Christ: The Pearl of Great Price

Dr. Brian Allison

The nature of parables

Matthew 13:44-46 reads, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. 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." We have two similar parables here. Parables are homey pictures which describe Christ's spiritual kingdom; or if you like, parables are illustrations which reveal spiritual truth about what is involved in living under the Lordship or kingship of Jesus Christ; or, parables are instructive stories which teach us important aspects of what is required and expected in being a follower or disciple of Jesus Christ, Who is the head of the Church; and so parables are typically introduced by the language: "the kingdom of heaven [or God] is like."

Further, the teaching of parables are designed for Christians, rather than for non-Christians. Jesus spoke parables in order to teach the spiritually initiate. Parables are designed to reveal truth to believers and to leave unbelievers in ignorance. Thus, we read, "And the disciples came and said to Him [Jesus], 'Why do you speak to them in parables?' And He answered and said to them, 'To you [My disciples] it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven [i.e., that which pertains to salvation and the age of the Spirit], but to them [i.e., the uninitiate Jews and Gentiles] it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing, they do not see, and while hearing, they do not hear, nor do they understand'" (Mt. 13:10-13). Accordingly, when Jesus taught in parables, He would affix this statement and warning, "He who has ears, let him hear" (Mt. 13:9). Now, in explaining these two parables – the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value – some will have ears to hear and some will not; that is, some will understand the teaching and some will not. Let us not be surprised about that.

The essential teaching of these two parables

Commentators agree that these two parables are dealing with the same subject matter; they are basically teaching the same truth. Now, there are two main points that are taught in these parables. First, something of inestimable value may be found or secured – "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found...Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls and...finding a pearl of great value" (13:44a,45,46a). Second, this something of inestimable value will demand everything one has in order to secure and enjoy it – "And from joy over it [the hidden treasure] he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field...he went and sold all that he had, and bought it [the pearl of great value]" (13:44b,46b).

Now, the obvious questions are: What is the hidden treasure? What is the pearl of great value? Or, what is this something of inestimable value? What is this something that is to be found and sought? The hidden treasure, the pearl of great value, is Jesus Christ Himself; more particularly, it is a living relationship and fellowship with Him. So, the apostle Peter writes, "And coming to Him [Jesus] as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious [i.e., costly, valuable] in the sight of God...For this is contained in Scripture: 'BEHOLD I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. This precious value, then, is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone" (1 Pe. 2:4,6f.). The apostle Paul similarly writes about "the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus" (Php. 3:8a).

Recognizing that Christ is of inestimable value

According to these two parables, kingdom living entails the possession of a certain attitude or disposition. That is, being in the kingdom (or simply, being a true Christian) means that you realize and are persuaded, that Jesus Christ is of inestimable value. The man and merchant in these parables realized and were persuaded of the precious value of the object before them. So, it is with those in the kingdom (in fact, we could translate the introductory phrase of parables – "the kingdom of heaven is like" – as "Being in the kingdom of heaven is like." Again, parables are specifically addressed to Christians). Thus, true believers recognize that Jesus Christ is of inestimable value, that He is incomparably precious, that He excels all human evaluation.

Mark 10:17ff. illustrates the previous point. This is the account of the rich, young ruler. We read, "And as He [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, 'Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'" This young man had a sincere desire. Further, "And Jesus said to Him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, "DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, DO NOT DEFRAUD, HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER".' And he said to Him, 'Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth.' And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him." Jesus' heart went out to this young man; Jesus was affectionately disposed towards him. This is quite a description of the Lord's behaviour. This rich young ruler approached Jesus, and there was a brief interaction; and we thus have some precious words recorded concerning the heart of Jesus. He looked at this man, and there was something about this man that drew out His affections; and the text reads that Jesus 'felt love' for him. Now, the question is this: Did this young ruler feel the same way towards Christ? We read further in this passage, "[Jesus said], 'One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.' But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property.'" Jesus loved this young man, but this young man apparently did not reciprocate the sentiments. This ruler viewed his possessions as being of more value than a relationship with Jesus Christ and following after Him. I do not know what eventually transpired in the life of this man, but on the basis of this account, we can conclude that he missed out on securing the hidden treasure. He did not view Christ as of inestimable value which outstrips all things of material value.

