We should be comforted by these words, knowing that it is okay to be honestly ignorant, and to ask Jesus for help understanding. We should be blessed in knowing that our real life experience of seeing good and evil jumbled together is normal. We should rejoice in the word promises that through Jesus we are made righteous and shall shine like the sun in our Father’s kingdom.
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Matthew #43 . Matthew 13;24-58
24 He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. 26 When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27 The landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from? ’
“ ‘So, do you want us to go and gather them up? ’ the slaves asked him.
29 “ ‘No,’ he said. ‘When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn.’ ”
At the beginning of Matthew 13, Jesus told a somewhat long parable, and then there is some discussion of why he spoke in parables, and after that, the parable is explained. This next section, Matthew 13:24-43 is similar in structure. Jesus tells one long parable and then two short ones, and then Matthew describes his manner of teaching as a fulfilment of prophecy. After that, the long parable is explained to the disciples. I’m not sure why Matthew took that approach, but obviously he did.
In fact there is something interesting about the entire section of Matthew 13:24-58. There are six parables in total in this passage. Two of them (the wheat and weeds, and the fishing net) appear to be about the idea that the visible kingdom of heaven here on earth is flawed; it contains many individuals who do not truly belong to God.
There is another set of two parables which seem to be related to each other. The illustration of the mustard seed, and also the story of the yeast seem to be about the same theme, which is that the kingdom of heaven starts small and often works secretly and unnoticed.
Finally a third pair of parables describes a third thing: the idea of the extreme value of the kingdom of God, and of sacrificing much in order to gain it.
Let’s begin with the first theme, as expressed in the parable of the wheat and weeds, and reiterated in the parable of the fishing net. Before we jump into this, I want us to notice something. Matthew has told us in several different ways in this chapter that Jesus spoke in parables because the people were hardhearted and did not want to understand. It could be that the parables were a way to keep them from understanding; but it might also be that he spoke in parables in order to try and help them see things from a different perspective so that they might become receptive to him. I know that some people in our groups were concerned about this, wondering if perhaps they themselves didn’t understand. But pay close attention to the disciples in verse 36. They didn’t understand. So what did they do? They asked Jesus. And Jesus was happy to explain it to them. The fact that we follow Jesus does not mean that we automatically understand everything he teaches. We are not in trouble if we don’t. I think we should be encouraged by the disciples here to admit it when we don’t get it, and to go to Jesus seeking wisdom. The only problem with lack of comprehension is when it occurs because our hearts are spiritually hardened against the Holy Spirit. In other words, some people don’t understand because, frankly, they don’t care. Their lack of understanding is a symptom of spiritual insensitivity. But there is another kind of ignorance, and that is an honest lack of comprehension. The Lord delights to help us when we come to him admitting our need for wisdom and instruction:
The LORD is good and upright; therefore He shows sinners the way. He leads the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. (Ps 25:8-9, HCSB)
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. (Jas 1:5, HCSB)
So the disciples asked Jesus about the meaning of the story of the wheat and weeds.
37 He replied: “The One who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world; and the good seed — these are the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 Therefore, just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Anyone who has ears should listen!
I find this parable tremendously comforting because it affirms my experience of being a Christian, and of being part of the kingdom of God on earth. In the real world, good and bad are often all jumbled together. Let me share a few examples:
- In these days, there are famous television preachers who are clearly preaching things that are biblically incorrect. It is almost certain that they are leading some people astray; and yet at the same time it is almost certain that the Lord is using their ministries to bring some people closer to himself.
- I personally know someone who has been used by the Lord to bring actual, physical healing to others; yet he also believes that he should be a preacher, and he preaches things that I would call heresy.
- Kari and I have friends who were led to Jesus by a group that those same friends would now call a cult. Our friends affirm that this group is a cult, and they reject their cultish beliefs; but they also affirm that they were led to Jesus by those people.
It is obvious that there are many good people who call themselves Christians; it is equally obvious that there are many bad people who call themselves Christians. Our churches are full of both kinds.
In this parable, Jesus describes exactly this type of world, the real world that we encounter every day. Good and evil are growing together, sometimes even found in the same groups, the same individuals.
