Last week we examined Jesus’ parable of the soils. In that parable Jesus helped us understand that we can present the message of the gospel to different people and those people will respond differently depending on the way their heart receives the message.
In the parable of the Wheat and the Tares Jesus adds another dimension to understanding the work of sharing the gospel message. In this parable Jesus tells us that we need to be aware that as we sow the seed of the gospel we will not only have to deal with different soils, we will also face opposition.
The parable is straightforward. A man sows seed in his field. While the owner and the workers sleep the enemy sows weeds in with the good seed. (This was a practice some used to destroy their enemies). The weeds and the seed grow together and when the weeds are discovered the workers want to go and pull them out. The owner, realizing that the roots of the weeds are intertwined with the roots of the wheat says not to pull the weeds because he doesn’t want to destroy any of the wheat. They wait until the harvest when it is easier to separate the wheat from the weeds. The weeds are all gathered together and used for fuel for the fire.
Like all the stories of Jesus, this one had a point. In fact, there are several things we can learn from this parable.
SATAN IS AT WORK
In explaining this parable Jesus tells us that “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.” (13:37-39). While our Lord is working to bring people into the Kingdom, Satan is working to keep them out.
We must never forget that there is a battle being waged that we don’t see. The Bible reminds us,
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
As we seek to live for the Lord the devil is going to actively seek to de-rail us. As we try to share the gospel with others the Devil is going to try to frustrate our attempts.
Satan is shrewd he has done a great job getting us to overlook him. We dismiss the idea of a spiritual battle because we can’t see it taking place. We don’t give serious consideration to Satan because we see him as a cartoon character with horns and a pitchfork who looks sinister but seems harmless. We wave off the idea of a devil because many people seem to just “use” Satan as a way of sidestepping their responsibility. They excuse their behaviors by blaming the demon of smoking, the demon of drinking, the demon of Disco music, the demon of gluttony, the demon of driving fast and more. It seems so silly, that we overlook the Devil. Doing so is a serious mistake.
Satan will grind away at the weaknesses in our character. If your weakness is envy, he will constantly point out what others have that you deserve. If your weakness is lust he will continue to tempt you with impure thoughts and opportunities to feed the lust within you. If you are having a problem with forgiveness the Lord will remind you of the hurt that another caused again and again. If you weakness is being rigid or legalistic, Satan will try to hamper your ministry for the Lord with a pile of rules and regulations. The Devil will exploit your weakness. He will replay your failures. He will tell you that God could never love someone like you. He will seek to rob your joy and diminish your fellowship with God.
SATAN’S CHIEF TACTIC IS TO COUNTERFEIT THAT WHICH IS GOOD
Why didn’t the workman notice the weeds earlier. A common weed in the Palestine area was a weed called the “bearded darnel”. At it begins to grow it looks very similar to wheat. It is only when the wheat begins to develop it’s head that the weed becomes discernible. These weeds were prone to be infected with mold and therefore became poisonous. If the weeds were processed with the wheat the food supply would be contaminated.
The Bible tells us that Satan loves to masquerade as an Angel of Light (2 Cor. 11:14). In other words he loves to pretend to be something that he is not. And he loves to plant those in the world who look enough like the real thing to lead others astray. The Bible warns us to beware for,
False Christs or False Saviors (Matthew 24:4-5)
False Apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13)
False Ministers (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)
A False Gospel (Galatians 1:6-12)
False Prophets (2 Peter 2:1)
False Doctrine (Hebrews 13:9)
False Miracles (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12)
Look around at the false religions around us. They all sound pretty good. They use spiritual language, they talk about love, they proclaim that we are brothers . . . .but they are seeking to move us away from Christ. Satan is a good counterfeiter. He is able to produce people who look very much like a believer,
They use Christian terms
They are nice people
They adopt Christian practices (like the sacraments)
They get involved as leaders in churches
They have great Christian experiences (In Matthew 7:22 we are told that some unbelievers have cast out demons, prophesied and performed miracles)
So how do we recognize the counterfeits? The same way that people learn to recognize counterfeit money. People who are experts at detecting counterfeit bills aren’t people who study counterfeit bills . . . they know the real thing so well that they can detect a counterfeit by comparison. I know this is true from when I was a bank teller. Each day I would count thousands of dollars and every so often while I was counting one of the bills would feel odd or look odd and I would throw it off to the side. . . inevitably it was phony.
