Vision

In Paul's second letter to Timothy he writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) My prayer for this ministry is that by rightly dividing the Scriptures, I might be able to facilitate all those aspects of the Scriptures to the benefit of all those who visit this website.

Mission

The mission of this ministry is to be consistent with Jesus' original command to his disciples: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" Matthew 28:18-20

Personal Disclosure

I am a fellow traveler who doesn't have all the answers and still makes many mistakes. However, I am desperately in love with Jesus Christ, the one and only King of kings, and I am so amazed that he knows exactly who I am and yet still died on the cross for me, then rose from the dead and called me to be His follower!

God's Message To You

"Dear Child,

I wanted you to know just how much I loved you so I sent my only Son, Jesus, to tell you and show you. If you make the decision to believe in Him, then you and I will be able to spend eternity together! I Love You!" (John 3:16 paraphrase)

Method

“Here there is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment.

Here there is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think.

Here is vibrant evangelicalism—freedom to think within the bounds laid down by Scripture.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Seeds Of The Kingdom


(Audio Version; Music: "More And More Of You" (Fike/Lee/Riddle)--WorshipMob--Real. Live. Music.)


Introduction

            One of the by-products of being a pastor is trying to remind people that there is still hope even in a world that seems so evil and hopeless at times. This past week, two Palestinians entered a synagogue in Jerusalem wielding meat cleavers and guns and murdered five people worshiping there. Just in case it couldn’t get worse, Palestinians began dancing in the streets and celebrating the news. And not to be outdone, our shameful President chimed in with the comment that too many Palestinians have died too. Muslims have swept through large parts of the Middle-East purging the region of non-Muslims and reserving their greatest brutality for Christians, leaving some places where Christianity had existed for 2,000 years nearly cleansed of all Christian presence. Here in the west, Christians seem to face a barrage of sinful behavior from the surrounding culture on a daily basis that can leave even the strongest believer wondering how or if they can make a difference. And when sin is welcomed into our churches, hope can feel like sand slipping through our fingers as we seek God’s purpose for allowing good and evil to continue to coexist. We begin to wonder if things will ever change. Will things ever get better? It can be hard for faithful Christians to hold onto hope. It can be hard to find our place and purpose in the world because we don’t understand the place and purpose evil plays in the world. But Jesus, as usual, gives us a lesson of hope when He tells us a parable to remind us that He still has all things under control and we are part of His grand plan of redemption. Jesus tells us that for a time, it is His will that good and evil coexist. However, a day will come when there will be a great harvest to separate good from evil once and for all. Nevertheless, until that day, Christians play a very important part in God’s plan for His coming Kingdom as the Seeds Of The Kingdom.

Subject Text

Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

24Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from? 28‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let 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.’”…36Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”


Context

            You could say that the context for our lesson begins back in chapter 11. Some of John the Baptist’s disciples brought a message from John, who is in prison, to Jesus. John knows that the long awaited Messiah has arrived yet he is still in prison and will soon be executed. John, like all Jews, believed that when the Messiah arrived, He would set all things right and return Israel to it’s national prominence. However, to John, nothing seemed to change since he was sitting in prison and Rome still had its thumb on Israel. But Jesus had in mind a far bigger mission than the temporal re-establishment of Israel as an independent and respected nation. Jesus’ mission was one of eternal reconciliation between God and all humanity. Israel was merely the first to receive that message of salvation and witness the Messiah at work when the blind received back their sight, the lame danced with joy, lepers returned to their families and communities free from the illness that had exiled them to the community of outcasts, the deaf could once again experience the sounds of joy, the dead got a second chance at life, and more important, the gospel of hope was being preached to those who had lost hope. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God on earth through Him and through His message of salvation. In doing so, the battle between those who believed His message and those who rejected that message began. It would be so much easier for all people if believers and unbelievers could do life separately but that’s not what Jesus intended because believers are an important element in reaching an unbelieving world. The text leading up to our Subject Text puts into sharp relief a world that, for now, will include believers and unbelievers and sometimes, it will be hard to tell them apart. Nevertheless, as our Subject Text makes clear, a day will come when there will be a great harvest and God’s angels will separate believers from unbelievers for their respective eternal destinies.

Text Analysis

24Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from? 28‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let 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.’”

