"Tares Among the Wheat"
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
(Delivered Sunday, October 15, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
We continue our look this morning at the 'kingdom parables' of our Lord Jesus as they're found in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew's Gospel. And in particular, we look today at a parable that answers one of the most basic and perplexing questions people can have about His kingdom.
It has already been established that Jesus' kingdom has come. Jesus has already pointed to the fact that He can cast out demons by the Spirit of God; and said because of this, they can know that “surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). They asked him when the kingdom of God would come; and He told them, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21); or, more literally, “in your midst”. He Himself is the King; and though it has yet to be realized in its fullest sense, His kingdom has come into the world because He Himself has come into this world.
But the great question is this: If the kingdom of heaven has indeed come, why is evil still present? In fact, why does it seem that evil is stronger than ever?
That was a very practical question for the disciples. After all, if the kingdom of heaven had indeed come and had begun to spread upon the earth, why was it that Jesus was meeting with such great opposition from the Jewish religious leaders? Why were they plotting to kill Him? Why was there so much resistance to Him as “King”?
In fact, you and I may ask the same question. If it's true that Jesus' kingdom has begun on this earth, then why does it seem as if evil has such a powerful sway over the hearts and lives of so many? Why is it that, even as we speak, many of our brothers and sisters are being brutally persecuted and put to death in various parts of the world? Why is sin and wickedness so prevalent, and the gospel message so fought against?
In the midst of this thirteenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus speaks a parable that gives us the answer. It teaches us that Jesus was, indeed, fully aware of the fact that evil would seem to prevail in this world. But it is also meant to give us hope and courage in the face of that fact. In this parable, Jesus teaches us that, though evil will be found mixed into His kingdom for the present, it will be fully separated from His kingdom at the end of the age. His people will be victorious in the end. Righteousness will rule this earth. His kingdom will prevail.
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This parable is found in Matthew 13:24-30; and it reveals to us . . .
1. THE PROBLEM THAT WE MUST ENDURE (vv. 24-30).
Now, Jesus spoke this parable to the multitudes of people who came to hear Him. We know this because, when He had finished speaking this parable, He sent the crowds away and explained the meaning of it privately to His disciples. This is the second parable in this chapter for which He provided a private explanation to His disciples.
And please forgive me if I, again, take the time to point to a repeated lesson in all of this. If you truly want to understand our Lord's teaching as you should—whether it concerns His teaching about the kingdom, or about anything else it says in His holy word—you need to meet with Him privately. A genuine understanding of biblical truth does not come in any other context than through relationship by faith with Him. We need to make it our regular habit to commune with Jesus, and to seek insight into His teaching through a relationship with Him personally!
Here, we're told that He “put forth” a parable to the people. The word He used is one that means “to place beside” or “to place near”; and it's the same word that is sometimes used in the Bible for the act of setting a meal before someone (see Mark 8:6; Acts 16:34; 1 Corinthians 10:27). It suggest the idea of deliberate and thoughtful care to give what is appropriate.
Jesus tailor-made this parable for those who would hear it; and set it before them for their blessing. And notice what He said about this parable; that it was meant to teach them what “the kingdom of heaven is like”. It is, He said, “like a man who sowed good seed in his field”.
Think for a moment of the man in this parable. The sight of a man sowing seed in his field would have been a very familiar one to those who heard these words. Jesus says that he sowed “good seed”; which suggests that he was careful to examine the seeds before he sowed them. He had a particular crop in mind; and in order to grow that particular crop, he was careful to select just the right seeds; the very best seeds, good seeds that would take root, and sprout up, and would produce a productive crop in his field.
But we're told that something very evil happened. While the man and his servants slept, under the cover of night, an enemy crept into his field and sowed something else in the very places where the man had sowed good seed. He sowed something called “tares”.
