Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Buried Treasure

From a crumpled paper bag in a dilapidated house came a baseball-card find of a lifetime—seven of them actually. Baseball card experts in Southern California said that they have verified the legitimacy—and seven-figure total value—of seven identical mint condition Ty Cobb cards from the printing period of 1909-1911. Before the recent find, there were only about fifteen known to still exist. Cobb’s .366 career batting average is the highest in major league history which is another reason why this lot is so highly desired by collectors.

                             Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando, the president of Professional Sports Authenticator in Newport Beach, California, who verified the find, said it is “spectacular” and “miraculous” to have come across such a cache. “I am not sure if any other baseball card find is more remarkable than this new discovery,” Orlando said in a statement. The family who discovered the cards in a neglected paper bag at the run-down house of a deceased great-grandfather has asked to remain anonymous. “At first, they thought it was trash,” Orlando said. “One of the family members said, ‘Let me sift through the contents of this bag,’ and thankfully they did.”[1]

When I came across that story I was reminded of a parable that Jesus told about a man who also found something of incredible worth. In the midst of His discourse on the Kingdom of God 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” (Matt. 13:44).

Remember that a parable is an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” It uses objects and scenarios from the physical world to illustrate spiritual truth. So what was Jesus saying here?  Well, if you’re like me you probably grew up hearing one interpretation like this: the man represents a sinner, the field is the Bible and the treasure is the Gospel. Thus, a sinner is looking through the Bible, finds the Gospel and then gives up all that he has in order to be a Christian.

That sounds like a neat fit, but its just wrong. As I began to grow in my spiritual insight and Bible study I realized that I had totally missed the meaning behind this parable and many others that Jesus taught in Matthew 13. In hermeneutics (the process of interpreting the Bible) there is a basic principle called, “expositional constancy” which simply means that idioms, symbols and themes of the Bible are used in a consistent manner. So in Matthew 13 Jesus makes sure to use the symbols of those seven parables consistently. In fact, He interprets the idioms for us when He explains the parable of the weeds to the disciples, so there is no risk of misunderstanding (13:36-43). Unless, of course you’re just, well—not the sharpest knife in the drawer.


Going back to Jesus’ own explanation we can reinterpret this parable correctly. The man is not a sinner, but the Lord Jesus (13:37). The field is not the Bible, but the world (13:38). That being said, the treasure cannot be the Gospel or Christ.  To begin with Jesus is not hidden, but perhaps one of the most well-known people of history. Secondly, it’s the Savior that finds the sinner not the other way around (Luke 19:10). And no man could ever purchase salvation, because it’s a free gift (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9).

So who or what is the treasure in this parable? If we go back into the Old Testament we find that God uses the symbol of treasure to represent the nation of Israel. Consider these scriptures:

Just prior to giving Moses the Ten Commandments God said, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine . . .” (Exodus 19:5).

The Psalmist wrote, “For the Lord has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure” (Psalm 135:4).  

Knowing that this parable is really about Israel it changes everything. Jesus is saying that the nation of Israel was placed in the world to bring glory to God and be a light to the gentile nations (Is. 49:6), but Israel failed. It became entangled in idolatry and oppressive legalism. Therefore, the nation became a hidden treasure and by the first century they were under the boot of Roman occupation.

Then when Christ came into the world He uncovered the nation. That is the story of the Gospels. He revealed for a brief flash of time the glory that was Israel. He declared it in great messages like the Sermon on the Mount. And then He demonstrated it by healing the multitudes, by driving the moneychangers out of the temple, by feeding the thousands with bread and fish, and by rebuking death and evil everywhere He went. In the short course of the three and a half years of our Lord's ministry He uncovered the treasure of Israel. Finally, Christ came into the world and gave all had, even His life’s blood, to purchase the whole world so that He might save the nation (John 11:51; Is. 53:8).  

However, because the Jewish people rejected Jesus as their Messiah, the nation suffered judgment and expulsion when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD (Luke 19:41-44). Just as the parable foretold, the nation would be covered up again. For 1900 years Israel was utterly lost among the nations, dispersed. When our Lord covered the treasure over it was hidden completely in the field of humanity again. But in our own time we are facing an amazing wonder, one of the most remarkable things that has ever taken place in the annals of men, and one of the most dramatic demonstrations of the truth of the Word of God! God has gathered this nation together again, brought in the people from the outlying countries of the world, gathered his dispersed from the four corners of the earth, and brought them back into the land.  


Politically, Israel was reborn when the modern state came into existence in 1948. But, the Lord is not done with Abraham’s descendants. In the parable, the man bought the field to redeem the treasure. And so it is with Christ. He has redeemed the nation by His own blood and one day He is returning to reclaim what is rightfully His.  During the Millennial Kingdom Christ will establish her once again as glittering treasure. -DM

[1] Andrew Dalton, “Baseball Card Bonanza: Family Scores with Rare Ty Cobb Find,” Associated Press, 3 March 2016

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