A Pearl of Great Price
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives a wonderful illustration of the value or preciousness of the treasure that is our Soul!
He says it is like a Jewel Merchant who on discovering a valuable Pearl, sacrifices all his other treasures, so that he can purchase this Pearl of great Price! We read …
“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 he had and bought it”
(Matthew 13: 45-46).
The popular and current interpretation of this parable claims Christianity is like a man who earnestly desires and diligently seeks salvation. Ultimately his efforts are rewarded by his finding Christ, the Pearl of great price. Having found Him, as presented in the Gospel, the sinner sells all that he has; that is to say, he forsakes all that the flesh holds dear, he abandons his old lifestyle, he surrenders his will, he dedicates his life to God; and in that way, secures his salvation. The awful thing is that this interpretation is the one that is taught and preached in almost every church today. This is also what is taught in the great majority of our Sunday school books, but I believe this is a misleading interpretation?
So today I want us to consider,
The Great Mystery of the Parable
The Great Miracle of the Parable
And the Great Ministry of the Parable
Let us look first at the Mystery of the Parable …What is wrong or misleading in the interpretation I’ve just given?
Initially, we are told this parable teaches that the sinner earnestly and diligently seeks salvation. But the truth is that there has never been a single sinner on this earth who took the initiative in seeking salvation. He ought to seek salvation because he needs it more than anything else. He ought to seek salvation because God commands him to forsake his wicked way and evil thoughts and return to the Lord. He is to seek the Lord while He may be found. But fallen man in his natural state never does and never will seek the Lord, or seek His great salvation.
When Adam sinned, and in the cool of the day he heard the voice of the Lord in the garden – what did he do? Did he cast himself at His feet and cry for mercy? No, he didn’t seek the Lord but he tried to flee from the Lord. He didn’t seek the Lord, – the Lord sought him. Did Abram seek the Lord? There is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that Abraham sought God. However it is revealed in the Scriptures he was a heathen, his parents were idolaters, worshiping other gods and the Lord suddenly appeared to him in that heathen city of Ur. Abraham had not been seeking God; it was God who sought him. And thus it has been all through the ages. When the Saviour came here He declared, “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He didn’t come because that which was lost was seeking Him.
This is not a denial that there are Christians who say there was a time when they sought the Lord and found Him; but what caused them to seek the Lord … was the wooing of the Holy Spirit. The sheep don’t seek the Shepherd, the Shepherd sought the sheep; and having sought the sheep, He creates in the heart of that sheep a desire for the Shepherd, – then it begins to seek Him. To claim that this parable teaches the natural man, an unconverted sinner, is seeking Christ, “the Pearl of great price,” is contrary to what is taught in the Scriptures.
In Romans 3:11 we are told “There are none that seeks after God.” There are multitudes that seek after pleasure, fame and wealth, but there is none that seeks after God; He himself is the great Seeker.
The popular interpretation of this parable claims having sought and found Christ, the Pearl of great price, the sinner sells all that he has and buys it. How can this be true? He has nothing to sell. – He has no righteousness, Isaiah 64:6 says that all of our righteousness is as “filthy rags.” In him there is no goodness. He has no faith. Faith is God’s “gift” (Ephesians 2:8). The sinner has nothing to sell or to trade.
According to the popular interpretation of this parable when the sinner sells all that he has and buys the one pearl of great price, he buys salvation. Now if there is one thing taught more clearly than anything else in the Scriptures, it is that salvation cannot be purchased by man: We read: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5). It is a “gift” it is not to be sold or bartered.
So in order to best and better understand the Parable, we need to identify the merchant. The merchant is the man that sowed the good Seed in the field in the first parable. He is the landowner who had tares sowed among His wheat. He is the man who found the treasure hidden in the field. The “man” referred to in verse 24 at the beginning of the second parable, and the “man” in this parable, the “merchant” is the Lord Jesus!