Scholars tell us that this is a reference to 'darnel'; which was a weed that was prevalent in those days. It looked very much like wheat when it sprouted up; and it even appeared to have an ear that looked like an ear of wheat as it developed. In fact, you couldn't even readily tell the difference between them until they had both become ripe. But the tares were most definitely not wheat. If the kernels from the tares became mixed up with kernels of wheat, the bread that would be made would make whoever ate it dizzy and sick.
The man who sowed the tares in the other man's field was doing something very malicious. He was seeking to sabotage and destroy the other man's crop. It would put the other man in a terrible situation. He could not allow the tares to be harvested carelessly with the wheat, because that would cause the kernels to be mixed, and would spoil the value of his crop. But he couldn't simply go out and pluck up the tares; because, by the time the tares and the wheat had grown to ripeness, their root systems had become so intermingled together that you couldn't pull one out without destroying the other.
Jesus tells us that the servants of the man were surprised at finding the tares. They were the ones that the man had hired to work and till his field; and they were most likely the first ones to notice these weeds. And they knew the meticulous care with which their boss had selected the good seed. “Sir,” they asked him; “how did this happen? You planted good seed! How in the world did it come about that we see these tares?”
I think they asked a question that was very much like a question you and I may ask. If Jesus' kingdom has come into this world, then how is it that evil is found to have sprouted up in it? Why is there so much opposition to the kingdom of Jesus today? Why is there so much harm done to people in its name? Why are there so many governments in the world that are hostile to the spread of the gospel, and that oppress their people in disregard to the message of Jesus' kingdom? How did so much wickedness seem to grow along with the spread of His kingdom on earth? “Jesus,” we may ask; “didn't You sow a good kingdom in this world? How then does it have tares?”
The man in Jesus' parable gives the answer; “An enemy has done this.” It was not that Jesus sowed any evil into His field. The fact that evil is mixed in with the kingdom is the devil's own doing.
In the parable, the servants of the man had an idea. “Give us the word, Sir; and we will go throughout the field and gather up the tares.” But their master refused. “No! If you do that, you will uproot the wheat in the process! That will only make things worse!” Instead, he told his servants, basically, to 'put up' with the weeds for a while. He said to let both the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest. At that time—when the wheat was ripe unto harvest—he would send out his reapers into the harvest and tell them, “Make a distinction! Note the difference between the tares and the wheat. First gather up the tares and separate them from the wheat. Bind up the tares into bundles; and burn those bundles in the fire! But having separated them from the wheat, gather up the wheat into my barn.”
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This parable illustrates for us that we live in the midst of a problem; and it's a problem that citizens of the kingdom of Jesus must endure for a time. The problem is that, as Jesus' kingdom grows in this world, evil also grows with it. The devil has sought to spoil and destroy the growth and development of the kingdom of Jesus upon this earth. He has sowed “tares”—phony “wheat”, as it were; “wheat-like weeds”—in the very place where the good seed was sown by our Savior.
So; if you are looking for the reason why there is evil mixed in with the kingdom of Jesus in this world, then there is your answer! The fault is not with the kingdom—although that's the impression the devil wishes to convey. Rather, the fault is with the devil himself and his malice toward the King.
That's the problem we must endure. So long as we, who are of Christ's kingdom, are in this world, we must live with the fact that evil is also present.
But now, notice . . .
2. THE PROMISE THAT WE MUST LOOK TO (vv. 36-43).
It's found in Jesus' own interpretation of His parable. As a preacher, I appreciate that Jesus doesn't leave it up to preachers like me to try to interpret His words. As we move a few verses ahead, we read, “Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house” (v. 36; probably the house in which He had been teaching in 12:46-13:1). And that's when the disciples sought greater insight into their Master's teaching. And so, we read, “(a)nd His disciples came to Him, saying, 'Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”
Jesus is always glad to give insight to those who genuinely seek it from Him. And look at how He begins! He gives them a point-by-point explanation of the details of His parable!
Here, we have the key to understanding this parable from the Lord's own lips. He presents Himself as the sower—the man who owns a field and sows what he wishes into it. And do you notice that the field is the world? This is not a parable about the church; but about the kingdom's spread in the world!
