The Pearl of Great Value

The Center Fellowship

RS: Last week, we looked at these two parables that are connected, and they’re short, but if you remember, Jesus says, the Kingdom of Heaven is like, and then He shares these parables. And we looked real closely at one of them last week, and we’ll look at the other this week, but let’s turn to Matthew 13, and it won’t take a second, but let’s read it again. Cobb Hagan, I’ll let you read it, if you would, when we get there. Matthew 13:44-46.

Cobb: “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which a man found and hid, and, for 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 beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

RS: Thank you sir. One of the things that we said last week and recognized is that one of the prime similarities in both of these parables is that you have a man and a pearl (recording breaks up at 1:34), they find something of great value (recording breaks up at 1:40), and they go out and they sell everything to either get that treasure or to get that pearl. And so today, I want to look at two things, we’re going to look at, what does that mean, to sell everything you have in order to get this treasure, and then we’ll look more specifically at the parable of the pearl merchant and what that parable is all about. If you remember last week, one thing we know about pearl merchants is that they were wealthy people. They had to have some degree of wealth because they were always buying and trading pearls which had great value. And so, they had to have some degree of financial wealth in order to stock their inventory.

Now, what I’d like for us to think about is literally, is there anything out in the world that you would sell everything you have, your house, your cars, any investments you have, liquidate your retirement account, take all of that and sell it so you can get something of great value. You know, in order to do that, it would have to make everything you own pale in comparison to whatever that object is.

But let’s try to put this into some kind of perspective. Imagine you find out, you’re not feeling well, you go to the doctor and they do a battery of tests and they find out that you have a rare disease and you’re told you’ll probably be dead in six months, and obviously, you go home in shock, and the next day, the doctor calls you and says, you know, I’ve been doing some research and they just discovered a cure for your disease. 100% cure rate. It involves surgery, certain medications over a period of time, and you’ll have to go to this foreign country to get this all done, but it’s guaranteed. The only problem is, it’s very expensive, and then you find out your insurance, because this is in a foreign country, doesn’t cover it. And then you realize, I’m going to have to sell everything I have to pay for this. And what you discover in this process, and this could be your wife who has the disease, or your kids, but what you discover, is this cure is so precious to you, is that all of the things you own are not near as important as you thought they were. It brings a whole new change in attitude towards everything that you own. There is a transformation, in your attitude, because all of the possessions you thought were of such great value, you realize they’re ultimately expendable, and once you see that, it changes your attitude towards everything else. In fact, notice in the first parable, it says, he does it with great joy, sells everything he has with great joy to get this treasure. But, if you go back to my example of the disease and finding this expensive cure, do you know what’s really happened if you’re willing to sell everything, say, for the life of your child? Do you know what really happens? Turn back to Matthew 6 and I’ll show you what happens. In Matthew 6, we’ve read this before, in verse 19, it talks about storing up treasures on earth, then he says, don’t store up treasures on earth, store up treasures in Heaven, we got into that in great detail, but look at verse 21, Charlie Haynes, how about reading that? It’s a very short little verse, but it’s crucial.

Charlie. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

RS: Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be. Wherever your treasure and riches lie, there your heart will be also. And what we’re talking about in this little example, what you treasure most has changed. The cure is of greater value than your financial assets. And see, this is the thing, I think, as we get into this parable, everything in this life has things that their hearts treasure. And, unfortunately for most people, what their hearts treasure most is often temporal. And it’s not of any real importance in the grand scheme of things. And what happens is we don’t seem to treasure that which is of supreme value and supreme worth. You know, this is what happened to the apostle Paul, a great example of realizing what is the great treasure of life. Remember we talked about this a couple of weeks ago when we looked at the issue of contentment. Paul, before becoming Paul, was Saul of Tarsus. He was a Pharisee, and he was a kind of top dog Pharisee, because of all the training he had gotten. And if you read the Gospels, you will learn a lot about the Pharisees. They are men of great prestige and they like that prestige. They like the approval of man. But we also learn they had great wealth. In fact, in Luke 16:14, we are told the Pharisees loved money and wealth. And you remember what happened to Paul? Paul had it all going for him, but then he lost it all. Let me put it another way. He gave it all up voluntarily when he became a Christian, and talked about this in the book of Philippians. So, if you would, turn forward in your Bible to Philippians, go to Chapter 3, and, Butch, you got it, Philippians 3, how about reading verses 7 and 8?

