Kingdom Joy


 

As we’ve moved through this series on “Matthew: An Invitation to the Kingdom” we’ve been learning about what it means to live as Kingdom people here on earth, in this present time. Over the last weeks I hope you have been reflecting on:

Over the last three weeks we have been studying the parables in Matthew 13 and how they describe the kingdom of heaven. Today, we are going to study what Jesus says about the value of the Kingdom and the joy you will discover in the Kingdom, no matter what tough circumstance you are facing.

 

Matthew 13:44-58 actually contains three parables but our focus today will be on just the first verse, the parable of the hidden treasure:

“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.” 

 

The primary interpretation of this parable is that the kingdom of heaven is of immeasurable value, compared here to a treasure. The parable is often interpreted to mean that attaining the Kingdom requires you to make a significant sacrifice because the man gives up everything he owns for that treasure.

What do you think about that interpretation? Would you consider the rule and reign of God in your life to be of immeasurable value? Would you say that allowing your life and character to be shaped by the laws of the Kingdom can sometimes feel costly? I’m going to assume right now that I’m seeing some of your heads nodding in agreement!

I’m confident that if you reflect on God’s faithfulness and saving grace in your life you would testify that it is of immeasurable worth. I’m also confident you would agree that sometimes this Kingdom life feels like a very tough journey.

 

There’s an interesting contrast in this parable, isn’t there? We have on one hand a treasure beyond compare. Then on the other hand, we have this radical cost, described here as a giving up everything you have.

You know when you set up your homeowner or renters insurance policy and you have to decide if all you own will be covered under the standard policy or if you need to add a special waiver, you sit in that office and attempt a quick calculation of all your possessions. Can you do that mental math even right now? Everything you own, your home, your car, your investments, all the contents of your house. Add that all up and—whether it is a really high number or a more moderate one—tell me, is there anything in this world worth so much that you would sell everything you own just so you could acquire it? That seems pretty radical doesn’t it?

Let me tell you, for several weeks as I was studying this chapter, I was stumped by this parable. As Rusty said a few weeks ago, parables are meant to provoke us, they are meant to challenge us to listen. Certainly this parable challenges you to think about what value you place on the Kingdom and whether your response would ever be as radical as the man’s was.

 

Here’s one thing I want to really encourage you with today Calvary: when Scripture causes you to ask tough questions or when Scripture stumps you, keep pressing into it. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern and understand. Because you see, as I pressed into this passage the Spirit drew my eyes to just three words that I had never noticed in the countless times I’ve read this parable before:

“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.”

Joy. Wait what, joy? Why is joy showing up in this parable about giving up everything you own? That doesn’t seem very joyful to me! We certainly associate joy with Christmas when the angels announce the birth of Jesus as “good news of great joy” but did you know that Scripture also has more than 2700 passages that contain words like joy, gladness, celebration, cheer, laughter, delight, jubilation, feasting, and blessing? The concept of joy carries a lot of meaning in Scripture. So it must mean something that joy is the word Jesus used to describe the man’s reaction in this parable.

Let’s take a look at what brought the man so much joy, which was the treasure.

 

Have you ever gone on a treasure hunt?

When my son Eli was around 4 or 5 years old (so about 5 years ago), we would often go out geo-caching. If you haven’t heard about geo-caching it is basically a modern day outdoor treasure hunt. There’s a free app you download with a map of hundreds of locations where people have hidden caches. Using your phone’s GPS, you navigate yourself to within a few metres of the cache and then you search!. You’d be surprised how many of these are hidden around your neighbourhood, in parks, and throughout the river valley. When you eventually find the cache, which is usually some sort of plastic waterproof camouflage container, inside you will find all sorts of treasures that the kids like—from stickers to temporary tattoos to toys—and you swap out something you bring for one of the treasures in the cache.

For us, one of the best places to geo-cache was in Gold Bar park. The best part about Gold Bar park is that there are all sorts of trails through the woods and along the creek. It’s a great place to take kids for an adventure off the main trails.

On this particular day Eli set us off on a path along the creek bed. It’s the type of route where you don’t really keep your feet dry. Lots of jumping from rock to rock and balancing on fallen trees. The further we went, the more I began to wonder how we would ever find this particular treasure cache because the brush on either side of the creek bed was getting thicker, the banks steeper, and there were very few paths taking us away from the creek and back toward a main path. For anyone who has gone adventuring with a 5 year old, you know that turning back is never an option! We eventually came to a spot where, based on the map, we needed to make a 90 degree turn to the east or we would overshoot the cache. But directly to the east was a steep hill, with no visible paths, covered in trees and undergrowth. So what did we do? Well of course we started scrambling up that hill. Using branches to pull ourselves up through the steepest parts, trying not to slip in the muddy parts; we forged ahead huffing, puffing, and laughing. As we got closer to the top of the hill, we paused to catch our breath and check the map. Luckily, the GPS showed that we were within 5 metres of the cache and there was a very large tree trunk nearby that seemed like the obvious site. Sure enough, after much exertion and scratches all over our arms and legs, we had found the cache! This is a really happy memory for me, the delight of traipsing through the woods together, the satisfaction of getting ourselves up that hill, and the excitement of finally finding the treasure at the end.

