God’s Unstoppable Kingdom
Summary: The KoH is indestructible- the good seeds will grow until harvest time, the tiny seed will grow, the leaven will spread
This morning we begin where we left off last week with Jesus teaching several parables to His followers. We’ll read the whole passage and then come back to consider what it all means.
Matthew 13:24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”
31 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, 32 which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
33 Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
34 All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, 35 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:
“I will open My mouth in parables;
I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”
36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”
37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
Mark Twain was a famous American author who wrote books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, along with numerous short stories and essays. In 1897 he went on a speaking tour in Europe hoping to take the money he made there and pay off some of the debt he had acquired in the US through some bad investments and attempts at publishing.
While he was gone, a newspaper in the US reported that he was ill and dying in poverty in England. A reporter from another paper tracked him down to discover whether it was true, and received a humorous reply. Twain was in fine health, and told the man, “the report of my death was an exaggeration.”
It’s humorous because there’s no exaggeration of a condition like death – you’re either dead, or you’re not. There’s no barely dead or very dead, though there is, I suppose mostly dead according to Westley in The Princess Bride.
Well, rumors of the death of the church have been swirling in recent years. Perhaps you see and hear reports of the increasing number of nones in America, those aren’t women who have taken a vow of service to God, they’re people who declare they have no religious affiliation. Or, perhaps you hear some foolish statistic like 80% of young people are leaving the church after high school never to return. Or perhaps you hear of the decline of mainline denominations. And maybe it all makes you wonder: what’s going on? Is Christianity sinking? The German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche declared that God is dead, has the church finally followed him?
Well, my friends, I want to assure you, that reports of the death of the church are greatly exaggerated.
Jesus told His followers that difficult times would come, He told them times of persecution would come, He told them to expect resistance, and He even said that some would fall away, but He also promised that He would build His church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. And if you pull back a little bit and take a look at the big picture, that’s exactly what you see happening. The Church Jesus established 2000 years ago with a handful of people in Jerusalem has spread around the world growing steadily in size and distribution throughout history.
What we’re seeing today in the reports I mentioned above is mainly fear mongering and sensationalism. It makes for great headlines or click bait that sells advertising. But much of what we’re seeing is just the departure of people who never really wanted to be in church in the first place but who were compelled to come for social reasons. Today people no longer feel compelled to attend church every Sunday if they don’t believe.
And in some ways, that’s a very good thing. In fact, if you go back and you read some of what pastors wrote 50 to 100 years or more ago, you’ll find them complaining about the spiritual deadness they sensed in their congregations. That’s not surprising if you have large numbers of unconverted people sitting there waiting for the service to be over.
So, the unconverted may not feel like they need to come to church as much today, but you can be sure of this: the church of Jesus Christ will still advance, it will persist, it will endure, against all odds, against all opposition. It has been famously said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The Church advances because the gospel compels and people find comfort, forgiveness, strength, and hope in the kingdom of God. The Church is undefeatable, unbreakable, enduring, everlasting, it the creation of God, not the idea of men, it His plan for the world and the people in it. And as long as He is calling people to Himself they will continue to come.
This is the point we find Jesus making in the parables we’ve read this morning. He tells of wheat that grows despite being surrounded by weeds, a mustard seed that grows from small beginnings, and yeast that spreads throughout a large loaf. In each case progress is made, each item accomplishes it’s natural purpose, they all endure and produce good results: the wheat grows and produces more wheat, the mustard grows and produces more mustard, the leaven grows and produces more leaven. All of these, Jesus says, illustrate the kingdom of God – progressive, effective, durable.
So let’s make some observations about what we see Jesus saying here.
First notice what these things tells us about Jesus. Did you notice in The Parable Of The Weeds that He is the one that does the work? (vs 37) “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” And not only does He do the work, it’s all His idea, He initiates the project and then He puts in the labor to make it happen, He is the one who wants to see a field of wheat grow.
But notice, as well, that there is an enemy; there is a devil, one called Satan, the Tempter, the Accuser, and he is the head of all rebellion and resistance to God. He comes and attempts to thwart God’s good plan. We find that in the first chapters of the Bible, which tell us that God created the world and everything in it, and He made it all good. But then Satan, who had already rebelled against Him approached Adam and Eve and tempted them to defy God too. And when they took the bait and followed in his pattern of rebellion, everything began to break – from their relationships with God and each other, to their emotions, to their environment.
But do you ever think about that? Do you ever consider that maybe the frustration, the friction, the disappointment, the confusion, the pain, the heartache you experience in this life is a result of an actual, individual spiritual being who is actively working to sabotage the good God has planned for your life?