Butch: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them to be worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”

RS: Do you see what Paul is saying here? Paul is saying the things that were of great value to me, I now count them to be worthless, or in another translation, rubbish. Some translations, garbage. Then, in verse 8, he really kind of explains why. He says everything that I had, I now consider to be worthless because I found a greater treasure. And, what was that greater treasure? Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I mean, he was put into a situation in which he had to choose, and he gave up all his prestige and wealth, and he said, that really is garbage when you compare it to the great treasure of knowing Jesus personally. To walk with Him through this life, to walk with Him through the valley of the shadow of death, to have eternal life. What’s that worth to you. Paul says, it’s worth everything, it’s worth me forsaking everything that I had. Now, this goes back to the conversation we had about contentment. One of the reasons we said that Paul could be content in whatever circumstances he found himself in, because you remember those words that we read in Philippians 4, he wrote this from prison. Now, what we said is one of the keys to finding true contentment in life is to make sure you have found the true riches of life, where real wealth is found, and that’s in this relationship with Him. I guess you could say what Paul found; he found that pearl of great value. You see, this is the problem, this is the problem that the world faces. This is the problem we face when we’re trying to reach the world for Christ, is that most people don’t realize the great riches that Christ offers. They just don’t see it. In fact, they don’t see it worth anything. In fact, so many people see it as a problem because He becomes an obstacle from allowing me to be free to do whatever I want to do. And yet, they’re blind to the great value and the worth that He offers all of us. In one sense, I guess you could say, guys, He is the medicine; He is the cure that makes everything else in life expendable. Let me stop here. What comments or questions do you have?

Unidentified audience member: (sound dropped out at 12:22) practical application; those that have money, it’s not the money, or where we spend our money that’s most precious, it’s our time, which I think we, some may need to look at how we spend our time, we can spend more time with our children, that time is precious.

RS: Well said. Very well said. As we get into this, we’ll talk about, in fact, that’s what we’ll talk about next because everybody starts reading this, and it’s so easy to focus on what does it mean, and I’m going to ask this question, what does it mean, in both of these parables he talks about selling everything you have, and you start reading that, and some people start, and it makes them nervous, and we don’t look at, in both parables, the great treasure you get in return. Anybody else?

Billy: All our worldly possessions are constantly either decaying or eroding in value. Money, with inflation, is constantly eroding in value, and obviously, Heavenly, eternal life, is not eroding in value.

RS: Yes, and when you said that, Billy, that reminds me of what Solomon, when he wrote Ecclesiastes, said, remember, and this is also the problem with wealth. (recording dropped out 13:52) And then he says, and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish with it? They may just squander everything. And then he says, And all the fruit of my labor over my entire life, and who knows who will end up with it? Anybody else?

Unidentified audience member: Like the new car example, the best day is the first day, and then it’s just downhill.

RS: And it can be a car, a house, it can be anything, a new suit, whatever. Let’s talk about this guys. Let me throw this out. He’s got two parables that we can understand and they are metaphors that have something to do with our spiritual life. And so, metaphorically speaking, what do you think he’s saying when he, in both parables says, they sell everything they have. What do you think that means spiritually, to sell everything you have?

Unidentified audience member: Total surrender?

RS: Total surrender, and that’s the big issue. That’s the big issue. That’s the big problem. That’s what most men are not willing to do. Where are we right now? Philippians. Turn back to Romans. Paul in Romans hits the nail on the head because this is the big issue. Romans 2:5. All right, Sonny, you got it?

Sonny: “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed.”

RS: That’s the problem. We have, human beings have, stubborn and unrepentant hearts, and that’s why, when I go through The Investigative Study, I make it absolutely clear that repentance, that’s what we’re talking about, repentance is absolutely necessary to become a Christian. The idea of surrendering. When I say surrendering, it’s best you understand what that means, and what I’ll end up doing, a lot of you have been through this, but the word repentance is used 56 times in the New Testament, and I go through about ten verses, unless you repent you will perish, Jesus says, the message that He takes out into the world, repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Luke 24. And you get to the end, and I ask them, based on what we’ve read, how important is this in becoming a Christian and coming to Christ. And they say absolutely necessary, and yet, I’ve had men look at me and say, and I’ve had one guy say to me, I’m not willing to surrender my life to anybody. That’s what a stubborn and unrepentant heart is, I am not willing to surrender my life to anybody. I’m going to run the show. I want the freedom to live however I want to live. And this is man’s great problem. That’s why the Psalmist says, the fool says in his heart there is no God. He doesn’t want there to be a God. He doesn’t want God to interfere with his life, but you have to scratch your head. This is the problem. And I think what this parable is saying, you sell everything but look at what you get. Let me give you an example in this first parable. This man that comes along, and he doesn’t have great means, but, as we said in the parable last week, that word “hidden” really means to be buried. And so what we kind of surmised is he was probably renting this land, plowing it up, as men did back then, grow crops and then take them and sell them, and use that to eat for himself, and he finds this great treasure. Well, let’s say this ordinary piece of land costs $10,000. And he really doesn’t’ have it. And so he goes and scrapes every nickel he has together, sells everything he has, and gets the land because he knows that the treasure is worth a million bucks. It’s kind of a no-brainer. And this is why Jesus said something very significant that I think really relates to everything we’re talking about and that’s in the book of Mark, and so I’m going to ask you to go to Mark, chapter 8, Mark chapter 8.

