Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 In the world today there are two billion people who identify themselves as “Christian”. All of us know that there are hypocrites in that number who are not Christians at all. All of us know that there are those, who despite their self-identification as Christians, deny the same by their false confession of faith. But for the purpose of our sermon let’s say that there really are two billion Christians in the world today.
That still leaves five billion people who are not Christians--more than twice the number of those who are. This may sadden us or horrify us but it should not surprise us. Jesus said:
“The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
We also know that the “many” who are on the way to destruction are not content to go quietly on their way to hell-- but instead are intent on making life miserable for the “few” that are on the way that leads to life.
Across our world today Christians are persecuted and martyred for their faith and driven out of homelands they have occupied since the days to Jesus. Western nations that were once Christian have allowed Muslims to almost become a majority so that now in England more people attend worship in mosques than in churches.
Closer to home, there are 33 million people in our country, who, when asked about their religious affiliation answer: none. And on this Lord’s Day there are four times as many Americans sitting at home than there are gathered to worship.
Is it any wonder that the faithful few on the road to life are persecuted and oppressed and even martyred?
All of us can understand the temptation to strike back—to believe that the world would be a little better off if there were more of “us” and less of “them” however we made that happen—and, it probably would!
Peter tried to do that with a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. The crusades and the Inquisition attempted the same. The Moral Majority tried to do it politically here in our own country in the 1990’s. We understand the temptation. We want to rid ourselves of the evil men in our world who make our lives as Christians miserable.
But what about Jesus? What would he have us do with these weeds that have grown up in his field? The Bible says that:
He [Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field…
In the beginning, God created a perfect world. It was a reflection of his goodness and wisdom and power. It was a world where a perfect, holy God could look upon it with joy and satisfaction and call it “good.”
But this created world was not the pinnacle of his work—it was not the end goal—it had no purpose in itself. It was made for man. God created man in his own image so that we could live with him and have fellowship and enjoy him forever.
That is what Jesus is talking about in this verse. The world God created is the field in the parable and the good seed that Jesus sowed in that field were Adam and Eve and now, all those who are his son and daughters through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
That we feel ill at ease with all of the evil that surrounds us, that we feel that something is not right when we think about all of those in the world who do not acknowledge the LORD as God and confess Jesus as their Savior-- is perfectly natural. Of course we should feel this way!
This world belongs to God. It is his for he made it. It is his perfect, holy, wise will that we would live with him forever in a perfect heaven and earth. That is the entire creative, redemptive, purpose of Almighty God. And to think that there are billions of his creatures who do not know him or worship him or thank him for their lives and his gifts-- is an outrage!
But that is the world in which we live. The question is: how did it get to be this way? Jesus tells us that:
while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.
All of us know what happened next in the very early days of our world after the creation of man. Into the midst of God’s perfect creation, where there was no suffering or want or death, where God and man dwelt in perfect fellowship, an enemy—a deceiver slithered in. He did not come as he was—as evil and darkness and death—he came as a creature, a destroyer of everything God created and the ruin of man.
The devil tempted Adam and Eve and his evil words took root in their hearts and what God had created and called good became evil—filled death and sorrow—characterized by alienation from God and animosity towards others. Into God’s fruitful, abundant, living world, noxious weeds of evil and death were sown.
The very next person mentioned in the Bible after Adam and Eve was their son Cain who murdered his brother—noxious weeds right alongside God’s good wheat—and they multiplied from there. By the time that Noah came along, the weeds had so taken over that there were only eight stalks of wheat left in a world filled to overflowing with evil men. That is why the world is like it is. Jesus says that:
The servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’
When we look out at the world around us it’s easy to become discouraged like Elijah and believe that we are the last believer left in a world that is trying to kill us. But the Son of God has not abandoned his world. He is still sowing the good seed of believers everywhere his cross and resurrection is preached. It may not be the majority-- but there is good seed in the world.
