Matthew 13v24-43: All sorted out in the end? - 14th Sept 2014 - Dave Walker


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This month we’re looking at some of Jesus’ parables, this razor sharp teaching that cuts to the heart and shows what’s really there. And last week we began by looking at the foundational parable, the parable of the sower, the one Jesus uses to set up the rest of what he has to say. If you weren’t here, listen to it: it’s online at the Christ Church North Finchley website or on our Facebook page.

But by way of a quick recap, Jesus has been explaining what his mission is all about: he’s all about the advance of what he calls the kingdom of heaven. The government of God, God’s rule is breaking into this world. That’s what Jesus is doing. And he’s been explaining how he’s doing that, his strategy: he has said that his mission is all about spreading the gospel message like a farmer scatters seed. That’s his mission, and that’s what he wants his followers to be involved with too – spreading the word, the message about him. As that happens you see different responses, like seed landing in different sorts of soil. Some people are hardened against the message. They hear of Jesus and they reject it either outright, or after an initial period of interest. Others respond to the word and bear fruit. They become followers, they grow, they pass on the message to others. This is Jesus’ strategy; this is the way that God’s Kingdom, his rule, is breaking into this world. Through the spreading of the word; the passing on of the gospel of Jesus from person to person, to all kinds of people, some of whom will reject Jesus, others of whom will accept him.  

Well if that’s the foundation, today we build on that. Jesus continues teaching and it’s a similar parable, but with some key differences – it’s a different seed, for one. He’s teaching a something different through it. But we can still expect the same razor-sharp words of Jesus, words that create a response, but it a response that could go either way. It could harden us against him, or cause us to grow. So let’s pray before we read the parables.

Read Matthew 13:24-43

So again, Jesus just throws it out there, doesn’t he? I’ve heard it said that these parables are like truth bombs, little nuggets of the gospel which Jesus just drops into our lives. And when the conditions are right they explode into life for us, and fill us with light.

And again in these verses the disciples show us what the right conditions, the right response looks like. They show us what we need to do if we’re going to be like the good soil of last week, if we’re going to benefit from this instead of just being hardened. See verse 36? The disciples follow Jesus into the house and ask him: “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” That’s what we need to do. So as we too look to Jesus to fill us with light, what can we learn from his teaching here?

1. Don’t be deceived by the mixed up nature of the world now: in the end God will make it totally clear.

I think this is the big thing Jesus is teaching through the parable of weeds in the field. Don’t be deceived by the mixed up nature of the world now: in the end God will make it totally clear. The parable is a story of twos, isn’t it? Two sowers, two types of seed, two destinies for the crops. Well actually there’s a significant one there – notice that the field has one owner. Did you spot that in verse 24? “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” And in verse 27: “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field?” Who is this owner and what is the field? Jesus explains to his disciples in verse 36: “the one who sowed the seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world.” The field is the world and the owner is the Son of Man. Jesus. He owns the world. Don’t forget that. The devil would have us believe that this world is his, that we are the intruders here. That the message of Jesus is somehow alien to the world as it really is. No, it’s the opposite. Evil is an unwelcome intruder in this world. That’s one of the reasons that we feel almost instinctively a sense that something is wrong. Evil is an unwelcome intruder. When Jesus advances the kingdom of heaven in this world, he’s laying claim to what is rightfully his.

So there’s one owner, but most of this parable is about twos, contrasting twos. There are two different time periods aren’t there? What does the owner say about the crops in verse 30? “let both grow together until the harvest”. There’s the growing time and there’s the harvest. Or, as Jesus explains it in verse 39, there is now and there is the end of the age. The end of the age is the point in the future when Jesus will call time on the world as it is now and bring radical change. Judgment day. So, two different times: the growing time – now – and the harvest – judgment day.

And there are two different groups of people in the world. Two crops, wheat and weeds. Again, look at how Jesus explains it in verse 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.” Two different groups of people with different parentage. The sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one. Now, during the growing time, they’re all mixed up together in the same place.

But then there are also two very different outcomes, aren’t there? Verse 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.” Or again, as Jesus explains in verse 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.”

Do you see how this comes together? Now things are mixed up. Then things will be clear. Don’t let the mixed up nature of the world now deceive you: in the end God will make it totally clear.

Don’t be deceived that everyone looks the same. Even now there are, deep down, only two groups of people in the world. It doesn’t necessarily look like that to us: to us everyone looks the same. But God knows. Jesus knows. On that future day of separation, the harvest day, the angels will be able to tell. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy chapter 2: “God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his.” That’s exactly what Jesus is saying.

