Matthew 13:45-46 (NLT)
“… the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!
When Karen and I were in our early 20’s we applied to attend a training school for Christian discipleship—which simply means a school that teaches you to how to be more like Jesus.
It was run by an organization called Youth With a Mission. We were asked to complete separate applications, and I remember one of the fundamental questions was this, “ Why do you want to attend a discipleship training school?” And I still remember my answer—in fact it is the only portion of the application that I do remember, almost 30 years on.
My answer was this: “ Once you have discovered the pearl of greatest value, there is nothing else that you would choose to spend your life pursuing.”
And I meant it. You see I had spent too many previous years of my youth running as far from God as I could. I, like many others who are raised around church and religion, had become disillusioned. Truthfully it was not so much with Jesus, but certainly with the people who supposedly represented him—Christians.
But one day when I realized that I was sinking fast and probably should have been dead from a bad mescaline overdose, I came wobbling back to Jesus.
When I made the commitment to live for Christ I immediately cut myself off from all of my friends—for me that was necessary because I was far too weak at that point on time to be the influencer of anybody, instead I was just vulnerable to be influenced back toward my own destruction.
So I chose to spend my time alone—but here’s the key, alone with God. And I consumed the word and I prayed, a lot, and then not too far down the road of my new journey God brought Karen into my life. She bought me my first bible—other than the one’s you get as a kid—and she became, aside from my parents who raised me, my first primary discipler.
We grew together in the Lord and as a couple, got married, Zac was about a year old, and now I was filling out an application to a discipleship school knowing that based on all the other lifestyle options or belief systems that I knew were out there, the choice to choose Jesus was the only right choice. I, like the merchant in Jesus’ parable, had shopped around a bit and knew that this single find so far surpassed any other pearl I had ever seen that I considered it a fair exchange to give up everything else that I owned.
And that’s exactly what we did. Once our applications had been approved, it was as if God was testing to see if we were really willing to put our money where our mouths were.
Knowing we would be leaving Calgary and believing that our training phase was leading to fulltime vocational ministry, we had put our condo up for sale. We had several months to sell our place, but what should have happened didn’t. The months went by and our place didn’t sell. We changed realtors and it still didn’t sell. Soon we were staring down the date to be at school—a school that we were certain God had told us to attend—and yet held back by this condo that we couldn’t sell.
So we gave it up, we turned it back to the mortgage company. We had already found a buyer for our furniture and household items—all of it except for Zac’s crib and our car, and we just knew that whatever it took we had to pursue the purchase of that single magnificent pearl.
Now, did God demand that of a 23-year-old couple with a 14-month-old baby? No, he didn’t. A demand like that would violate his unconditional love. And beyond the fact that we are loved unconditionally, Jesus doesn’t demand sacrificial efforts because that could cause us to assume that somehow this helps us purchase the kingdom.
Remember, when Jesus was sharing this parable, he was teaching it to a group of Jews who were seeking pearls in their law, and rules, and traditions and heritage. All they understood was pleasing God and finding his favour through human effort and sacrifice. Jesus was telling them that the kingdom had arrived in his person, it was now among them and available and that they should seek it diligently.
The central point of this brief parable is that discipleship to Jesus means participation in the kingdom of God. And kingdom participation can be summed up in saying we need to know God and then make him known.
So, as for us as a young couple, once we comprehended the true value of the kingdom, we were gladly willing to exchange everything to follow him. Anything that was holding us back had to go.
That was our desire and goal, and so it should be for all of us. God does not require that everyone sell out materially—that is a very personal and specific call—however he does desire that each of our hearts become completely his, and that we listen carefully to hear what our specifically suited act of service is. We each have one.
One of my favourite scriptures is 2 Chronicles 16:9: The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
I can tell you that Karen and I over the years have discovered this to be true. When you abandon yourself to God with the right intent and motive—that is to know him and to make him known—he is there to hold you up and provide everything that you need.
So let’s make this personal now. Are you seeking that one most valuable pearl? Is possessing the kingdom of heaven your primary and consuming aim? It’s a fair question that Jesus would ask.
I want to ask you two questions this morning. To me these two questions are the primary indicators of where your heart is at in relation to your search for the kingdom of heaven.
The first question is this: What do you treasure?
We all have a treasure chest of sorts, because our treasure can be described as anything we’ve gained in the past. It’s what we hold in our hands, yes, but a truer indication of what we treasure is that which we store in our hearts. Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be”.
So, would money stop you from seeking the kingdom? Would investments? The house you own, or one day hope to own? The car you drive? How about your relationships? Would your love of your parents, or your spouse, or your children, hold you back from full pursuit of the kingdom?
And please understand me. God blesses us with these things; none of what I have listed is bad or wrong. It’s just that God wants us to hold everything loosely and be willing to freely relinquish anything that would stop us from purchasing that most valuable pearl.
So am I saying couples and families should split up in order to seek the kingdom? Not at all, I’m suggesting that couples and families determine what is of highest value and pursue that wholeheartedly—together.
