Kingdom Parables

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds

Matthew 13:24-30

Teaching t22002

Introduction

Two weeks ago we began a series on Jesus’ parables in Matt.13 on the kingdom of God.  These seven parables in Matt.13 have a common theme—“the mysteries of the kingdom” (13:11a).  That is, they reveal a portion of God's kingdom that had not been revealed in the Old Testament (13:34,35).  Before we go on to the second parable, let's briefly review some general observations about this important issue.

The Old Testament view of history was that we live in what one biblical author calls “this present evil age”—an age dominated by rebellion and evil.  But God is sovereign over history, and one day he would replace this present evil age with his own righteous and loving reign.  The event that will separate these two periods of history is the coming of God's Messiah.

Jesus’ affirmed this Old Testament view—but he revealed some crucial additional information. What the Old Testament prophets called the coming of Messiah is actually his Second Coming. Prior to that time, Messiah would come—not as a reigning King but as suffering Servant—to die for the guilt of a rebellious humanity who God loves.  His First Coming would usher in an unanticipated form of God’s kingdom that is different in important ways from the kingdom in its fullness.  This is what Jesus describes through these seven parables.

“So what?”  This is the period of history in which you and I live!  Through these parables, we learn about how God is currently advancing his kingdom, about God’s purpose for our church, and about his purpose for our lives as Jesus’ followers.

Explanation

Read 13:24-30.  This is the story of the dirty trick.  A farmer sowed his field with wheat seeds.  An enemy maliciously over-sowed the same field with tare seed.  “Tares” are probably "bearded darnel," a weed which is similar to rye grass.  Since both wheat and tares are in the grass family, they look similar shortly after germination.  But as soon as the wheat begins to form grains, the difference becomes obvious.  Jesus’ hearers knew that this kind of “bio-terrorism” sometimes occurred.   What is unusual is the farmer’s response to his slaves’ question.  Tares could be pulled with minimal harm to the wheat crop—but the farmer forbids this.  His solution is to wait until harvest time and then separate them, storing the wheat and burning the tares.

But remember—this isn't just a story about Palestinian agriculture.  It is an illustration of both the mystery and final phases of God’s kingdom (13:24a).  Jesus gives us a partial explanation of the parable’s meaning in 13:36-43 (read).  This parable contains both old information and new revelation about the kingdom of God.

OLD INFORMATION (13:40-43): At his Second Coming, Jesus will separate those who have received his offer of forgiveness from those who don’t.  At that time, he will forever banish those who have refused his forgiveness—and he will exalt those who belong to him.  The Old Testament clearly taught this, and Jesus even quotes Dan.12 in 13:43. 

NEW REVELATION: 13:30 is the key verse—“Allow both to grow together until the harvest.”  During the “mystery” phase of God’s kingdom, Jesus wants his followers to live side by side with non-Christians in a composite human society.  Why?  Because he wants “weeds” to have the opportunity to become “wheat” through their contact with the “wheat!”  He wants everyone to hear about God’s offer to forgive them through his death for their sins—and he wants them to hear this from fellow-sinners who have responded to his offer and have been changed by it.  Jesus made this same point in Matt.5:13-16 (read and explain).  His followers must be positively distinct from his non-followers and they must be in personal contact with them—even if this contact makes life difficult for them.

This lesson is obvious from the parable, and it is taught clearly over and over again throughout the New Testament.  But Jesus’ followers have often disregarded this lesson throughout the last 20 centuries in two different ways...

“Pull the weeds!” – DOMINATION

When Christians have been in the majority or had sufficient political resources, they have often sought to prematurely “pull the weeds”—dominate human society by legally imposing Christianity on everyone.  This has resulted in the most shameful legacy of the church, which has alienated millions of people from Jesus Christ.

This error began in the early 300's AD, after the Roman emperor Constantine “converted” to Christianity and immediately affixed a symbol of Christ to his soldier's shields as they went into battle.  By 380 AD, under Theodosius I, Christianity became the official religion of the empire, and suppressed other religions.  By 400 AD, a key church leader (Augustine) twisted Lk.14:23 (“compel them to come in”) to justify compelling people to convert to Jesus—even to the point of corporeal punishment.  By the Middle Ages, the popes claimed that the state was the servant of the church and legitimized torture and execution against those who would not convert.  This led to the Inquisition, which executed thousands of Jews and other non-Christians, and to the Crusades, which made the streets of Jerusalem run red with the blood of the Muslim “infidels” (a key factor today in Islamic terrorism).  The Protestant Reformation recovered the biblical message of salvation by grace, but many of its leaders continued to use state force against non-Protestants.  One Protestant leader (John Calvin) authorized the execution of a false teacher who denied the Trinity.  Other Protestant leaders drowned thousands of Anabaptists (in part) because they rejected infant baptism.  Oliver Cromwell led his troops in worship services of thanksgiving to God for enabling them to kill whole villages of Irish Catholics (a key factor today in the Catholic-Protestant troubles in Ireland).  Not until the American Revolution did the legal separation of church and state begin to move the church of the West away from this horrible error.

This is why I get nervous and upset when I hear Christians claim that the Founding Fathers wanted a “Christian nation.” 

