Written by Enoch Chee
Good morning everyone. : )
I’d like to thank the worship team and sound people and everyone else who is serving today. We’re blessed by your ministry.
My name is Enoch, I’m a pastor at the Calgary Vietnamese Mennonite Church in the Northeast. That’s where pastor Ed is this morning. Pastor Ed and I decided to switch churches this Sunday. The Mennonite churches around the city are taking turns switching pastors for a Sunday so our churches can be more connected with each other. So I’ll be preaching today, and next week things will return to normal.
Seeing that this is my first time here, I thought I’d say a couple things about myself before I jumped into the sermon. The first thing that explains a lot about me is that I’m Asian—more specifically, I’m Chinese. In a lot of ways I’m a very typical Chinese Canadian. I have black hair, and I wear glasses, and I’m skinny, and I like math. Before I became a pastor, I worked as an engineer. That’s very typical too. When I was growing up in church, half the guys my age studied engineering. My wife Pauline is with me this morning, and she’s an engineer too. We get along great. I love engineering, and I love math, and love the Bible. So this morning, you’ll get the Bible and I’ll spend most of my time up here telling a story from the Bible. And along the way I’ll mix in a bit of math and engineering.
If you have a Bible, please turn with me to the book of Matthew chapter 13 verses 45 to 46. Matthew chapter 13 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. In this chapter Jesus talks about something called the kingdom of heaven.
And he gives us eight different pictures in this chapter about what the kingdom is like. This morning we will only get to talk about one of the pictures—it’s the picture in verses 45 to 46. Let me read it to you, and I will pray briefly before we begin.
45 [Jesus said:] “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Let me pray for us.
You are still with us. And you are still teaching us through your Holy Spirit. I pray that today we would hear your words just as you meant for us to hear them. And I pray that you would use your words to lead us more deeply into life. Amen.
If you go into a jewelry shop nowadays, you’ll probably find pearls for sale. And if you had a hundred dollars with you, you can probably buy a pearl. And if there’s a really good sale, you might even be able to buy a whole pearl necklace for a few hundred dollars. So an average person with a job nowadays can buy pearls. But it hasn’t always been this way. If you’d lived a hundred years ago, a good pearl necklace would have cost you half a million dollars—or in today’s money, ten million dollars. Ten million dollars for a pearl necklace. Pearls used to be more expensive than diamonds.
The reason pearls are relatively affordable now is because people in the last hundred years have figured out how to trick oysters into producing pearls. So nowadays there are oyster farms, and these oyster farms can produce more or less as many pearls as they want. But, before a hundred years ago, the only pearls you could get were natural wild pearls. And natural wild pearls are very difficult to find. Pearls were extremely rare, and the price of pearls were extremely high. They were the most valuable of all gemstones at the time that Jesus told the parable.
In Jesus’ day, pearls were harvested by divers. There was a lot of pearl diving in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. In order to get a pearl, a diver would row out into the shallow waters of the ocean. And then the diver would tie rocks to himself, and then he would take a deep breath, and then he would throw himself off the side of the boat, and the rocks would take him to the ocean floor, and then the diver would feel around the mud, collect a few oysters, and then swim to the surface.
Of the oysters that were collected, only one in ten thousand would have a pearl inside, and most of the pearls would be too small by today’s standards, or they would have an odd shape. So only about one in a hundred thousand oysters would produce a pearl that’s considered valuable by today’s standards. A diver would have to throw himself off the boat tens of thousands of times into the ocean. And you can imagine, if anything went wrong underwater, that would be the end of the diver. That’s why pearls were expensive. They were really, really hard to get.
Now the main character in our Bible passage is not a diver. He’s a merchant. A businessman. Literally in the Greek, he is a merchant who travels by sea. I’ll be talking about this merchant a lot, so let’s give him a name—I’ll call him Scotty. Scotty’s business is to buy pearls from the divers far away, and travel back home with them so he can sell them for a higher price. That’s the business plan. Buy them cheap from really far away, and then sell them inside a city at a higher price, and that’s how the business makes money. It’s just a standard retail business—like most stores you would see in the mall nowadays.
Our parable finds Scotty at a pearl market far away from home. Let’s say his home and his family are in Rome, the capital of the Roman empire. That’s realistic—a lot of people lived in Rome. And Scotty has travelled a very long way—all the way to India. It was a risky journey. He had put himself at risk of shipwrecks, pirates, disease, and theft. But he had made it.
Scotty is not a rich man. If he were a rich man, he wouldn’t be doing such dangerous work. But he’s not a poor man either, because nobody would trust a poor with enough money to buy a pearl. So we can safely say, scotty is a middle class guy like most of us here. Now the problem is, the typical middle class guy didn’t have a lot of cash. A middle class guy would have his money tied up in a his house and his fields and his servants and animals. He didn’t have a lot of gold coins lying around his home. But he needed a lot of gold coins in order to do his work efficiently. So he would have to borrow money from the bankers. And the bankers would say, if you don’t return the money, we will take your land and your home and your servants and your animals. He said fine. So Scotty was carrying a bag of coins that was worth the same as everything he had back at home in Rome. All the value of his house, his land, and his animals were in that little bag.
And he took the little bag to the market in India. And he started inspecting pearls with his expert eyes. Scotty had spent years, maybe decades studying pearls. He knew what a pearl was worth just by looking at it. And he found some good deals, and he started trading his gold coins for pearls. And after a day of trading, he was just about finished. His bag was a lot lighter, because it had a bunch of pearls and only a couple of gold coins left.
And then he saw it, and he couldn’t believe his eyes. So Scotty went closer, and there is was. On display was the largest and most perfect pearl he had ever seen. Scotty went up to the shop owner and asked, how much does that one cost? I have these gold coins. And he showed him the gold coins from Rome. The shopkeeper said, it will cost you a hundred of those gold coins.