God also blesses us with things for our comfort and happiness—he created us with a capacity to enjoy material things. But he always wants us to be as willing to give, as we were to receive. Most Christian have no problem understanding their God given right to ownership. What is out of balance is our willingness to obey God in giving back.
We need to ask ourselves, is their anything I possess, anything I’ve gained over the years that I would not be willing to give up if Jesus asked me to?
The second question is this: Would you sell your reputation to buy it?
Reputation is one of the most valuable things we own. So if then in the parable the merchant sold everything he owned to buy the pearl, it would stands to scriptural reason that we also need to be willing to relinquish our reputation. In fact Jesus, the scriptures teach us, “made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant." Philippians 2:7
We build our reputation on our merit. Merit is anything we have achieved, or any honour that has been bestowed on us, or any value or quality is our life and character that is deserving of approval. So that would include among other things, our education, our career, our trophies, and our accomplishments.
The problem with merit is that we can get stuck in it. Even the good things that we have done or achieved in the past are just that—they are in the past. Often our glory days can bog us down and hold us back from what God wants to do with our future.
I’ll give you an example of this by continuing with my own story. Once Karen and I completed our Youth With a Mission School, God immediately began opening doors for us to travel the world leading teams of young adults who shared the story of Jesus. It was our purposed measure of kingdom participation that God had called us to.
We did that for many incredible years until one day God suddenly spoke to me about changing course. I’m not one who experiences spiritual visions often, but one night as I laid awake, a shimmering figure showed up, hovering over a location I had been to many times to walk and pray, and told me I was to change the direction of my ministry.
And understand, I loved what I was doing and firmly believe to this day was fully operating in my calling. Still, Jesus said hold on loosely and relinquish—even the things that you take pride in and have built your reputation on—in order to seek his kingdom, as he knows best. Had I not left what I was doing and loved doing, I would not have walked a road that led me to be here this morning speaking to a group of people that I love and value.
So you’ve heard some of my story this morning. You’ve heard how Karen and I have tried to reconcile this challenging parable with the reality of our own pursuit of Jesus. What is your story? How are you reconciling it? Have you tried to reconcile it?
I would never harshly shove you toward or somehow guilt you into seeking the pearl, that would violate God’s unconditional love for you. Rather I present this parable to you today knowing that Hebrews 6:12 is a promise, that God rewards those who diligently seek him.
My desire is that you receive the reward of his presence in every way that he has personally intended for you. Some of you have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating; God rewards diligent seekers, not casual enquirers.
Karen told me early this week that a long time friend of our family has gone to meet Jesus. Her name is Lorna Smith, and she belonged to the diligent seekers club. She lived a simple life, making it work day by day. Not a lady of means or noted success, but with a consuming desire to honour God in her thoughts, in her walk and in her choices
That, my friends, is the personification of seeking the kingdom. Why? Because that is what Jesus did. Every day of our life, from birth to the grave, the prayer of our heart and the sum total of all of our efforts should be, ”I want to be more like Jesus.”
Life is fleeting—for all of us, even those who like Lorna live well into their years. I’m certain that many dreams and goals were never realized yet that was balanced beautifully by a long marriage to a devoted husband. Together they raised adoring children, and celebrated with them as the grandchildren arrive. And Lorna must have been one tremendous grandma., because I witnessed her fun loving heart.
When Zac was just two years old, He had a favourite TV show at the time, Fred Penner’s Place, and every morning he would stand in front of the TV and strum along with Fred on a broom stick. Well, Zac brought his one man show to Sunday school each week, and Lorna noticed him playing some mean air guitar to accompany the Sunday School songs—minus the broom because we didn’t think he should be carrying a broom into Sunday school.
The next Sunday, when Zac arrived at Sunday School, ready to rock on, Lorna took him aside and placed in his hands the new toy guitar she had bought for him. In a loving and caring act of Chrstlike generosity, she bought a little boy a Toy Guitar.
Today we can say that Lorna has finally bought the pearl! She knew it’s value and she purchased it in little quiet, faithful, loving installments that would bless others all her life long. She blessed our family, and I honour her memory.
As she stands in the presence of Jesus today, do you think Lorna wishes she’d owned more things, or kept more things? Do you think she grieves over that financial investment that she may have missed out on? Do you think she regrets not worshipping some certificate that might have hung on her wall?
I think not and I know I’m right. Do you think instead she is eternally satisfied that she sought out the pearl. I think so. In fact we can believe with full certainty that today she rejoices and is exceedingly glad, for great is her reward in heaven, Matthew 5:12.
I leave you with this thought: shop relentlessly for the pearl! Shop till you drop. No matter what it costs it’s worth it!
Jesus told us in Matthew 6:33-34 “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need”.
I testify to this fact today, Lorna’s life testifies to the same, that you can’t lose out when you pursue the pearl full out. In fact it’s the deal of a lifetime. The kingdom of heaven is a safe investment worth staking your whole future on.
Pastor Craig Eagle