Unidentified audience member: Richard, you keep kind of referring to this as a commercial relationship, and I think that’s where the stick in the ointment is, the how is this going to cost me, how is this going to cost me, then we realize, the gain comes out of your love for Christ, and it’s His anyway.

RS: Well said. Right on. The best way, and I’m going to come back to this in a minute, when guys get hung up on this, what I share with them is, let me give you a comparison, this idea of giving up, because this is what Christendom has always recognized, what this really looks like, what happens when a man and a woman get married? Next time you got a wedding, listen to the vows. You know what you’re doing when you get married? You’re giving yourself completely to this person. All that I am, all that aI have is yours, and she does the same thing. You’re giving up everything to enter into this relationship with her. But what’s it worth. It’s worth a great deal; you wouldn’t do it otherwise. But it’s so interesting. People understand it when it comes to romance. A guy told me one time, Richard, you take this religion too seriously. I said really? I’m supposed to love the Lord my God – this was a guy who proclaimed to be a Christian – so we’re told to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, mind, and strength, and you’re telling me I’m taking that too seriously? Come on now. But Jesus hits the nail on the head of our problem as we think about the treasures and what we’re willing to give, what we’re wiling to sacrifice. Everybody at Mark 8? Robert Jolly, you want to read for us, 36, and 37?

Robert: What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

“Knowing you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”

RS: This is really kind of what it gets down to. What does it really profit you – let’s think of it this way – what does it really profit you if you get everything you want in life but in the process you forfeit your soul? Then Jesus asks, what will a man give in exchange for his soul? What are you really willing to give in exchange for your soul? That’s kind of what it all boils down to. Remember when we read this a while back in Psalms 49:8, it says the redemption of a man’s soul is very costly, in fact, the cost is so great, you don’t have enough money to redeem your soul. I don’t care how wealthy you are. In fact, it cost God a tremendous price for our redemption. The blood of His Son. Peter puts it this way. This is I Peter 1:18-19. It says, “Knowing you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” I want to read two quotes to you real quick and then see if you have a comment.

The first one comes from Tim Keller. He says, “Anybody who will not give himself or herself utterly to Him has not realized that He gave Himself utterly to us.” He also says, “We also do not seem to be able to grasp the vast treasure that He wants to give us.” I think that’s so true. And then C.S. Lewis says, “If the happiness and the salvation of a human being lies in self-surrender, and self-surrender, in this parable, is to sell everything you have, he says, “no one can make that surrender but himself, and he may refuse.” And guys, based on everything that I do, all that I’ve witnessed these last 15 years doing what I’m doing, I must say that the Christian faith boils down to one thing, it’s the battle for man’s heart. And what you even see within the church, is yeah, I want eternal life, I want God to bless me, I want God to give me good health, but I’m not sure about this surrendering. As one person put it, we all want the blessings of God, we just don’t want the blessor. Don’t want to let go. Want to hold on. Let me share with you a parable that I think kind of, going back to a romantic relationship, to our relationships with our wives.

