Things needed to be sorted out. So Jesus continued to preach from the boat to the crowd on the shoreline. Perhaps, he looked beyond the crowds to the summer fields of grain, paused, and began to teach.
Jesus taught, among other ways, with riddles, called parables, to teach heavenly realities with earthly images. In Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God, He taught about a Sower and different ways that seeds land and grow. Then, He taught about wheat and tares, the latter being a variety of a useless weed that resembles wheat. And in doing so, He teaches us so much about ourselves.
This is the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God.
Matthew 13:24-30,36-43 (ESV)
Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
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“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8 ESV).
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Let us pray. “Lord, may the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. And let me preach as if never to preach again, as a dying man to dying men. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
“Just throw it all out,” I declared, as I swept my desk clean of clutter, aiming for the trash can next to my desk.
“No!” My wife stops my indiscriminate trashing of papers on my desk. “You just throw everything away and don’t go through the stack for important things.”
I think about her chastisement for a moment. I feel a moment of brilliant break-through and reply
“Well, Honey, I figure that if something has been sitting on my desk for three months and I haven’t bothered to move it, then, by golly, it just be junk.”
Unconvinced she continued to sort through every page of the two-foot stack of paper on my desk. “Like this ‘junk,’ you mean?” Her softly-spoken sarcasm was justified. She places a sheet of paper in front of my face just a little too close to read, but exceedingly well-positioned to make her point, whatever it was. It was an unopened refund check. I was about to throw away our livelihood.
I am so happy my wife has different gifts and a different perspective than I have. I pay attention to correspondence like academic publishing deals that can’t be missed or a new fountain pen ink color on sale for one month only (I collect fountain pens). My wife pays attention to refund checks and bank statements, not to mention utility bills, and sweet little cards from family and friends.
We are always sorting things out, aren’t we?
The business of sorting through what is good and what is not is more than a household chore. It is a human temptation to sort people, or, to just throw them all away. God’s way is different.
In Matthew 13, Jesus shows us just how different God’s Kingdom is in the work of sorting through good and bad. He does so by giving a parable. As He did in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explains the parable to His disciples. God’s leaders of His Church must know the Kingdom principle of how God’s grows His Kingdom.
It is a human temptation to sort people, or, to just throw them all away. God’s way is different
In Matthew 13:24-30,36-43—the Parable and the interpretation—our Lord deals directly with believers’ sinful propensity to want to act prematurely sort through human beings to determine who stays and who goes. The truth is: God’s Kingdom grows in a field of anticipation.
From this portion of God’s Holy Word, there are four great truths revealed about the Kingdom as a field of anticipation.
The first truth about God’s Kingdom field of anticipation is this:
Believers can anticipate Godly growth in field of men.
The context for Jesus’ teaching is the preparation of sending His disciples into the harvest fields. They will see some come to Christ and be faithful, growing like healthy fields of wheat. They will, also, see some sickly specimens. If they stayed long enough, however, the sun and the soil will correct these struggling saints and grow them into strong disciples. Yet, they will begin to make judgments about the Kingdom: who’s in who’s out. And that critical moment they will cease being disciples of Christ that advance the Kingdom and become destructive forces that hinder the Kingdom.
I have watched over the years that there is a peculiar thing that happens to newly ordained ministers, elders, deacons, and, indeed, the same phenomenon occurs in other areas of life. I call it the “Barney Fife Syndrome” (this is a highly technical term, so don’t try to use this phrase at home). You remember Deputy Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show. Poor Barney only had one bullet. Andy couldn’t trust him with any more. Yet, Barney was zealous to demonstrate his authority and to use that bullet. Often, when he tried to be something he wasn’t he ended up, literally, shooting himself in the foot (or too close for comfort). The real word is “officiousness.” It is the human tendency to misuse delegated authority in the service of self-promotion, rather than building up others. Decisions are made prematurely because the elder wants to show that he now has the authority. A pastor uses destructive spiritual authority to condemn sin in an older saint who has long ago understood that his battle is being fought over the long haul, not in a split second. Officiousness can cripple ministry and, if unhindered, can cull the local Kingdom work down to a dwindling few.
