A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on September 8, 2019.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
“Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:44-52).
Warren Buffett, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is considered by many to be the greatest living investor, if not the greatest ever. He’s also famous for his witty sayings. On investing, Buffett advises, “Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble. Describing his investment philosophy, Buffett explains, “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.” On economic recessions, Buffett quips, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”
Buffett is known primarily as a “value investor,” which, simply put, means that he seeks to buy a company’s stock below its real, or “intrinsic,” value. In other words, he’s a bargain shopper. This approach to investing has made Buffett one of the wealthiest billionaires in the world. The key for Buffett, however, is determining value, which he describes as “part art and part science.” If he considers the intrinsic value of a stock to be at $20 and he can buy it at $12, it might be a good deal; if he can buy a $20 stock for $1, put out the bucket.
All of this makes sense of course, if you can determine value, but what if something is so valuable that you cannot calculate its value? What if you discover something that is more valuable than anything in the world? What if it is of infinite value?
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Jesus does not reveal the value of the treasure in his parable, but the implication is that it exceeds anything else the man owns. How would the intelligent investor approach buying the field? Would he consider the replacement cost of the property? Would he compare recent sales transactions? Would he project the potential income the property could produce? Answer: None of the above. So valuable is the treasure buried in the field, the investor would pay any price for the field.
Or, consider this scenario: An expert of fine pearls finds a pearl of great value, incomparable to anything and everything he owns. What would he do to buy that pearl? Because nothing he owns compares in value, he would sell everything to buy that one pearl. In this finite, earthly kingdom we think of the value of something based on its worth. But it is impossible to put a price on the kingdom of heaven.
Warren Buffett refers to himself as the “Rip Van Winkle” of investing, claiming, “My favorite time frame for holding a stock is forever.” But what if the value of investing in this earthly kingdom is unsustainable and not forever? What if long-term investing isn’t long enough. What if the value of your investment is found to be worthless in the end? Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19-20).
The kingdom of heaven is not infinitely valuable because this earthly kingdom will not sustain its value but because it is the eternal kingdom of God. And because it is the kingdom of God, its value is based on the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And because it is His kingdom and of infinite value, unlike the field with buried treasure you cannot buy it. Unlike the pearl of great value, it is not for sale. You cannot buy it; it cannot be inherited; it cannot be earned. The kingdom of heaven can only be received by God’s grace through faith in Christ.
Apart from Christ the greatest investor in the world will never have enough capital to enter, but the poorest of humankind may enter by God’s grace. Jesus startled His disciples by teaching, “only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. …it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” To which Jesus’ disciples asked, “who then can be saved?” As if to say, if those whom God has favored with wealth will not also receive the favor of heaven, there is no hope for anyone! But Jesus reveals, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:23-26).
That which is infinitely valuable is entered by rich and poor alike only by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Who then may enter this kingdom of infinite value? Only those of permanent value.
In the investing world, value is assigned based on what an investment can produce. For a stock, you typically look for a historical and projected stream of income. (What is the company’s actual and projected earnings?) If the company has no earning potential, don’t invest. Some believe this is similar to how God values your soul.
Have you done enough good things to outweigh the bad, as if your value rises or falls based on your effort? What is your good works potential for God, so to speak? Even the words of Jesus’ parable, separating “the evil” from “the righteous,” have been misunderstood as a works-based valuation of your eternal soul. Have you done enough righteous deeds today to avoid the “fiery furnace”? But if your value before God is based on what you do or can do, your value is only as good as your last good deed, and that’s not good news for a sinner like you or me. The “value,” so to speak, of your soul is not achieved by you but was predestined before the foundation of the world.
Describing God’s purpose in choosing His elect in Christ, the Apostle Paul explains, “In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:4-7). If our value were based on what we do for God, we would be so far short of His glory as to render us worthless. But, because He predestined us to the praise of His glorious grace our value is established by Him, and through Him, and for Him, permanently.
Just as the fisherman’s net gathers up good and bad fish, so we live with unbelievers in this earthly kingdom. But at the end of the age, the distinction will be revealed. Those apart from Christ, resting solely on the merits of their good works will be revealed as the children of evil. But those elect of God, who by His grace are counted as righteous through faith in Christ, will be revealed as the children of God. Therefore, our value rests in this simple truth: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Your value and my value is not established by anything that we can boast about, but “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).
In a world that defines your value based on your wealth, fame, or number of clicked “likes”, how wonderful it is to know that in Christ we are of permanent value, and you can do nothing to make yourself more valuable because it is established by the grace and mercy of God.
Having concluded His parables, Jesus turns to His disciples seeking to confirm their reception of the mysteries of the kingdom: “Have you understood all these things?” That they understood everything is debatable; that they received the Word of God is certain. And in receiving the Word of God, Jesus is bringing forward the connection between the Old and New Testament Scriptures.
Jesus said to His disciples, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and is old.” Just as God raised up Old Testament prophets to deliver the Word of God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so Christ raised New Testament apostles to deliver the Word of God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Not burdened with the legalism of the scribes of their day, the apostles would serve as scribes of the kingdom of heaven uniting the treasure of the Old Testament with the treasure of the New.
In the providence of God and by His grace we are recipients of this eternal value. As recipients of a full canon of Scripture (Genesis to Malachi and Matthew to Revelation), given to us as “the rule of faith and life” (WCF 1.2), we need not wonder: What is God’s will? For, He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. He has revealed “all things that pertain to life and godliness” in His Word (2 Pet. 1:3). And by His Word we are taught, reproved, corrected, and trained in righteousness that we may be complete and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God’s Word, delivered to us in the full and complete canon of Scripture, is not the latest release of an international best seller. Nor is it soon to be out of vogue. The binding may crack and the pages fade on your paper copy, but remember this: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8).
What then is the value of the Old and New Testaments of Scripture delivered to us through the prophets and apostles? What is the value of having access to the God-breathed Word (2 Tim. 3:16)? What is the value of direct revelation from God that will, cannot, be destroyed and will endure for eternity? “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him” (WSC 2), and it is of eternal value.
Warren Buffett wrote to his shareholders, “What we learn from history is that people don’t learn from history.” What is true for the investment world can be true of the children of God too. In considering the infinite value of the kingdom of heaven, historically the children of God have either fixated on their efforts or no effort at all. Instead, may we rejoice in the finished work of Christ and the infinite value of His kingdom.
In considering the permanent value of our soul, there have been times when we have assumed our value is based on what we do for God rather than what He has done. Let us remember that we contribute nothing to our value but our sin. But what God the Father has predestined, God the Son accomplished, and God the Holy Spirit applies, and in this we realize our value.
In considering the eternal value of the Word of God, let us not cheapen it in our mind or the minds of others, treating it as if it is just another literary work of antiquity. Let us hold it in high and reverent esteem with a firm persuasion that it is the very Word of God. Let us come to it with a desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God (WLC 157), treasuring it as of eternal value.
And so, we direct our praise, not to fleeting value of this earthly kingdom but “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17).