You know what it’s like when you see the crowds of people in central London? It’s dizzying, isn’t it? What’s that line from Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks? “Millions of people swarming like flies round Waterloo Underground.” You don’t even have to go to the centre, just standing in the middle of North Finchley on a Saturday gives you a bit of that feeling. So many people and you don’t know them from Adam. But, says Jesus, at heart every one of them will fall into one of these two groups. You may not be able to see that now. But God can. And on the harvest day he will make it absolutely clear.

In fact the only thing we can see that separates those two groups now is their response to Jesus’ message. Like we saw last week; it’s how people respond to Jesus now which shows up what they are at the deepest level. Those who will be with him in his kingdom on that future day are shown by their desire to listen to him now. By their response to Jesus now in the gospel. Listen to these words of Jesus in John chapter 3 verse 16. Some of the most famous words he ever said, but listen to how he goes on: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.”

Don’t be deceived that everyone looks the same. Don’t be deceived either that everyone looks different. We humans love making lots of little divisions. We love dividing ourselves into ‘us’ and ‘them’. That’s what being a sports fan is all about. Imagine yourself looking at that big crowd at Waterloo again: you may not be able to see into people’s hearts, but you’ll still be putting people into categories in your mind all the time according to all sorts of superficial things. But there are at heart only two groups. Everything else that we use to separate us into groups is irrelevant on that day. It won’t matter then what side people come down on in the referendum, whether you’re British or Scottish. Nationality itself is irrelevant. Race is irrelevant. Gender. Sexual orientation – whether you find yourself attracted to people of the opposite sex or of the same sex - irrelevant. Upbringing, what social class you belong to, whether that person was brought up like you were or differently, whether they grew up in a Muslim home or a Christian home or an atheist home – irrelevant. Education: whether they got into that school or that university or got those A*s – irrelevant. There are countless ‘us’ and ‘them’ distinctions in the world now. But on that future day the only one that counts is whether or not you belong to Jesus. How you responded to the message of Jesus when it came to you.

And now it doesn’t look advantageous to be a follower of Jesus, does it? Very often the opposite: there are all sorts of ways of getting ahead in the world which are not an option for followers of Jesus. But again, don’t be deceived. Contrast the different endings. Verse 42: The fiery furnace. Verse 43: Shining like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Jesus doesn’t offer us a list of gradations, endless choice, a sliding scale depending on how good we’ve been. It’s God the loving Father saying either “come on in and share my everlasting happiness” or “away, I never knew you.”

Verse 41: “They will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil”. If you have any awareness of the world around us that line should make you want to cheer. The pain and the horror of this mixed is due to things that cause sin and people who do evil. That’s true isn’t it? These may be sharp words of Jesus, but man do we need them.

Different groups of friends have different effects on us, don’t they? Have you noticed that? Sarah and I were talking about this the other week. We had two weeks next to each other when we saw quite different people. One of those weeks was the holiday club week when we spent most of the time with Christians. The week before we’d seen quite a few old friends who were not Christians. Both of those groups of people were friends who we loved very much. But we were observing the different effect on how it made us feel spiritually. The time with the non-Christians left us feeling pretty discouraged spiritually. We felt pretty odd being Christians. They had such different priorities to us, and yet so easy to fit in with. If these lovely people could reject the gospel, what made us so sure we were right? The week at holiday club left us feeling inspired, more confident in the gospel than ever. The message of life. And we said in many ways wouldn’t it be easier to be a Christian if we only lived with Christians? But we’re not called to be in a monastery now. Jesus has put us in the mixed field. That’s how he wants it now.

Why? Why the mixture now? Don’t forget that in the parable this, now, is the growing time. When I’ve read this chapter before I’ve often wondered why Jesus puts these other parables in the middle of the two halves of the parable of the weeds. Do you see that in verses 31 to 36? Wouldn’t it be better just to go straight from the parable to meaning?

But actually the more I’ve looked at it this week the more I think this is it: Jesus is using these other parables to show exactly what he’s doing now, in the growing time. In the mixed field. Before the harvest comes.

2. Don’t underestimate the influence we can have now: God is growing his kingdom

So Jesus tells these two little parables to illustrate growth. The little seed that grows into a big plant. The little yeast that works through the big batch of dough. Both beautiful in their simplicity, very powerful pictures of growth. A small start; a massive end. That’s the case with the Kingdom isn’t it? It started really small in a big world, but don’t let that put you off. It’s already grown really big, and it’s still growing. From Jesus alone on the cross that dark Friday afternoon to a worldwide church made up of disciples. That great hymn we sing: “Jesus shall reign wherever the sun does its successive journeys run, his kingdom stretch from shore to shore till moons shall rise and set no more.” It will happen. Even now we see glimpses of it, far more than the disciples could see back then.  

