“The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” –Jesus, Matthew 13:44
I am a collector. I come by it honestly, I suppose. It was a quality I had to develop as a kid to keep from being bored to death while I accompanied my parents to and through antique stores all across Oklahoma and Kansas (and anywhere else our journeys took us). I must have caught on pretty quick that I needed something to look for while we walked through these stores, because I never remember hating the stores too much. I started out searching for Hot-Wheels cars, moved on to basketball cards as I got older, and when I outgrew those I started picking up license plates. Now, I am not sure why license plates fascinate me so much. I think it’s because they are old and metal and shiny and come in lots of bright colors. Or maybe it’s because I know that those license plates have traveled places that I have never seen, that I still want to discover. Whatever my reason, anytime I catch a glimpse of one of these small, rectangular pieces of metal in an antique store, my pulse quickens a little bit, and I swoop down on that booth to see what states, what years, and what prices are to be found therein.
The price is the ever pesky factor that will prevent me from adding to my collection nine times out of ten. As much as I like license plates, I like not spending money even more. I think this adds to the thrill of the chase for me, because I know that the odds are I will not be successful. The odds are that the license plates will be too new (I only like the older ones, which are also the more expensive ones), too rusty, too bent, or way too expensive. And if the license plates are any of the above, I don’t come home with a purchase. The oldest and most expensive license plates hanging on my wall have been given to me as gifts. I wouldn’t let myself spend the money on a 1918 New York, 1923 New Jersey, or 1977 Northwest Territories, but I did later receive them as Christmas gifts from my parents. (Yay, Parents!) So my whole collection of license plates has either been discovered at a bargain and snatched up immediately or given to me as a gift. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know I can get on Ebay right now and find some great bargains on old license plates. I really want a Delaware plate right now, because they look cool and I have never seen one in a store. Today someone is selling a set of 6 Delaware plates on Ebay for $10. But I won’t buy these, because to do so would take away from the thrill of the hunt, the excitement of discovery. It would feel just unsporting for me to buy license plates that way, kinda like I was using a spotlight to hunt deer.
I know that no one else cares remotely about my great affection for license plates. It doesn’t matter to you whether or not I ever find that reclusive Delaware plate. But I have told this story so I can get spiritual on you now, because all this license plate stuff is connected in my mind with my pursuit after the Kingdom of God. Yesterday I was preaching from Matthew 4:12-25, and I was trying to connect what Jesus said about the Kingdom of Heaven being near with our need to be his disciples, so we can learn and imitate how one actually goes about living in the Kingdom. One of the points I was trying to make is that disciples are passionate about living in the Kingdom. Their passion is evident in what they leave behind and in their devotion to Jesus.
Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field that is so amazing and incredible that whoever finds it will give up everything they’ve got just to buy the field and possess the treasure. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that excited about the Kingdom of God. I don’t think that I have ever valued the Kingdom enough to give up all I have so that Christ can reign in me, just as I have never found a license plate that I’ve valued enough to splurge a lot of money on possessing it. As Peter pointed out to Jesus in Matthew 19:27, he and the other disciples had given up everything they had to be with Jesus. Indeed they had left houses, families, businesses, properties all for the sake of following Christ.
And so, funny though it may seem, putting someone else on the throne of your heart so you become an outpost of God’s Kingdom is the ultimate treasure, the driving passion that burns in the heart of every disciple, the one possession a disciple pursues even though it means they no longer possess themselves And today I’m hoping that my passion for the Kingdom can be elevated above my interest in license plates, because I would hate to think that I missed out on the Kingdom because I didn’t want to pay the price. I’m still trying to figure out what discipleship looks like in churches today. I’m not sure it always succeeds in turning us into little versions of Christ, but that’s what its goal should be. Christ’s example for us was to let God reign in our hearts and serve one another selflessly. That was where the thrill of the chase was for him. And that is what I want to learn as a disciple, as an imitator of Christ. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about the cost of following Jesus as seriously as I have lately. And the cost leaves me with one question: might not my pursuit of the Kingdom cost me a lot more than the rarest license plate? Well, it certainly should.