Wheat and Weeds
Text: Mt 13:24-30
Theme: Believers are precious to God
Doctrine: visible and invisible church
Image: wheat and weeds
Message: always act like the other is wheat, not a weed
Wheat and Weeds
Most farmers are fastidious about weeds in their fields. But we had a neighbour who really did not care that much. This field was right across the road from our place, and we could see it from the dining room. This one year he left the field alone the whole year. He did not do a single thing to it. He didn't cultivate it, he didn't spray it, he just let everything grow. He decided that whatever grew was going to be his crop that year. He must not have had his combine set very well the year before because he had a pretty good volunteer crop in rows behind the combine. At the end of the year he came and harvested those rows of crop, then came back a while later and cultivated the crop. This is not how the farmers here do things, and this is not how the farmer in our parable did things.
Page 1: Man sows good seed in his soil, but an enemy sows weeds.
Imagine, it was a glorious mid November day. The sky was clear and bright, there was not a cloud in sight. This would be a good day to begin seeding. So the man got together his servants and went with them out into the field. The early Israelites broadcast seeded, so the servants were sent around to prepare the soil, and remove the big rocks and things. Then the owner walked in rows down the field, casting a handful of seed every couple of steps from a bag strapped to his sides. This was a long, tedious process. The men had to work through the heat of the day in order to get the field planted. Finally, the job was done. The entire field had been covered with a fine covering of grain. As the men looked out and surveyed their work, they patted each other on the back and made a camp at the edge of the field. Here they ate and drank and talked, while the master went back to his home. They had worked hard, and they needed some time to wind down.
All they can do now is wait for the rains to come and germinate the seed. As the light began to fade over the Jordan Valley they forgot to set a watch, and they laid down in the corner of the field. They were admiring the stars as they lay on their backs, and one by one they all fell asleep. They did not hear the approach of footsteps. They did not awake to the sound of more seed being scattered on the ground. They did not hear the evil chuckle of the person quietly walking up and down the field.
The workers went back to their normal routines. One day, the workers walked by the field and they decided to check on the crop for their master. As they were walking through the field, one of them noticed that something wasn't quite right. He stooped over to inspect the plants which were growing. “Is this what I think it is,” he said to himself. He calls the rest of the workers to him. “What do you think this is,” he says as he points to a plant which has just begun to go to seed. They all gather in closely as the senior servant bends over to inspect the plant. “This is bearded darnel.” Everyone gasped in amazement. This was bad news indeed. This weed could not be distinguished from wheat at the early stages of growth. The plants looked absolutely identical. When they began to head out, however, the two plants are easily distinguishable, but by that time the darnel's roots are so intertwined with the wheat, that it is impossible to tear out the weeds without damaging the crop. The two crops resembled each other so completely that the local farmers called it bastard wheat.
There was no way that this weed would stay in the wheat field, if the workers had anything to say about it. The weed did all the things which normal weeds do, it uses up the little moisture in the ground, it uses up nutrients which should be used by the crop, it causes stress on plants, it causes a lack of yield. The servants return to the master and they give their report, “Master, did you not sow good seed in the field? Why then does it have weeds?” The master responded, “An enemy must have done this.”
One of the younger servants could not contain his confusion any longer, “Why is this such a bad weed?” They all turn to him incredulous. “Well, sorry,” he said, “but I don't know.” The master walks over to him, puts his arm around him and says, “For all we know, there could be more darnel in that field than wheat. This weed has a more sinister side than most weeds. The seeds are poisonous. Even a small amount has a very bitter and unpleasant taste. But it does more than that. It causes dizziness, and sickness. It is narcotic in its effects.”
The enemy had sown seed into the field which was extremely dangerous. It was poisonous, and there was no way to get it out without hurting the good plants in the crop.
Page 2: God converts people for his church, but the Devil sends in false converts.
Jesus said the good plants are the children of the kingdom. The field is the entire world. Throughout that entire world, the Son of Man goes and sows the good seed. He sows children of the kingdom. He sows faith into those who believe. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them was the devil.
Christ goes abroad into all the world, teaching people, making them realise their sin, and bringing them back to God. He does this through his servants. He sends his people out to spread the good news of his kingdom. But the Devil does the same thing. The Devil follows behind Jesus. He sneaks in at night. He sneaks in when people are in despair, or when something in the church is not going right. He sneaks in and he sows false converts.