The Biblical truth is that it is Jesus who sows the seed of the Kingdom and it is His glorious work that causes the growth. Indeed, faith matures in a person’s life under the supernatural agency of God working through the person’s exercise of the means of grace: Word, Sacrament, and Prayer. For any of us to judge a person who is still on the way, it is to not merely cut short the sanctifying activity of the Lord, it is to assume to ourselves that authority which is quite obviously forbidden and quite naturally impossible.
When a person comes to Christ, when a believer is growing in Christ, we must always remember that there is a great anticipation: God is never finished with us. He is always working in our lives. Never judge the final legacy of a believer by his faith and works today. Tomorrow may bring extraordinary growth that defies your assumptions.
The second Biblical truth about the Church as a veritable Kingdom of anticipation.
Believers can anticipate diabolical deeds in the Kingdom of Christ.
The story progresses with an enemy coming in to sow tares in the same field as the week. Jesus tells us that this enemy in the parable is the devil. And the seed that he sows is zizania, or, “darnel” as it is called even today in Israel. This is, indeed, a “weed” as the ESV puts it. Yet, the older King James English of “tares” is a much more picturesque word to describe this plant. It is much more than a weed. It is, in fact, a weed that looks like wheat and, in its early stages of development, is identical to wheat. Yet, at maturity, it produces a black fruit that is inedible and useless. The power of the parable is centered in both the activity of the enemy, while the farm hands sleep, and the counterfeit seeds. Moreover, Jesus emphasizes that despite the presence of these tares, the whole field must be allowed to grow together until the End of Days, when God’s angels will discriminate between the faithful and the phony. Thus, there are several critical cautions for Christians in this parable:
We need not be disillusioned by the presence of evil growing alongside good. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds more,” says St. Paul. “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel,” the Apostle says again. Many cite the presence of wickedness and hypocrisy in the Church and in Church history as evidence of the Church’s untrustworthiness. Some even use this fact as an excuse to deny Jesus as Lord. Yet, Christ Himself shows us that we should not be shocked by such unholy mixtures. This is a picture of the Kingdom in this world. I wrote a book called, Hit by Friendly Fire: What to do When Other Believers Hurt You. In the Introduction, Dr. Derek Thomas wrote that he wished the book did not have to be written. Yet, he went on, it had to be. For we all must admit that the Church is filled with pain because of, one, the reality of the fall and the ongoing sanctification process in true believers of Christ; but, also, two, “the reality of tares among the wheat.” Yet, Jesus is saying this must not dissuade our service to Him in the Kingdom. Nor, are we to take matters into our own hands to discriminate from among the members of the Church and “pull up” or throw away those tares. The challenge is, you see, there are many bad seeds that will miraculously be transformed into good seed. The one who preaches is one of those. If ever there was a tare among the wheat it was I. As John Wesley put it so memorably in his own testimony, “I am a brand plucked from the burning.”
So, we are aware of the enemy. We are aware of the presence of evil in this world. We are not defeated merely by knowing that there are imposters among us. Some will be converted. Others will be judged. Yet, the old Puritan concern for always brining our own lives before the Lord to “search me, God, and know my heart” is an appropriate response for each of us in this parable.
There is a third Biblical truth here:
Believers must resist malicious meddling with divine prerogatives.
Jesus explains the parable as the simultaneous growth of wheat and tares. He addressed that impulsive part of human nature that would say, “Alright then, let’s go pull weeds!” No. Jesus says that we are to let them alone. The truth is, the discrimination between the spiritual destiny of people is the divine right of the Lord. We have no right to go beyond those directions we have been given to protect the Church through proper Biblical discipline.
I recall that when the televangelist, Jim Bakker, fell into numerous sins of the flesh that discredited him and his ministry, right here in Charlotte, there were many who said, “He went out from us for he was never part of us.” That is a Biblical statement which the Apostle John spoke with direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is an undeniable Biblical principle that is applied to many who reject Christ and His People. But, is it the right pronouncement for a poorly prepared—if not unwise and problem-laden—man who began his ministry with little training, but much zeal? The right response was civil punishment and the right spiritual response was given by one man who decided to visit him in his cell: Rev. Billy Graham. Years later, I met with a Puerto Rican pastor (Rev. Mario Rivera) who took in Mr. Bakker after his release from prison. This kind Christian shepherd mentored the disgraced religious figure back into a man who had a life with God; a life that was free from the lights and cameras of his former performance. This older Presbyterian pastor, Pastor Rivera, met with him daily to help him heal, learn the glory of grace, and walk as a forgiven man.