The parable begins by telling us a Merchant set His heart upon this pearl. The pearl represents His church in its entirety, and that people, that church, the Lord desired. This is something the human mind cannot comprehend. What is there in us – poor, fallen, depraved, sinful creatures – that the Lord Jesus would desire? Nothing! It is the love in the heart of the Lord
Jesus. His love for us is expressed in the promise He made to the disciples. He would prepare a place for them and He will come again and take them to the place He has prepared, so that they may be with Him for ever. Our Lord Jesus will not be satisfied until He has His own blood-bought people around Him for ever!
This parable shows us that the desire of Jesus is the pearl, the human soul, for whom he was willing to suffer, bleed and die.
The second thing we are told in this parable is that the pearl is considered to be of great value. When we acknowledge our natural state, it is beyond our comprehension how it is possible that our Lord Jesus sees us as having great value in His sight. His suffering and death on the cross reveals the great value He has placed on us. The Merchant not only desired this pearl, and considered it to be one of great value – He sold all that He had.
If it is beyond our comprehension how it is possible our Lord Jesus sees us as having great value – how can we ever, in this life, fully understand what it means that He sold everything He had, to buy this pearl. He who was rich for our sakes He became poor! Leaving the splendour of Heaven to live on a filthy street and work in a filthy environment, He came DOWN and occupied a manger, so that one day we might go UP and occupy
“He who was rich for your sakes became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” In the earlier parable the man found a hidden treasure. In this parable the merchant seeks fine pearls. The distinction between the two is one represents God’s chosen people Israel, the other is him “taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name” (Acts 15:14). Paul told the Ephesians, “And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:17). Spiritually, Adam’s entire race was “far off” from Him. Through Abraham the Jews were “near” but both the Jews and the Gentiles needed the words of grace and peace preached to them.
When Christ became incarnate: the Jews had an outward covenant relationship with God, they had the Word of God in their hands, and the temple of God in their midst. In this parable of the pearl it is the Gentiles that not only needed to be found but they needed to be “sought!” They were “far away” from God in every sense.
When the Merchant found the pearl of great value He purchased it with His precious blood as “a lamb without blemish and without spot“. It was at the Cross that He bought the pearl, and the high price that He paid, was His own precious blood.
We are told in this parable the Merchant was seeking fine pearls and when He found one of great value He purchased it. This does not mean He hadn’t purchased pearls prior to this one. The Old Testament saints are among the pearls the Merchant had.
In this parable the focus is on one pearl, in particular, the unity of God’s saints of this present age. “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, for we are all one. (Galatians 3:28). Why is this unity represented by a pearl?
Don‘t you know, that a pearl is the only gem whose unity cannot be broken without destroying it? A diamond can be cut into several pieces. A lump of gold can be divided into several pieces; but if a pearl is divided nothing is left. The pieces are worthless. It is destroyed. Thus a pearl is a good symbol for the unity of the Church!
This brings me to what I am calling
The Great Miracle of the Parable
Unlike diamonds and other gems as well as gold, a Pearl is the product of a living creature. It is also the result of suffering? Down in the depths of the ocean there lives a little creature
encased in a shell; we call it an Oyster. Sometimes a foreign substance, maybe a grain of sand, intrudes, and pierces its side. God has endowed that oyster with the faculty of self-preservation, like He has all of His creatures, and it exudes, a slimy substance called nacre and covers the wound, repeating the process again and again. One layer after another of that nacre or mother-of-pearl is cast out by that little animal on the wound in its side, until ultimately there is built up what results in a Pearl. What a Miracle! How wonderful and accurate is this symbol.
The Church, the saints of this age of grace, are the fruit of the suffering of Christ. The pearl, we may say, is the result of the injury that was inflicted. In other words, it is the offending particle that ultimately becomes the object of beauty: that which injured the oyster becomes the precious gem. The very thing that injured, the little grain of sand that intruded, is ultimately clothed with a beauty that is not its own and covered with the comeliness, the glory of the one that it injured.
