As I mentioned in my last blog I am currently working through a series on Sunday mornings on the Parables of the Kingdom from Matthew 13. Jesus’ purpose in these parables is to reveal to his disciples something about the nature of the Kingdom of God – what it is like, how it grows and how it functions.
In the first parable, the parable of the Sower, the disciples learned that there would be a mixed response to the good news that Jesus brought. Some would embrace his message wholeheartedly. Others would respond favourable initially but then fall away. And other would reject it outright. In this second parable, the parable of the Weeds, the disciples learn that kingdom itself will be mixed. There will be many who identify themselves as being part of the Kingdom who are not part of it. That would have got the disciples’ attention. And it should get our attention as well.
So let’s have a closer look at the parable itself.
The Parable (Matthew 13:24-30)
It’s a simple story that Jesus told: a farmer sows good seed in his field. When he has finished, he goes home and tucks himself in for the night. Then his enemy comes. He arrives under the cover of darkness, while everyone is sleeping and sows weeds among the wheat. The word for “weeds” is zizania in the Greek, translated “darnel” or “tare” in other translations. It refers to “a troublesome weed in the grain fields, resembling wheat.” Some believe it to be a poisonous variety of the weed. Whatever the case, it has the appearance of wheat and grows exclusively in wheat fields.
Now the enemy doesn’t need to cover the entire field with his weed seed, just some here and there. He knows how fast it will spread. And of course no one will know he’s been there until the following spring when the plants begin to form heads. But by that time it’s too late.
Spring arrives, the servants find out and they are greatly alarmed. They want to know where the weeds came from and even offer to take immediate action. But the farmer informs them it is the enemy and any attempt to remove the weeds will cause damage to the wheat. They must wait until the harvest. Then the harvesters will come and collect the weeds, tie them in bundles and burn them. Then they will collect the wheat and store it safely in the farmer’s barn.
The Interpretation (Matthew 13:36-43)
So now what does all this mean? Later, in the quiet of a friend’s living room, the disciples asked him about the deeper significance of the story. “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field” they said (verse 36). And so in verses 37-39, he does.
First, the farmer. The farmer who sows good seed is the Son of Man. This was Jesus’ title for himself. It comes from the book of Daniel, where the Son of Man is pictured as one who will come with the clouds of heaven and establish his kingdom, exercising dominion over the entire world.
Second, the field. We learn that the field is the world. Notice that it is not the church, but the world. This story does not teach us, as many think, about the nature of the church. Rather, it teaches us about the world, within which the church lives.
Third, the good seed. We learn that the good seed is the sons of the kingdom; those who belong to the kingdom of God, who are scattered or sown throughout the world.
Fourth, the weeds and the enemy. The bad seed, or the weeds, are the sons of the evil one, who is identified as the devil. He scatters his seed secretly, while the workers sleep.
Fifth, the harvest and the reapers. The harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are the angels.
I would like to point your attention to three things I believe Jesus is telling us from this parable:
1. We must understand that Satan is alive and well on planet earth, and is busy at work both inside and outside the church.
The advancement of the kingdom and the heralding of the gospel does not go unopposed. As someone reminded me the other day, “If you are doing the work of God you can be certain Satan will be opposing it.” In fact the same person was so certain of this he went on to say, “If you aren’t getting any opposition, you might not be doing the work of God.” I’d say that would be very closely in line with what Jesus taught here. The church is a battlefield. And if you are a believer in Jesus, you are in the trenches.
That is what we see in this parable. The theme might be horticultural, but there’s conflict here, there’s hostility and there is aggression. The enemy who sows the weeds does so with no other agenda than simply to spoil the harvest. He wants to ruin the master’s work. It’s pure vandalism – sabotage. And it’s a pretty effective strategy. His devilish work goes unnoticed until it’s too late.
So what are these “weeds” that he is planting? They are counterfeit Christians. They are people who look like Christians, talk like Christians and act like Christians. But they are not true Christians. They show no evidence of true saving faith. They are not born again. They are weeds. Tares. Darnels. Zizania.