           Because of Israel’s agrarian culture, Jesus uses a parable centered on farming in vv. 24-30 to paint a picture of the end-time judgment. Now the NIV translates the Greek word zizania in v. 25 as “weeds” but that is actually a rather poor translation. There are a number of translations that get closer when they translate the word as “tares” and some get very close when they translate the word as “darnel.” Technically, the plant being referenced is a bearded-darnel. It is a “troublesome weed in grainfields…[also known as darnel, or cheat and it] resembles wheat [when both plants are still immature].”[1] I know this seems like an insignificant detail and my point is not to get tangled up in minutiae but it will be important later when we learn who is responsible for planting tares among the wheat. The deceptive nature of the plant is consistent with the deceptive nature of the one planting the seed. There is something else that I believe is not included by accident in v. 25 and that is the reference to the enemy planting his malicious seed among the wheat while “everyone was sleeping.” Maybe Jesus was trying to convey the message that the seed was planted in secret and I don’t want you to read meaning into the text that the text did not intend to convey. I just want you to think about our modern Church and when you see some of the perverse behavior that is not only accepted but welcomed in some cases, does it make you wonder if this all happened because we were sleeping? Something to think about. The instruction to the servants not to pull up the darnel in v. 29 seems clear because the appearance of the two plants in their early stages of growth is eerily similar. The owner of the field didn’t want to take the risk of pulling up the wrong plants knowing that there will come a time when the plants will be easily distinguished. At that time, the darnel can be collected separately in bundles according to v. 30 and made available for the only thing they are useful for—fuel for the fire! In the meantime, the contaminated plants must be retained and allowed to mature along side the true plants for the benefit of the cherished crop.

            All teachings in the scriptures have their intended purpose. Some are more obvious than others but they all have their purpose nonetheless. You may not know this but there are 46 parables of Jesus in the gospels! Why so many parables? Again, there is a purpose and we learn the purpose in vv. 34-35 which I left out of our Subject Text. Matthew tells us that Jesus only taught the crowds who followed Him with lessons shrouded in parables and both were for the purpose of fulfilling Old Testament prophecies. In vv. 14-15, Jesus refers to the fulfillment of one of those prophecies found in the Book of Isaiah (Isa 6:9-10):

9He said, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 10Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

And Mathew tells us that the second prophetic fulfillment is from the Book of Psalms (Ps 78:2):

2“I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old.”

Knowing now the reason why Jesus used parables to teach, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the disciples were confused.

36“Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

            If you’re like me, you’ve read the bible many times so some of the mystery, suspense, and surprise can be lost if we’re not careful. We read through the verses to this point and already know what Jesus is talking about so a lot of the wonder of these verses is lost on us. So take a minute and try to recognize the sincere confusion of the disciples in v. 36. It’s hard because we can’t unknow what we already know but the disciples sincerely didn’t understand what Jesus was teaching. I suspect that part of their ignorance was wrapped around their own perception of how they believe the Messiah should be behaving. However, their ignorance was more likely rooted in the fact that God was only then revealing His eternal purposes for the salvation and judgment of humanity and with respect to our Subject Text “the great principle of bad [people] being tolerated for the sake of the good. It relegates to the end the judgment which the contemporaries of Jesus, including the Baptist, expected at the beginning of the Messianic kingdom.”[2] Consequently, the disciples sincerely don’t understand the point Jesus is trying to make through His parable of the wheat and the darnels.

37“He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sows them is the devil.”

            There are really two parts to this parable and in order to understand the first part, it is necessary to accurately identify the key characters in the story in vv. 37-39a. This all seems really elementary but don’t forget that this is a whole new theological worldview for the Jews. Their theology always revolved around the relationship between God and Israel and Israel’s standing as a nation in the world. Note that there isn’t even a mention of Israel in Jesus’ parable. Jesus is shifting their nationalistic paradigm to get them to start thinking in terms of a Kingdom paradigm where the distinction will not be between Jew and non-Jew but between believer and unbeliever with all things revolving around Him. It is also important to note that believers are identified as the “good seed” and belong to Him while all the unbelievers are identified as the “bad seed” and belong to the devil. It only makes sense that the one who is called “evil” and “deceiver” would sow evil seed among the good seed that grows into something that is evil and deceptive. Again, this is a new theological perspective where Jews were automatically accepted because of their nationality while all non-Jews were on the outside looking in until they went through the prescribed rituals for acceptance into the Jewish community. However, unless they were ethnic Jews, they would never enjoy the same religious benefits and liberties as ethnic Jews. For example, even the temple had a separate area designated for Gentiles where they were permitted to worship. From a Jewish perspective, this is as close as a non-Jew would ever be able to come to participating in worship activities at the temple. Jesus is changing all that when he makes no distinction between Jew and non-Jew and instead implies by His judgment language that He is sovereign over all. “The field is the whole world and not simply Israel because, no matter how important Israel is to God’s purposes, as Lord of all creation, he acts on a worldwide canvas…The good seed is identified as the sons of the kingdom. This is a useful designation because it provides a bridge between the historic people of God (as the natural heirs of the kingdom...) and the actualisation of kingdom membership that is taking place with the coming of Jesus.”[3]

