The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 13:24 “He presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. 26 But when the wheat sprang up and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 And the slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ And the slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 ‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’ . . . 36 Then He left the crowds and went into the house And His disciples came to Him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.’ 37And He said, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father He who has ears, let him hear.’” (NASB)
The parable in today’s Gospel is commonly called “The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.” Daniel Defoe wrote a poem summarizing what Jesus taught us in this parable. He wrote, “Wherever God erects a house of prayer, The devil always builds a chapel there; And ‘twill be found, upon examination, the latter has the largest congregation.” That is why the Bible calls the faithful few “the remnant,”
Matthew chapter 13 consists of a series of parables about the kingdom of heaven. That’s how Jesus introduces the parables. He begins each one by saying “the kingdom of heaven is like.” He did so, so that the hearers and readers would know that He is talking about the church here on earth. The kingdom of heaven parables teach us that in the church some things work differently than they do in the world. The church and the world are governed by two different rulers and two different operating systems. A parable is a story told for the purpose of teaching a truth or a spiritual principle. In the case of Matthew chapter 13, Jesus uses the parable to teach us about the church, the one we see outwardly and the one that God sees in Christ.
In last week’s Gospel lesson, Matthew introduced us to “the kingdom of heaven” parables in 13:3 “And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow…” The rest of chapter 13 is one parable after another, each introduced by the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like.”
This morning we consider the second parable in the series. It is the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. The parable of Wheat and the Tares teaches us at least four important things about the kingdom of heaven.
#1. The visible church, the one you see with your eyes and hear with your ears consists of two groups of people, just two. Just as the world consists of two groups of people, at least as far as the Lord God judges people. There are Christians created out of the world but still live in it and then there is everyone else.
In this parable we are taught that the same is true of the visible church. It too consists of two groups of people. The church consists of wheat, the faithful and tares, a particular kind of weed representing people who pretend or even think themselves to be Christians but aren’t.
#2. The parable teaches us is that the tares are not in the visible church by accident. They have been placed there. To use the common vernacular of the day, they are members of the “deep church,” part of the “swamp.” They have a different agenda and are church members and church goers for an unrighteous reason. In fact, in seminary and pastors’ meetings, these people are often referred to as “alligators.” They are sheep who follow the voice of the shepherd. They are predators. They hide below the surface, then suddenly strike and devour the pastor and the faithful in a congregation. While alligators are thought of usually as unfaithful and ruthless lay people, there is no shortage of clergy to whom the title can also be applied, as we here at Immanuel have learned over the years.
Lesson #3. The Owner of the field and the Lord of the harvest is primarily concerned for the safety and harvesting of the wheat. He wants as much wheat as possible to be taken into His barn. He doesn’t want to run the risk of injuring or killing the wheat by tearing out the tares. The wheat and tares share the same soil. To uproot one is to uproot the other. So they are both allowed to coexist for the sake of the wheat.
#4. When it is time to reap what has been sown, the Lord of the harvest will send His angels into the field and they will separate the tares from the wheat 42 “and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
These are the four basic lessons of the parable. As for the parable itself, Jesus began the parable saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away.”
Tares are know by many to be darnel rye. It is a poisonous rye grass. It is often infected with a poisonous fungus that is harmful to some animals. Darnel looks like wheat. It grows like wheat. It competes with wheat for resources, but it is not wheat. Most people can’t tell the difference between darnel and wheat until the seeds begins to ripen. By the time the common eye sees the difference the damage is already done.
As Jesus tells the parable, the tares were not an act of nature. They were not there by an act of the wind. The seeds were not already in the soil. They were planted there intentionally. As such it would have taken planning and a lot of work. The enemy would have had to collect enough seeds to do the job. It was a pre-meditated act of sabotage with one purpose. It was to destroy the neighbor’s crop and reduce the harvest. It was the kind of act born out of hate for the owner and the good seed.
When the disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable, He made it clear as to who the players were. “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, [that is Jesus Himself] and the field is the world; the good seed are the sons of the kingdom and the tares are the sons of the evil one.”
The good seeds are the people Jesus has made to be good seeds. By the work of the Word and the Holy Spirit, they are the children of the heavenly Father, members of both the invisible and hidden church. The tares are the children of this world. They are the ones born in sin, captive to their old sinful natures, blind and deaf, and that is to say unbelieving.
The tares do not trust in Christ alone for their salvation. They certainly do not like to hear what the Bible actually teaches. They have their own ideas about right and wrong, good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness, and even about what kind of God, God is. They cannot understand the Gospel.
But just as darnel looks like wheat, so also there are a great many church goers and people who claim to be Christians who are in reality unbelievers. They go about doing some of the things that Christians do. They go about saying some of the things Christians say. Some of them go to churches that still use the Bible in the form of the liturgy and hymns of the church. Some of them recite the confession of sins and the creeds. The sing the introits. They listen to sermons. They even go about doing things that look like good works. Yet, they are not Christians.
It makes no difference though whether it is the contemporary church growth weekend production or the faithful liturgical church, there exists in those places both wheat and tares, the faithful few and the hypocrites.
Now as a matter of clarification, we all, like the disciples themselves know that we have been hypocrites. As someone once said, “Saying that the church is full of hypocrites is a lot like saying that a hospital is full of sick people.” We are sinners and as such saying one thing and doing or believing another, being a hypocrite is normal. It comes naturally to us.
Jesus died for all sinners, including that hypocrite in all of us. The difference is that we know and confess our sins. We are forgiven our sins. We struggle against the old sinful nature. We come to church to be absolved from our hypocrisy.
What the parable of the Wheat and Tares teaches is that the visible church on earth is occupied by two kinds of people. Humble and contrite sinners who confess their sin and trust solely on Jesus Christ and His words and agents of the evil one who seek to injure the church and decrease the harvest.
Isaiah 61 calls Christians “the planting of the Lord” and says we will be called “oaks of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:3). At the same time, children of the evil one remain with us and among us, both pastors and laymen.
There is an axiom in philosophy. It use to be an accepted truth. Nothing can be the cause of its own existence, except God. That axiom is true in theology as well. The Christian is not the cause of him or herself. You are not here because you created you. You had nothing to do with your conception and you did not make yourself a Christian.
So also nothing grows without the gracious care of God. Christians are created and planted. They rise up out of the world, like the wheat in the field. The Christian, like the wheat is not of the world, but is in the world. It is equally true the while the Christian and the Church remains in the world, it is also true that the world remains in the Christian and the Church and this will be the case until the end of times.
The tares are part of the curse on sin. God told Adam and Eve that their garden would bear many thorns and thistles. From the moment of the fall into sin, the world was cursed with thorns and thistles. Well, the visible church is part of the world in that sense and the world is part of the visible church. Jesus said that “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.” (Matthew 11:12).
We can’t rid the world of evil. It is not within our power. The conservative can’t do it. The libertarian can’t do it. The liberal can’t do it. And the progressive Marxist can’t do it either. The Bible teaches that as time goes on, the world’s rebellion and infiltration of the visible church will only increase.
But Jesus still says to us, “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 . . . (13:30)
We have the promise of Romans 8. “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” We also have the promise of Jesus’s parable this morning. After the weeds have been destroyed, we the wheat will be gathered into Christ’s barn “then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
On the Last Day of Judgment, those who have the gift of faith that the Holy Spirit created in their heart will have the righteousness that Jesus earned for them on the cross. They will share in His glory … a glory that shines like the sun. Jesus’s brilliant glory and kingdom will be ours kingdom.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.