It’s rather nice when someone picks up on something you’ve written. It means that people do read what you write. Reaction to last week’s bulletin blog leads me to revisit the subject of pearls. There was a rather glaring omission I made. Thanks for those who pointed it out to me thus giving me the opportunity to elaborate further.
For the benefit of those who didn’t read it, I wondered out loud why Jesus spoke of the gospel of the Kingdom as a pearl of great price and why the twelve gates of the new Jerusalem, in Revelation 21, are each a single pearl. I pointed out the appropriateness of the pearl as symbols for these spiritual realities. A pearl comes about as the result of pain and suffering. A grain of sand gets lodged between the oyster and its shell. The oyster patiently weaves layers of nacre (pearl shell) around the irritating grain of sand until finally it becomes a gem for which divers risk their lives.
In my book that makes the pearl a wonderfully appropriate symbol for gospel realities. From the sufferings of Jesus God produced the wonderful gem of our forgiveness and our entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem.
So what’s the problem?
Just this: that pearl came to us not only by suffering but also by death. One of my readers suggested that I missed the boat (no pun intended) when I said that this pearl was a gem for which divers risked their lives. I missed the obvious: it’s not just divers risking their lives; the oyster actually dies in order to offer up its precious product. So we have not only a parallel to the suffering of Jesus but also to His death.
There is a further parallel that is striking. Many shops sell fake pearls. They are a cheap imitation that satisfy some people – especially those of us who are economically challenged. In the same way there are fake gospels that are a cheap imitation of the gospel of Christ. Just as someone can get taken in by fake pearls so people constantly get sucked into cults that offer a fake “gospel”. In fact there is a very common and popular pearl that is really not really a genuine pearl. It is a cultured pearl. This is where a large bead is inserted into the oyster and the oyster obligingly puts a layer of nacre around the bead. In due course it is harvested as a cultured pearl. A cultured pearl has only veneer of pearl around a non-pearl body. In the same way many cults, and even some movements within the Christian church, have a veneer of the gospel – but at the core they are fake.
That happens for example when movements do not do justice to the person of Jesus. If Jesus is not accepted and worshipped as being fully God, one with the Father, then we have a cultured pearl. In many ways it looks like the real things but it only has a veneer of the true gospel.
Similarly, when we hold to the idea that the death of Jesus was merely a wonderful example of self-giving sacrifice then we are holding onto a cultured pearl and not the real thing. The real pearl of great price is the message that Jesus death was substitutionary – He died in our place to pay the penalty for our sin.
Someone who wants to spend some money on pearls will make sure that they buy the real thing. Someone who wants forgiveness and eternal life had likewise better make sure that the gospel they embrace is the real thing.