But we also have to admit that there is plenty of evil too! Everywhere the Son of God is doing his sowing work in this world, there our enemy the devil is doing his work as well—planting the seed of evil men right alongside of us. We must come to grips with this reality and call it what it is: the evil work of our enemy the devil.
It has become fashionable in some part of visible Christendom to discount and outright deny the existence of a personal evil being called the devil and he is quite pleased with this for it gives him free reign to do his destructive work.
But the Bible and Jesus are absolutely clear that such a being exists and throughout history the devil has been intent on destroying God’s “purposes and plans” by planting evil seed everywhere Jesus is planting good seed. We Christians know this and believe this and we are tempted to fight back with the arm of flesh just like the believers in the parable:
So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.
Before we discuss what Jesus is talking about, I want to make sure we understand what he is not talking about.
In this parable, the field is the world, not the church, and so Jesus is not talking about letting evil go unaddressed or unchecked in the church. Jesus tells us to treat those in the congregation who are unrepentant as if they were a tax collector or Gentile-- and Paul says that we are to remove the immoral person from our fellowship and mark those who cause division among us and have nothing to do with them.
Neither is Jesus talking about what nations ought to do when they are confronted by evil. It may be in our national interest to go to war against some nation like Iran—not because they are Muslim and we are Christian—but because they are violent savages bent on the destruction of those around them and we are a democracy that believes in life and liberty for all people.
Instead, what Jesus is talking about is the very real temptation we believers have to hurry along God’s judgment of evil men. James and John wanted to call down God’s judgment on those who rejected the Gospel but Jesus told them no. Peter took up the sword against Jesus’ enemies but Jesus told him to put it away—that he could call upon legions of angels if and when he needed them. There have been others attempts by Christians to get rid of evil men down through the centuries—the Inquisition and the crusades come to mind--actions that Jesus forbids to his followers.
The point is this: the judgment of evil men is the business of Jesus and he will deal with them. We do not have the ability to see into everyone’s heart. We do not have the ability to act with perfect justice. We do not know who will be converted. And so our salvation and the salvation of others is at stake when we take upon ourselves the judgment of evil men.
Right now, Jesus’ goal is our salvation and he does not want us to do anything that will imperil that- which is why wheat and weeds will grow together until the Last Day. Jesus says:
Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Jesus knows just exactly what is going on in our world today. He sees the evil that surrounds us. There is not one wicked act that escapes his eye. He knows better than we ever will how the devil roars about looking for those he can destroy. He faced him at the cross and had the victory on Easter and he will deal with it fully and finally at the harvest on the Last Day.
Later on in Jesus’ ministry, when he was teaching on the signs of the end, he said that all the tribes of the earth will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call and they will gather.
They are the reapers that Jesus speaks of in this parable who gather all the evil from throughout the world for eternal destruction in the fires of hell. Too often we think of angels as tiny cherubs sitting on a cloud when we ought to think of them as the destroying angels executing God’s terrible, fiery wrath upon the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah and slaying the firstborn of Egypt without mercy.
The judgment of the Son of Man by his holy angels against all the evil in the world means that we can put way the sword of our anger and animosity and trust that evil will not win out. The devil and his angels and the sons of evil will be tormented and punished eternally in the never-ending fires of hell.
But there is another gathering that will take place on the last day. The angels will gather the elect from all over the world. The good seed Jesus has planted will not be lost. The fruitful wheat of believers will be gathered unto the sower who planted them and not one and not one good deed done by them will be forgotten and they will shine like the stars in heaven.
Jesus concludes this parable the way he did last week: he has ears to hear, let him hear. In other words, reflect on this lesson for yourself and apply it to your own life. Am I among the good seed that the Lord has planted and caused to grow through his Word? Do I trust his promise that he will deal with all in the evil in the world? Am I looking forward to that day when Jesus will gather me to himself, safe and secure in my heavenly home? God grant that it is so! Amen.