If we are going to stand firm in a world of false teaching we had better be well grounded in the truth. Do you know why church goers are being seduced by the Mormon church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eastern Religions and many of the New Age Cults? Do you know why people get sucked in by wacky religious hucksters? It is because they don’t know what Christians believe.
If they understood that we believe Jesus was uniquely (or the only) God in the flesh, they would immediately see the deception when someone says we will all become gods.
If they understood that Jesus said the only way to Heaven was through faith in Him, they would understand that those who claim to be leading others to Heaven through some other means must be wrong.
If they understood the Bible’s teaching that we cannot earn salvation but can only receive it by God’s mercy, they would see that religions that focuses on being good enough for Heaven contradicts Christianity.
If they understood the Bible’s declaration that “all have sinned can fallen short of the glory of God” then they would recognize the deception in those who proclaim that we are all basically good people.
We can be sure that any good work will have it’s counterfeits. The only way to recognize the counterfeits is to be well acquainted with what is real.
WE MUST NOT PANIC
The owner of the field knows that there are weeds in his field. He knows that those weeds could poison others if they were mixed with his wheat . . . .but he also knows that inappropriate action will do more harm than good.
Consider the history of the Church. When the church has tried to force obedience or morality (as in the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the Salem Witch trials) it has hurt the cause of Christ. It has done great damage to that which is good. People see anger not love. They see aggressiveness, not humility. They see harshness not gentleness. When we try to do things on our own we rush into trouble and hurt the name of Christ.
So, is this parable teaching us that we are to stand on the sidelines and not say anything when we see perversions of truth or see moral standards eroding? I don’t think so. But I do think there is an important lesson: As we withstand evil we must do so appropriately. Let me illustrate,
Certainly we cannot remain silent on abortion. We must point out that the freedom to do what you want also requires that you live with the consequences of your choices. If a person points a gun at another and it goes off, they must live with the consequence of their choice. If a person drinks and drives and kills another, they must live with the consequences of that choice. And I think it is reasonable to suggest that when people freely choose to engage in behavior that risks pregnancy they should accept the consequences and not sidestep that responsibility at a child’s expense. I believe we should argue for the rights of every life . . . especially those most helpless. But we should do so like Jesus. We should not be vicious. We must not be violent. We must do so with love and compassion for the child and for the one who is acting out of fear of what the future may bring if they carry their baby to delivery. When we act in angry and hateful ways we give people an excuse to dismiss us because of our actions . . . not because of our explanations.
We must take a stand against immoral behaviors. I believe it is wrong for the church to stand by and do nothing while same-sex marriages are made legal, while certain groups of people are targets of prejudice, while non-Christian religions promote themselves as part of the Christian community (like the Mormons in our own community). But even though we are to be persistent and uncompromising we are also to be loving and gentle . . . or we will tear out the wheat with the weeds.
We must confront heresy or the distortion of Christian truth. We need to speak up when a Pastor, leader, or denomination begins to drift from what the Bible teaches. Sometimes we may even have to withdraw from fellowship with such groups . . . but we must not become mean, antagonistic and abusive in the process. The devil can use our biblical concerns against us if he can get us to use tactics that lead people to dismiss us and our concerns. Jesus said we were to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves (Mt. 10:16)
God changes hearts and lives and we need to rest in His timing and not try to make things happen in our own strength. In every circumstance we are to show the love of Christ . . . even when we disagree. How many people do you know who have been disillusioned towards Christianity because of the methods of Christians? Satan will encourage us to try to do God’s work in our strength. And when we succumb to that temptation we hinder the work rather than advance it.