And Scotty’s heart sank. He had come into the market that day with a hundred and fifty gold coins, but he had spent them on pearls that he thought were a good deal. And they were a good deal. He would be able to mark them up at the normal rates, and sell them at a fifty percent profit. And he’d be able to live comfortably for several years off of that profit, before he had to risk his life again on another business trip.
But this great pearl. This great pearl was worth far more than all of them put together. This great pearl could be the greatest pearl in all of Rome. It would be fit for no one less than the emperor. Here it was, at a price that a common person like Scotty could have paid if only he had known earlier. The palace would have paid a fortune for it. Scotty would have been able to mark it up TEN TIMES and they would have bought it. He would be able to buy ten of everything he had before. And more importantly, he’d never have to take another journey to India again. But it was too late. His coins were all gone. He said to the shop owner, I don’t have that many coins any more. Will you accept a bunch of these little pearls instead for that large one? The shop owner laughed and said, no, I have too many of those.
Scotty had a good idea. He would go back to all the shops he had visited that day, and ask for a refund for his little pearls. There was no way the shops would give him a full refund, but Scotty would be able to get a lot of it back. He’d started with a hundred and fifty coins, and he could expect to get a hundred back. That was the good idea.
So Scotty said to the shop owner, wait for me, I’ll be back in a couple hours. He went back to all the shops he’d visited, and as he expected, they didn’t give him a full refund. But in the end he scraped together his one hundred coins, and presented them to the owner of the great pearl. And the moment Scotty took hold of the great pearl, he knew that he would never have to risk his life on a business trip ever again.
That’s the parable of the pearl of great value.
Let me read the parable again to you, and then I want to talk about what it means for us.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
The first word in verse 45 is the word “again.” Jesus was saying something twice—and the parable of the pearl is the second time he said it. If we want to know what Jesus said the first time, we just have to go back one verse.
“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.
That’s kind of different. It’s a different picture. In verse 44 Jesus talks about treasure in a field. In verse 45 Jesus talks about a merchant in a market. It doesn’t seem to be the same story.
But the story of the treasure and the pearl are actually very, very similar. Both stories talk about something called the kingdom of heaven. And both stories have something very expensive that costs the buyer everything they have. And both stories imply that the thing being bought is totally worth it.
When we compare these two stories, we can understand what Jesus was saying. He was saying: this thing called the kingdom of heaven is very costly. It will actually cost you everything you have. But it’s worth it. That’s the message of the parables of the treasure and the pearl.
Now when people hear the phrase kingdom of heaven, it’s common to focus on heaven as a place. So people think Jesus is saying that if you want to go to heaven, you should be willing to pay any cost. It’s true that we should be willing to pay any cost to go to heaven. But that’s not what Jesus is saying here.
To the Jews back then, and to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is not so much a place, as it is a relationship. The kingdom of heaven is a relationship with the king of heaven. If God is your king, you have entered the kingdom of heaven.
That changes things. In our passage, Jesus is not saying, try to get to heaven. Jesus is saying, try to have God as your king.
Pay any cost to have God as your king. Pay your whole life to have God as your king.
That’s weird. Why would we pay to have a king to tell us what to do?
It’s because this king is different from every other king in history. To every other king, you’re just a number. Just a statistic.
But to God, you are one of his most precious creations. The king of heaven understands you deeply, and he loves you deeply. God serves us far more than we serve him. God is committed to our good, even more than we are committed to ourselves.
God the king is not like the kings of the world. He’s more like a father, but better. And you are much better off with him than without him. If you are in relationship with Jesus, and he is Lord of your life, you have access to things that you could not have otherwise. Things that the world could not hope to offer.
I’m talking about things like
-the power of the Holy Spirit in your life
-the teaching of the Holy Spirit as he guides you throughout life
-a guarantee that God is working in all things for your good
-friendship with God so that you and God have common interests on everything that matters most.
-the joy of God
-the fellowship of other Christians
-eternity to live with him and rule with him
These are benefits of being in a right relationship with God.
Jesus was saying, this relationship with God, where God is your king, is worth giving up everything for. That’s the point of the parable of the pearl.
This parable points a question to us. The question is: will we give everything to have Jesus as our king? It’s a scary question—because it means Jesus can tell us what to do with every single part of our lives. But let’s remember that God is not out to mess us up. The one who asks for our life was the first to give his life for us.
Let me close with a fictional story and a little bit of reflection.
Jesus appeared to a new Christian and said, I want everything you have.
What’s in your wallet? The guy starts counting his money. 40 60 80. 80 dollars.
I’ll take that.
How much is in your bank account?
The guy said… uh… about ten thousand dollars.
Jesus said, I’ll take that too. Do you have a car?
Uhh, yeah. Do you want that too?
Yeah I’ll take that.
I guess you want the house too?
Yep, I’ll take that too.
The guy said, well, I guess I’ll go sleep in the trailer now.
You have a trailer? I’ll take that too. Is that everything you have?
Okay. Now let me explain. When you became a Christian, all these things became mine. Now I’m going to give these things all back to you, for you to take care of them.
But when I ask for something, you must give it to me.
That’s how it works.
Except in real life, Jesus actually asks for more. He will take not only all your money, but also your time, your friendships, your love life, all your energy, all your freedom, and even your children if you have any. Everything that you love, following Jesus means signing these things over. Because it belongs to him.
And then he will give it back to you, and you can take care of it for him.
Let’s pray to close.
I trust that you know what you’re doing when you ask for my life and the life of everyone here. When I look at the cross, I know that you did not come to mess us up, but to save us, and to give us something we could not get on our own.
God, be the treasure that we give everything for. Show us why you are worth it. Win our hearts to you.
In Jesus’ name