First of all, this is historically untrue.  Does this quote by James Madison sound sympathetic to this notion: “During almost fifteen centuries the legal establishment of Christianity has been on trial.  What have been its fruits?  More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.”   This is why we have separation of church and state, and that’s why religious freedom in America is freedom for all religions—not just for Christianity.

More importantly, Jesus calls his followers to reach out in love to non-Christians even when they mistreat them (Matt.5:44,45).  That’s what he did.  He could have used his power to dominate his enemies (Matt.26:53,54), but instead he gave himself up to death to pay for their sins and trusted his Father to judge justly at the end of the age (1Pet.2:23,24).  He did this for you and me, and he gave us this example to follow (1Pet.2:21).  That’s what the early Christians in the Roman Empire did.  That’s what the Christians in Communist China did.  They lived side by side with the tares, and as a result millions of tares became wheat!

We should be aware of this tragic error, not deny it or defend it when people bring it up.  We should say that this is not Jesus’ way, and we should oppose all attempts at domination.  But this is not the main way we are currently tempted to disregard the lesson of this parable...

“Get away from the weeds!” - ISOLATION

When Christians are in the minority or in a position of weakness, they have often sought to prematurely “get away from the weeds”—isolate themselves from their society/culture and form separate society’s/sub-cultures.  This is the Holy Huddle, the Christian Ghetto.   

Sometimes Christians have done this in blatant ways.  Monks have lived in caves, in total isolation from their society, in order to avoid temptation.  Groups like the Amish have lived in separation from mainstream American society because of its “worldiness.”  Their desire to avoid corruption may be admirable, but their strategy doesn’t work because our problem with sin is primarily inside of us, not “out there.”  More importantly, it is condemned by Jesus because it lacks redemptive concern for those who do not know him.

It’s easy to see and critique such blatant “Get away from the weeds” disobedience.  But evangelical Christianity in America is guilty of this in a more subtle way.  Since the Religious Right “pull the weeds” strategy of the 1980’s didn’t work, many American evangelicals have withdrawn from redemptive engagement with their non-Christian neighbors, opting instead to build a Christian sub-culture that is comfortable for them.

EXAMPLES: Christian music genre and labels; insulated Christian school systems; Christian TV stations; Christian trinket & entertainment industry: theme parks, wrestling federation, etc.; Christian Yellow Pages; Christian-only exercise programs; Christian-only retirement homes, etc.

Do you see a connection between this and the fact that only about half of American Christians have verbally shared their faith in the last 12 months?   When Christians live in their own sub-culture, non-Christians become symbols rather than real people and friends that you care deeply about.

It’s easy for us to criticize these obvious forms of isolation.  But we can succumb to the same error in more subtle ways.  Consider:

Do we practice hospitality—loving outsiders?  Many of us enjoy good Christian community, and have experienced great healing and goodness through it.  But this community can make us so comfortable that we don’t invite and welcome those who need it as badly as we needed it.

Does our parenting model love for people who are far from God?  Healthy activities and age-appropriate protection of our children are important, but if we don’t model this, we have fundamentally failed as parents.

Having your kids in a Christian school or home-schooling may be a good path for you.  But we also need to have vital Christian students and teachers in public schools, and vital Christian parents who volunteer in public schools.

Relating to people who are like us (racially; socio-economically; culturally) is OK, but we live in a very diverse community in which many people have no access to caring Christians.  That’s why we are to intentionally reach out to serve and befriend people who are very different from us (e.g., SPHERE VISION: CLINIC; RENEGADE; IFI; COMMUNITY VOLUNTEERING). 

Don’t “get away from the weeds”—live together with them as salt and light!  Why should we embrace this way of life, even though it will make our lives more complicated and difficult?  Because this is what Jesus did for every one of us.  Jesus had a great, weed-free family/community.  We were very distant and different from him—and we deserved judgment.  But he came all the way down into this dark world to be the friend of sinners.  And he served all the way to death on a cross—for us.  He calls on us to remember this—and do the same thing for others that he did for us (Phil.2:3-16; Titus3:1-5).  This is at the heart of our purpose in this stage of God’s kingdom!  And this is a key to our own spiritual health and joy!

Craig L. Blomberg, Preaching the Parables (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), p.120.

Quoted in John Seel and Os Guinness, ed., No God But God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), p.69.

“...as we stand for religious freedom today, we need to realize that this must include a general religious freedom from the control of the state for all religion.  It will not mean just freedom for those who are Christians.  It is then up to Christians to show that Christianity is the Truth...in the open marketplace of ideas.”  Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1981), p. 46.

Now a $3 billion a year industry, according to Newsweek, “God, Mammon and ‘Bibleman,’” July 16, 2001, p.46.

“Survey respondents who were born again Christians – meaning they had made a commitment to Christ that was important in their life, and believed they would go to Heaven after they died solely because they had confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior – were asked if they had shared their faith in Christ with non-believers during the past twelve months. The research showed that there has been no significant change in this behavior during the past decade, with six out of ten Christians claiming to have shared their beliefs about Jesus with someone whom they knew believed differently.”  Barna Research Group, April 3, 2006