Many people have mistakenly made the “field” out to be the church; and have used this parable to explain why there are sinful people found in the church. It's certainly is a problem that sinful people make their way into the church; but that is not what this parable is really about. Rather, we're told that the field in which He sows is the world—the realm of human life and activity. Many people think that the only domain that Jesus Christ exercises any authority over is the church. But here, we see that His field—the place of activity in which His kingdom is growing and progressing—is the world itself!
And then, do you notice that the seed represents people? In fact, there are two kinds of seed; and they represent two kinds of people who have two kinds of destinies. “The good seeds are the sons of the kingdom”—that is, those who hear the word of the Savior, and respond to it by believing in Him and following Him. “[B]ut the tares are the sons of the wicked one”—that is, those who are under the devil's sway; and who will not understand the Savior's word; and who will not follow Him or trust Him; and who openly oppose Him and fight against His kingdom's spread.
It is the devil who is presented as the one who sows the “sons of the wicked one” into the Lord's field. The fact that “the sons of the wicked one” are compared with “tares” suggest that they will be made by him to mix and mingle with Christ's people; and that they may, at times, even appear to be “sons of the kingdom”. They may look, to the careless eye, as if they were “wheat”. But in time, they will be revealed for what they truly are—“tares”.
Earlier in this gospel, Jesus spoke to His disciples and said,
And do you notice who the reapers are? They are not “the sons of the kingdom”; as you might have thought. Rather, the reapers—who are sent out authoritatively by Jesus Himself to gather up the tares and separate them from His wheat—are His angels. And they do their reaping at “the harvest”; which Jesus says is “the end of the age”. This does not speak of “the end of the world”, but rather “the end of the age” in the history of this world. It speaks of the time of judgment at Jesus' return into this world—that time He described when He said, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32).
At the close of Jesus' parable, He says,
Now; all of this teaches us that we should not be surprised by the fact of evil. But neither should we despair! Jesus let's us know that evil will be permitted by Him to grow with His kingdom until 'the harvest' at the end of the age. And then—and only then—will it will be fully removed. At that time, when the great angelic announcement of Revelation 11:15 is finally made—that “(t)he kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”—then, with all things that offend taken away, and those who practice lawlessness completely removed, the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; we must, for a time, endure evil in this world. But we win in the end! Guaranteed!
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Now, in closing, let me suggest . . .
3. THE PRINCIPLES THAT WE MUST LEARN.
There are several practical lessons we should draw from this parable, and from our Lord's explanation of it.
First, I suggest that we understand that it is Jesus' plan that His kingdom citizens be sown in this world and bear His influence on it. You see this from verse 24; “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” And in His explanation of this parable, He tells us, that “the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom”, and that “the field is the world” (v. 38).
Our Lord has chosen to leave His redeemed people to live in this world—the great “field”—to bring His influence upon it. Before He went to the cross for us, He prayed for us and said,
That's Jesus' great plan for this lost world—to sanctify a people unto Himself from out of it, and to send them back out into the world to bring His influence upon it. You remember His closing 'marching orders' to us, don't you?
If you have heard the message of the gospel, and have believed on Jesus Christ, you are that “good seed” that He has sown upon this earth. And I hope you are thrilled with a sense of the greatness of your vital purpose! You bear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ to the lost people of this world; and Jesus has left you here in this world—for a time—in order to bring His influence to bear in it.
You have great value, brother or sister! Be true to your calling!
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Now; another principle we need to draw from this parable—a very sobering one—is that, so long as Jesus' kingdom grows in this world, the devil will ensure that evil will also be present. We see this from verses 25-28; and from the fact that “an enemy” has come and has sown “tares” in among the “wheat” in the Lord's field.
You and I need to realize that the devil has everything at stake in seeking to frustrate and destroy the kingdom program of Jesus Christ. If that program succeeds, it means his eternal doom. And so, the devil seeks to sow his own wicked influences in the Lord's field—sometimes even in the very places in which the good seed was sown.
