Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls and, upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matt 13:45-46).
“The kingdom is compared to the merchant who seeks the pearl, not the pearl itself. It is of paramount importance that we make this simple observation: the kingdom of heaven is not the pearl in this parable; it is the guy seeking the pearl. In… [another] parable, we have some bumbling fool who trespasses and stumbles over a treasure quite by accident. But here we have a merchant who is an expert, and who is always searching – in fact, searching his whole life – for this great pearl. He knows pearls. He is an expert. He knows what he seeks. This person is like the kingdom of God. In other words, God is the merchant.
If God is the merchant, what – or who – is the pearl? Here is the crux of the matter, the amazing fact. We are the pearl. This is the intent of the message: we are a rare and sought-after treasure in the eyes of God. He sees something unseen by our own condemning self: not failure, but beauty. He really, really likes us. He wants us; He perceives enormous beauty and wealth in us. He has become greedy and jealous over us because He is consumed with strong and passionate desire for us.
I will never forget the moment when this first dawned on me. I was going through a number of difficulties; my business was failing, and I had the dreadful task of laying off my trusted and devoted employees who had sacrificed much for me. I had many other problems going on that were even worse. It was a bad time. Meanwhile, in a men’s Bible study, we were going through the parables of Jesus and had just discussed His story of the pearl. As I was taking a shower, I was pondering this seemingly dull and familiar parable when it suddenly hit me: He is the merchant and I am the pearl. Me! I’m the pearl. That means He went and sacrificed all to get me, not just because of some weird theological obligation but because He wanted me and saw great worth in me. When that truth hit me, I cried so hard that my stomach muscles hurt. A switch had turned on inside somewhere, and I finally understood: God really desires me.
God, by His own initiative, likes us. There is none of this nonsense about ‘loving but not liking’ with God. In fact, He is extremely taken with us, to the point of sacrificing all else to have us. We are not battling an attitude in God in which He is constantly ready to condemn us and reject us, ever focused on our flaws and shortcomings. Rather… He has dealt definitely with our flaws, sins and shortcomings because He wants these things swept completely out of the picture. He is excited about us. We are very greatly loved, even as we presently stand.”
Jim McNeely, The Romance of Grace, pages 14-16.