The Author of the Bible and the Saviour of our souls the Regulator of everything in nature, saw to it, when He created the oyster, that it should furnish an appropriate type and figure of His Church. The Pearl is an object that is formed slowly and gradually. It does not come into existence in a single day. There is a tedious process of waiting while the pearl is being slowly but surely formed. And so it has been with the Church. For two thousand years that which the pearl is the figure and type, has been in process of formation by the power and grace of God.
Just as the oyster covered the wound with one layer after another of the beautiful nacre, constantly repeating the process, so out of each generation of men on earth, God has called a few and added them one by one to that Church which He is now building for His Son.
Who would imagine the Lord would use something that had a lowly origin as a pearl to be a symbol of His Church. That beautiful pearl originally had its home in the depths of the sea, amid its mire and filth, for that is where oysters congregate. They are the scavengers of the ocean. Down in the ocean’s depths, in the dirt, that precious gem was formed. This should remind us of the lowly origin of the Church. It should humble us that we who have by sovereign grace been made members of Christ, had by nature our origin in the filth and mire and ruin of the fall. The miracle of transformation will always result in something precious, a pearl from the poverty, a king from the beggar, a robe from the rags!
And so we have seen something of the Mystery and the Miracle of the Parable. Finally, let us consider…
The Great Ministry of the Parable.
The forming of the pearl is not seen by the eyes of man. It is a secret formation; none but God witnesses its building up. In like manner, that Church which Christ is now building, that body of His – which is now in the process of formation, is unknown and unseen by the world. I am not speaking of the visible churches, I am talking about that Church, which is now being built and which as it is being formed, like the oyster, is unseen by the eye of man. Our life is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3). Significant, too, is the fact that just as the pearl is not found in the mines of earth, but in the sea so the Church of this age is composed mainly of Gentiles symbolized by the “waters” in Revelation 17:15.
In the eyes of God the Church is an object of value and beauty, an object hidden from the eyes of men. It is being fashioned into a precious gem, which shall reflect the light of heaven and
become an object of beauty and admiration in the eyes of all who see it (2. Thessalonians 1:10). So the Lord Jesus will “present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but it shall be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). When He returns to the earth itself, He will bring with him His complete and beautified Church and it will be an object of admiration to all who behold it. To a wondering universe Jesus Christ will yet display His glorified Church.
The symbol Jesus selected to represent the honourable and exalted future of the Church. That little object in the ocean’s depths, unseen by the eye of men, which is being gradually built up, ultimately has a position and a place in the diadem of the king. That is the destiny of the pearl of great price, it becomes the jewel of royalty; for this it has been made. And so we are told, “When Christ shall appear, and then shall we also appear with Him in glory” and “In the ages to come He will show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us.” Many of God’s people today may be poor and despised and hated by the prominent and the great of this world, but just as surely as the pearl of great price of lowly origin ultimately is put in a position of dignity, honour and glory, so too those who now come last, will then be made the first!
This parable shows us once and for all, the utter impossibility and the needlessness of attempting to purchase our salvation, or seeking to win God’s approval by some works and doings of our own. The Pearl in this parable is not a Saviour whom the sinner has to buy, but by grace are we saved through faith and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any should boast. By this grace and love of God we have been saved. We are the purchased property of another. We are “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). We belong to Jesus.
We should be living day by day in the glory of it? We should have only one aim, only one desire, only one ambition; all our efforts concentrated on the honouring, obeying, and magnifying of Jesus Christ? May God help all His people to realize in their souls that they are not their own: no longer free, no longer have the right to plan their own life, to say what they will do, or will not do. Our motivation ought to be, “For to me to live is Christ.” His all deserves our all!
Now this final word.
Most of us who claim to be Christian, living for Jesus, often live under a false or improper understanding of our place in Christ. We have lost our identity, and usually major on what we may do for him, what we can say for him, what we can give to him, or what we can achieve for him. Instead our emphasis ought to be on what He has done for us, what He has said to us, what he has paid for us, and what he has laid up for us. Being a Christian is not about me, it is about Him. The Hymn writer could say, “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe, Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow”.
God Bless You. Amen