THE PEARL OF GREATEST PRICE (Matt 13:44-46)
Several years ago, USA Today (10/24/97) reported the results of a Roper Starch Worldwide survey of the wealthiest 1 percent of U.S. households – the 1 million households have an annual income of at least $250,000 or a net worth at least $2.5 million. They were asked what they were willing to pay for various sources of happiness, from being president to a place in heaven.
Two items were worth less than $100,000 to respondents. At the bottom of the list was “being president,” which was worth only $55,000; “great beauty” was rated higher at $83,000.
The next three items rose to the $200,000s. The rich were willing to pay $206,000 for “reunion with a lost love,” $259,000 for “eternal youth,” and $285,000 for “talent.”
“Great intellect” and “true love” were priced over $400,000. The former was worth $407,000, and “true love” $487,000.
The most expensive and most prized on rich folks’ list is “a place in heaven,” which was worth $640,000 to them – more than twice what they were willing to part for “eternal youth” or “talent,” more than eight times the value of “great beauty,” and more than eleven times their price tag for “being president,” (“If I were a Rich Man” USA Today 10/24/97)
Actually, the respondents were wrong about the worth of heaven. Salvation is worth much, much more than $640,000 plus inflation. People and money cannot buy salvation. It cannot be bought; it has to be sought. Jesus compared salvation with finding lost, buried, or hidden rare treasures.
Why is salvation in heaven more precious than money and possessions on earth? Why is it the one dearest, indispensable crown jewel of all precious stones?
Only Heavenly Possessions are Priceless
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
The date March 3, 1938, was a turning point in the fortunes of the king of Saudi Arabia, King Abd-al-Aziz ibn Saud. Previously, the king and the country’s fortunes were tied to the seasonal pilgrims who made the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. However, recession and unrest would reduce the country’s visitors and the king’s coffers.
In those days the king hired a team of American engineers to locate precious water in the desert for his warriors’ horses and camels, but the company, Standard Oil of California (Chevron today), had something else in mind. Over several years they had drilled more than a half dozen holes in vain looking for something else. In one instance, they decided to drill deeper than they had ever done before. At the depth of 4,727 feet they hit pay dirt - in what would turn out to be the largest supply of crude oil in the world.
The king, however, was not amused. He kept his distance and stalled his visit. A year later, the king and his entourage arrived in 400 automobiles arrived at the pumping station of Ras Tanura to witness the first tanker hauling way its cargo of Saudi crude. (“Finding the King’s Fortune” Time 3/31/03)
Oil has transformed Saudi Arabia’s tribal economy to one of the world’s richest nations.
The riches of salvation are more than just a little box, a small chest, or even a spacious room; it is the single most untapped reserve of riches. The Greek word for treasure is “thesauros” (v 44) and the English equivalent is “thesaurus,” a synonym for “treasure” or “storehouse.” Computer users today have the advantage of a thesaurus and its rich collection of words built into their word processor as a tool to provide an alternate choice of words, to improve their vocabulary and language skills, and to help them in their verbal communication.
A lot of people confuse being wealthy with being rich. Money makes people wealthy, not rich. Being wealthy is financial or material, but being rich is relational, emotional, and spiritual. A wealthy man buys and sells, but a rich man gives and takes. Being wealthy is having the things that money can buy, but being rich is having the things that money cannot buy. The wealthy think a person is broke without money, but the rich is merely poor without money, never broke. A wealthy man is defined by what he has, but a rich man is defined by who he is. Wealth is what you have in the bank but riches are what you have in the heart. The wealthy are prosperous, but the rich are content.
The Bible uses the word “riches” with a twist. The riches of this life is deceitfulness (Matt 13:22, Mk 4:19), but the riches of Christ is glorious (Rom 9:23, Eph 3:16, Phil 4:19) and immeasurable (Eph 3:8). The riches of God’s grace are demonstrated in the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ blood (Eph 1:7), His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:7), and His glorious inheritance to the church or saints (Eph 1:18). His riches are the basis of His present kindness, tolerance and patience even to unrepentant sinners (Rom 2:4).
The powers of this earth are inferior, shaky, and doomed to fail because their riches are temporal, but the kingdom of God is superior, unshakable, and poised to succeed because our King is eternal. In this life no king is worth our imitating, following, dying.
The King James Version word “corrupt” describes aptly the inferiority of earthly things to heavenly things. One of the “corrupt” word that describes the impermanence of the world’s riches has been translated as the word “destroy” (Matt 6:19) in NIV. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt 6:19). The Greek word for destroy or corrupt is aphanizo, or defacing, disintegrating, and disappearing. Money, property, and belongings do not last forever. Nothing is as secure as salvation. No material possession can survive the havoc wrecked by earth, wind, fire, and water. Homeowners know too well what termites, mold, lead, asbestos, radon, and other pollutants and hazardous materials can do to their homes. Only salvation is priceless, eternal, and salvageable. Like the merchant in the story, believers know too well salvation is our most precious possession, the only thing in this earth we must have, cannot do without, and cannot leave without. Other things are merely goods, extras or accessories.
ONLY HEAVENLY PRESENCE IS PERMANENT
It’s been said, “A person’s life can be described as a train on a railway track. When they are 20, they want to stop at every station. When they are 30, they can only stop at one station. When they are 40, they want to stop but they are not allowed to stop. When they are 50, they want to stop but they cannot stop. When they are 60, forget about stopping, they can’t even start!
Nothing is what it used to be as you grow older.