I think we can get a good sense of the kind of evil that he seeks to plant next to the good seed by what Jesus says He will one day tell His reapers to remove. He calls them to gather out of His field “all things that offend”. Literally, He speaks of “stumbling blocks”—that which causes His people to stumble in their faith or fall into temptations to sin; and “those who practice lawlessness”—that is, those who practice and advocate actions that violate God's standards of holiness in His law.
I think here of unbelieving or malicious people who—under the inspiration of the devil—seek to cause professing believers to doubt their faith, or persuade them to dabble in sin. Perhaps they advocate some unbelieving philosophy, or promote the teaching of some cult; and thus encourage disbelief or doubt. Perhaps they promote some new “liberation” from God's standards, and lead people into sinful disobedience. Whatever the nature of it, Jesus is serious about it. He warned that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). But for now, so long as the kingdom is being spread in this world, the devil will seek to sow tares where God seeks to sow wheat.
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A third principle we draw from this parable is that, as Jesus' followers, it is not our role to remove that evil from the presence of this world. We see this in verses 28-29; where the servants of the owner came to them and offered to gather up the tares and he told them not to. He said, “No, lets while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.” He left that important work to the reapers at the time of harvest. This teaches us that it is not our job to what Jesus will send the angles to do in the day of judgment. It is not our role to remove evil from the world.
Now, I hasten to add that we must keep this in balance with other passages of Scripture. It is, for example, a very important part of our duty in this world to serve as “salt” and “light”. Jesus told us in the Sermon on The Mount, “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-16). We are to let our light so shine in this world that men will see our good works and glorify our Father. And we are to serve as the preservative in this world that will keep the corruption of sin from overwhelming everything around it. And when it comes to the church itself, it is our duty to lovingly confront sin in our midst and call one another to repentance (Mathew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:12). The Bible tells us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
But we need to remember that evil will always be present in this world all the way to the day of judgment; and it is not our task to completely remove it. It is not our role to make heaven on earth—nor is it even in our ability to do so. Historically, whenever the church has established some movement to purify the world of evil, or come campaign to forcibly remove sin from the culture, it ended up harming everyone—including the good people of Christ's kingdom. We end up uprooting the wheat!
The removal of evil from this world is a job for the angles at the time of judgment; who, because they are sent by the Lord Himself, will be better equipped to administer judgment more justly and accurately than we ever could. It is not the job of the seeds to pull the weeds.
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A fourth thing that we learn from this parable is that we are to patiently persevere in faith and obedience until the day that Jesus Himself orders the complete removal of all evil from the presence of the world . In verse 30, the owner of the field told his servants to let both the tares and the wheat grow together “until the harvest”. At the time of the harvest, the land owner would send out his reapers to take care of things; but until that time it was the duty of the servants to continue doing their job.
Likewise, we are to trust that “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). When the time is right—and only the Lord, the great “land-owner”, knows when that time is—He will send out His angels to gather out of His kingdom whatever doesn't belong in it, and will see to the glorification of all that does belong in it! It is not our task to worry about it; but rather to keep about our business, persevere in our faith, remain obedient to His call, and live as salt and light in this world.
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And let me close with one more lesson we should learn from this parable. Jesus said it Himself at the end of His interpretation in verse 43: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” This is a crucial and practical message from Jesus; and whoever has been given the grace to hear it should diligently heed it.
The warning of this parable is a dreadful one. It tells us that, if a man or woman is not one of “the sons of the kingdom”—that is, someone who has heard the message of the gospel, has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, and now trust Him and follow Him and obey Him—then they are among the tares who will be gathered up by the angels on the day of judgment at the end of the age; and will be cast into the furnace of fire, where there will be eternal “wailing and gnashing of teeth”.
Jesus is showing great mercy in speaking these words now when we may hear them and turn to Him for salvation. May those of us who have not believed it now hear it. And may those of us who have heard it faithfully proclaim it.
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