It is not surprising that the merchant in Matthew thirteen recognized the value of the special pearl, for he had been seeking pearls and had presumably learned their value (or lack of value) through his seeking. Nor is it surprising that the man who discovered the hidden treasure saw its value. He was not seeking it, but we can hardly imagine him casually kicking at the treasure with his foot and walking on. A treasure is valuable, after all.
We are inclined to say that a person who discovers treasure anywhere or in any form and then walks away from it is a fool. But many do that with the Gospel. The Gospel is preached; it is the answer to all our individual and community needs, for this life and for eternity. But despite that fact, millions simply walk away and continue in their spiritual poverty.
Do you want to know the character of one who has been made alive by God? He says with David, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” He says of God’s laws, “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.” He declares, “Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold. Therefore, I consider all your precepts to be right; I hate every false way.” He cries, “Forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Ph.3.13–14). Such a person has already had a change of values. He has recognized the poverty of all that comes from man and has seen the true splendor of the Gospel.
The second thing that characterized both the man who found the treasure and the merchant who discovered the pearl was their determination to have what they found. The stories do not spell it out, but imagine this contrast. Here is a person who sees the value of his discovery but decides, upon reflection, that it will be too much trouble to acquire the treasure for himself. He would have to adjust his priorities. He would have to sell his goods and change his lifestyle, and that would take time and effort. He might be misunderstood by his family or friends. True, the treasure would make him a rich man, but the changes required would be too difficult. We may imagine such a situation, but that is not the case with the ones described in these parables. These men determined to acquire the treasure or the pearl for themselves.
What did it take for each of them to possess these treasures? It required giving up other things. Having recognized the value of their discovery and having determined to have it, they sold all they had to make the purchase. Nothing in the stories should be construed as teaching that salvation can be bought, except in the sense of Isaiah 55:1: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” But if that is the case, what is the point of the man and the merchant selling their goods? It is a picture of renouncing everything that might be a hindrance to attaining the prize. Martin Luther had it right when he wrote, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.”
Having recognized the value of their discovery and having sold everything in their desire to have it, the man who discovered the treasure and the merchant who discovered the pearl then made their purchase. They acquired that on which their desires had been set.
This speaks of individual appropriation. It tells us that salvation does not consist merely in seeing the value of Christ’s work and wanting it for oneself. Christ must actually become ours by faith, which is the means of appropriation. Faith has three elements. There is an intellectual element, in which we recognize the truths of the Gospel. There is an emotional or heart element, in which we find ourselves being drawn to what we recognize. There is also a volitional element, in which we actually make a commitment to him whom the Gospel presents. Salvation is a personal matter. People are not saved by Jesus en masse. They are saved one by one as by the grace of God they recognize their need and come to Jesus, trusting that He is who He claimed to be (the Son of God) and that He did what He claimed He would do (provide for our salvation through his death on our behalf). The man in the field did not allow someone else to buy the treasure, hoping that he might share in it. The merchant did not form a cooperative to acquire the pearl of great price. Each made the purchase for himself.
Do not think, if you are teetering on the brink of decision, that having renounced everything for Jesus you will one day find yourself disappointed at what will have proved to be a bad bargain. You will not find yourself coming back with your treasure or pearl, hoping to get your property back. It is never that way. In the exchange described by these parables, the men who made their purchases received a bargain. They made the deal of their lives, their fortune, and they were happy.
So it will be for you. You are not called to poverty in Christ but to the greatest spiritual wealth. You are not called to disappointment but to fulfillment. You are not called to sorrow but to joy. How could it be otherwise when the treasure is the only Son of God? How can the outcome be bad when it means salvation?