When we encounter this sort of thing, many times our reaction is to try and do something about it. Jesus included this idea in the parable: the servants wanted to uproot the weeds right away. I find myself often with the same attitude. But the master tells the servants: “No. You might destroy the good plants with the weeds. Instead, let them grow together until harvest, and the reapers will sort it out then.”
I think it is important for Christians to understand the difference between good and evil. The rest of the New Testament clearly affirms the idea that we should distinguish between false teaching and the true word of God.
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. And men will rise up from your own number with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. (Acts 20:28-31, HCSB)
To Timothy, my true son in the faith. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. (1Tim 1:2-5, HCSB)
Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who lives in us, that good thing entrusted to you. (2Tim 1:13-14, HCSB)
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. (2Tim 2:15, HCSB)
I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of His appearing and His kingdom: Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2Tim 4:1-4, HCSB)
But in another sense, it is not our job to sort it all out here and now. For instance, I think it is good and proper for me to point out the errors of what we call the “prosperity gospel.” It is part of my job as a teaching elder to keep those under my care from being led astray. But it is not my job to stop the prosperity preachers. I don’t know what to make of some their ministries. I suspect that it will go hard with them when Jesus returns. But I don’t have to sort it all out – that is the Lord’s job, on the last day.
I want to make a few more points, some of which are reiterated by the parable of the fish in the net:
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a large net thrown into the sea. It collected every kind of fish, 48 and when it was full, they dragged it ashore, sat down, and gathered the good fish into containers, but threw out the worthless ones. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out, separate the evil people from the righteous, 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Both the parable of the net, and of the wheat and weeds describe a situation where good is mixed with evil until the end of time. But they both clearly also describe an “end time” when good will be separated from evil, and evil will be entirely destroyed, while good is preserved forever. This is important in several ways:
First, there are many people, some even claiming to be Christians, who say that there is no such place as hell, and all people go to heaven. However, clearly, Jesus did not think that was true. He teaches us right here that there will be a time when evil, and evil people, will be punished and cast away from his presence forever. You cannot claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, and that same time, believe that all people go to heaven. For many, this is one of the big negatives about Christianity. I understand why people think this is negative. But you might just as well say that falling is one of the big negatives about gravity. It is what it is. And if gravity were different, we wouldn’t exist. In the same way, the spiritual universe has absolute truths, and if they were different, we couldn’t exist.
Second, there is a positive side to the punishment of wickedness and evil. Most people can still recognize some things as evil. Beheading innocent women, children and men is evil. Making girls, boys and young women into sex-slaves is evil. Rape is evil. At least our culture still agrees with those statements. So do we want those kinds of evil to take place with no justice? What kind of universe would it be if the strong can do these things to the weak with no accountability, ever? Jesus, through these stories, tells us that there is justice. Evil cannot have its way forever. There will be accountability.
I do not want to close without pointing out the grace inherent in these things. We may be thinking, “well, yes, I can see that punishment for the wicked is a good thing, but what if that means me?” It does mean you. It means me, also. But it doesn’t have to. Jesus came precisely to save us from ourselves, from the eternal separation from God that we deserve because of our sins. Hear the end of Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the wheat and weeds:
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Anyone who has ears should listen!
I know I’m not righteous. I know you aren’t, either. But Jesus is! And Jesus offers us his own righteousness. That’s one of the amazing things he accomplished in his death and resurrection. Our wickedness and evil were punished, and we were given his righteousness. If we simply trust that he has done this for us, we have the righteousness of Jesus. In this parable, those of us who trust Jesus are “the righteous.” We will shine like the sun in our Father’s kingdom. Jesus meant this to be a comfort to his disciples, and we are his disciples if we trust him and allow him to be ruler of our lives.
We should be comforted by these words, knowing that it is okay to be honestly ignorant, and to ask Jesus for help understanding. We should be blessed in knowing that our real life experience of seeing good and evil jumbled together is normal. We should rejoice in the word promises the righteous – those who trust and surrender to Jesus – shall shine like the sun in our Father’s kingdom.
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.
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