Kind of picture this, there’s a man and he lives in San Francisco, and he’s a businessman, and he gets on a plan to fly to New York for several days of business meetings. And he gets on the plane and he sits on the place right next to this beautiful woman, right there in business class and they strike up a conversation, turns out, neither of them are married, and she’s a business woman who lives in New York who was doing business in San Francisco. So, they have four hours together, flying to New York, and they have a great conversation, and they just really hit it off, and while he’s there, he takes her to lunch, and they go to dinner one night, and then he has to go back, but they begin a relationship, cross-country relationship, and this man is taken by her. He sends her flowers. He sends her these lavish gifts seeking to woo her. They spend time together; they go to the theater, which she loves, they go to museums, which she loves, they go to fancy restaurants, which she loves, and the man is so taken by her, that after about eight months, he proposes. And he’s shocked at what she says, she says, I do love you, but my career is in full throttle right now, I’ve got so many friends here in New York, I’m real involved in several things in the community, and I’m just not ready to make that kind of commitment. And he’s crestfallen, but, not to be deterred, he keeps pursuing, and, in his mind, the relationship seems to get better and better, and, six months later, he proposes again. And she responds the same way, I love you, I love being with you, I love all the great things you do for me, but I’m not ready for that kind of commitment, and it’s just a matter of time before he realizes, she doesn’t really love me. She didn’t want him, she just wanted all the things that he would give her. And this is the way so many people deal with God. I want God to do this for me, and this for me, but I don’t really want to surrender to Him. But just as you can’t have the great value between a man and a woman within the covenant of marriage unless you are willing to truly give yourself to that person, you can’t really experience just the beauty and the wonder of a relationship with God, to be delivered from the fear of death, to have eternal life, you really can’t experience that unless you’re willing to surrender. Now, in the studies I did of this parable, it was pointed out that the man who discovered the treasure wasn’t really looking for it.

“Our longings and desires have their origins in God Himself because we are made in His image, and that’s why we can only be fulfilled by Him.”

I’m going to have to go quickly guys, because I’ve got to leave here in about ten minutes, I’m sorry we don’t have more time to discuss this, I really apologize, but, in this second parable, the pearl merchant, was, in fact, in search of pearls. He was seeking and searching. I was reading about one of the great Christian thinkers back in the Middle Ages, this guy’s name was Anselm of Canterbury, I mean, this was 500 years ago, guys, life 500 years ago versus life today was so different, but he spoke of this universal inner desire and longing that every human being seems to possess. We’re always seeking to satisfy these longing and he says this pearl merchant seems to represent that, and so, when you look at a man today in the modern world, when you look into a man’s heart, what is he seeking? What is he chasing? What is he trying to fill that emptiness in his soul with? I have concluded that there are three things that men really look to, and I’m not even talking about relationships, which, obviously, is at the heart of all of this. But, men are into achieving, particularly in their work. Men are into accumulating, storing up stuff, and men are into experiencing, whether its hobbies or sports, vacation, traveling, anything that makes you feel good. Achieving, accumulating, experiencing. But, as we’ve said, over and over, we talked about this when we talked about contentment, it ain’t working, it doesn’t work. It can bring real delight into your life, but, when you’re all said and done, you end up empty. Do ya’ll remember, I know some of you have seen this, Forbes did this a number of years ago when they did their 75th anniversary edition, they’d been a publication for 75 years, do you remember this, any of ya’ll? It says, “Why We Feel So Bad”, and then you open up the cover and it says, “When We Have It So Good.” Why is it that we feel so bad when we have it so good? Why is it, that here we are, the most prosperous country in the history of the world, and yet we lead the world in all kinds of categories of social pathologies, starting with depression? Someone just sent to me, it’s sitting on my computer, an article from The New York Times, there is a 30 year surge, it talks about this 30 year surge in suicide. And yet, we have it so good. Something is not working. And what’s happened, guys, is we have allowed our desires to become attached to achievements, to objects, and to experiences that bring delight, and, again, they don’t satisfy. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong, all these things are gifts from God, but this is what Anselm said that is the key. Again, this guy wrote 500 years ago, and I’m guessing, about 500 – 700 years ago, and this is the key, he said, “Our longings and desires have their origins in God Himself because we are made in His image, and that’s why we can only be fulfilled by Him.”

Alistair McGrath, in his book, The Unknown God, which I read about 15 years ago, I was reminded he wrote a chapter in this book, and it was on the merchant and the pearl. And he says, the pearl merchant finds this priceless pearl and sells everything in order to possess it. In other words, he found what was of supreme value. And this is the question that we all have to ask. Do we see Jesus and the Kingdom of God as such? What we also need to recognize from this parable that really applies to us, is that everything else he possessed seems of little value in comparison to the pearl of great value. It’s pretty clear from the parable that the merchant already possesses a certain number of pearls. In fact, McGrath said, and I quote, “Perhaps he bought them in the hope that they would provide him with the satisfaction that he longed for, yet, he’s still looking for something really special. He’s always looking. He’s always looking. And then when he finally finds it, he sells everything to take hold of it. Spiritually speaking, he surrendered all in order to take hold of Christ. And he gladly,” McGrath said, “Abandoned everything. All that he had accumulated to possess this magnificent possession.” And guys, this is what salvation and a right relationship with God is worth. Everything. McGrath closes this chapter with these powerful words. He’s very eloquent. Listen to this. “What he, the pearl merchant, had obtained previously, was a preparation for this final purchase. He had come to know the true value of what he possessed, and he was looking for the final culmination of his search for a precious pearl. When he saw it, he knew that everything already in his possession was dull and lackluster in comparison. Just as the brilliance of the sun drowns that of the stars, so that their faint light can only be seen at night, so this great pearl allowed the merchant to see what he already owned in a different light. What he had thought would satisfy him proved only to disclose his dissatisfaction, and make him long for something, which was, for the moment, beyond his grasp. And then he saw that special pearl, and he knew, I have to have that.”

