The Kingdom of Heaven is Like… the Hunt for Pearls

Altar Table designed by Kim Evans. Painting by Katie Atkinson and her friend Shelby.

In Matthew 13, Jesus changes his preaching style to again capture the interest of the crowds. He switches from the straightforward teaching style of the Sermon on the Mount to parables, short stories which reveal profound truth about the character and agenda of God.

If you read the Matthew 13 parables one after another, a pattern begins to emerge. In every instance, the person in the parable represents God’s saving work through Jesus Christ.

  • Jesus is the farmer casting the seeds of the God’s welcome and salvation in every direction. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost. – Luke 19:10
  • Jesus is the land owner, who waits patiently for the final harvest to see who will choose to be wheat and who will chose to be weeds; who will accept a relationship with God and bear the good fruit of that relationship and who will choose to worship and serve themselves. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”- John 11:25-26
  • In the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom will continue to grow in surprising places and in powerful ways. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12
  • Jesus is the woman working the leaven of God’s transforming power throughout flour of life until all is changed into Christ’s likeness. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. – Matthew 11:29
  • Jesus gives up everything to claim the treasure of humanity. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. – John 10:11
  • Jesus casts the net of salvation into the sea of humanity to catch every kind of person. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. – John 12:32

Pearls are a perfect metaphor for God’s saving work through Jesus Christ. Pearls were the most valuable item of Biblical times. This is an age before cultured pearls. Natural pearls are both rare and hard to harvest. SCUBA equipment hasn’t been invented. Divers hold their breath and use rocks to weigh themselves down to reach the bottom of the salty, shark-infested waters where pearls are found. Think of the pain and pressure on their bodies as they dive, gather, and scramble to the surface before their lungs burst. Hundreds of oysters would have to be opened to find one pearl, much less a priceless perfect pearl.

Matthew 13:45-46 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “Again, 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.”

With what we know about Christ, it’s a short step to see Christ as both the pearl merchant and the diver, the pearl hunter. We are the treasure Christ is seeking and sacrificing to claim. We are the pearl and Christ is the Pearl Hunter- searching, intentional, focused. Christ pursues us- like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep, like a woman searching for a lost coin, like a pearl hunter searching for the ultimate prize. Christ gives up everything to win us- no price is too high, no danger is too great, no sacrifice is too costly. Christ leaves the perfection of heaven for a life of hunger, homelessness, poverty, persecution, and pain. He gives his wisdom, healing, compassion, purity, power- his very body, blood, and soul – that we might be his.

Why? Because we are the treasure. We are the pearl of great price. We are rare and valuable to Christ! The world may name us beaten down, abused, unemployed, misunderstood, worthless, addicted, disabled, forgotten, guilty, unlovable, can’t do anything right, dirty… But Christ names us precious, dear, beloved, cherished, treasured. He doesn’t just name us this, but proves it by his words and sacrifice. He makes it a reality for all to see by by his transforming power and love.

Think for a moment about how a pearl is made. A bit of bone or dirt makes its way into the oyster. The oyster slowly covers it with layers of calcium carbonate crystals and protein. The foreign, dirty irritant is transformed into something beautiful and valuable. God does the same to us through faith in Christ. We are just dust, but infinitely valuable because we are made in the image of God. We are just dust, but God makes something beautiful out of us as we follow the words and ways of Christ.

God reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Christ’s life, death and resurrection show us there is no other thing God would rather do.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac Watts
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

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