And in both of these parables there’s a big emphasis on the surrounding world. As the kingdom grows the people around benefit by coming to be part of it.

So did you spot the line at the end of verse 32? The kingdom grows and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Jesus is drawing on a picture from one of the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel, chapter 17 which talks about people from all around, the nations coming in and taking refuge in the tree that God has planted. The surrounding people will find refuge here in this growing kingdom of God.

Or the yeast in verse 33: the thing about it is that it works all through the dough. It’s a small amount with a huge influence. It influences the surrounding dough. As this kingdom grows, it does so by influencing the people around. Of course it does – do you remember how it grows? By the spreading of the gospel message. As the gospel is spread to the people around us the effect is like yeast. It goes out into the whole world.

In 1895 Peter Cameron Scott and 15 others landed in Kenya, by 1898 all bar one either dead or back home. Unnoticeable beginning. In 1995 25,000 gathered to celebrate 100 years of the word of God in their country. That the tip of the iceberg.

I never met Ramiro, but I knew his ex-wife, Ana. They had preached the gospel in a drug growing area of Colombia in the 1980s, when the drug barons held all the power. As soon as Ramiro’s ministry began to have an impact, the barons put at and to it by having him killed. When I met her, it was ten years later, and Ana had just returned from opening a new Bible College in the place where Ramiro had died.

Because this word is powerful: it’s about bringing Jesus to people. And Jesus transforms. Jesus saves. It’s not that we are dynamite – the kingdom of heaven is dynamite. Don’t forget Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven - God’s rule. God’s power is in this.

This week I’ve realised that this is about sons of the evil one becoming sons of the kingdom. This is about Jesus turning weeds into wheat. There may be two groups of people in the world, but the growth of the kingdom is all about people from the bad camp moving into God’s camp. That’s what Jesus is doing in the world through his gospel message. He is reaching out to sinners with the offer of forgiveness. He is reaching out to rebels with the offer of enthronement in his father’s kingdom. He is reaching out to sons of the evil one and he is offering them new birth into God’s family. He is reaching out to people who are fuel for the fire and offering them a future of shining like the sun in the kingdom. Burning brightly with God’s glory instead of being burned by his fury.

Don’t underestimate the influence we can have. God is growing his kingdom. He is saving people through the message of Jesus.

That’s a big reason we meet on Sundays like this, isn’t it? We don’t meet together to run away from the world. We meet together so that we can be useful in the world. When we meet like this God reminds us of what really matters. He reminds us that we are a family, that we share a common future with him. He gives us a taste of that glory as we enjoy being with him and with each other. But he does that so that we can remember what we’re here for on earth now. We’re here to be active in the world. To participate in his mission. To scatter the seed of the message. To offer people Jesus. We will not be effective out there unless we are meeting here together, for God to equip us. We’ll end up just blending in and growing dull. But also we have not fulfilled our work for the Lord when we leave here each week. It’s just beginning.

Don’t underestimate the influence you can have out there. What will you be doing this time tomorrow? What will it be? You will be God’s ambassador. You are the channel through which the people you know can meet Jesus. Your life is the way that they can discover what it looks like to be one of God’s people in the world now. Your voice is a way they can hear the life-giving message of Jesus. That’s not because you are powerful; it’s because God is powerful: he is growing his kingdom and he is doing it through us. Of course if it’s down to you all you’ll ever think is “what chance have I got? They’ll never believe me. If only I could be great at arguing, like the people on the YouTube videos or the politicians on question time, or the great preachers, then people would believe me, but I’m just not like that.”

It’s not down to how persuasive or argumentative you are. The power is in the seed. In the word of God. In 1984 my dad, still an unbeliever, went to see Billy Graham, who was the great evangelistic preacher of the time. My mum, who had recently become a Christian, was on tenterhooks. She desperately hoped that my dad would be convinced by Billy Graham, she desperately wanted him to go forward at the end of the night and give his life to Jesus. But he didn’t. Even Billy Graham couldn’t argue him round. But the truth bombs had been dropped. My mum, some of her friends, the vicar of the church, even Billy Graham, all of them had been faithfully scattering the seed of the gospel. They had spoken the truth of Jesus to my dad, patiently, prayerfully. And one night, those truth bombs exploded into life. Not at a big event, just on his own, he called out to God. God was still growing his kingdom. Another weed had been turned into wheat. God is still growing his kingdom. The tiny seed has become a tree. And the tree is still growing.