And what really strikes me guys, that if we don’t see Jesus as that pearl of great value, then we don’t truly understand who He is, and we don’t really understand what He has done for us, and we don’t’ really understand the great treasure He offers us.

In thinking through of a good illustration to close this with, I was reminded of a book that I read by Bob Buford, called Finishing Strong, and what Buford did, is he went out and interviewed a number of very prominent Christian men, Christian thinkers, Christian business people and talked to them, and it was about how do you finish strong in life. As I look around this particular table, there are a lot of us, we are, all of us are clearly in the second half of life, and some are in the fourth quarter of life, and he says, how do you finish strong, because so many men finish badly. And one of the people he interviews, and it’s a great interview, is Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard, the very prominent philosopher from USC, who was head of the philosophy department for years, and Willard tells, gives an illustration, and then tells, both of these are true stories. The first, some of you may have heard me share before, and it’s about dog racing. Anybody here ever been to the dog races before? All right, Robert? How do they get the dogs to run?

Robert: Chase a fake rabbit.

RS: Chase a fake rabbit. And Willard says this is a true story. They train the dogs to chase an electric rabbit, and one night, this is in Florida, he says, they’re chasing the rabbit, and the rabbit broke down, and the dogs caught it, never before had these dogs caught the rabbit. They caught the rabbit! But he says, they didn’t know what to do with it. He said they were leaping around yelping and biting one another, they were totally confused about what has happening. And Willard says, I think that’s a picture of what happens to all sorts of people who catch their rabbit in this life. He says, whether it’s wealth, or fame, or beauty, or a bigger house, or whatever, the prize isn’t what they thought it would be, and, when they finally get it, he says, they don’t know what to do with their lives. And he says, this, in my opinion, is a huge factor why so many men finish badly. And then he says this, people need a rabbit that won’t break down. And from this parable, I think we can learn that the only rabbit that will never break down is this pearl of great value, is Jesus Himself. And then he goes and tells another story, he follows that dog-racing story with a story – it may sound familiar to you because it was in my blog about six months ago.

He tells the story of Lawrence Dutton. Dutton was a member of the Emerson String Quartet, which was this wonderful classical music ensemble, and Dutton did everything right, and he was very talented. At an early age, I don’t know what instrument he played, but, he played as a kid, and he went to Juilliard, and he had all the right accomplishments along the way, and then he basically hit the mother lode when he and the members of the quartet, they won two Grammys. Then Willard says, Dutton experienced the greatest euphoria he had ever experienced. But then, ironically, a short time later, he went into a real depression. In short, because he felt, I’ve done everything as far as a music career. How much higher can a man jump? You see what happened? He was seeking fulfillment and satisfaction. He was chasing rabbits that would break down, and when he finally got the rabbit that he wanted, it left him empty and depressed. And Willard says, and it was soon after that that someone led him to Christ. In fact, Willard put it, and these were his terms, “He became a very serious Christian.” What did he do? He did what the pearl merchant did, he sold everything he had, he surrendered. He still played music, he didn’t give up his career, he didn’t give up his wealth, but he surrendered. He got the things in his life in their proper place.

You see, we take the things of this life and we make them into idols. We give them a power God never intended them to have in our lives.

Basically, to become a Christian, it doesn’t mean you give all these up, it means they find their proper place in your life, and He becomes first, and that is what happened in Dutton’s life, and when that happened, everything changed for him. Everything. He continued to play music and he went on to win four more Grammys, and they were nice, but they were really inconsequential, because he had found the pearl of great value. He had surrendered his all to get it, and he found what he was looking for, peace and contentment and fulfillment, and, as I said, he continued to play music, and he continued to win awards and to win is great. The only difference is he no longer looked to Grammy awards to satisfy because he had found the rabbit that doesn’t break down, he had found the Pearl Of Great Value.

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