Weeds in the Kingdom
A bruised reed He will not break,
A smouldering wick – He will not snuff out.
This is a prophecy about Jesus told through Isaiah some 700 years before Jesus would walk among us (Isaiah 42:3). In it we recognize the essential kindness and strength of Jesus. We want to be around a person like this.
Welcome Calvary, welcome to Calvary, and welcome to our teaching series “Matthew: An Invitation to the Kingdom”.
As we’ve been going through the Gospel of Matthew we’ve been noticing Jesus’ mercy and compassion in how He relates to people, especially marginalized people.
We see Jesus coming upon bruised people and He does not break them. He comes among smouldering wicks of people and He doesn’t snuff them out. Quite the opposite. He is the image of mercy and compassion.
We noticed that it was the compassion of Jesus that marked a major shift at the end of Matthew 9; you might remember that Jesus calls us to pray to be cast-out into the fields of people on God’s heart. Jesus selects 12 to be Apostles—or sent-out ones—giving them the same authority He has to heal and cast out evil and He directs them to preach the gospel: “the Kingdom of heaven is near.”
Now in Matthew 13, we find there’s another major shift. He begins to reveal the Kingdom by teaching in parables, these interesting stories that have layers of meaning and seemed to confound many of His listeners. By their nature parables are meant to involve and provoke us, they are meant to challenge us to listen, or not.
In Matthew 13 Jesus begins to speak in parables and it’s troubling to his closest friends, as Phil began to teach last week. “Why do you speak in parables?”, as if to really ask, “can’t you just spit it out? Be clear.”
You see, God’s Kingdom is not like any kingdom or political system we have ever known or experienced. In fact, whenever Christians try to equate God’s kingdom with our own political systems we fail miserably.
In a way, our generation is trying to undo the disaster of “colonial-kingdom-making”, the idea that our political kingdom is rubber-stamped by God. It’s just not true; it never has been true; it will never be true in our life time.
For God’s Kingdom is not like any kingdom or political system we have ever known or experienced.
For this reason we find seven parables of the Kingdom in Matthew; it’s like Jesus is inviting us to look through a different stained glass window to see what His Kingdom is about. He gives us parables, many of them, as if to say “here’s another way to think about my Kingdom, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever considered.”
Today we look a what is known as “The Parable of the Weeds” in Matthew 13:24 – 30 and Jesus’ explanation of this parable in 36 – 43.
What I am after in this passage is to exhort us to “Learn to Discern”; learn to distinguish between weeds and wheat. With this discernment, may we exercise a deep humility and Christlike compassion as we follow Jesus, to do His will, and grow to be like Him.
Weeds in the Kingdom
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.”
I want us notice here that Jesus begins to tell us about the Kingdom in the same way as He just told us about the Parable of the Seeds in the earlier section, but there will be enough differences that we can’t just take the Parable of the Seeds as a kind of “key” for this parable, as we’ll find out.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.
But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“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?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 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.’”
Jesus stops there and goes on to tell a few more parables of “what the Kingdom of heaven is like” (next week Cheryl will teach) but His disciples came later and asked about this one.
We find some of the pieces of this parable do not have the same meaning as the previous parable; let’s find out:
His disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
“The one who sowed the good seedis the Son of Man [this is Jesus’ nick name for himself]
The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom.”
In the Parable of the Seeds the seed was the message of the Kingdom (13:19). Phil noted last week that it is the quality of the soil that determines the fruit of the seed. But in this Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds there are some important differences.
The “the good seed” stands for the people of the Kingdom, that is, people who belong to God’s Kingdom. Or I might put it like this: people of the Kingdom are people who respond to the mercy and compassion of Jesus’ call to do His Father’s will, as Dan taught a few weeks ago.
Before we are tempted to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, remember our status of being People of the Kingdom says more about the King than it says about us.
“Don’t we all belong to God’s kingdom” You might ask?
We are all “under the rule and reign of God’s kingdom” but we are not all of God’s kingdom, and Jesus provides a serious contrast in the next verse; Jesus explains:
“The weeds are the people of the evil one.”
Here we see the weeds are not “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” as Jesus described weeds/thorns in the previous parable (13:22). Weeds in this parable are people, specifically people of the evil one, that is, people who Jesus describes in verse 41 as those who “cause sin and do evil.”
I suppose the weeds he’s talking about could have been any kind of “garden variety weeds” but there is a kind of weed known as the “Bearded Darnel” (Lolium temulentum) that looks entirely like wheat until the grains appear.
In other words, as this weed is growing it is indistinguishable from the wheat until the fruit appears. Then we discover that it is noxious, it is a poisonous rye-grass common in the Middle East. (Alfred Edersheim, 1912, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah)
Perhaps a Canadian comparison might be if someone came along and sowed “wild oats” in an oat field.
