The Pearl of Great Price
July 30, 2017
Michael A. Trask
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."
I’ve never preached on this parable of Jesus before. It has made it’s appearance about 10 different during my ministrty, but each time, I’ve chosen to preach on something else. Such powerful picture language Jesus here offers, you’d think a preacher would gravitate toward it with pleasure, but not me. Why? I simply didn’t understand it.
In truth, this parable is functioning exactly the way Jesus meant his parables to function. ON the surface they seem rather plain and common, but hidden beneath the simple story is a profound revelation of the ways of God. It is by design that parables sometimes remain hidden to us. They’re meant for pondering. They are meant to be chewed on. They are like a plain little piece of hard candy you’ve been sucking on, and finally bite into and discover that it’s center is bursting with more flavor than you can handle. That would describe, where I am with this parable of the pearl of Great Price. I’m looking at it in a very different way than I used to.
Let me explain, how I used to understand it. We are the merchant. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of pearls, Finally, the merchant comes across the pearl of a lifetime, So he sells everything that he has in order to buy that one pearl. The way I understood it, and in fact the way that most people understand it today is Jesus is the pearl, and a relationship to him is so important, that one needs to give up everything else in order to possess Jesus.
While it is true, our relationship to Jesus is of the utmost importance, there are some difficulties that arise from this traditional interpretation…. It seems to contradict what we know by the rest of scripture. Do we “buy into” the kingdom of Heaven? Do we buy into the kingdom of heaven by the sacrifices that we make? Absolutely not, we became part of the kingdom of heaven by the sacrifices that Jesus made for us. We are saved not by what we do or buy or achieve, but by faith in Jesus and what he has achieved for us. Scripture teaches that over and over and over again. It’s not about what we do that earns us the right to God’s kingdom, but about what Jesus has done. So you can see how this standard interpretation of the parable troubled me. It seems to focus on all the sacrifices we make make and not the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made to unite us to himself.
But there’s more, In the parable, you have the merchant searching, searching and at last finding the the ultimate pearl … Suggesting, that if you wish to be saved, you’ve got to find Jesus for yourself. But once again, scripture says just the opposite. Jesus said to his disciples “You did not choose me, but I chose you!” (John 15:16) And then, of course, there are all those passages about the good shepherd, who scours the hills and valleys to find the sheep. God finds us and not the other way around. So these are the difficulties that have heretofore prevented me from preaching this parable.
But something changed in the way that I looked at it. What set me off, was actually the Old Testament Lesson which was paired with this parable. From verse six of Deuteronomy 7, it says “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession.” God thinks of his people as his treasure. The pearl in the story is a treasure… and the companion parable speaks of treasure in a field. You see where I’m going with this? What if the Pearl of Great price is not Jesus, as I previously supposed? What if the Pearl of Great price is YOU, and the sacrifices in order to acquire it were made in behalf of you? That would better fit with what scripture teaches would it not?
The apostle Paul says “you were bought with a price.” (1 Cor. 6:20) Jesus says “The son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28) All the company of heaven greet the returning Jesus with the song “worthy are you who were slain, by your blood you have ransomed a people for God.” (Rev 5:9) Whenever the bible speaks of cost and sacrifice and ransom and payment to redeeming, it always ultimately points to Jesus giving you all that he had to redeem or buy you for himself. You are the Pearl, for whom Jesus sold all that had to make his own.
And he did give up everything he had. When He came down from heaven and was incarnated as a man, he gave up his rights as God. He would not use his divine powers to help himself or save himself. He left his throne in heaven where the never ending song of angels is heard to be born in a barn with bellowing cattle. He gave up his authority as God and became obedient to his imperfect human parents. He who gives rain to all, would become thirsty; He who is the embodiment of Joy, would become sorrowful; He who gives rest to those who weary and heavy laden, would have no place to lay his head. And then he allowed himself to be arrested, beaten, and whipped and spat upon, cursed, and crucified. As he hung there naked on the cross he gave away his personal dignity and became nothing and was treated like garbage. He emptied himself.
Hebrews describes the moment in this way: “For the joy set before him endured the cross and its shame.” (Heb. 12:2) He did it for the joy set before him. What is the joy set before him? It was the the thought of you being saved for all eternity. You are the pearl for which he would give away everything. You are treasure found in a field that caused the man to joyfully sell all that he has to buy it. Jesus willing walked into Jerusalem so that he might make the ultimate sacrifice for you .
I think that in both of these short parables, the pearl and the treasure, Jesus is revealing the very heart and center of his entire mission on earth…..He came to trade all that was his so that he might purchase us out of the grips of sin, death and the power of the devil.
Can a person take it in the other way, where Jesus is the pearl? Sure, in the sense of our response. We should consider Jesus our pearl shouldn’t we? We should consider him more valuable to us than anything we’ve got. We should be willing to make sacrifices in the way we live for him.
BUT we must very careful not to supplant his sacrifices with our own. If we start going that way, if we start thinking that we ourselves as have obtained the kingdom by what we do, well, then we go down the rabbit hole of trying to save ourselves. John the apostle gives us guidance in his first epistle (1John 4:9) He says “We love because he first loved us.” Therefore we sacrifice because he first sacrificed for us us. We give because he has given to us.
As it turns out, the kingdom of heaven is about sacrifice, We are the pearl for whom Christ sacrificed all that was. HE is certainly our pearl to whom we seek to dedicate our entire lives too as our response. AMEN