Summary: The good news is of infinite worth; when we discover it, everything else is put in proper perspective.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
In a parable, Jesus conveys the worth of the Kingdom…
The merchant in this parable seems to be doing fairly well. He’s successful enough, and lives a comfortable life…but one day he discovers a priceless pearl that destroys all his illusions. He sees something so valuable that everything he owns seems to pale in comparison. Everything he possessed that seemed so valuable now appears dull and lackluster…so he liquidates his assets in order to obtain this priceless object.
Life in Bible times was marked by political and economic instability. There were no banks or safe-deposit boxes, so people often buried their valuables, and sometimes they remained buried, abandoned. Finding such a treasure was a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.
The merchant in the story didn’t need to be persuaded of the pearl’s worth; it was obvious. The pearl put all he deemed important into a different perspective, because in it, he discovered something of utmost worth.
We’re all seeking a life that matters--not mere existence. We all need a reason to get up in the morning; otherwise, why live another day? Like it or not, we have to face some ultimate questions: “What’s the point of life?” “Who am I, and why am I here?” “What is beauty?” Atheists have to admit that--in their worldview--beauty is meaningless and life is an accident. Most people find that perspective unsatisfactory, and seek the Source of all the beauty that surrounds us. Nature is a signpost showcasing the creativity of the Creator, whose fingerprints are everywhere.
Maybe pearls don’t excite us. Maybe something else in nature would better get our attention: a waterfall, a sunset, a walk in the woods…and when we encounter such beauty we may exclaim “Wow!” when we should be asking “Why?” Have you ever wondered why there is beauty? Where does your delight lead you? Does it point you to the One who made the pearl, the waterfall, the sunset, the forest? -And the One who has a plan for your life?
We mistakenly elevate happiness to the highest value, because we don’t realize we can do better than that—we can find purpose for our existence. When we realize we’re part of a story that God is writing, we fit into something that satisfies our longings. We can just exist, but that’s hardly enough. We want, we need more.
C.S. Lewis realized this; as an atheist, he yearned for joy and did not find it until he discovered the Pearl of great price. He reflected that, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us….If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
What do we need to give up to get this Pearl?
-Maybe our perceptions about life.
-Definitely our sin.
-And our illusion of control.
We also need to hand over to God the management of our lives and let Him direct us. When we do, life works better. We find a reason to carry on. “Is it an alarm clock that wakes you up in the morning, or is it a purpose?” (Kelly Madden). When we find the Pearl of great price, we can face life in a world God made, with the strength He supplies; we can live a life that matters.
The author of Ecclesiastes paints a dismal picture of the futility of a life without God and without meaning. Without a Creator, we are superfluous, insignificant; an accidental species with no reason to live. Frederick Buechner put it more bluntly: “Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing.” People find themselves existing without a calling, and are groping in the dark, hoping the distractions of pleasure will protect them from the pain of living a futile life. Such a view of life leads only to despair. It need not be. There’s a pearl out there with our name on it; we can claim it.
Just like the merchant, some of us have “stumbled upon” Christ when we weren’t even looking for Him. He was looking for us. Some people travel various paths for years before discovering the Way, Truth, and Life. Matthew Henry writes: “Those who discern this Treasure and value it right, will never be at ease until they have made it their own on any terms.”
John Calvin writes that we need the teaching of this parable because “we are so captivated by the allurements of the world that eternal life fades from our view.” We don’t esteem what God offers; instead we place other things higher in our estimation: friends, family, our jobs, possessions, power, pleasure, the approval of others, and the “good-life.” These things can take the place of God’s Kingdom in our hearts.