 

That’s the thing about treasure stories isn’t it, they end with the treasure. Historian and scholar, John Dominic Crossan, did a comprehensive study comparing the treasure parable in Matthew 13 to other hidden treasure stories in Jewish and world folklore. In all the folklore he studied the treasure was never found first. Finding the treasure is always the reward for a long journey of seeking and sacrifice. So this parable is actually the reverse of what the disciples would have expected to hear.

The man finds the treasure first and then afterwards he embarks on what we can imagine would be a journey of sacrifice and even some suffering. So why does Jesus flip the expected order of a treasure story? Because the kingdom of heaven is not the reward at the end of your story, it’s the beginning of your story! It’s available to you right now, right here. You don’t have to earn the Kingdom through hard work, like how Eli and I had to work hard to earn the treasure at the end of our geo-caching adventure. The kingdom of heaven is a free gift.

 

So then why does this parable say that the man went and sold everything he owned in order to buy the field and possess the treasure? Doesn’t this parable actually say that you have to sacrifice everything in order to gain the reward?

If you look at some more historical context, you realize that the man’s actions are actually teaching us something different. In those days, since there were no banks, it was common practice to hide one’s treasure in a field. We hear about this practice in the writings of the historian Josephus and even later in Matthew 25 and the parable of the three servants. Jewish law actually stated that if one found scattered or lost fruit or money, it would belong to the finder. By law, the treasure immediately belonged to the man because he had found it. So he didn’t actually have to go and sell everything he had in order to have that treasure.

So I ask you, why did this man, who found a treasure that would have been lawfully his, choose to go and sell all he owned? Why was he not worried about what this act would mean for what he would eat, or drink, or wear in the coming days?

The answer is in those three words in the middle of the parable: in his 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.”

These words, “in his joy”, describe how this man felt when he discovered the treasure. But even more than a feeling, “in his joy” describes something transformative happening in this man’s life. This joy caused the man to have a singleness of purpose in his actions, to the expense of all else.

This parable isn’t about what you give up to earn the Kingdom, it’s about the unsurpassing and immeasurable value of what you receive as you discover the Kingdom. These three words, in his joy, serve as a promise that you will receive joy as you discover the kingdom and devote your life to it.

 

This isn’t the only time Jesus promises joy to his Kingdom people. Several times in the book of John, Jesus tells his disciples that he came so that His joy may be in us and so that our joy may be complete. So what is it like to experience Kingdom joy?

Timothy Keller says, “Joy is delight in God and his salvation for the sheer beauty and worth of who He is. The opposite of joy is hopelessness and despair.”

There are a couple ideas to unpack here.

First, joy is delighting in God and who He is. God is the source of our joy, as described in Romans 15:13, “Now may God, the inspiration and fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in him.” Kingdom joy is not at all like worldly happiness. The world doesn’t give it and the world can’t take it away.

A second idea is that Kingdom joy is not dependent on your circumstances. Frederick Buechner says, “Joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes. Even nailed to a tree.” Paul says something similar in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.” This idea of joy means that even when you are struggling, even when you are sad, even when this Kingdom life feels tough and heavy, you do not need to feel hopelessness or despair.

 

Let me say that to you again: Kingdom joy is promised to you even when your heart is aching. Kingdom joy is a deep, Spirit-given rejoicing that’s rooted in God’s presence with you no matter your present circumstances.

That perfectly describes the man in this parable. His life didn’t become easy just because he now owned that treasure. It was perhaps even more challenging than before, given that he had sold his home and all his possessions, but he had joy because he had found the most precious thing of all: salvation and forgiveness and love and peace and goodness and eternal life, all were found in that treasure. There was nothing else in this world that compared. This is the Kingdom joy available to you as well.

 

When I started today, I promised you would learn about the value of the Kingdom and the joy you will discover in the Kingdom, no matter what tough circumstance you are facing. So after learning about this parable today, how would you describe the value of the Kingdom in your life? If you’ve been experiencing Kingdom life as a tough or heavy journey, what new perspective does the promise of joy offer you?

Let me close with this blessing over each one of you.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


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