“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 13:44-46
Opening Points to Ponder:
Think about your own spiritual journey. Did you happen upon God by surprise or were you actively interested in pursuing him? Did you have a sense at the time that God was pursuing you? Do you view things differently now? In other words, as you look back, do you see God working in the background to draw you in? Think about any milestones in the process. How many days, months or years before you committed your life to him?
In what ways did you resist God’s wooing? Why?
Was there something you believed about God before you knew him that you found to be untrue once you embraced him? What was it and how did you resolve it?
After the decision was made, did the “pursuit” end? At this time in your life, WHO is pursuing WHOM?
If you have never committed your life to Jesus Christ and would like to know more about it, see How to Meet Jesus Christ.
This is a parable about a merchant seeking fine pearls. The first question to ask is; who is the merchant? How do you see it? Bible readers and scholars actually interpret it two ways. One way goes like this: WE are the merchant seeking God and finally finding him in the priceless pearl of his kingdom. It is us treasuring him above all else and exchanging all that we own to possess him and his gift of eternal life.
Or, there is a second way to look at it. Perhaps the merchant is God himself seeking after us as his great treasure. Willing then to pay any price to possess us. Could it be that we are the pearl of great price in his eyes?
Which way did Jesus mean it? Even though there is great debate about it I don’t think it has to be either or. What if he had both ways in mind? The interpretation we most lean to may simply depend on our own spiritual path into God’s kingdom.
The Kingdom Pearl
When I came into the kingdom I was actively seeking God, though I can assure you, not from very pure motives. I had tried everything else I could think of first to get my life in order. My pride did not want God to be the solution.
In fact, my heart was terribly hardened. I remember hearing two Christian ladies having a very animated discussion about “the Lord” in the grocery store when I was near the end of my rope. As I rounded the corner away from them I said under my breath, “That will never be me!” A few weeks later it was me. All pride torn away, I called out with my whole heart and soul, “God if you are real, please help me. I need you desperately.”
By the time I crossed the entryway into his kingdom, God was most definitely the priceless pearl beyond measure to me. No cost was too great to obtain his peace, his forgiveness and his presence. Those are the things our deepest heart wants all along anyhow but we often foolishly wander down dark dangerous paths where we find dead ends and disasters instead of truth.
How much did I have to pay for my pearl of great price? Nothing — yet everything! Let me explain. Salvation is a free gift of God and we can’t earn it no matter what we do. But there was a price to be paid. It’s just that instead of us, Jesus Christ paid it when he died on the cross. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) As long as we accept this divine exchange, we are redeemed.
Well then, what about the “everything” I mentioned? All we really possess of our own is our free will. God won’t touch it without our permission. Likewise, the devil can’t override it so he tries to influence us his way but in the end, the choice is ours.
Choice – that’s the everything. The day I finally surrendered my will for HIS will, I felt the cost. It was everything because it’s all I had. If we want to accept the Divine exchange Jesus secured for us we must dethrone ourselves and put him on the throne. We must choose to live for him instead of ourselves, which really goes against the grain. We must choose to surrender control of our life to him and his ways.
Yet is the price worth it for such a fine pearl? Absolutely – no contest! Depending on your own story you may know exactly what I mean.
The Divine Merchant
Okay, now let’s look at the parable with God as the merchant. From scripture, it’s easy to see it that way. The simple story of God emptying himself to become man in order to suffer and die in our place attests to it. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.” (1 John 3:1)
We read those words and may accept intellectually that God had a desire to pursue us. But do we comprehend his bottomless emotional love for us – the kind that would send him like a merchant singly focused on finding THE PEARL – us, at all cost?
There is a wonderful poem called “Hound of Heaven” written by Francis Thompson who died in 1907. He understood better than most God as pursuer because he evaded that hound of heaven for a very long time before finally surrendering to love.
Listen to the opening of the poem:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter;
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat — and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
God is the Creator and we are the creatures. Why should he come after us? It defies all logic because when we are honest we see ourselves as not a very good prize. Yet he thinks we are the finest prize in the world. Go figure. He must know something we don’t!
Francis Thompson lived a life of extreme poverty and ill health and opium addiction and yet “those strong feet” followed him down every dark path until there was no more running from them. Listen to his surrender.
Naked, I wait thy Love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness, piece by piece, Thou hast hewn from me
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenseless, utterly.
Does Thompson’s story strike a chord with you? As I look back over my own spiritual journey I identify with God as the Merchant as much as I identify with me as the merchant. I see the many junctures where he protected me, wooed me and pursued me always.
Even in the fact that I tried all other options before finally trying him, I see his hand. Each failed attempt only removed one more obstacle to seeing the truth that there was no hope except in him. His feet were steady after me every day of my life until he secured me forever.
The parable of the pearl of great price is rich indeed. We do not have to interpret it one way or the other and we do not need to argue over it theologically. It is a parable of the heart more than the head. How does your heart respond?
Closing Challenge Points
At this time in your life, how hard are you pursuing God? Are you as hot after him as perhaps you were in the beginning or have you “left your first love”? (Revelation 2:4)
Do you feel God pursuing you? Are you resisting? Ignoring? Rebelling? Afraid?
Have you ever experienced that place of being “defenseless, utterly”? Is that a good or bad place to be in your mind?
If you have never felt like God’s pearl, what do you think hinders you? Do you long to feel pursued by the Merchant? (Remember that your longing is his drawing.)
This is such an amazing article, thank you. It is perfect for when I sub in the Bible study for teens tomorrow night. I can’t wait to share this with the teens!