God at the Theater: Treasure Island

Read Mathew 13:44-46, Exodus 33 here.

Listen here: 

TreasureIslandcropToday we’re doing something a little different.  You’ve probably seen churches doing sermon series called “God at the Movies.”  Well, we’re not doing that.  We’re doing “God at the Theater,” taking a look at the story of a play or musical that’s being performed here and talking about how it relates to our lives and, more specifically, to our lives with God.  This week’s story, Treasure Island, was on stage last weekend in Hutchinson.  I got to see it last Sunday.  The Brownlee’s son Bryson did a great job as Squire Trelawnly and his uncle Brian Foster was wonderful as Long John Silver.

BrysonBrownlee.BrianFosterOne bonus about this story is that many of us have probably read the book.  How many of you have read Treasure Island

And many of us have probably seen a movie based on this book.  How many of you have seen one of the Treasure Island movies?  (Yes, Muppet Treasure Island counts.)

The play is very true to the book, so really, as we talk about Treasure Island this morning, we’re talking about both.

The fun thing about Treasure Island is that it’s a story about pirates.  I’m not endorsing piracy, but we do have fun imagining the pirate life…. dressing up as pirates, having pirate themed parties.  It’s a popular theme for vacation Bible schools.

Do you know why pirates are so addictive?  Once you lose your first hand, you get hooked. [1]  (But Captain Hook is a pirate from a different story – Peter Pan.)

When we think of pirates, we may think of Pirates of the Caribbean – the movie series, the ride at Disneyland and Disneyworld, and the song the pirates sing on that ride, “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me…”[2]

What do we think of when we imagine a pirate’s life?      (Treasure, a map, ships, islands, adventure, etc)

maptreasisleThere are so many things we could talk about in this story.  Today we’ll only have time to talk about a few.  Let’s start with the map.  There’d be no adventure in Robert Louis Stevenson’s story if there were no map.  The story begins with the old Captain Billy Bones showing up at the Admiral Benbow Inn dragging his trunk.  No wheeled suitcases back then.  What we don’t find out until after the captain dies is that he’s got a treasure map hidden in that trunk.  The pirates who come to the inn looking for the captain are all trying to get their hands on that map.

Stevenson drew the map himself and included in the front of his book.  It’s not a real place, but it helps us to imagine what Stevenson had in mind as he wrote the story.  For the characters in the story, this is an object worth dying for because it is information worth dying for.  Without it, they can’t find the treasure.

In doing my research this week I met with Amy Brownlee who teaches a unit about Treasure Island at Sterling Grade School. It was fun hearing about how she gets the kids involved in the story, learning about ships and flags and other aspects of Stevenson’s pirate adventure.

As we were talking, Amy told me that when she was a kid, she made a treasure map.  She had found some “jewels” and buried them in her backyard in a shoebox.  She gave the map to her grandfather so that he could find the jewels, and years later when he died they discovered that he had kept that map.[3]

For Amy’s grandfather, that map was a treasure.   We too have a map that we all share – the Bible.  It is our guide, our map.  We use it to navigate through life, and we use it to help us find and know God.  It points us to our greatest treasure – Jesus.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet  and a light for my path. – Psalm 119:105

There’s even a story about buried treasure in the Bible. Jesus tells this parable in Matthew 13:44: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.

Before banks were common, people kept their valuables safe by burying them in the ground.  Over time, many treasures were lost or forgotten when people died or moved away.  My grandparents who grew up during the depression didn’t trust banks and so they hid their money, and made notes and maps to remember where they’d hidden it.  After my grandfather died, my mom found notes that directed her to the places in the walls and ceiling of the house where he’d hidden money.  One note said to look under the liner in the trunk of the car.  Unfortunately, by the time they found that note, they’d already sold the car.

copper-scrollThere’s an ancient treasure map that was discovered in the 1950’s in one of the caves where they discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s a copper scroll with a list of 64 places where items were buried way back in the first century.  Each listing tells the general location, specifics about how to find it, and what’s buried there.  It’s mostly gold and silver, but one cache is a priest’s special robes.  Scholars have been studying this map for decades and there is great speculation about who buried the treasures and created the scroll.  Some think the buried treasures are the items that were kept in the temple in Jerusalem.[4]  Attempts to find the treasure have been blocked by the governments in that area, probably because finding the treasure would ignite tremendous arguments over who would get to keep it.[5]

Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field…”  (Matthew 13:44)

Treasure –> θησαυρός thesauros –> thesaurus –> collection of words

Fun fact – that word “treasure” in Greek is the word thesauros.[6] It’s where we get our word “thesaurus” which is a reference book that is a collection of synonyms.

A treasure is a collection.  The pirate treasure in Treasure Island was a collection of the plunder that the pirates had captured from ships and islands all over the world.  The Bible is a collection of stories and wisdom that has been carefully compiled and preserved through the ages.  So the Bible is both a map and a treasure!

Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field…”  The man wasn’t hunting for it, like the pirates were hunting for the treasure on the island.  The man in the parable discovered it, and then having found it, hid it again and sold everything he had so he could buy that field.  The kingdom of heaven is like something we would want to have so badly that we would give everything to have it.