This is where a good theological distinction is handy. The people that we see in the world, who go to Church, who profess to be Christians, who work through various aid agencies, etc. These people are what we call the visible church, because they are visible to all of us. When survey companies report that 20 percent of the world's population are Christians, that is a measure of the visible church. There is also something called the invisible church. This does not mean that the people who belong to this church are invisible, no, it means that this collection is only visible to God. There are people within the Mormon church, who I am certain are Christians. We would not include them in the visible church because they belong to a cult which is opposed to the gospel message of Christ, but if they are truly Christian, if they accept Jesus Christ as revealed in the scriptures as their lord and saviour, then they are a part of the invisible church because God knows that they are Christian.
There is another separation within the visible and invisible church. The visible church contains all those who go to church and call themselves Christian. Doubtless, there are some who are not Christian, yet they attend worship regularly. They may seem to be pillars of the church. Maybe they had been strong contributors their whole lives. Maybe they grew up in the church, and are committed to it. If they have not given their lives over to Christ. If they have not proclaimed him as their lord and saviour, then they are not a part of the invisible church, though they are part of the visible church. This means that there are some inside the visible church, who are not in the invisible church.
Throughout the various traditions, there are various ways to talk about the invisible and visible Church. The Reformed perspective is that the invisible church is the gathering of saints as Christ knows them, while the visible church is those who profess to be Christian. Perhaps there are even some here this evening who are not known by Christ. They may claim to have professed Jesus Christ as their lord and saviour, but they have not given their lives over to him because they want to keep some control for themselves. We are not able to distinguish between the visible and invisible church. We should not judge those around us, but help everyone to grow in the faith. Those of us here, who are not Christian know who they are. They know that their heart is is not resting in Christ's arms. They know that they have not given their lives completely to Christ. If you are not a part of the invisible church. If you have not accepted Jesus Christ as your lord and saviour, then you may be child of the evil one. You may be one of the weed seeds the Devil has sown into this community to harm the good wheat here. You may be noxious, poisonous, to the Children of God.
We cannot tell if you are a true Christian or not, but you know. If you feel Christ pulling on your heart strings. If you feel God tugging on your hand. If you hear God knocking at the door, then let him in. If you lock him out, then you are one of the noxious, poisonous weeds which will one day be uprooted. These children of the evil one cause all sorts of problems and heartache within the church. They cause a lack of growth of the good seeds. They cause pain, heartache, and stress on true believers. They decrease the yield of good fruit from the church. But we must remember, however, it is not our place to judge. Each one of us has to search his or her own heart to make sure that they are a child of the kingdom. Check your own heart. Make sure it has the stamp of Christ on it.
Not long ago I read a book called Preachers and Preaching by Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, a pastor in England. In it he stresses the importance of evangelistic preaching, even in an established church. “Why would he do that?” you may wonder. Well, because we are to treat everyone as one of God's good seeds. When someone grows up in the church, you cannot assume that they are Christian. You cannot assume that they have given their lives to Christ. You are to treat them as though they will, and they can, but you must not assume that everyone has done so. He tells a story about an elderly parishioner in his church. She is a pillar of the church. She has been attending regularly for over 30 years. She gives generously to the church and is involved in many of the organisations within the church. Everyone assumes she is Christian. Well, he preached a rousing evangelistic sermon one evening, and she happened to be in the sanctuary. After the sermon, the lady sat in the pew until everyone had filed out. She finally came up to Martyn and confessed something to him. She said, “Before tonight, I was not a Christian. No one had told me what I had to do to be one. I had assumed I was one, but now I know I was wrong.”
See, everyone had treated her not as a good seed, but as a mature plant. This is not the way we are to treat our brothers and sisters. We cannot rest on our laurels because everyone assumes we are Christian. Make sure you are certified kingdom seed, and not the cheap imitation the Devil is handing out. Only children of the kingdom are truly safe, the children of the evil one will not win, eventually they will be uprooted.
Page 3: Man does not want to hurt good seed, so leaves weeds in crop.
The weeds in the field will one day be uprooted as well. The servants were anxious to do that work. “Well,” said one. “Why don't we just go and pull up all the darnel?” “Oh, no,” replied the master. “That is not possible. We cannot tell which plant is good, and which plant is bad, we might pull up a good plant. By the time we can see which is which, the roots will be so intertwined that we will not be able to pull up the darnel without pulling up some wheat with it. No, every single plant of that wheat is precious to me. I will not risk any harm to a single one of them.”