No wonder this would be troubling to farmers. In the parable, by the time they notice the weeds they ask “should we pull them out”? (13:28).
The master answers:
“No […] because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.”
This is an interesting answer that communicates a few things:
- There’s value in every grain of wheat, and I don’t want to lose one of them by the threat of pulling out the weeds.
- Don’t worry about what’s not in your control, there will be a time at the harvest to separate the weeds from the wheat.
Who sows seeds like this? Only an enemy. This enemy is not ambivalent, not neutral. Against God’s Kingdom is an enemy out to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). Jesus explains:
“The enemy who sows [the weeds] – is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age [used again in Matthew 28:20, the very last words of Matthew’s Gospel), and the harvesters are angels [in other words – “not us.”]“
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 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.
[The angels] will throw [the weeds] into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
This disturbing parable should produce in those of us who believe we are people of the Kingdom not a triumphal self-righteousness as if we’re so special that we belong and others don’t; this should produce in us a deep humility and a Christ-like compassion as we recognize all this says more about Him than it says about us. This should produce in us a generous welcome and a serious call to join us as we deny ourselves, pick up our cross daily, and follow Jesus.
At Calvary we want more of Jesus.
The other thing this parable should produce in us, among other things, is the desire to learn to discern. This exhortation could not come at a more important time in our culture and in the life of our church.
As Edna Hong wrote in the last century, “An age without a sense of sin, in which people are not even sorry for not being sorry for their sins, is in rather a serious predicament. Likewise an age with a Christianity so eager to forgive that it denies the need for forgiveness.”
For such an age, therefore let us be found faithful.
In this parable of the Weeds in the Kingdom Jesus doesn’t give any explanation about the devil, the evil one, or the fact that there are those who belong to the evil one and that they are scattered among us to cause sin and do evil!
In a way, this parable revisits a theme Jesus touched on in Matthew 7:15 where we are warned to “beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing”.
I would want us to be discerning. Learn to be able to distinguish between wheat and weeds, learn to recognize wolves in sheep’s clothing.
When I say “be discerning” I do not mean to say that I am the measure of all discernment. You will have to discern if I am producing good fruit consistent with our Lord. What I do mean is this: You. Exercise discernment. Learn to Discern.
How do you do that? The best way I know is to follow Jesus’ example.
Jesus was in God’s word. He listened for His Father’s will as He listened to God’s Spirit.
The best way I know to learn to discern is to be in God’s word, as we listen for Our Father’s will, as we listen to God’s Spirit, as we live in community with God’s people.
A good discernment question could be: what is growing my love and trust in Jesus and what is eroding my love and trust in Jesus?
If we can recognize this, may we be careful to safeguard our life and love for the One who made us for Himself.
“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” Proverbs 29:18
We live in times of the dark absence of the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We live in unprecedented times of people casting off restraint where this Gospel of Jesus Christ is as important as it has ever been to rescue people who are alienated from God, from others, and from themselves.
Jesus comes telling stories: the Kingdom of heaven is like… it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, follow me.
Be discerning. Be in God’s word. Read it again for the first time.
Listen to God’s Spirit. His voice will echo what He has been saying in the Word.
Surround yourselves with the community of God’s people, people who are wanting to grow in love and trust, producing fruit consistent with Christ.
In 1856, JC Ryle wrote:
Good and Evil will always be found together in the church.
The purest preaching of the Gospel will not prevent this. In every age of the church the same stated things have existed; it was the experience of the early Church; it was the experience of the Reformers; it is the experience of the best at the present time.
The most strict and prudent discipline will not prevent this […] we shall never succeed in obtaining a perfectly pure fellowship; weeds will be found among the wheat.
Worst of all, if we are extreme in our efforts to obtain purity we do more harm than good: we run the risk of […] breaking a bruised reed. In our zeal to pull up weeds, we are in danger of rooting up the wheat with them.
I started off today with a reference to Isaiah 42:3:
A bruised reed He will not break,
A smouldering wick – He will not snuff out.
In this prophetic word we recognize the essential kindness and strength of Jesus that both leads us and heals us. We also see the particular worth of every strand of wheat to the Master.
Dear Children: Learn to Discern.
Be in God’s word. Read it again for the first time.
Listen to God’s Spirit, the life-giving voice of Jesus. His voice will echo what God has been saying in the Word.
Surround yourselves with the community and the communion of God’s people, people who are wanting to grow in love and trust in Jesus, producing fruit consistent with Christ.
Learning to Discern should produce in us a deep humility and Christlike compassion as we follow Jesus, do His will, and grow to be like Him.
Finally, I leave you with Jesus’ words at the end of this parable: Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.
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1 Comment on ‘Weeds in the Kingdom’
[…] me tell you, for several weeks as I was studying this chapter, I was stumped by this parable. As Rusty said a few weeks ago, parables are meant to provoke us, they are meant to challenge us to listen. Certainly this parable […]