THE OPPOSITION WILL NOT REMAIN FOREVER
The delay in weeding the wheat was not to be mistaken. The owner had no intention of leaving the weeds in the wheat forever.
As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matthew 13:40-43)
People make a fatal mistake when they take God’s restraint and see it as God’s approval. They make an equally bad mistake when they conclude that since God hasn’t judged sin, He is unable to do so. The day is coming . . . God is waiting until judgment will no longer hurt those who are His. He is waiting for the appointed time. . . . but that time is coming.
I know the world does not like the Biblical teaching on judgment and Hell. I’d rather not think about it either. But we must be clear that the Bible says a day of judgment is coming. In fact, a number of the parables we are going to look at will focus on this issue of judgment.
There are many people who believe that everyone will go to Heaven in the end. But that is not what Jesus taught. Some people believe that when you die, you die. That’s it. There is no more. The resurrection of Jesus proves that that notion is false. Judgment IS coming.
There are three lessons we should draw from this passage. First, we need to remember to keep our eyes open. There are many poisonous weeds in the world. If we are not aware of the truth we are setting ourselves up for the Devil’s poison.
We have been told over and over that the war against terrorism in our country is going to be an ongoing battle. We can never let our guard down or we will be opening the door for a terrorist attack. Our leaders are right. In fact, they are more right than they realize. Satan is a terrorist. He strikes when we least expect it. He comes at us from directions we do not anticipate. He uses means (such as Pastors and teachers) we thought were safe and the only way we can defend ourselves is to know the truth.
Friend, have you let your guard down? Are you developing your understanding of Christian beliefs? Are you spending enough time with the truth to enable you to recognize error when it comes? Is it possible that you need this parable to push you to stop planning to read the Bible and to start doing it? Do you need this passage as incentive to draw on God’s strength through daily honest prayer? Do you need to be intentional about growing in your understanding of God?
Second, Since God is patient, we should be patient also. Patience is not the same thing as tolerance. In our battle with evil we must not forget that our methods are to be different than the world. We are to be like Jesus. We are to love our enemies in the confidence that love will eventually soften the hardness of their hearts.
The movie “A Walk to Remember” illustrates this truth. A Christian girl helps to bring transformation to a hardened boy and his friends not by condemning them but by showing gentleness and compassion.
Are you trying to “force” things? Are you resorting to intimidation, abuse, or manipulation to try to bring about God’s Kingdom.
Are you trying to badger a family member to believe?
Are you trying to manipulate someone to change through guilt?
Are you making fists instead of opening your arms to embrace even your enemy?
Do you discuss or do you argue?
Are you adopting the tactics of the world or the tactics of the Kingdom
If so, repent and abandon those tactics. We must place our confidence in God. We cannot make people believe. We cannot force people to live morally. We must show them a better way. We do this by reflecting the character of Jesus rather than adopting the methods of the world.
Finally, this passage reminds us that some day we will stand before the Holy God of the universe and give an account of our lives. The key question will be this one: “How did you respond to the gracious and loving offer of forgiveness that was given by God through Christ?” The answer to that question will determine your fate. If you have refused or ignored God’s gracious gift then you will have to live with the consequences of your life. Every wrong motive will be exposed, every manipulative action will be a strike against you, every time you ignored God will be considered an act of rebellion, every person you treated with prejudice, hatred, or disregard will be considered a personal offence to the Almighty. Every time you had the means to help someone else but chose not to do so will be considered an act of ingratitude and selfishness. On that day, NO ONE will be able to stand on their own goodness.
But if you have received His grace and forgiveness . . . if you have turned to and truly trusted Jesus as the only One who can save you; if you have followed Him as your Lord, then you will be part of the rich harvest. You will enjoy God’s favor and the glory of Heaven. You will be there not because of your goodness, but His. And you will spend the rest of your life trying to thank Him.