Every sermon, every Sunday, is a different challenge. No two texts are alike, and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to preaching — not if you’re going to do it well. So it is with this text. This Gospel forced me to focus more on application to the lives of my hearers, both in this world and in the next, because Jesus provided both the parable and its interpretation. That’s not a bad thing; I just hadn’t preached on a text like this before. One looks back and thinks of things that could have been done differently, but there’s only so much you can get at one pass. Maybe next time.
This text prominently features hell. Jesus almost seems to double back and focus on it. That can frankly make preacher and people a little uneasy. The thought of hell is terrible, but hell itself does not cease to exist for that reason. This potentially unpalatable teaching needs to be heard as a warning. This could be you….
This Gospel also reveals the role that the angels will play on the last day, which is illuminating — and that’s not even the main point of what Jesus talks about. Such sidelights, such half-hidden gems, are part of what makes Bible study so rewarding.
Jesus tells us what will happen to them for some very good reasons. First, it’s so that we don’t try and take matters into our own hands. God will deal with them far more justly and more thoroughly than we ever could. It’s His to avenge; He will repay. Secondly, it’s for our comfort and encouragement. They will really and truly be gone forever. They won’t be able to bother us or hurt us anymore. God really is just, and we’ll see that He has rescued us and dealt with them just as He’s promised He would. Then we will finally shine like the sun. We will shine because we will be given His imperishable glory, the glory He had with the Father before the world began. We will be made like Him in His resurrection glory as all sin and everything that causes pain or sorrow is stripped out of us. Then we will be happy, joyful, and free. We won’t have to deal with the weeds any longer.
God grant you patient endurance as you bear fruit for Him in a world full of weeds. Amen.
“Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 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, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up 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 weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (matt 13.24-30,36-43 niv84)
One of the delights of summer is blowing the fluff off dandelions. Wherever you see dandelions and kids, you’ll see them blowing the seeds everywhere. Kids never get tired of picking dandelions and sending the seeds floating through the air with a puff of breath. I can still remember doing that as a kid. It was a lot of fun. Now, I see someone doing that, and I think, “Do they know dandelions are weeds?” You almost cringe a little because you know that dandelions are going to invade someone’s lawn now. Maybe that’s one of the differences in outlook for kids and adults – what once was a moment’s fun is now frowned on as spreading weeds. You can still do it if I’m watching. I won’t tell you no. In our gospel for today we hear about more weeds being spread. These weeds are an unpleasant and maybe even dangerous surprise. They need to be handled in a certain way. Today we’ll ask, What to Do about the Weeds? We’ll see what they’re like. We’ll see what we can do in the meantime. We’ll see where they end up.
In order to get the most we possibly can out of this parable, we need to remember what it doesn’t mean. Specifically, we need to make sure we pay attention and follow Jesus’ interpretation. If we don’t pay close attention and stay with Jesus’ explanation, the parable won’t make sense or it will be misleading. There are three things to keep in mind when we look at this parable. First, the good seed in the parable is not God’s Word, it’s people. Jesus’ followers are the good seed. We might want to think of the good seed as God’s Word, based on other parables, but that’s not the explanation Jesus gives here. The good seed and the weed seed are different kinds of people – believers and unbelievers.
Second, the field represents the world, and not the church. If the field represents the church, that interpretation doesn’t fit with the rest of Scripture. Then we shouldn’t confront people who are teaching against God’s Word or living in unrepentant sin – which are both things God wants us to do, for their good and ours. We need to remember that the field is the whole world. The wheat and the weeds are spread out over the face of the whole earth. That includes the church because visible church bodies are in this world, but it’s not only the church.
Thirdly, it’s good to remember that the servants and the harvesters are not the same people in this parable. The servants are believers, and the harvesters are angels. The master’s servants are distinguished from the angels, who have different work to do – which we’re not given. Remembering these details will help make the parable clearer and easier to understand.
Jesus already explained what the interpretation of this parable is, so I won’t repeat what He said; but there are a number of other lessons we can draw from this gospel. First, we can tell what these weeds will be like. The weeds that Jesus refers to in the parable is a kind of weed called darnel. It looks almost identical to real wheat, except that its grains are black. They’re black because they have a fungus in them that makes them poisonous. Darnel is the perfect picture for unbelievers. They look just like believers many times. We work the same jobs, have some of the same hobbies, and have some of the same hopes and dreams. Yet the faith in our hearts makes all the difference – and that faith is not something to boast about. We didn’t make ourselves believers; God did that for us and He’s the one who keeps us believers. We’re not so very different than unbelievers are at times, because we carry unbelief around in our sinful nature and that breaks in the way we act sometimes.
Secondly, don’t be surprised when you run into weeds! The children of evil are everywhere in this world we live in. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one. They even show up in the church, because we’re still in this sinful world. If we wanted to withdraw from the world in order to get away from the weeds, all we’d succeed in doing is giving them a smaller and more isolated field to take over. The devil will inevitably sow some of them among us wherever we’d go. We can’t get away from them.