This is what Satan is doing in the world and in God’s church. He is ruining the good work God is doing. He wants the church to look like a disaster and for Christian witness to look like a sham. Now it’s actually helpful for us to know that isn’t? I mean on the hand one it is depressing but on the other it’s reassuring. Because now we know what to expect. So it shouldn’t surprise us when Christians defect and abandon the faith, when Churches split over unresolved conflict and when Pastors get up in the pulpit on Sunday and declare they no longer believe in miracles or the bible is God’s Word because Jesus tells us Satan is planting weeds in the wheat field. He is strategically placing unbelievers (who look like believers) in certain places where God is at work to destroy it.
But notice that even though Satan seeks to vandalize the Master’s work, to ruin it and bring it into disrepute, the Son of Man continues to sow his seeds. Knowing the devil is hard at work doesn’t lessen his efforts one small bit. In other words, Jesus is still planting Christians in the world. And if you are a true Christian today – that is, you have his life in you then you are here because of his doing. Despite Satan’s best efforts to ruin the harvest, the barns will still be filled.
2. It is not our place to try to uproot the weeds among the wheat.
Jesus knows human nature. He is aware of our strong inclination to go poking around in people’s lives – trying to expose sin and unbelief and when we find it, tossing them out of the church (or worse, burning them at the stake!). Well this parable says we can’t do that. As much as we are distressed over what we see going on around us, we must exercise patience. And the parable is clear on why we must exercise patience. Listen again to the words of the farmer in verse 29 after his servants request to pull out the weeds:
“No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.”
In other words, we cannot “weed” in a way that won’t do more damage than good. We can’t be trusted with the job. The harvest hasn’t completely ripened yet. The wheat and the weeds are sometimes indistinguishable from one another. We might root out some wheat along with the weeds.
The bottom line is this: we don’t always know what is in a person’s heart. I might be doing the right thing, but from the wrong motives. And you might be acting in way that appears sinful but you are truly desiring to please God. New Christians often act in sinful, ungodly ways. They are immature. They haven’t learned to be godly. They know Jesus personally, but not in a deep way. So don’t try to figure out who is in and who is out. You will always get it wrong. We need to admit our inability to weed properly.
God says, “Be patient. Let me take care of it. You just take care of cultivating that wheat.” God is so much more patient with people than we are isn’t he? We want to weed now; God says he’ll take care of it later. 2 Peter 3:9 says,
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
God is slow in judging the wicked because he wants them to turn to him. God is more patient with sinners than I am and you are. And we ought to be thankful for that.
3. Jesus provides a clear warning of certain, coming Judgement
Don’t misinterpret God’s slowness. Just because we are warned against rushing to judgment does not mean judgement is not rushing towards us. The clock is ticking. There will come a time when God says, “Enough is enough” and he will come in judgment. Have a look at Jesus interpretation of the parable verses 39-42:
“The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:39–42)
We may not be able to accurately and perfectly determine who is born again and who isn’t, who is a true believer and who is merely pretending, who really knows God and who doesn’t, but Jesus can. He knows who they are. And on Judgment Day he will send his angels and they will gather all those weeds that Satan has sown and throw them into the fiery furnace. That is a reference to hell. It is where all Christ-rejecters – those who refused his mercy and his kindness, who did not want his rule over them – will finally go.
There is a hell to shun, Jesus says, but there is also – and this passage makes this point – there is also a heaven to gain. The wheat will also be gathered into the barn. This is a picture of heaven. We know that because in his interpretation of the parable Jesus says in verse 43,
“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
They will shine! They will be radiant and beautiful and breathtaking – reflecting the glory of God, just like their Lord and Master. He will be there with them, shining in their midst.
Jesus ends his parable with the same words of the parable of the Sower: “He who has ears, let him hear.”
Jesus is saying,
“Are you listening? Are you really listening? Are you one of the pretenders – are you a weed, planted here by the evil one? Or are you one of my own, planted by my hands? Which destiny will be yours? Will you be gathered to be burned or will you be placed in my Father’s house? You need not face my judgement. Receive my mercy. Trust me. Believe in me – truly believe in me. Let me change and transform you into the person you want to be.”
“He who has ears, let him hear”
 Bauer, Lexicon, p.339