Those who have come to know and experience Christ, want Christ – when the man found the hidden treasure, he hid it; he did not want to lose it. In encountering the living Christ, you thus realize and are persuaded that He is of inestimable value. Now, the question is this: How do you know if you have found the hidden treasure? How do you know that you have found the pearl of great value? How do you know whether you have really experienced the living Christ? You will know that you have found the hidden treasure, that you have secured the pearl of great value, when you experience joy – "which a man found and hid; and from joy over it..." That is always the spiritual response when you recognize and are persuaded that Christ is of inestimable value.

Joy is a sense or a feeling of pleasure and contentment. It is the natural response or expression of being satisfied. A number of months ago, I had to defend my dissertation. After that defense, I sat in my chair for about forty five minutes, filled with joy. I had a sense of pleasure and contentment because of the satisfaction of having completed the exercise, and apparently having done well. And so, in reference to Christ, there will be a sense of deep pleasure, deep contentment, in being completely and fully satisfied in and with Him, realizing that you need nothing else, nor do you want anything else. You will thus say with the Psalmist, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Ps. 73:25f.).

So, in being completely satisfied with Christ, you will experience joy. Consider how the apostle Peter describes it, "And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Pe. 1:8).

Surrendering all to secure the inestimable Christ

Now, in finding Christ as the One Who is of supreme worth; in seeing Him as He really is, in all His beauty and glory; in experiencing and encountering Christ as the treasure and as the pearl of great value, you (as a kingdom citizen) will be prepared to give up everything (i.e., do all in your power) in order to secure and enjoy Him. That is not an overstatement. Consider again these statements, "And from joy over it [the hidden treasure] he goes and sells all that he has [i.e., every single thing] and buys that field...and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (13:44b,46b). Now, either the Word of God is true or it is not true; if is not true, then we may as well 'close up shop and go home'. Again, "He who has ears, let him hear."

Do you see what is the actual compulsion for giving up everything in order to secure the precious object? – "and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has" (13:44b). Again, it is when you are encountered by the living Christ and you truly see Him as the altogether lovely One, that your heart will overflow with joy or gladness; and this joy will motivate and propel you to surrender all in order to have Him. You realize that nothing else compares with Him.

Many Christians have not come to this spiritual point in their lives. They do not know this joy because they do not experientially know Him, regardless of their profession of faith. One cannot know Him, one cannot 'see' Him and gaze upon Him, and still remain cold and indifferent. Being in the kingdom certainly involves a high standard. We tend to justify our mediocrity, or 'water down' the claims of the Gospel, or compromise, and even deny, the high cost of discipleship. We tend to soften the challenging language and requirements of truly following Christ, and as a result, we will pay a high price. On that final day, there will be a rude awakening among those who profess to know and follow Christ. Christ will deny many on that day.

Securing Christ, knowing Him in the fullness of fellowship, is worth everything we have. It is worth all our possessions, all our friends, even our family, to gain Him. Either He is everything or He is nothing; and if He is not everything, then leave Him, because He does not want you unless He is everything. Many Christians, practically speaking, do not believe this. Their habits and lifestyle clearly demonstrate that Christ is not everything to them; and yet they deceive themselves in believing that all is well with their souls because they have made a profession of faith. God expects us to be willing to give up everything in order to gain Christ and His fellowship. For instance, the apostle writes, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ...that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Php. 3:7,8,10). Do you see what the main point is? Knowing and fellowshiping with Christ is to be our preoccupation, our obsession. No thing or no person should deter us, dissuade us, or discourage us from reaching that spiritual goal. I do not care what it is or who it is. Everyday you have a critical choice to make; it is either Christ or something else, Christ or someone else. Nothing is more important or more precious than Christ – not our careers, not our education, not our future dreams. He is the pearl of great price.

An account in Luke 10 captures the essence of the teaching of these two parables. We read, "Now as they were traveling along, He [Jesus] entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord's word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him, and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? [In a sense, Jesus did not care]. Then, tell her to help me.' But the Lord answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her'" (vv. 38-42). Mary was concerned about fellowship with Christ. Nothing else mattered.