There are those who fall, those who need help, those who reject Christ in our midst. Jesus gives clear instruction on the protecting the honor of His Name and the reputation of the Church. But, here, we must collate other guidance with undeniable restrictions. Judging who is in and who is out is not our work. It is God’s business. Period.
Let us, fourthly, see this truth in the parable:
Believers must trust the purity of the Church with the providence of God.
When Jesus tells us to leave the wheat and tares alone and let them grow together, we are witnesses to Jesus’ exhortation to let God be God and let us bow before His providence. The purity of the Church is ultimately in the sovereign hands of an Almighty God who knows the hearts of His saints and who grows faith within us more patiently than we could do so for ourselves.
Someone says, “But haven’t we been given the keys of the Kingdom to exercise judgement among the flock of God?” Yes. Matthew 16 is quite clear on the delegated authority of the Church in the world, concerning spiritual matters. But we are given the whole counsel of God to guide us. Church leaders who have been given the keys of the Kingdom are to exercise their God-given responsibilities with prayerful obedience and deference to all of God’s Word. Those unwise shepherds who act without the fullness of God’s Word risk damaging the local church and bringing ill-repute upon the name of the Lord and His Kingdom.
I served a historic downtown church. Our assistant pastors were frequently called upon by indigent persons, some in the most deplorable and pathetic conditions. Others, were merely lazy or addicted to alcohol or illegal drugs. Once, we had a meeting to consider policy to deal with discriminating between the two types of beggars. We felt we were likely being taken for a ride by some very clever freeloaders. Yet, how could we know for sure? We determined that we would rather be fooled by some, than to fail to feed those who truly needed it.
I would rather be fooled by a pretender in the Church than to be guilty of flinging a struggling believer into the World. Yes, some troublemakers are imposters. Yet, some difficult people in our congregations are merely infantile faithful on their own hard road to spiritual maturity. Let God be God and let us defer to Him with all faith and love. Let us err on the side of taking in tares, rather than closing the church on the golden grains of men who need God.
The field of the Church is one of anticipation: anticipating Godly growth, but also diabolical deeds, calling us to resist meddling, and letting “God be God.”
It was Peter, that most impatient, balderdash disciple who denied Jesus three times, who cursed when he was associated with the One who hung on the cross for his sins; Peter, the one who abandoned the Gospel of grace that forgave him of those sins, and had to be admonished by Paul on the floor of the General Assembly at Jerusalem; Peter—that same Peter—who would write, so pastorally, so wisely, so tenderly, the two pastoral letters to suffering saints.
“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation . . . take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:14-15a, 17-18 ESV).
Did you note that phrase, “Count his patience as salvation?” Peter was not a tares when he denied Jesus and when he denied grace. He was a golden grain growing crooked, withering in the heat, and fighting off disease. But we all know the truth: Peter matured into an extraordinary pastor, a compassionate care-giver, and a humble follower of the Lamb of God.
And shall we rush in where angels dare not tread? Let God be as original with others as He was with you. Let the fields of the Lord grow without your premature judgements and rash actions. The Gospel is that the very thing that seeks to destroy us becomes the thing that God uses to save us. Thus, it was with the cross of Christ. Thus, it is with the tares. For some of the tares will one day be identified, and will be judged. But some will be transformed into wheat in the supernatural soil of God’s grace in Christ.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
 Michael A. Milton, Hit by Friendly Fire : What to Do When Fellow Believers Hurt You (Darlington: EP Books, 2011).
 John Wesley and Albert Cook Outler, John Wesley; [a Representative Collection of His Writings], A Library of Protestant Thought (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1964).
 Rev. Mario Rivera, interview by Michael A. Milton, 1997, Personal Experience, Iglesia Barbara Ann Roessler (Presbyterian Church), San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Milton, Michael A. Hit by Friendly Fire : What to Do When Fellow Believers Hurt You. Darlington: EP Books, 2011.
Wesley, John and Albert Cook Outler. John Wesley; [a Representative Collection of His Writings]. A Library of Protestant Thought. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1964.