Recently I gave a sermon on Matthew 13:44-46. I wanted to post the basic manuscript here, as well as go deeper into the implications.
Matthew 13:44-46 says:
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.
Many pastors today use this passage to say that we should sell everything for the kingdom of God. They’ll say something along the lines of, “If you aren’t sold out for God’s kingdom 24/7, 365, then you aren’t really in love with Jesus,” or they’ll say, “To be a Christian is to give your all for God every moment of your life.” (Or another one I hear all the time is “You must keep your eyes always fixed on Jesus.) They’ll say that, just like the man in the parable, we need to go sell everything for God, literally or spiritually. If we hold anything back, then we are doing it wrong. These types of teachings club people over the head and guilt them into working harder to have a better Christian life. This also “ironically” guilts people into coming back to hear that pastor speak about how to be sold out at all times for the kingdom of God.
Yet, This is not at all what the passage is saying.
Rather, this passage is saying “You are the pearl.”
Earlier in the chapter, Jesus tells two parables. He says:
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.
He then explains this parable, saying that He (and those that bring His message) are the sowers, the seed is the gospel, and the soil is the human heart. In this parable, God is the one entirely acting. He is the one sowing. He is the one acting. Humanity is the one being acted upon.
Next, Jesus tells another parable. He says:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
He explains this one also. He says that the good seed is His children, and the weeds are the children of the devil. The harvest is the end of the age.
Most importantly, we see here that the sower is Jesus/God. He sows the good seed. God is the one entirely acting alone, and humans are being acted upon.Each parable in this chapter begins ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’ In each parable, there is a primary agent. That agent is acting upon something -sowing something, searching for something, or gathering something. Like I said, Jesus explains who the Sower is – who the primary agent of the action in each parable is. It’s Himself. The Son of Man. All the parables are parallel in structure. “The kingdom of heaven is like…” And the Son of Man is doing something to lovingly increase His Kingdom. Right after He explains this parable, He tells the parable of the pearl and buried treasure. The point is that God is the Actor in each parable. Period.
Why, then, do so many pastors take these two parables out of context and feel the need to suddenly make man to be the one acting alone, and God’s kingdom the object being acted upon in these two parables, which are in the middle of a set of parallel structures?
Because many pastors preach a false gospel. They preach a gospel of works, not of faith.
Let’s dive deeper into the parables of the pearl and buried treasure. In each parable, the man sells everything to buy this item of high value.
In the same way, Jesus came down from heaven and gave everything to purchase us. He could have come as the Final Judge, and he would be just in doing so. But instead, He chose to give His life – His all – for us. He chose to purchase us, redeem us.
If God is the man in the parables, and we are the ones being bought, then what is this parable saying about us?
Notice how the pearl and buried treasure are described. Jesus Himself says that they have great value. They were esteemed highly enough by the man that he would sell everything for them. I know this part gets read over really quickly usually, but let’s pause here for a moment and think about what all the man gave up. The man sold his house. He sold his livestock. He sold his farm. He sold all of his possessions to buy this buried treasure. In the same way, the pearl merchant gave up everything to buy the pearl.
How valuable the pearl and buried treasure must be! But if we are the pearl and buried treasure-
How valuable are we to God?
God sees immeasurable value in you! He valued you enough to give everything He had to buy you! He loves you enough to give His life for you!
When a person is saved, he or she is fully covered by God’s righteousness and holiness. It’s not like God sees Jesus’s blood covering you and declares you clean, but then shakes His head and says, “Yeah, but I know what you’re really like.” He only sees His righteousness and holiness covering you completely. If He in any way still saw your sin, you would not be saved completely.
You would be bound to go to hell, still dead in your sins.
On another note, let’s focus on the role of the pearl and the buried treasure. What do they do? What is their part in this story? Do they shine themselves up before the man buys them? Do they polish themselves to increase their value so that the man will find them worthy of purchase? Do they scrub themselves until they shine after they’re bought? Do they point out their flaws, or declare that they are not as valuable as the man thinks? Do they degrade themselves?
The role of the pearl and buried treasure is . . .
That’s right, nothing. They aren’t tasked with making themselves better, or focusing on their faults and announcing their flaws to the man who bought them, and then try to fix them. Their only part to play is to be bought by the man. To exist. And be loved and treasured.
In the same way, what is our role with God? When we are saved, what is our role? Do we work to make ourselves better? Do we work to remember that we are still just sinners saved by grace? Do we focus on our faults, our flaws, working relentlessly to fix them, to root them out? Do we declare to God Himself that we are not as valuable as He thinks we are?