That’s why Jesus says the master told the servants to let them grow until the harvest. Imagine the disruption someone could cause in a group of believers if they went through and tried to determine who was a weed and who was wheat. A person on a witch hunt like that could cause a lot of uproar, a lot of fear, and maybe even drive people away from the faith. How would you go about that? How could you be absolutely sure that someone was always going to be a weed, a son of the evil one, and not valuable wheat? It’s more complicated than you might think. In our fields and in our gardens, weeds are weeds and good plants are good plants. Spiritual weeds might turn into good wheat over time, under the influence of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word. The reverse is also true – good wheat can become worthless weeds if a person refuses to repent of their sins or if they reject what God’s Word says over time. Think about the Apostle Paul. He used to persecute Christians, until Jesus converted him and Paul became the greatest missionary the world has ever known. Or think of King Saul. The Lord was with him and blessed him until he began to disobey and no longer govern by God’s Word. Then the Lord left him and he became angry, bitter, fearful, and tormented. He tried to kill David. Sometimes weeds can become wheat or wheat weeds – but not always. Sometimes a weed that shows itself to be a weed will continue to bear bitter fruit, and sometimes wheat that shows itself to be good will continue to bear good fruit for God – but you can’t always tell how someone will end up in the end.
So what we are supposed to do about the weeds in the meantime? Do what Jesus says: “Let both grow together until the harvest.” Remember, Jesus is talking about the world here (not the church in particular.) We’re not supposed to try and fix the world’s unbelief by force. We’re not like Muslims, who used to invade a country – and they still do this in some places – and gave the people a choice to become Muslim or die. Under those circumstances Islam gained a lot of converts, but you have to wonder how many agreed to convert just to save their skins. Unfortunately Christians sometimes attempted the same approach in the past. We might think of the Crusades, or Jewish babies being kidnapped, baptized, and raised Christian. That’s not what Jesus wants us to do. That means that trying to enforce God’s law with earthly government is out. Any time an earthly government has taken God’s name onto itself and attempted to enforce God’s law with the power of the sword, disaster has resulted. That never goes well because earthly government and the church have very different purposes and tools to use.
If people forget that they’re not supposed to try and convert others by force, that can influence the way they think about evangelism. In some Reformed churches, especially, there’s a very strong focus on apologetics, defending your faith with logical arguments. They try and argue people into the kingdom of heaven with logic and human reason. That doesn’t work. Anything that can be proven with logic can be disproven with logic. Only God’s Word can convert a person. Or you end up being like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons, going door to door and bothering people, trying to pressure them into joining your church – your false church, in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. I’m not saying it’s wrong or bad to go door to door in evangelism, but expending a lot of effort and alienating people by being pushy is not going to build God’s kingdom. Nothing in us converts people – only God’s Word does that. At the same time, that fact is not an excuse not to ever tell anybody about Jesus or ever share your faith. You still have to try, and to apply God’s Word, but converting someone is a burden we were never meant to take on ourselves. Straining ourselves to convert someone won’t make wheat out of a weed. Only God can do that. Proclaiming God’s Word, laying it on them and letting it do what it does, gets much better results. I’ve seen that myself in the times I’ve gone door to door, as well as in other conversations I’ve had. Remember that the next time you get a chance to witness about your faith. Just proclaim God’s Word, and He will make the wheat grow.
Instead of trying to root up the weeds, we’re just supposed to put up with them. We don’t try and get rid of them. That’s not our job anyway. That’s God’s job, and He has promised to do it. Think about all the verses in the Psalms that talk about God judging justly. We confess in the Creed that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. If we really believe that, what need do we have to try and deal with the wicked on our own? We don’t need to. God will do that.
When I say, “put up with them,” I don’t mean that we shouldn’t rebuke false doctrine or unrepentant sin. We should. God gives us the command to deal with false doctrine and to try to bring sinners back to repentance. But we need to do it in the right way. We point out someone’s sin, we tell them what they’re doing is wrong and why, according to God’s Word – and we keep telling them until they repent or they separate from us. That’s the way God wants us to deal with the weeds that might spring up among us – not by force.
Jesus describes what’s going to happen to those who do not believe so we can be patient and leave judgment in God’s hands. All those who do not believe in Christ will be gathered out of this world and thrown into the fire that never ends. They’ll realize that it really meant something when they turned their backs on Christ. Imagine the pain, the regret, the shame, the horror that that day will bring for them. It almost turns your stomach when you stop and think about it, but for us who are shielded through faith, none of it will touch us. Even though it will be so terrible for them, for us it will be like dandelion fluff floating on a summer breeze. We will be gathered safely into our Lord’s storehouse forevermore and given the glory that He had with the Father before the world began. He will give us His imperishable glory, the glory of His resurrection, and we will be sinless, happy, and free forever. God grant it, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.