What do you treasure so much that you would give everything to have it?

What would you be willing to sacrifice?

Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have written Treasure Island for his 12-year-old stepson.[7]  I think it’s brilliant that he made the main character and narrator Jim Hawkins, a young boy with whom his son could identify.  Hawkins shows an amazing amount of courage and integrity in this story.  He is respectful and mindful of his mother.  He follows direction well and in fact the whole reason he is telling the story is that he was told to by the squire.  Hawkins stays on the side of good.  He could easily have joined the pirates in their mutiny, but instead he manages singlehandedly to get the ship back.

Long John Silver, on the other hand, is lacking in integrity, and at various points it’s hard to tell which side Silver is on.  In fact, Hawkins says that Silver has a foot in both camps,[8] which is particularly funny because Silver only has one foot.  His other leg is a peg leg.

Which reminds me of another question – Where can you find a pirate who has lost both his wooden legs?  Right where you left him.[9]    (Arrrrr you laughing?)

I wonder if Stevenson might have been thinking about the Apostle Paul’s words in Colossians 2 as he developed the character of Jim Hawkins.  Paul told the Colossians that his prayer was that they…

…may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.  For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. –Col. 2:2-4

In Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  And yet we can be deceived by fine-sounding arguments, or by the glitter of gold and silver.  Hawkins might have been tempted to behave differently, and who would have known?  Part of the attraction of the pirate life and being out on the high seas was that there was no one there to see what happened.  Law enforcement was too far away.  The high seas are kind of like Las Vegas – “What happens here stays here.”  Even today, piracy continues.  Billions of dollars are lost to pirates who attack or steal ships out on the ocean, or even while they’re docked in port.[10]  Piracy of intellectual property is another problem we face today more than ever.  Some people think it’s a victimless crime to steal a movie or a song, but to those who make their living creating those things, it has a huge impact.

In Treasure Island, we see that the price of finding buried treasure is high, and Jim Hawkins reflects on the cost as he tells about finally finding the treasure they’d been hunting throughout the story. He says:

“And thereupon we all entered the cave. It was a large, airy place, with a little spring and a pool of clear water, overhung with ferns. The floor was sand. Before a big fire lay Captain Smollett; and in a far corner, only duskily flickered over by the blaze, I beheld great heaps of coin and quadrilaterals built of bars of gold. That was Flint’s treasure that we had come so far to seek and that had cost already the lives of seventeen men from the Hispaniola. How many it had cost in the amassing, what blood and sorrow, what good ships scuttled on the deep, what brave men walking the plank blindfold, what shot of cannon, what shame and lies and cruelty, perhaps no man alive could tell. Yet there were still three upon that island—Silver, and old Morgan, and Ben Gunn—who had each taken his share in these crimes, as each had hoped in vain to share in the reward.”[11]

In Treasure Island, so many men died to get that treasure made of gold and silver, items that only have value because people want them.  As it says in 1 Timothy 6:10, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  It’s not the money itself, but the love of money because it comes between us and God.

Treasure Island is an epic adventure story. It’s not a story about a treasure as much as the tale of the journey to find it. In the Bible we find another epic story of a journey, the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, heading to a place that they’ve only heard of in tales handed down from their ancestors. It’s the land that God had promised to their ancestor Abraham, called the Promised Land.

God had told Israel–  “you shall be my treasured possession” –Exodus 19:5

Did you know that we are God’s treasure?

God treasures us and loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die for us so that we could have a relationship with him, so that we could know the treasure of having God’s presence with us on our journey through life.  Moses knew the value of this treasure, and that’s why in our reading from Exodus today we find Moses pleading with God to go with them.  They were on a journey to their treasure island, the Promised Land, but Moses knew the destination wasn’t as important as God’s presence on the journey.  And so, because of Moses’ intercession, God says, “I will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex 33:14)

Because of Jesus’ intercession for us, we can trust in that same promise as we journey through this life.  We may find treasures of all different sorts along the way, but the one that will never be lost is the love of God that we have found in Jesus.

Thanks be to God.


[1] https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/pirate-jokes-pirate-puns/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yo_Ho_(A_Pirate%27s_Life_for_Me) This article says the song was written in 1967.  The artist that first recorded it was The Mellomen, a men’s quartet, and written by a Disney animator who wrote the script for the Disney ride. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-xavier-atencio-obit-20170911-story.html

[3] Gratefully used with permission from Amy Brownlee during our conversation in my office on June 21, 2018.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper_Scroll

[5] https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/85762/enigmatic-dead-sea-copper-scroll-reveals-true-locations-lost-temple-treasures/

[6] http://biblehub.com/greek/2344.htm

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2013/nov/19/treasure-island-robert-louis-stevenson-star-wars

[8] Stevenson, Robert Louis, Treasure Island (Modern Library Edition, 2001) Chapter 31, pg 168.  Also found here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/120/120-h/120-h.htm

[9] https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/pirate-jokes-pirate-puns/

[10] https://www.criminaljusticeusa.com/blog/2009/10-shocking-facts-about-modern-day-pirates/

[11] Treasure Island, Chapter 33, pg 182

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