The First Sunday in Advent December 1, 2002
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
701/68, 413, 430, 574
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn”’”
…Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
Dear fellow subjects in the King!
From Old Testament Psalms to Jesus’ words describing the final day of this earth, God’s Word describes our Savior as our “King.”
“ADVENT” means “coming.” Beginning today and continuing for four weeks leading up to Christmas, we remember and celebrate the coming of our King, Jesus.
We know from the Bible that Jesus is not like any king on this earth for His is not an earthly kingdom. In the words we have just read, we have heard that the kingdom of God is “within” us.
Jesus, our King, came once as a child to live a perfect life in our place and to die on the cross to pay the penalty for all of our sins. That “coming” we remember with thanksgiving in this Advent season.
Jesus, our King, will again come on the Last Day. He will judge all people and separate believers and unbelievers to their eternal fate. In this Advent season we look forward to that second coming of our king.
But Jesus, our King, is also coming to us RIGHT NOW and day by day! If, in our celebration of our king’s coming, we see only both “ends”—when He came first and when He will come again—we are missing the comfort and the joy and the excitement of being subjects of our King. For Jesus’ kingdom is not limited to His work of redemption. His kingdom is not limited to the time when He will come and take us to heaven. His kingdom is now! His kingdom is His ruling activity in our hearts and in our lives. His kingdom is ruling over all things and controlling events in this world for the benefit of His people’s souls. His kingdom is coming to you through His Word to comfort you, to strengthen you, to encourage you, to dry your tears, to assure you that although you are a sinner your sins are washed away. This is the work of your King! Possessing all of these blessings (as you do) is being a “subject of the King.” The kingdom is now!
So in this Advent season we will celebrate Christ’s coming in the past, His coming in the future, but also His coming to us now, in the present. As we consider our King and the kind of kingdom He has, we learn rather quickly that His is a kingdom like none other.
With our human limitations it would be hard for us to fully understand the scope of Christ’s kingdom and every detail. So, during His ministry on earth, Jesus left us with several parables using earthly situations to describe an aspect of His kingdom. In this and the next three meditations, we will spend time with four of these parables as recorded by Matthew. Each of the parables begins with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”
As we consider the kingdom like none other, we come first to: THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE A FIELD: PERSEVERE UNTIL THE HARVEST I. You are sown by God—Grow in Him; II. You will be gathered at harvest—Continue to Maturity.
Jesus’ parables (which He used quite often) were earthly stories with heavenly meanings. Jesus took things out of every day life, told a story, and used the story to illustrate and explain something of far greater importance. It was part of every day life for a man to go out and sow his field with good seed. And apparently, it was not completely unheard of that someone might sabotage another man’s field by sowing tares. Even if no one actually sowed the tares, there would undoubtedly still be some tares naturally growing in the field just as weeds grow in our fields to this day.
In the early stages of growth, the tares (the particular weed in Jesus’ parable) would like exactly like the wheat, but as the plants came of age and began to bear fruit they could be distinguished. The tares had seeds, not totally unlike wheat, except the seeds of the tares were poisonous. If people ate the tares it could lead to sleepiness, nausea, convulsions, and possibly, even death. Thus there is a sharp contrast between the tares and the wheat even though at the beginning stages they are very much alike.
So who in his right mind would ever plant weeds? In Jesus’ parable we hear that it was an enemy of the one who sowed good seed. Who could devise such an evil plot? Only someone who was wicked and evil. In Jesus’ application of the parable He names that one, the Devil.
The sower sows good seed. The world is the field. God sows good seed by creating believers with the power of His Word. God puts these believers out in the world as lights shining with the truth of His Word in a world of sin’s darkness. But the Devil is also in the world, sowing and working in exactly the opposite way. He is sowing tares—poison and death.
It is always the One who sows, God, who creates believers. It is God who has sown you as a believer in this world. In an earthly field, a seed is sown and then with sun, rain, and the soil’s nutrients it grows into a plant and then matures to harvest. So too you have been sown and through the “nurturing energy” of God’s Word you grow in faith and are preserved in faith.
When Jesus describes the believers as wheat, the unbelievers as tares, and the Devil busily working against God by sowing more tares, He is, in short, describing our life in this world. We are wheat among the tares, believers in the midst of unbelievers. Even though outwardly we may look exactly the same, we are not. We and unbelievers will have the same jobs. We will work at the same plant. We may have the same number of children and in the same grades. We may be equally upstanding citizens, active in our communities. We may have equal morals: Both respecting life, both understanding that any kind of greediness and/or stealing is wrong,. We may live our lives in the same pattern of morality. We may all have the same political stripe and agree on EVERYTHING! In every visible way we may be IDENTICAL…except our faith. Where our heart is placed determines whether we are wheat or weeds.
The WORLD is the field. The wheat is in the kingdom of God. The weeds are not part of God’s kingdom. The field as Jesus’ describes it is not the “church.” It is the WHOLE world. From Jesus’ parable we are reminded that in this world we are sown in the midst of sin and unbelievers. Having been brought to faith, we stand in the midst of God’s kingdom even if we stand surrounded by weeds—unbelievers.
For the moment, let those weeds that surround you fade into the background. Concentrate on who you are, why you are what you are, and how you became what you are. You are in the kingdom of God because God has put you there. In Ephesians, Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:3-5). BEFORE TIME began, God chose you to be believers, to be His children, to be “wheat” in the world.