Jesus says He sows good seeds in a good field and then an enemy comes along and sows weeds. He tells us that He has an enemy, and that enemy is active – just as active as Jesus. Do you ever see something happen and ask yourself – now, what in the world would make a person act like that, or say that, or do that? The answer may be: something, or rather, someone out of this world. Do you ever consider that? It’s not fairy tale, it’s not make believe, it’s as real a possibility as anything else God has to say and it’s presented plainly in Scripture as fact.
If you reject evil spiritual forces as myth or story, then what is your explanation for the bad things that happen in the world? If you’re honest you don’t really have much of an explanation because it’s really hard for you to objectively define something as bad and this is part of the problem that Nietzsche realized.
If there is no God and we’ve all just been produced by the unguided laws of biology and chemistry and evolutionary chance, then there are no guiding principles to govern us and what you call bad, or evil, is really just another way of saying you experienced something you don’t personally prefer or enjoy. It might be a deviation from the social norms that you’ve come to expect, but those norms are just things we’ve concocted on our own and which different civilizations at different times in history might affirm or reject. You detest the idea of an honor killing, other cultures esteem it, but no one is either right or wrong and for all you know what you call an aberration might be a part of a beneficial mutation that propels the next evolutionary leap forward. After all, change is rarely appreciated in early stages.
But if there is a God, and He has an enemy, suddenly all the suffering and evil that we see and sense and experience in the world makes sense. There is a way things ‘ought’ to be, and we can measure good or bad by how close it comes to the ideal. Suddenly we understand why bad things happen: we really are living on a spiritual battlefield with unseen participants who are very active and very present and whose actions truly affect our lives.
Notice that the enemy’s strategy is commingling – setting things that don’t belong in place beside the good things that God is trying to do. It’s stealthy, insidious, and malicious and yet it has been his tactic from the beginning. Those of you who know your Bibles well remember that Balaam who could not curse the children of Israel, none the less consulted with their enemies advising them to send their young women to meet young Israelite men and tempt them by showing them how they used sexual activities to worship their pagan gods. He was encouraging them to sow weeds among the wheat.
And you know how the history of Israel’s Northern and Southern kingdoms were checkered with good kings who followed God and evil kings who did not, and some who even brought Asherah poles and other objects of worship into the Temple, sowing weeds among the wheat.
If you read the New Testament you find numerous examples of bad teaching, bad theology, bad doctrine creeping into the infant church. Much of the New Testament letters are written to people or churches warning them about what are effectively weeds being sown among the wheat, warnings about wolves that will creep in, or rise up from among their own ranks.
If you look at the history of the church you find weeds mixed in with wheat everywhere. The Church, as designed by God is good, just like the field planted by the sower, but it gets corrupted too. The Church has a history that includes racism, sexual abuse, abuse of power, and proud and arrogant self-serving leaders who have hurt people and tarnished the reputation of our Lord. And at times, others have actually tried to defend them or hide the mess because it is inconvenient, or rather it is humbling, to admit that men have brought the flesh into the Church and weeds are found growing alongside the wheat.
You can look out across the landscape of Christianity today, look around the field where the wheat has been sown and you see weeds growing up everywhere. Both inside and outside the church there are things competing with God’s perfect plan just like there are clover and pokeweeds and crabgrass constantly shooting up among my basil, cucumbers, tomatoes and chilis in my garden at home.
So, what should done? How should we react? That’s the question the servants ask their master and it’s the question we should ask our Lord.
So notice what Jesus says: He is aware of what is happening, and He’s not worried about it. The wheat He sowed is still going to grow; it’s going to produce a harvest, just like He intended it to. The efforts of His enemy are inconvenient but they do not thwart His ultimate purpose, in fact, His purpose can still be accomplished even as the weeds grow.
And that is something we need to know. Christians should expect that we will live surrounded by those who do not serve and worship our God, our lives will always be surrounded by a mess and sometimes, we will get a little mess on us. That’s not always easy to accept though, and Christians have always been tempted by the desire to either remove themselves from the weeds around them, or to pull up the weeds and create a nicely manicured garden. That’s good to do in your heart, but impossible to do for the world around you. Let me say that again – it’s good to pull the weeds in your own heart, but impossible to do for the world around you.
At times though, fundamentalist Christianity has echoed the same message as fundamentalist Islam: get the infidels out! Two of Jesus’ disciples once offered to wage a little holy war. They had been rejected by an ethic group known as the Samaritans and asked Jesus,
Luke 9:54 “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them … ?”
Is this the answer, to annihilate anyone who resists us? To pull up the weeds, to clean things up, to wipe out people who don’t like us?
55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.