Long ago scientists tested aging people’s hearing capability by having subjects listen to pre-taped conversations from various distances. As men ages, the distance at which they could clearly understand the speaker’s words shrank markedly. In their 20s and 30s, hearers have no problem understanding a person 40 feet away. When hearers are in their 40s, the loss of hearing is minimum – just 2 feet. When they reach their 50s, they could still hear people easily - up to 32 feet away. But hearing deteriorates sharply for people in their 60s and 70s. People in their 60s understand the words of speakers no farther than 23 feet away, and those in their 70s words merely 14 feet away. (Esquire, 5/03)
The second KJV word for corrupt is in the word “corruptible” (“phthartos” in Greek) in 1 Cor 15:53-54 that is translated as “perishable” in NIV: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”
The body is perishable and mortal. In time, our aging body engine, brakes, tires, and other parts wear out. As we grow older, our bodies need more time to heal, mend, and recover. People live longer but geneticists, biologists, or nutritionists can only postpone, but not stop or reverse, the signs of aging. No matter how young you feel, your body feels different. Snacks, soda, and stress do not help either.
Gradually we gain weight, acquire wrinkles, and go downhill. We lose our hair, teeth vigor, memory, and mind. Our health deteriorates, our muscles shrivel, and our bodies shrink – 1.5 inches according to experts - with old age. Our bodies are no longer limber when we are old. We are more likely to go under the knife and most unlikely to go under a limbo stick.
James says that man is but a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes or corrupts (James 4:14). The body will not only lose shape or suffer damage as days go by, it suffers loss. The Bible says that only the precious blood of Christ can redeem people from the empty and corruptible way of life (1 Peter 1:18-19) and only the living and enduring word of God makes the germination of the imperishable seed possible (1 Peter 1:23). That’s why we wait for the resurrection of the dead, for the exchange of a heavenly body that is incorruptible, glorious, powerful, spiritual, and immortal (1 Cor 15:42-43, 53).
ONLY THE Heavenly Nature is Perfect
An old John Travolta and Sean Penn movie I caught on TV was unbearable to watch and stomach. It bothered, upset and angered me because it reminded me of my parents’ divorce. Penn played a mentally sick and emotionally volatile alcoholic husband who shot a man and was confined for 10 years in psychiatric hospital.
Upon release, Penn discovered that he was divorced, he and his ex-wife had a 9 year-old daughter, and his ex-wife had two other kids with a new husband, played by Travolta. Her new husband had helped her recover from depression, drugs and alcohol, but she couldn’t forget Penn after ten years. Before she left for good with Penn, she said without shame to her three cute, beautiful young girls, “Come here, I want to tell you something. Even though I’m not here, I’m with you, alright? I love you, and don’t you forget it, I love you more than anything in the world; you are the greatest kid in the world.”
How strange, outrageous, and nauseous are people’s values today.
When NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, a squeaky clean advertisers’ dream, was charged with sexual assault, AOL users voted on the question: “Are you surprised about the charges against Kobe?” Within hours 27% of 652 respondents, or 115 subscribers, had voted for the category “Yes, he’s the last celebrity I would expect to be tied to a crime”; 30% said “Somewhat, but we don’t know what celebrities are really like”; but most voters - 43% - clicked to “No, anyone’s capable of anything.”
A recent poll of 1,005 adults find that more than three-fourths of Americans have a pessimistic view of the current state of ethics and morality, and even fewer see it getting better, according to a new Gallup Poll. 75% of Americans rated current ethics and morality as “fair” or “poor,” while 22% rated them “good” or “excellent.” (Los Angeles Times 6/14/03 “Most Pessimistic About U.S. Morality, Poll Finds”)
The last implication from the word “corrupt” – from the same Greek word “phthartos” in the previous point - is not the disfiguring of materiel possessions or the decay of physical bodies but the depravity of the moral character. The final “corrupt” word attests to the defilement of one’s body (1 Cor 3:17, KJV), the corruption of one’s character or manners (1 Cor 15:33, KJV), and the presence of deceitful desires (Eph 4:22). Theologians call this the total depravity of man.
Man was made in God’s image and His likeness but sin so corrupted every aspect of his existence – spiritually, physically, intellectually, emotionally, culturally, economically, and socially. Nothing is out of sin’s reach and nothing is left untouched. Sin has not only encroached into a person’s moral character but has trespassed into his family, neighbor and society’s rights. This corruption has man likened to unreasoning or unthinking (alogos) animals that tear at one another and devour others (Jude 10).
Man’s innocence ended when he sinned. He is perverse, evil, and vicious. The ills of humanity, society and the world include corporate greed, political ambition, self-gratification; drug and human trafficking; prostitution and pornography; domestic disturbances and violence; organized crime, white-collar crime, hate crime, and juvenile crimes; border skirmishes, international terrorism, and wars of all kinds – civil war, conventional wars, chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare. The scum of society includes child predators, sexual offenders, abusive priests, corrupt politicians and repeat offenders. How low can humans go? As low as they can - to the point of no return. No incarceration or punishment is strong enough to deter man. They will take the shortest cut to deprave living, lowbrow interests, and meaningless existence.
Conclusion: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life
(1 John 5:11-12). The kingdom of God is a treasure that is often untapped and unclaimed. The treasures of the earth are Monopoly money compared to the riches of heaven. This world is imperfect because of the presence of pain, suffering, grief, sorrow and loss. Even the best things have to end one day and no party is unending, but there’s a new world coming where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. God himself will be with the residents and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. (Rev 21:3-4). Won’t you join me there?
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