Monday, June 9, 2014

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45–46, NASB95) 

This parable is very similar to the previous parable of the hidden treasure. Both of them speak of a person coming across something of great enough value that he would sell everything he had to acquire it for himself. Many commentaries or Study Bible footnotes combine them into one discussion, but in walking through the parables I chose to consider each of them for the value which they contained that might be different from the others, even if subtle.

In the last parable we seem to have an individual who stumbled across something of great value which he wanted for himself. So, he reburied it and then went and bought the field so that he could not only have that treasure, but also have whatever other treasures he might additionally find in the field. In this parable we have an individual, who different than the other, was a merchant of pearls. His business was buying and selling fine pearls. This is something he was known for. He would have been someone who people having pearls would go to in order to sell them, and he would have been the individual buyers would go to in order to make their purchases. He was a pearl middleman, and as such he had to not only know what made one pearl better than another but also how to value them. It is this man who found a pearl of greater value than any other he had probably ever come across or might even have imagined coming across. He immediately recognized the pearl’s great value and he sold everything he had to get it.

Contrast this man to another man of immense resources and power who came to Jesus asking Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18) In response Jesus questioned him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” (Luke 18:19-20) Notice that Jesus did not answer his question, but rather questioned the ruler about what would qualify one such as him to inherit this benefit—his adherence to the Law. And of course, the man responded just as expected by saying, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” (verse 21)

Next, “When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he [the ruler] had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” Peter said, “Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.” And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”” (Luke 18:18–30, NASB95)

The man had asked about the price of eternal life. What must he give or do to inherit it? He had expected that Jesus might pat him on the back and say, “You’ve done well. Surely eternal life is yours” (my words). But this is not what Jesus did. Jesus told the rich ruler that his desire for eternal life would have to dwarf anything else he values. And of course the rich ruler’s countenance dropped when he considered the cost and decided that he could not justify the price in his own heart. At this the others listening, and who likely did not have the resources of the ruler or who would not make that same sacrifice themselves, wondered just what they could do to be saved. They asked the same question, and this time Jesus responded, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”

Even his disciples wondered at this response. Peter spoke up and reminded Jesus of what they had given up to follow Him. Truly they had done just as Jesus had said, and surely they must have met the requirements. In response Jesus assured them that the price of their giving up everything to follow Him would result in much more than they could ever imagine in the age to come as they inherit eternal life and receive lasting rewards in the kingdom of God.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21, NASB95)

In this encounter with the rich man we have someone who would not pay the price and others who paid it gladly. But not one of them would ever inherit the kingdom of God on their own. It is impossible for imperfect and sinful man to pay God’s price. But God could pay it, which He did and He then gave eternal life to us as a gift received by faith—by believing and trusting. It was Jesus who accomplished this for us. This was something that God did for us gives to us by faith. It was Jesus who was to accomplish this by going to a cross and paying the penalty for our sins though His death, and then establish forever His power over death and His ability to give life through His resurrection. It never was about how much we can give to pay the price, but rather about what God gave for us to pay the price.

The pearl which the merchant sold everything to get was because he saw the great value. In this picture he gave fully everything he had to acquire this precious thing. The kingdom of God is eternal and far above anything we can ever acquire or experience in this life. But that does not mean that this life is a futile exercise of buying time. No, Scripture tells us that it is a time to follow God by faith in full and obedient service, recognizing that He has things He intends to accomplish through us and for which He will one day reward us in heaven. In this sense, because of the great price of our salvation paid on our behalf we give ourselves fully back as a reasonable spiritual response of worship. God’s kingdom is eternal as are His rewards. It is as we invest of our lives in the things that matter to God and have eternal significance that we demonstrate our recognition of the great gift we have been given and the great cost which His Son paid on our behalf.

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