You can’t rip other people out to sanitize your world. Christianity does not progress by prohibition, or threat, it advances by love. Jesus didn’t come primarily teaching “you’re all a mess, get it together or else!” He didn’t come to create safe spaces and Christian sanctuaries where you can drive to church in a golf cart each week and leave all the doors unlocked. He came calling sinners to repentance. He knows the conditions of the world. He knows there are weeds everywhere, but He also knows that what is biologically impossible is theologically common – weeds can become wheat.
Those who are weeds today may become wheat tomorrow through the example of the wheat they’re growing next to.
1 Peter 3:1 Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. [that is, your awe of God] 3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
Jer 29:7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.
Christians have been given the Great Commandment and the Great Commission – to dwell well with others and to reach out to them. What a terrible thing for someone to die in their unbelief. It is necessary at times, but healing and transformation is much better than amputation.
And that means we’re going to need to have unsaved neighbors, we’re going to have unsaved friends and family and coworkers, we’re even going to have unsaved people in our church. And that’s going to be shocking at times; it’s going to create moments of discomfort and tension at times.
I still remember when Madeleine and I lived down in Lynchburg while I was going to Seminary. We lived in a little Christian bubble, my life was pretty much consumed with going to and from the campus and to and from the church. So we were shocked when Ben who was around two years old started talking about playing with bombs. We wanted to know where he had heard of such things – we were classic protective first-time parents and we certainly hadn’t exposed him to anything related to violence yet.
We discovered he was learning it by playing with another kid in children’s ministry. And our initial reaction was to get in a huff: what is going on, who are that kids parents and why are they letting him teach my kid this stuff? And then we found out – the boy’s home life was a complete mess, he was being exposed to all kinds of things, but he had a grandpa that loved the Lord and was bringing to him to church every chance he could.
So, what are you going to do about that? That’s real life church. That’s the stuff we have to deal with. That’s the stuff we have to figure out. On the one hand, I want to raise my kid in a perfect and protected environment, and on the other hand, I want to see this other kid redeemed by Christ out of the toxic wreck of his home environment, but for that to happen, you’re going to have to let some weeds grow next to some wheat until they’re either converted or collected for the judgment.
Which brings us to the next thing we need to notice: do not mistake Gods’ patience for His permission. There is a coming harvest and a subsequent judgment. Just because God allows the weeds to grow doesn’t mean He doesn’t care.
Christian, if you ever struggle to understand why the weeds seem to grow and everything seems just fine, why they don’t suffer, why they aren’t judged, remember that their judgment is coming – make a note and go read Psalm 73 where you find Asaph talking about his struggles because he saw the unrighteous seeming to prosper, he saw weeds growing, and it didn’t seem like anything was being done about it, he says:
Ps 73:3 For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
And he develops that thought out a little more with detail and then he says
16 When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me—
17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
Then I understood their end.
He says, when I evaluate their lives in light of who God truly is, I remember the judgment that is coming and how temporary their growth and flourishing are. And that reminder resets everything and compels him to worship. He writes:
25 Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
26 My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
28 But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works.
Yes Christian, weeds are growing around you. But so is the wheat. The mustard seed is growing, the yeast is spreading. And there is a coming harvest when all things will be separated. The righteous, those who worship and serve God, will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
But 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Make no mistake: sin is offensive to God and if you remain unconverted your soul is eternally doomed. You will be gathered by the reapers one day. No one wants to hear this, this isn’t the kind of thing people easily accept – notice Jesus says it is for those who have ears to hear. He’s warning everyone who will listen about what is happening – do you hear Him? Are you listening?
What do you make of all these things? If you’re here with us this morning and you’ve got questions or you want to know more, ask someone. Ask for a Bible and begin to read it. Ask God to help you understand. The disciples came to Jesus and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” Ask for an explanation. God does not want you to perish. He’s planting good seeds, for good reasons, but there is one who is working against Him, one who is working against you. If God is getting your attention this morning, give Him your attention, and tell Him you want to be wheat, and not a weed.
For those of you who have received the good seeds, those of you who have been converted from dark to light, to those of you who have been born-again and found fellowship with God, to those of you that are sons and daughters, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, heads of wheat growing in a world of weeds: be encouraged, the Church will advance, even in the midst of competing pressures, and it will produce an abundant crop.
The nature of the world as designed by God is good, but it was sabotaged.
He knows it is corrupted, but He has a plan.
You’re part of something that has been growing larger and larger over time, and it does so peacefully – not by the edge of the sword, not by forced conversion, not by forced adherence or removal, it grows quietly, steadily, naturally, and it produces exactly what our Lord intends for it to bear. Be encouraged today.