The man loved each and every plant that he had sown. It had taken him great pains to walk that field and cast out the seed, handful, by handful. He had made sure that they had landed on good, fertile soil. He had planted every one of those wheat plants, and he was not going to risk pulling them up by accident. How many of us love our crops that much? Not very many I assume. Most of the time we are willing to sacrifice one or two for the good of the whole. But not this man. He knows that these weeds will make it harder for the plants to grow. He knows that the fruit of the good plants is going to be limited. He knows that the yield will probably reduce, but he will not risk even one plant being uprooted.
So he waits. He waits through the autumn and winter rains. He waits through the flax and barley harvest. He waits through the feast of the passover. He waits, watching the plants as they develop their fruit, both the wheat and the weeds. He is patient. He knows what is happening in his field, yet he wants to give the good seed all the time they need before he harvests. He tells his anxious servants that they have to wait too. They have to wait until the harvest time to see the plants separated. The master will tell his reapers then, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” When the time comes, the master will separate the two crops. He will not allow anything to soil the purity of his crop of wheat when it is harvested. He is not content to have a single darnel seed sneak into the harvested grain.
The common practice for removing the darnel from the wheat was done after threshing. All the grain was harvested, and threshed on a threshing floor. This includes the darnel. Then the grain is spread out on large tables and the darnel seed is hand separated from the rest. The seeds have a similar size and shape, but the darnel seed is slate gray in colour. This was a tedious process, and it always ran the risk of having some weed seeds slip into the final grain because it was missed on the tables. The master will not run this risk. He tells his harvesters to go throughout the field and pluck up all the darnel. This they are to tie into bundles to be burned. Then they can go back into the field and harvest the wheat, being sure now that there are no more weeds in the field. This way the master is certain that he will have a pure product. He only wants the good seed. He will not let even one seed from the weed plants enter into his barns. The master is patient, not wanting a single plant to perish, but all to grow and produce fruit.
Page 4: God will not remove the false converts for fear of hurting the true ones.
God is just as patient. Peter says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pt 3:9) He will not waste any of his children. Throughout the world there are false converts, even within the church. The invisible church, God's chosen people, is not the same as the visible church, those who profess to be Christian. God alone knows the difference. There may be some here who are not truly Christian, but God does not want us, his servants, to try to weed them out. God wants us to act as if everyone we meet in the church, everyone we meet is a seed of the kingdom, a potential Christian. We have to work to bring everyone we know to Christ. We do not know who is a good plant, and who is a bad plant. We cannot tell who will come to Christ, and who will not. We are to act like the servants in the parable. We are to give both types of plant every opportunity to grow into maturity. We are to provide them with the love, support, and trust that they need to grow into mature plants. This will be difficult, but we are called to do it to show the love of God to them. God will not let one of his plants perish. He will bring them all up to maturity. If you are a good plant, if you are truly Christian, then you will love the other plants just as much. You will want there to be as many good plants as possible. You do not want to risk hurting or uprooting your brother or sister because you are searching for children of the evil one.
Look around yourself this evening. Look into the faces of the people sitting around you. Go on, look at them! Have you shared the gospel message with them? Do you encourage them to walk in the faith? Are you leaning on them while you take the next step in faith? As a child of the kingdom we have the guarantee that we will one day be brought into fellowship with Christ, don't you want everyone here to have that promise?
When Christ comes back to make all things new, we will be gathered into his barns and live in eternity with him and our brothers and sisters in Christ. There will be no room for false Christians. The children of the evil one will be set aside for eternal damnation. There will be no more strife in the church. There will be no more stress from the children of the evil one. There will be no more pain, no more heartache, only room for us live in harmony. Though the Devil has planted weeds in the field of the world which compete with the seeds God has planted. We know who will win. We know that at the end times Christ will gather the weeds and burn them, then gather the good crop and store it in his barn. Thank God that we have the security of this promise. That we know we will be brought, together with all the saints, to live in harmony with him. AMEN.
Let us Pray
Redeemer, covenant God, we live before you now as your children. We live together with the children of the evil one. Sometimes the church is thrown into chaos and confusion because they lead people astray. Sometimes the church is hurt and torn apart. Lord, help us all to live together in unity. Help us to see everyone as a good seed. Help us all to grow together into maturity and to produce good fruit.