Treasures New and Old

Finding buried treasure fires the imagination of young children—and some adults. Last September a British birdwatcher stepped into a farmer’s plowed field to watch a buzzard and couple of magpies. He noticed a glint of yellow, picked up a coin, and then spotted another. He went home for his metal detector and soon uncovered a trove of 1,300 hundred coins dated around 40 to 50 A.D., probably related to the Celtic queen, Boudicca’s rebellion against the occupying Roman legions. The coins are valued at over $1,000,000 US. In Matthew 13:52 after talking about valuable buried treasure, Jesus speaks of someone bringing new and old treasures out of his storage place.

Be a disciple of the kingdom of heaven. Grasp the value of the kingdom. The earthly stories with heavenly meanings in Matthew 13 focus on the kingdom of God. A man discovers treasure buried in a field, and sells everything in order to purchase the field, with the re-buried treasure, for himself. That’s a picutre of how valuable the kingdom of God is. A merchant, dealing in pearls, locates the finest he has ever seen—the perfect pearl. He has to have it, so he liquidates his stock and gets that one matchless pearl. If people behave that way towards valuable treasures on earth, how much more should those who hear the good news of the kingdom value it? Not only is the kingdom of eternal value to those who enter it, but it is purchased by the sacrifice of the King.

Understand Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom. “Have you understood all these thing?” Jesus asks as he tells parables that conceal from those who reject him, but reveal the truth to his followers. The answer of the disciples may appear naively presumptuous. As we read on in Matthew’s Gospel, we find out that they do not understand as much as they think they do. Be aware that our understanding of the kingdom is inadequate, and our living as citizens of the kingdom falls far short of what it should be. Yet Jesus seems to take the answer at face value. Be instructed about the kingdom. Jesus refers to a scribe, or a teacher of the law. These men were considered experts in the law and in the will of God. Yet the mark of a true scribe is not expertise in the opinions of dead rabbis or knowledge of the traditions of men. The true teacher of the law is one who has been instructed in (literally “discipled in”) the kingdom of heaven. Don’t just know something about Jesus’s teaching. Be committed to him and to the kingdom which he established. Let your life and your thinking be molded by the kingdom of heaven.

Grasp the future aspect of the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is like a net. The picture is that of a dragnet used in the Sea of Galilee by some of Jesus’ own disciples. The scene was familiar to all his listeners. The net indiscriminately catches all kinds of fish, which then need to be sorted out. This sorting, discriminating work takes place at the end of the age, verse 49. Again, the angels are the agents, and the destruction of the wicked is picked up in the same form as verse 42 in the Parable of the Weeds. The repetition seems to be the point. This parable of the net really adds little new to our understanding of the kingdom. Rather, it underlines the future judgment, emphasizing the point of the Parable of the Weeds. The kingdom is here, but it is also coming in power. Be ready! The coming judgment is reason to fear for the enemies of God, but it is comfort and vindication for those who are suffering because they are part of his kingdom. “Owing to the factual character of Biblical religion its face is necessarily set towards new things…. eschatalogical and Messianic prophecy are pointed towards the future, and not merely towards the future as a relatively higher state, but as an absolutely perfect and state to be contrasted with the present and its succession of developments.” (Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 321)

Rejoice in your treasures. Bring out old treasures. Jesus uses the picture of a man bringing various items out of his storage chest. This was the locked box in which his precious treasures were kept. (There were no bank safety deposit boxes.) The scribes (teachers of the law) in Jesus’ day were experts in things old. They knew the traditions of the fathers. They had an extensive knowledge of the Word of God, though they did not always grasp its substance. But Jesus is speaking here of a teacher who has been discipled in the things of the kingdom of God. He understands its nature and character. What Jesus says applies not only to those who have formal positions of teaching and preaching, but also to all who seek to understand and live as citizens of his kingdom. He is referring to his own disciples, who were not trained scholars, but who were becoming knowledgeable about the kingdom. Do appreciate the old that is part of the treasure of the kingdom. Jesus did not appear as some brand new, innovative teacher. His coming had been prophesied throughout the Old Testament. He is the promised son of Eve. He is the one in whom Abraham will be a blessing. He is the descendant of David who will rule forever. All of the old promises and expectations come to their fulfillment in him. “[T]hat kingdom is pictured as a treasure kept in heaven and distributed as a reward to the righteous (Matt. 6:20; 13:43; 19:21; 25:46). Needed—to receive it in the future when it will be fully revealed—is another and better righteousness than that of the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20); it must be pursued before all else (Matt. 6:33) and purchased at all cost (Matt 13:44–46; 19:21; Mark 9:43–47; 10:28–29).” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 497)

Bring out new treasures. Note the emphasis on new. You might expect the reverse word order. The kingdom of heaven is a reality because the King is present. The sacrifices and ceremonies of the old covenant are merely a tedious burden until you see their fulfillment in the Messiah. The prophecies are merely anticipations until the Redeemer comes. Understand the newness of what God has done. He has not merely sent another prophet. He has not merely sent another judge. He has not simply appointed another man to serve as priest. Rather, God has sent his own Son to be the reality of what he had been promising throughout the ages. Rejoice in the newness of what God has done. The reality is here.

Be discipled by the kingdom. Take hold of the salvation that God is offering in his Son. Escape the judgment that will surely come at the end of the age. Live as those who really are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. “[T]he scribe who has been well instructed in the kingdom has to preach both the old and the new things, both prophecy and fulfillment. In the treasure from which he draws he has at his disposal a new theme; the coming of the kingdom in the Messiah.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, p. 126)

Respond with faith to the King. Matthew follows the pattern of giving samples of the preaching and teaching of Jesus, interspersed with descriptions of his activity. Here he goes to his home town, apparently Nazareth. There is initial amazement at his teaching and miracles. But then, identifying him as a home town boy, whose mother, brothers, and sisters they know, they take offense. They refuse to believe. Jesus’ comment about a prophet being without honor in his own country is a warning, not just for the people of Nazareth, but for us as well. Beware of becoming so familiar with him that you treat Jesus and his kingdom as nothing special. The lack of miracles performed there is not that Jesus needed their faith, but rather, given the unbelief, the miracles would be pointless. They would simply harden instead of bless.

Something old, something new. It is important to grasp the continuity of the kingdom with the work God had been doing through the ages. But it is absolutely crucial that you not only know, but actually trust in what is new—the very presence of his Son as your Messianic King. Nothing is more valuable, more important than that.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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