Living Kingdom: Hunting for treasure

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Kingdom of heaven: Treasure, pearl, gems and a fishing net

“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. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44–46).

I’ve always thought of the parables as a treasure map. The more I read them, the more clues and insights I have to the treasure that is Jesus.

I recently read an article about the eccentric art dealer Forrest Fenn from Santa Fe in the United States. You may have heard of him. He’s a big fan of treasure hunts, so much so, he created his own.

Forrest was a collector: he collected artefacts, artworks, gold, jewellery, everything! He continued this collection until 1988 when he was diagnosed with cancer and advised that it was most likely terminal. This inspired the millionaire to create an intricate mystery by hiding a chest of treasures somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, which could also serve as his final resting place when he died.

Somehow, he managed to recover from his cancer and lived for many more years, but his master plan was too exciting to give up on so he set to work creating his epic adventure.

Forrest wrote a 25 chapter memoir of his own life entitled The Thrill of the Chase. In 2010 he self-published his book which included a poem in chapter 23. This poem included nine clues that were said to lead to a chest of treasure containing an estimated $US2 million worth of gold that Forrest himself had hidden.

What followed was a frenzy of amateur treasure hunters from around the world seeking to explore and discover the precious cache. More than 40,000 copies of the book were sold, and treasure hunters studied every inch of its pages for clues, learning all the details and adventures of Forrest’s life story along the way. Some of these treasure hunters devoted their entire lives to the search for Forrest’s treasure; some quitting their jobs, even losing their lives in the pursuit.

Forrest lived through the entire search and seemed to love every bit of it. In 2017 he admitted to the New York Times that his “hidden treasure pulls families into the Rocky Mountains to search and hike and observe the raw nature that is there. They go home with a whole new perspective on what life is all about.” He stated further that “In this troubled world, we need some of that.”

Forrest never cared about the chest of gold—the real treasure was in the search. He wanted people to learn the joy of the pursuit, the “thrill of the chase”, but the treasure was only to be found by the one who understood the poem.

In June 2020 it was announced that the treasure had been found, however the alleged lucky treasure hunter remains a mystery. Some believe it still hasn’t been found, but to add to the intrigue, Forrest died three months later in September 2020, leaving the whole story shrouded in mystery.

I always thought Jesus used parables to just make His lessons easier for everyone to understand. But in Matthew 13:11 Jesus explains that the parables were actually full of meaning that only the disciples would grasp. The parables were almost like a treasure map written in invisible ink. Only those who had “ears to hear and eyes to see” would ever interpret the true meaning and treasure hidden in them. Just like Forrest’s poem, so many people read it but only very few could interpret its meaning, even less chose to pursue it. But for the people who did attempt to find it, they managed to find the true treasure, the joy of being in nature and exploring.

In each of His parables about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus repeats similar stories, while revealing new clues and insights to their meaning each time.

In the parable of the hidden treasure a man stumbles across a treasure in a field—he wasn’t even looking for it but when he found it, he gave up everything to keep it. However with the pearl, the merchant knew what he was looking for, he pursued it and again sold everything to be the owner of it. The parable of the drag net is slightly different—this time Jesus is talking about the choices we make in regards to the kingdom of heaven. Here He points out that if we choose to see the kingdom of heaven as a treasure then we too will be treated as a treasure and kept aside, not thrown away.

Finally, He relates every teacher of religious law to being like a homeowner who brings out new and old gems from his storeroom. When we realise the real treasure that is the kingdom of heaven, even those who have been stuck in their ways will see a new freedom that Jesus has offered. This treasure was the teaching that Jesus had given the disciples. Because they understood the teaching they now had the opportunity to bring out these “gems” and share them with everyone.

Since we are also disciples, we have this privilege too. I remember in my gap year after school trying to work out what to do with my life. I felt God put on my heart to go to Avondale and be in ministry. I wasn’t even in a church at the time and I remember asking God, how could I possibly teach people about You? What authority do I have? I didn’t even feel like I fit in to the “club” that I saw as church at that time. But God showed me that I had already chosen to be a disciple in my heart, and because I was pursuing the treasure of the kingdom of heaven, it meant I also had gems of truth both new and old to share.

It was only when I realised this that I was able to be all in, to give up everything, move away and pursue what God was calling me to. Jesus asks for a childlike trust for us to enter the kingdom of heaven. To give up everything seems childish and immature, but that’s actually what God calls us to. I thought that my childlike, immature faith was the thing that was holding me back from being a disciple and teaching others about the kingdom of heaven, when in reality it was exactly what qualified me for it.

Jesus said in verse 12 of Matthew 13, “to those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” At the time when Jesus tells these stories, many people were still searching for the Messiah and waiting for the kingdom of heaven to arrive.

In a sense, the parables distinguished those who were already on the fence (ready to become disciples and ready to search for truth) from those who were ready to harden their hearts against Jesus.

Forrest’s poem led lots of people down the wrong track because they did not understand what they read, possibly not truly understanding Forrest himself.

Until we begin to truly understand who Jesus is, the parables won’t make much sense to us either. Jesus wants us to see the hidden treasure right under our noses—the kingdom of heaven—because it is already here!

God’s master plan is already well underway, and we are already a part of it. When the disciples understood this, they gave up everything to follow Him; they were sold-out for
Jesus and the joy and peace He offered. If we’re not listening, exploring and pursuing with spiritual eyes and ears, we’ll miss it, we won’t see the meaning behind the poem, we won’t find the treasure we have right in the 66 book collection penned by the inspiration of God.

When Jesus came to earth many people didn’t believe He was the Messiah—many still don’t. They were waiting for a big triumphant entry! But just like the parable of the valuable pearl, the arrival of the kingdom of heaven was subtle, but powerful. The kingdom of heaven isn’t about the riches and rewards we will one day receive, the kingdom of heaven is here, it is now, and it is alive. The closer I get to God, and the more I pursue Him, the more I am finding the real fullness of joy and peace that Jesus wants for my life.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be all in. He’s given us the map, I’m ready to give up everything to find the treasure He offers.

Kim Parmenter is Pastor at Haven Campus Church, NSW, and enjoys painting, cooking and anything in the water.

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