“The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”

            Now that the main characters of Jesus’ parable have been identified, we come to the second part of the parable that itself serves two purposes: 1) Hope for believers that one day their suffering will end and they will receive their reward; and 2) A warning to unbelievers that one day their unbelief and evil will result in their eternal condemnation. Believers rightly anticipate this day because it will be a vindication of everything they have accepted on faith and it will also rightly be a day of great celebration as it marks the first day of an eternity spent in the presence of God. However, it also marks a day when it will be too late for unbelievers to turn back. It will be the day when they will suffer the consequences of their ongoing choice to reject Jesus’ offer of reconciliation and salvation. It will be a day of rejoicing for believers but not a day of gloating. Because just as believers will spend eternity in the presence of God in heaven, unbelievers will spend eternity separated from God in hell. This is not a game with winners and losers where everyone goes home at the end of the game. Only one side gets to go home; only believers get to go to a glorious home God has been preparing for them. Unbelievers never get to go home unless you consider hell home because that’s where they will spend eternity. No matter what you think of unbelievers, this isn’t something we should wish on the worst of them. It is a reality for unbelievers at the end of the age but until then maybe some of the unbelievers of today will become believers tomorrow. This is why it is so important that we understand the gravity of this parable and why it should motivate every believer to double their efforts to reach out to an unbelieving world with the salvation message of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, the salvation message is two-fold and always has been. On the one hand the invitation for salvation is available to all who choose to believe and on the other hand it is a warning of condemnation for all those who, until the end, reject that invitation. Until that day of judgment, believers and unbelievers must coexist in order for God’s eternal will to be done and so that all those unbelievers who are destined to believe will have the opportunity to make a confession of faith even if it is with their dying breath. “In this world, even after the announcement of Jesus that the eschatological kingdom has already begun, those guilty of lawlessness—the people who belong to the evil one—coexist with the righteous, who are the people of the kingdom. There has not been, nor will there be, a dramatic separation of the lawless from the righteous until the harvest at the end of the age. The present age is thus one in which human society (and thus even the Church) is a mixture of those of the evil one and those of the kingdom. This can result in a confusing situation, especially when the wicked seem to prosper and the righteous suffer…But the ambiguity of the present situation is a temporary one, and with the end of the age it too will be brought to an end. Then, and only then, will there be a clear demarcation between the two, and each will receive their eschatological due: the lawless a dreadful punishment and the righteous extravagant blessedness. The evil will be shown for what they are, but the righteous too will become conspicuous. To this future expectation Matthew returns again and again, as a warning and encouragement to his readers.”[4]

Application

            You know by now that Jesus never says or does anything by accident so it is no accident that He refers to the “good seed” as “sons (and daughters) of the kingdom.” In a world constantly surrounded by evil, we can easily get discouraged wondering why Jesus doesn’t do something about it and what role we play in the overall plan. John records something Jesus said when He told His disciples that the time had come for His death. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (Jn 12:24).” Jesus was clearly referring to Himself in this particular context but would it be such a stretch to think that He might expect the same thing from us? I don’t want to press the imagery of the parable too far but it is certainly something to think about and certainly something persecuted Christians often believe. The second century theologian, Tertullian, once said that “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow, the blood of Christians is seed.”[5] Perhaps Jesus intends that some of that “good seed” He refers to in our Subject Text must fall to the ground and die as a means to produce a bigger crop; as a means to produce more believers; as a means to advance the kingdom of God. It doesn’t always have to mean a physical death. It can just as easily mean death to the persistent desire for a better more comfortable life. It can mean death to the constant temptation of trying to wrestle control away from God. It can mean death to what we think is best for us in exchange for what is best for others. It can mean death to the dreams we have for our life in exchange for the dream God has for our life. Anytime we die for our faith, or something in our life dies as a result of our faith, our faith doesn’t die. Instead, the example of our life and our faith multiplies and grows as a natural result of being Seeds Of The Kingdom.




[1] Frederick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 429.
[2] W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), p. 200.
[3] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew—The New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), p. 559.
[4] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13—Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993), pp. 394-395.
[5] Francois Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, (Cambridge, England: James Clarke & Co., 2009), p. 36.