Chapter One — You Are the Treasure that I Seek
In the jungle underbrush, a young pygmy holds his body as still as the statue he has come to see. A cobra slithers by just a few feet ahead. Had he not spotted and avoided it, the boy’s veins would be filling up with venom at this very moment, forever barring him access to the hallowed shrine of the forest spirit. The boy’s mother is sick with the fever, and the shaman has guided him to this sacred site to obtain healing. In the remote villages of Cameroon, the holy man’s word is gold. To the natural observer, this place is little more than a stick in the ground encircled by smooth gray stones. But the boy believes the shaman’s promise; he waits for the snake to pass, then presses onward toward his mother’s only hope . . .
After a brief battle with second-guessing, the young female executive takes the $2,700 business suit to the counter and pulls out her Visa Platinum. She’s fairly certain it has a three-thousand-dollar limit, so she takes a deep breath, tries to look natural, and smiles a sigh of relief as the handsome cashier—wearing a smile himself, of course—hands her the receipt to sign.
“My, someone will be looking dynamite tonight, won’t she?” he asks playfully. The young woman shrugs, as if she’s bought several of these suits before, and casually says, “Nah, just liked the color.” The truth is, she is swimming in debt. Her young husband has begged her to help work out a realistic budget for the family. Do they have to live in Midtown? Must they belong to the most expensive health club in the city when there’s a YMCA down the street? But he doesn’t understand what she does; the trappings of success are the proof of success. With a little luck she’ll get one of the VP spots in her firm within the next year or two. She hopes to. She has to . . .
Laying his Bible on the dashboard, the pastor starts the ignition and pulls out of the church parking lot. “Your sermon was great today, honey. Did you get any feedback?” asks his wife.
The minister cocks his head slightly, as if retrieving the answer takes a good deal of effort. After a few moments of “searching” (after all, people’s comments were the furthest thing from his mind), he responds, “Yes, I think one or two people said they thought it was helpful. Praise the Lord.”
And with that the conversation changes. The pastor looks fully engaged when his wife talks about the new children’s coordinator: “She’s wonderful.” But if she could see what’s playing out in his mind, wouldn’t she be surprised! The fact is that he received many comments about today’s sermon: “funny,” “inspiring,” “solid,” “transforming.” And every one of those comments is running through his mind in full Technicolor splendor! He’s been in a rut lately, and today he was determined to break free. Looks like he did . . .
Idolatry: It’s Not Just for Pygmies Anymore
A pygmy, a young executive, and a preacher—sounds like the start of a bad joke, doesn’t it? Could you think of three more distinctly different people from this motley crew? But look more closely: An invisible thread connects them. Each of them is looking for something. In their own way, they are all on a hunt for fulfillment, but none of them is finding it. And that’s really the story of the human race, isn’t it? Scan through some music stations on your FM dial and listen for the longing. U2 “still hasn’t found what they’re looking for.” Keane’s “getting older” and “needs something to rely on.” Linkin Park wants to “heal, wants to feel what it thought was never real.” We are all longing to arrive on the shores of contentment, to find what will ultimately satisfy us.
The Treasure Hunt
Perhaps this is why Jesus so often used the motifs of quests and treasures in His teaching. A woman loses a valuable coin and rejoices when she finds it. A shepherd goes on an all-out search, leaving the other sheep to secure “the one that got away.” And could Jesus be any clearer when He says, “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” (Matthew 13:44). The fact that Christ compares receiving Him and His kingdom to discovering a treasure has profound implications for how we understand the Christian faith.
Years ago I talked with a man who told me he was a Buddhist, a Taoist, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Christian simultaneously. Thinking he was setting me up for one of those “a priest, a rabbi, and a minister all walk into a bar” jokes, I braced myself for a punch line that never came. This man was absolutely serious about his religious identity. When I asked him why he wanted to be an amalgamation of all of these faiths, he simply said, “Doesn’t it make sense to have all the bases covered?”
But Jesus’ comparison of finding Him to finding a buried treasure won’t allow this kind of “play-it-safe” approach. Embracing the Jesus of Scripture is not a roll of the dice or even a reasonable, educated guess. When we receive Christ as Savior we are making a declaration with our very lives that shouts, “I’ve found it! Jesus is my treasure!” So when somebody becomes a Christian, the quest is over. The story of that person’s life has come to a happy ending, right? At the risk of sounding a bit political, we can only say yes—and no.
It is true—there is nothing better than Christ. He is the pearl of great price, and it would be worthwhile for us to sell off every other possession if that’s what it required to have Him. He is the answer to the psalmist’s question, “Whom have I in heaven but you?” (73:25). The Christian knows that Jesus is not simply the last rest stop before reaching the anticipated destination. Jesus is the destination. Even heaven, as wonderful a place as it must be, is merely window dressing when compared to the great inhabitant of heaven. Jesus did not say to the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you will be in Paradise,” but rather, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, emphasis added). So, we say yes. When we receive Christ as our treasure, we have found the very thing for which our souls have most longed. But the Christian’s heart is a funny thing.
We also say no, however, since the treasure hunt is an ongoing process as our hearts keep losing sight of what they know to be supremely valuable. Recall the third example in this chapter’s opening, the pastor. He is a man who knows that Christ is the pearl of great price. He invests his life proclaiming that true contentment and satisfaction are found in no one other than Jesus himself. But why does he seem like a vain woman craving compliments on the drive home from church? Doesn’t he know better?
Or ask yourself: Do you know better? Let me answer that while you’re giving it some thought. After all, I am the pastor in the story. On another Sunday not too long ago, I preached a message where I boldly stated, “Jesus Christ is our everything, or he isn’t anything.” I meant every word of it. And even when we finished our service by singing that Christ is our strength in weakness, the treasure that we seek, our all in all, I meant every word of that, too.
And then I found myself a few hours later browsing through a catalog of upcoming Macintosh products. It was a calm, casual way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. And then—rising like Poseidon out of the glossy-page sea—I saw it: the new iPhone. Wow! A phone, an iPod, and a pocket computer! How could I live another day without one of those? Without realizing it, I lost myself for another hour on the Internet reading any article I could find for more information about this life-changing device. I should have just been honest and prayed, “Lord, you are the treasure that I seek . . . but there’s some really cool stuff out there, too.” But the disparity between the place Christ should hold in our lives and the place He does hold should give us hope. It tells us that there is a battle to be fought, a battle that God can fight in and through us.
I trust that you have picked up this book because, like me, you want your Sunday afternoon experience to line up with those Sunday morning moments when you really do get a glimpse of Jesus as your all-satisfying treasure. My prayer is that this book will help you in this regard, but in order to press forward, we have to take a look at an ugly word, and it’s a word that gets little press today.
Idolatry is an old-fashioned word, consigned to social studies classes and Clive Cussler novels. But what if it’s alive and well, even in America? What if it’s a problem of such epidemic proportions that our unawareness of it is only making it worse? But more importantly, what if we could isolate this problem, like a disease, and contain it before it destroys us? As you’ll see in the chapters ahead, the stakes are very high. The battle against idolatry is a fight for our lives, the lives of others, and, most importantly, the reputation of Christ himself. I invite you to learn more about this syndrome, its pathology and its remedy, and join me, another recovering idolater, on a journey of eternal significance. There is good news to be found in the pages ahead, but we need to start with the bad news first. The remedy, like most, can only be appreciated when we understand the illness for what it is. May the Lord Jesus bless you as you lay your heart open before Him.
— Charles Spurgeon