Paul also wrote to the Romans, “…Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called…” (Romans 8:29). What God began in eternity by choosing you He has accomplished in time by calling you to faith—sowing you in the world. God has planted you, made you His own, put you in His kingdom, brought you into the salvation won by Christ. The goal is the harvest. The goal is having you, once sown by God, continue with God realizing that your life, your nutrients, your growth are in Him.
If you are cut off from God and from His Word you will not grow, and if you do not grow you cannot reach maturity. In the book of Amos, God warned the Israelites: “Behold! The days are coming, says the Lord God, that I will send a famine on the land. Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord but shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12). The people had refused to listen to God’s Word and rejected Him. God warned that soon the Word would be taken away from them and they would not be able to hear it anymore.
The nutrition—the sun, the water—that we need to grow spiritually, will come from God, not the world. We, the wheat, are oftentimes worried about where I’m standing in the field. Or we may be out running with the tares, or so concerned with everything in my little plot of ground that I forget who sowed me! We need to remember that God sowed us in His kingdom. God and His Word are what will provide the nutrition to keep us growing.
If we are grain and the unbelievers are the weeds planted by the Devil, can you see the problem if we are following the same priorities and the same life as the weeds? In Jesus’ parable, the people couldn’t tell what was wheat and what was weed until the plants began bearing fruit. The fruits would bear witness of the true nature of the plant. Earlier Matthew recorded these words of Jesus, “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:16-18).
In this world where wheat and tares co-exist, we are able to distinguish (at least in part) those who are sown by God by the fruits they bear. Our determination is limited because we can only judge the outward fruits. The true determination comes from seeing what lies in the heart. The full determination is based upon more than what we do because unbelievers can do the exact same upstanding outward actions you do. The difference is: What are we doing with God’s Word? Where does God’s Word fit in my life? What are you doing for growth?…for your self…for your family which God has placed under your responsibility? Are you taking time for daily Bible reading that will be the source of growth, and where the nutrients are found? Are you taking time, even 10 minutes…15…for family devotions EVERY DAY so that you can instill in your children a love for the great and wonderful deeds of our God and grow together as a family?
In the Christmas season which is hastening upon us, do you have a plan in mind that will still give you time to grow with the Word of God in the midst of all the hustle and bustle? Or is it easier to do so at Christmas because of all the emphasis on Jesus’ birth, and then it is AFTER Christmas when we take the holiday from God’s Word?
Whatever our own situations may be, remember you are sown by God. It is God who has put you in this world as wheat instead of tares. It is God who gives you His Word to grow, so grow thereby, following Him and digging into His Word.
You are sown by God. Grow in Him!
In Jesus’ parable, the servants came to the owner and asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull out all of those weeds?” The owner said, “No, because if you pull the weeds you will also uproot the wheat and that will be destructive to the field. Instead, wait until the harvest and then I will instruct the reapers to separate the wheat and tares. The wheat will be bundled and gathered into my barn, and the tares will be bundled and thrown into the fire, burned and gone forever.”
The application and spiritual truth in this part of Jesus’ parable is clear. The reapers are the angels. God will send out the angels to gather all people together, separate them, and deliver the unbelievers to everlasting damnation in the fire of hell where “there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” [v.42]. Meanwhile, the believers are taken to be with God forever in heaven where “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” [v.43]
It is the nature of the Devil to sow wickedness. Those tares that eventually end up in the fire are the Devil’s doing. Therefore, in order to persevere, we need to look forward to the harvest and be conscious of the danger our enemy poses.
The same enemy that sows tares is interested in converting wheat into tares. In an earthly field we can’t start out with weeds and turn them into wheat or vice-versa; but in God’s kingdom that happens…daily! We need to stand guard against our enemy—God’s enemy, Satan. We need to stand guard lest with the influence of the tares around us the Devil would succeed in first changing us into lethargic wheat, and then ultimately, into weeds.
Why not pull them out? Why let them go? Why keep the tares among the wheat? Because there is a possibility for the weeds to be changed into wheat. There is a possibility that by the witnessing of believers, unbelievers will be called to faith. The life of every soul is a time of grace. Every minute an unbeliever lives on the earth among believers is a minute of grace in which he may hear the Word of God, be brought to faith, and enter the kingdom of God.
It is the Word of God, the same Word that causes growth in you, that can change unbelievers to believers. We are not to “pull out” unbelievers by attacking them with the sword. That has been tried in history. If the Word of God does not convert someone from unbelief, then let them be in the world. Let them be, but don’t give up on them. Pray that the Word will work upon them and eventually create faith in their hearts.
God does delay Jesus’ return and the final judgment to give unbelievers the chance to repent and be brought to faith. Peter wrote in his second epistle: “Beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9).
Why does Jesus delay? He promised long ago He would come again! He said, “I’m coming quickly” (cf: Revelation 22:20). Why does He delay, doesn’t He see we’re being surrounded by tares on every side?! Jesus delays for the sake of those who will yet be called to faith so that they too might live everlastingly with Him.
We have the goal of harvest in mind. John writes to the Christians, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). We cannot fully comprehend what the glory of heaven is like, but we can surely understand the difference between being put in a barn and thrown into a fire. We can certainly understand the difference between “shining forth as the sun in the kingdom of our Father” and a never-ending misery that can only leave us with “wailing and grinding/gnashing of teeth”—and that doesn’t even do the misery justice. It is a glorious harvest being forever in the granary of our God.
When the apostle Paul saw his life drawing to a close he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (1 Timothy 4:7).
The harvest is our goal. We are able to persevere toward that harvest and be brought to maturity when we are growing in God with His word.
The knowledge that the One who has sown you will bring you to the maturity of harvest is what will enable you to persevere. “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.