Jesus, believed that they had gained the world rather than lost a thing when they discovered the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price? Let’s take a look at our first parable.
44 “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 NIVO)
The first thing I’ve learned this week from studying this parable is that the man stumbled upon the treasure. I can just imagine all of the time he had spent in the field in years past. He had worked the field, walked the field, and had no idea the treasure was there, but it was there all along. Then one day his eyes were opened and he found the treasure. What a vivid description this is of so many of us. Jesus is here. No really, He is really here. Yet, some of you can’t see. You are so busy with other things, so preoccupied with so much other stuff, that you can’t see the Treasure of all treasures right before your eyes.
If you will remember our parable from last week, the Parable of the Sower, then you will remember that one of the soils described by Jesus was “thorny soil.” Do you remember what it was, about the thorny soil, that choked out the Word of God and prevented it from growing and producing a great crop? Jesus said it was the “cares of life” and the “deceitfulness of wealth.” The “cares of life” could be the troubles and trials of life. They could also be the passions of life that outweigh our passion and love for the Lord. The cares of life and the deceitfulness of wealth can cause you to hurry through the field day-in and day-out, week after week and month after month, and walk right past the treasure. Sometimes we are blinded to what is truly most important by what we think is most important.
I’ve learned a second great lesson from this parable this past week. Once the man stumbled upon the treasure, he marked the spot, and then went to figure out what he needed to do in order to buy the field. I’m sure he went to talk to his boss, the man who owned the field, to determine a price. It must have been expensive because he had the yard sale of all yard sales. Once he sold everything in his house, he put a “For Sale” sign on the house. He needed every penny he could get from selling everything he had to be able to buy the field. Was it worth it? Well, that can only be determined by what you value.
The value of anything is determined by what someone is willing to pay for it or to sacrifice to get it. Let me ask you a question, “What would you pay for a baseball?” Would you pay $5 for a baseball? How about $50 for a baseball? Anybody? What if it was the baseball Barry Bonds knocked out of the park at AT&T stadium to break Hank Aaron’s record? That’s a game changer isn’t it?
Matt Murphy was excited to be at the game in San Francisco on August 7, 2007. He never planned to catch Barry Bonds’ historic 756th home run. Within hours of Matt snagging the ball, the Topps trading card company offered him $100,000 plus free tickets to the All-Star game and tickets to the Super Bowl. He turned it down. A businessman offered him $200,000. Matt turned him down. Finally, Marc Ecko, the famous fashion designer, paid $752,467 for the ball. We could have a mock auction right now and find out how much each of us value’s the record breaking home run ball, but I’ve got a better idea, “What would you give to know Jesus? I don’t mean to go to church, I mean really know Jesus, to walk with Him every day with the assurances and promises of God’s Word leading you through each day?” Would you give $3 or would you give it all? Well, the bad news is a relationship with Jesus isn’t for sale. Even if it was you couldn’t afford it. Here’s the good news, the most valuable treasure in the history of the world is free, even though it cost Jesus everything. Paul wrote,
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 ESV)
Oh, what a Treasure! Oh, what a Savior! We would have to be fools to discover the Treasure that is Jesus, be told of His great and glorious love for you and me, and then turn and walk away. And yet, that is what people do every day. My friend, I want to urge you, plead with you today. Now that you have discovered the Treasure of Jesus throw caution to the wind, turn away from everything that you have allowed to capture your heart and affections, and serve Him alone. Find your satisfaction in Him alone. Find your rest in Him alone. Find your fulfillment in Him alone. C.S. Lewis wrote,
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (Lewis, C.S. Weight of Glory. pg. 26)
Let’s take a look at our second parable which is found in Matthew 13:45-46. Turn there with me and let’s read together.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46 NIVO)
In this parable the man didn’t stumble upon anything. He knew about the existence of the priceless pearl and he set out to find it. Once he found it he, like the other man, sold everything he had and bought it. Pearls were highly valued in Jesus’ day, even more so than in our own. Pearls were difficult to come by because they didn’t have all of the diving technology that we have today.
Pliny the Elder was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher who lived in the first century. In his Natural History he wrote about the most valuable pearls in the world owned by Cleopatra of Egypt. The two pearls were worth 60 million Roman sestertii. It is estimated that the 60 million sestertii is equivalent to roughly $28.5 million dollars. The pearl of great value Jesus had in mind was worth infinitely more money than any and all of the pearls Cleopatra owned.
There were, and still are, many pearls of great value all around us today, but amongst all of the pearls there is one that is far more valuable than all of the others combined. There is much in life that is valuable, but there is one thing that exceeds them all. William Barclay writes,
It is suggestive to find that there are other pearls but only one pearl of great price. That is to say, there are many fine things in this world and many things in which we can find loveliness. We can find loveliness in knowledge and in the reaches of the human mind, in art and music and literature and all the triumphs of the human spirit; we can find loveliness in serving our neighbors, even if that service springs from humanitarian rather than from purely Christian motives; we can find loveliness in human relationship. These are all lovely, but they are all lesser loveliness. The supreme beauty lies in the acceptance of the will of God. This is not to belittle the other things; they too are pearls; but the supreme pearl is the willing obedience which makes us friends of God. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 102)
William Borden, the heir of a vast fortune, is buried in Cairo, Egypt. How did a Chicago boy, the heir of a huge fortune, end up in Cairo, Egypt? That’s a story we need to know. In the 1920’s, Borden’s father had made his fortune in mining. He had sent his son to The Hill School, a prestigious boarding school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The school was known for sending it’s graduates to Princeton University.
After graduating from high school William’s family gave him a trip around the world. As he traveled he was captured by the suffering of people and he wrote back home to his family about his desire to be a missionary. When William returned home he went to Yale University. At Yale, he began to see God work in his life and he shared what God was doing with the other students. Many of William’s classmates came to know Jesus as the Lord of their life. William’s faith was stronger than ever and he wrote in his Bible, “No Rivals.” He would not allow anyone to come between him and his Savior.
When he graduated from college William was offered a prominent position in his father’s company, a company he was sure to run and own one day. William told his family that he believed God was calling him to carry the gospel to the Muslims. His family thought he had lost his mind. Underneath where William had written, “No Rivals.” He wrote, “No Retreats.”
William went on to graduate school at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. He had decided that he would go to China to minister among the Muslims. After graduating from seminary he boarded a ship for China, but William had scheduled a stop in Egypt to study Arabic before he went on to China. Just four months after arriving in Egypt, William Borden contracted spinal meningitis. It was a blow. William knew the prognosis was grim. He took his Bible and underneath “No Rivals, No Retreats,” he wrote, “No Regrets.” Within a month William Borden died, he was only 25 years old.
Word got back to the United States and it was national news. Mary Taylor, in her introduction to William Borden’s biography, wrote, “A wave of sorrow went round the world…Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice.”
Most people would say what William Borden chose was a waste. I mean, he never even made it to the mission field. What you probably don’t know is this, after the word spread about William’s death hundreds of college students and seminary students from Princeton Divinity School chose to go where William was not able.
William could have enjoyed the benefits of the millions of dollars he was destined to inherit if he had only stayed behind, stayed home. I would say, “What is millions of dollars when compared to the most precious, priceless Treasure in all the world?” I know people who have millions and they have nothing. I also know people who have nothing, yet they have everything because they have found the Pearl of great price. I want to invite you this morning to gain everything by surrendering your life to Jesus.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 7, 2018