Ephesians 2:8-9 says “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Matthew 11:30 says “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
Why, then, do pastors preach – and Christians believe – that we have any role to play in our salvation? We do nothing to be saved? Christ finds us. He buys us. Then, we are His. All we do is believe Him when He said that He paid our debt in full, that He paid our purchase price with His life, His all. That’s it. In no way does any Christian do anything to earn any continued salvation from God. Jesus has paid the full price. It’s not like Jesus picks up our bill, but we have to pay the tip. He has paid it all. It is finished.
If we have to focus on our sins, or in some way must work to make ourselves holier, then the salvation – the saving work – of Jesus is not enough for us, and we are still dead in our sins.
If we are still dead in our sins – or not saved – then “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)
What about sanctification? Don’t we play a part in that?
Let me ask you this: does any loving parent ever – when teaching their kid to ride a bike – sit their kid down and explain every nuance that is needed to ride a bike, then stand in the doorway as the kid struggles to get on, and watch as he or she falls over and over? Or, rather, do parents keep a hand on the bike? Don’t they run alongside? Do loving parents help in any way they can to ensure that their child succeeds?
In the same way, Jesus is supporting us and walking with us. He is sanctifying us. We are not sanctifying ourselves. Yes, there will still be times we stumble. But Jesus will continue to sanctify us.
If we had any part to play in our sanctification, then Jesus isn’t enough for us. His work, done as God on the cross, is somehow incomplete. If we have to add to our sanctification, “It is NOT finished.”
What about the verse that says “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12b). Isn’t that something Christians should do? Isn’t that something that makes Christians holier?
What does the rest of the passage say?
“12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose,” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Notice what Paul says here to the Philippians. It is not their job to work in themselves. They do not earn, nor continue to earn, God’s salvation in any way. Rather, it is God who is working in them. It is God who is acting.
This concept is so simple, yet so hard to grasp! It goes against what many churches teach. Many times churches teach that Jesus has completely paid for our sins . . . but we still gotta do something. They teach “we are saved by grace alone, but there’s just this one thing – or “We’re saved by grace through faith, but, here’s what you got to do now. ”
That is not the gospel. That is heresy deeply opposed to the truth.
If we work for our salvation in any way, if we work for our justification in any way, or if we work for our sanctification in any way, we are saying God‘s death and payment isn’t enough for me and I know better.
But what about after I sin and feel guilty?
I know for me, personally, it felt before like after I had sinned, I needed to fast to show God I was ready to break out of my sin.
Even though that sounds holy, at the heart, it is actually very wrong. You see, at the heart, it is saying that because I have sinned, therefore I must make up for it in some way – I must DO something. At the heart of it, it is saying that I in some way need to pay for my sins. That Jesus isn’t enough.
Even after you sin, you can still never be loved less by God.
You see, when Jesus died on the cross, He paid for every sin that you have committed, are committing, and will commit. That means, even after I sin, I am still clean in God’s sight because Jesus already paid for that sin. You see, like Pastor John Fonville said, “Jesus died for Christians, too.”
This is by no means an excuse to sin though. Christians who are saved will always return to God. It may take a while, but because of their new heart and the Holy Spirit – who is constant communion with the other members of the Trinity – living inside of them, God will always bring back His children.
Christianity is not as hard as many pastors make it out to be. Christians don’t have to micro-manage themselves. God has paid for everything, and He is watching out for us. We don’t have to fret about whether or not we’re doing well enough to please God. He is already satisfied with us because Jesus’s sacrifice fully covers every part of us. And He is satisfied with Jesus. There’s nothing left to do but rejoice – and give thanks – for what has been done for us. And live free in Him.
We are the pearl of high value to God. We are His treasure. He gave everything to pay for us. All we have to do is accept His free gift – believe His payment in our place. If we in any way work for His gift, we lose everything. If we only accept, we gain everything.
We are completely saved by HIs grace, and there is no part we ever play in our salvation. If there was any part we played in our salvation, then Jesus’s death would not be enough to pay for our sins, and we would have no assurance of salvation.
Because of His sacrifice, Christians can boldly proclaim:
Jesus paid it all,
All to him I owe,
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
Feel free to comment!
To hear more on this topic, I would like to refer you to Sam Powell’s sermons on Galatians:
I would also highly recommend this podcast: