The Pearl of Great Price
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." (Isaiah 55:1)
Here is an offer that is hard to refuse. How often can you buy something without money? It's clearly a transaction, something is being purchased but we are not the ones who spend the money. This is something that is bought for us as someone else pays the price. It's paid for and then gifted to us.
This gift is not dependent on our abilities or effort. There is, however, something we need that enables us to receive the gift and this, simply, is a desire. "Come".
For me, this becomes the backdrop for the parables which Jesus tells in Matthew 13:
“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.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." (verses 44-46)
Something of immeasurable value has been found and the desire to have it is so strong that the merchant and finder are prepared to sell everything in order to own it.
There are a number of factors in these two parables that we should pay attention to. Firstly, it seems, in both cases, that the decision to acquire the pearl of treasure was spontaneous, it is almost a rash or impulsive decision. There is not much indication that a lot of thought went into it. This means its value (and therefore benefit) to the buyer was immediately obvious.
The second factor is the joy of acquiring something with such immense value. This was a one-off, certainly not an everyday occurrence. It was a find that was unlikely to happen again.
Finally, there was a sacrifice involved. It seems the sacrifice was worthwhile as both the pearl merchant and finder of the treasure were prepared to sell everything else they owned in order to buy this one treasure.
For us, as we consider the pearl of great price these three factors need to become the driving force of our heart. There are times when the impulse of our heart takes over when our mind would prevent us from doing something. That's faith in action!
Do we see something of great value that stirs joy in our heart which then leads us to do something radical?
Let's put these two parables together with the backdrop of Isaiah 55. The conclusion I reach is this: The pearl of great price is free but it could cost you everything.
Jesus takes this further in Luke 14:25-27. To follow him means letting go of everything that matters and taking up our cross. The cross of sacrifice.
'Sacrifice' often appears to us as being heavy and dutiful yet we forget the great joy of the person who found treasure hidden in the field. That joy compelled him to sell everything and it will be that same joy which will compel us to take up our cross. Jesus shows this path of sacrifice. Not only does he show it but he himself walks it. As ever, he leads by example. To sacrifice, or to let go, means there is a price to pay and before paying that price we need to count the cost (Luke 14:28-33).
When you go into a shop to buy something you have to be prepared to spend a certain amount of money in order to acquire what you want. You have to decide if that amount of money is worth spending to obtain the benefit of the goods you are buying. If it costs too much you think it's not worthwhile and won't make the purchase.
To find and acquire the pearl of great price means we have to make a decision. Is it worth it? It may mean setting different priorities, living differently or changing your lifestyle (like the rich young ruler was challenged to do in Mark 10). It will inevitably involve change and only we can decide if that change is worth it.
In fact, this is something we can never truly know. Faith does not give us all the answers in advance. Faith invites is to step into the unknown, it invites us to step into a journey of trust where we let go, believing that our Father knows the way ahead.
Of course, we are not promised an easy journey. It's certainly not problem free. We are not immune to the difficulties and challenges of living in a broken world. The difference is that we have the certainty of Him walking through them with us. We have the guarantee of the Father's presence with us whatever this fallen world throws at us.
When many of the wider group of disciples were leaving Jesus, because they were unable to pay the price, he turns to his closest friends with the question: "You do not want to leave too, do you?" (John 6:67). Peter replies with great boldness and certainty "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
Jesus does not call us to do something which he isn't already doing. He walked the path of sacrifice, he literally took up his cross and he invites and encourages us to do the same. This is the path of sonship.
It is the path of sonship that leads us into intimate encounters with 'Abba'. But that intimate encounter may only be found in the isolation and agony of Gethsemane. It is there that Jesus, having chosen the path of the cross, cries out in agony "Abba, Father. Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36). It is there too, that we often find the place of intimacy and total dependency on the Father. The cost: "not my will, but yours".
The way of the cross is the way of dependence and our absolute belief that we need a Saviour. Without this the cost means nothing and we do not find the pearl of great price.
If we want these intimate 'Abba' moments we have to be prepared to accept the agony (and potential loneliness) of our personal Gethsemane.
Counting the cost has to originate in our heart. It is not a religious duty although it can easily become one. Whilst it originates in our heart it will affect our mind and hence the decisions and choices we make.
As Peter said: "where else can we go?" What other option do we have?
The writer of Hebrews expresses this very clearly for us:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2)
I believe the price is only worth paying if we are able to see beyond the sacrifice to the joy that is there for us. It is not a man-made joy but is us being able to step into the joy of the Lord, this then becomes our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Jesus taught us to bring the kingdom of Heaven to earth (Matthew 6:10). To me, this is seeking to bring a little bit of Heaven to earth in whatever area of family, church, work or recreation we are involved in. It is living like Jesus and seeking the Father's will above our own. It is sacrificing our desires in order to see the Father's desires and will established on earth. It is releasing light and life into a world which up to now has been dominated by sin and death.
Finding this is not necessarily automatic. Often we have to search or seek carefully to find that bit of Heaven we are to bring to earth. We have a helpful guide in Jeremiah 6:16:
This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."
Very clear instructions: Stop. Look. Ask. And having done so, to then be prepared to follow a path that may be hidden, it may not be clear, it may not be obvious. But it is there to be found, and as we find it, we discover the thing we yearn for, rest for our souls. The doorway is small, the path is narrow and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). Just because you find it doesn't mean others will.
The pearl of great price is the journey of sonship. It is walking as Jesus walked where he allowed his own will to die in order that the will of his Father could be done. It is seeking to bring heaven to earth, not as a religious duty but knowing in our heart that the Father's ultimate desire is to bring many sons and daughters home.
The last words of Jesus before he is led away to the cross show us the heart of this kingdom. We need to know that we are loved just as Jesus is loved (this means the Father has the same intensity of passion for you and me as he has for his Son - John 17:26). Without that assurance our deeds or words are like a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). The kingdom of Heaven can only be brought to earth by those who live in love, just as Jesus lived in love. Judgement and condemnation will fail whereas love always prevails.
To find the treasure in the field or the pearl of great price will require a surrender of your heart. It needs you to place your complete trust in your loving Father. It calls us to walk in love.
Remember: it's free, but it could cost you everything.
Jesus said it's worth it. It's worth persevering for. It's worth everything!
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Walking As Jesus Walked
Jesus promises that, when we come to him and allow him to lead us to the Father, we will begin to live freely and lightly.