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What is the Pearl of Great Price? (Matthew 13:45-46)

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My love of precious stones died 20 years ago in a small conference room after watching a video of grown men executing a 13-year-old boy in Africa. Greedy men who wanted to control the great wealth generated by the sale of diamonds had groomed the boy to do their dirty work. I left the room, nauseous and determined to never again contribute to the economy of precious stones. No rock, no matter how rare, was worth the life of any human being, especially a child’s. After that day, I liberated my husband from ever having to buy me expensive jewelry again. As a result, my jewelry collection is not worth much, but now I have something more valuable than all the world’s greatest treasures, the pearl of great price.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:45-46

This one sentence (divided into two scriptures) is one of Jesus’ shortest parables.

Who is the merchant in the parable? And what does the pearl represent?

We are the merchants. The pearl of great price is the kingdom of heaven. I can also state it this way. The pearl is Jesus, our only door into this heavenly kingdom. If one has Jesus, one has the world’s greatest treasure.

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But note that the merchant takes two actions. He seeks and then he sells everything.

This parable is asking a lot more from us than we may think. Slapping a Jesus sticker on the back of the car and calling it a day will not cut it. At the heart of this parable is surrender—-being willing to surrender all for the rock of our salvation.

Are we seeking the pearl of great price?

The parable of the pearl of great price is short, but its conviction can pierce the soul. Matthew 13:45-46 demands an answer from us.

A merchant will diligently seek products of value. He will spend most of his time doing so. So then we must ask ourselves how diligently we seek Christ. How much effort do we put into understanding him? Do we scour his words seeking greater wisdom? Is it the first thing we do or does everything else come first?

In His word, God continually urges us to seek Him with all our hearts.

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!

I Chronicles 16:11 ESV

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1 ESV

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 ESV

Are we like the merchants who continue to pursue precious goods? Do we pursue our Lord?

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Are we willing to sell all that we have?

When the merchant finds the pearl, he sells all to obtain it. While we cannot literally buy our way into the kingdom of heaven, we must have the heart attitude to surrender all.

We find the same theme in Mark 10:17-22 when a rich young man approaches Jesus and asks him how he could earn eternal life. Jesus identified the area in the young man’s life lacking by asking him to sell everything and follow him. The young man becomes sorrowful and leaves. He loved his things and his comfort more.

The Bible does not make the complete sale of possessions a requirement to be followers of Jesus and have eternal life. Ironically, Jesus already sacrificed all to give us eternity. But if Jesus asks us to give up everything to become missionaries in China, would we do it? Or, more realistically, would we give up on that bathroom remodel to buy a car for a friend who needs it? Or would we be willing to limit the number of times we go out to eat to support a missionary instead? Do we refrain from buying our child a toy so that we are able to buy one for a kid who needs it more? Or do we give only out of our leftovers?

As I mentioned, the parable of the pearl of great price demands that we search our hearts and find out what we truly treasure.

Earthly treasures corrupt our world. I opened with a story demonstrating the extremes of evil in the human heart. But only Jesus is life’s greatest treasure. He didn’t take life. He gave His. Recognizing that truth frees us to pursue the calling He has for us. It frees us to be ridiculously generous. It frees us to be true followers.

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