These posts are summaries of the messages on Sunday and are put here mainly for the benefit of our regulars who either missed the service, or would appreciate the chance to review the big ideas.
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but 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. And 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.’ 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. 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.’”
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Matthew 13.24–30 and 36–43
This is perhaps the most important parable in our modern context. Why? Because this parable has a massive scope — all of history — and presents the Biblical worldview in a nutshell. I can’t think of a parable that contains more ideas that confront the world.
We must state first that we are all living in stories. Stories give us our sense of place, of purpose, of knowing who we are, why we are, where we’re going. Stories mobilise movements, wars, sacrifices, and locate us and our place in the world.
Secularist Naturalism is the predominant story at large today: the story of our arrival here by accident. It affects every part of our thinking. But Jesus is telling a different story. And by doing so he runs full pelt into the world’s thinking, particularly in four main ways.
1. HE CLAIMS THE WORLD AS HIS OWN
The normal account of how we got here (accidentally) has been a huge reason why people have felt no need to believe in a God any more. They say that God’s not there.
But if God isn’t there, then the world does not belong to anybody, and there are some implications: (1) There’s no purpose or design. (2) There’s no right or wrong. (3) There are no consequences for doing wrong.
Now, I know that very few people live this way. But in order to live like there’s purpose, morality, or like any of it matters, you have to borrow ideas from religion. You’re inconsistent.
In contrast, Jesus steps in and says the world is his: “The kingdom of heaven may be compare to a man who sowed good seed in his field…” (v.24). “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man” (i.e. the cosmic Judge of Daniel 7, and one of Jesus’s titles, v.37).
This changes everything. It means that: (1) There is purpose. Jesus made the world for a reason. (2) There is right and wrong. There are good seeds and weeds. (3) There are consequences. If it’s Jesus’s field, Jesus’s world, then you can’t act as though he doesn’t exist and ignore him forever.
2. THE WORLD IS BROKEN
If you go along with the secular storyline then there is this idea inherent in secular naturalism that things are getting better. It goes back to the big story: if everything around us made its way out of the mud toward such complexity and beauty, then the world is on its way up, it’s improving, it’s getting better. And so we look at all our advancements in technology, medicine, and science and we see progress.
But Jesus offers a profoundly different account of things. He says that the world was created good, but that corruption entered the world later on as the enemy sowed bad seeds. This tells us that the world is broken, that it was created to be a certain way and that it has become distorted.
Why does this matter? Because the two different accounts mean that you’ll deal with evil in profoundly different ways.
If you think we are here by some lucky accident, and that the world is getting better, then whatever problems still exist can be fixed if we work hard enough, and plan and plot our way through it.
But the Bible shows us that what’s wrong with the world is essentially down to sin. It’s not a mechanical problem. It’s not a problem we can fix if we’re smart enough. Instead, it’s the problem of the weeds, the problem of sinful hearts and broken people.
3. THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE WITH TWO DESTINIES
At the heart of the story is this idea that there are two kinds of people in the world — the wheat and the weeds.
Now obviously if we think humanity is purely biology then this makes no sense whatsoever. Biologically we are basically the same. The secular version of reality has flattened everything out. The world is just a machine, and we are just accidents, and there are no ‘sides’ (good or bad) in such a system; just existence.
But Jesus says there is another dimension of spiritual reality, and an enemy, the devil. He also says there are two kinds of humanity; the same biologically, but spiritually different.
This is deeply offensive to the modern ear because of the idea of exclusivity. “Who are you to say who’s in and who’s out? What kind of God would make such distinctions?”
How does a Christian respond to that?
First, yes the Bible sets up two groups (wheat and weeds) but look carefully at what distinguishes the one from the other. It’s not a distinction based on your spirituality, religiosity, or morality. Instead, Jesus says it’s about who you are personally related to — either you are “sons of the kingdom” or “sons of the evil one” (v.38). There are two families. If you don’t belong to Christ then you do, by default, belong on the other team.
Second, even if these distinctions exist, it’s not exclusive in the way a Mayfair club is exclusive, or a clique at school is exclusive. Jesus repeatedly offers for anyone who wants to become part of the family: “Come to me, all you labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28).
4. THERE IS A PURPOSE
Perhaps the most tragic thing of all is the sheer pointlessness of life without God. People may well convince themselves that their lives have meaning, but think about it. If the universe is heading towards a heat death then really there is no meaning or point to anything. There will come a day when nothing is remembered or recorded, and there are no observers to grieve or celebrate.
But Jesus tells us that from his perspective there is a great purpose at work in the universe. Look at the conversation between the angels and God:
And 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.’ 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.
It teaches us that God is in control, and that while the world is not as it should be, he has his reasons for allowing it to continue the way it is.
What reasons? The farmer is concerned about the wheat. It means that God has an interest in letting the plan work its way out because he cares about his children and is ultimately seeking their good. We see this in other parts of the Bible. Romans 9.22–24 tells us that God has a good purpose (even if we don’t fully understand it). We know it’s good because we know HE is good. In 1 Tim 2.4 Paul tells us something of God’s desire to see people saved. This is made even clearer in 2 Peter 3.9 where we’re told that the very reason things go on as they do is that more would be saved.
In view of all this there are two options. You can either live as though nobody owns the world, and accept the consequences. Or you can believe what Jesus says — that he owns the world, and that while it’s broken, he has a kingdom and a purpose at work in the world.