Sermon Transcript - Sunday, August 16, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Matthew 13:1-9; 13-18 ~ Sun, Aug9, 2020
My sister, Janelle,posted this pic to her church’s Facebook page on Thursday with this question: “Calling all “green thumbs”!! Is this a pretty weed or an actual type of shrub/bush? It’s growing in the rose bushes in front of fellowshiphall.” Can you tell simply by looking at the picture? I didn’t answer because I don’t know.
Our Savior, Jesus, poses a similar agricultural question in Matthew chapter 13. There are the two kinds of plants Jesus is thinking of in his story. Can you tell which is wheat and which is a weed? I know the answer to this one ... because of ... well, Google. The one on the right is actually a weed, called “darnel.”Until modern technology enabled darnel seeds to be separated from wheat seeds, this weed grass was a serious threat to the growers of wheat. In fact, in New Testament times, Roman law prohibited the planting of darnel seeds among the wheat. A kind of imposter, darnel mimics wheat, bearing a very close resemblance in its early stages of growth until it matures, at which point the difference between the twobecomes more apparent. What makes darnel such a threat is its toxicity. In fact, the Latin name for darnel,Lolium temulentumcomes from the word for “drunk,” referring to nausea that comes from ingesting the plant. If the seeds are ingested, it can cause dizziness and nausea, and a large enough dose can even be fatal. As a result, farmers would take special care to separate the darnel from the wheat at the final harvest.
Jesus knows all of this and he knows his disciples know it too. His purpose in talking about weeds and wheat isn’t really about agriculture. He uses the examples of these plants in a field as an illustration of people in the world. In so doing, Jesus is acknowledging that there are two types of people in the world: people who believe in him as their Savior as well as people who do not. Like darnel, unbelievers pose a serious threat to believers, inviting even cajoling believers to get drunk on life’s pleasures, or drink in life’s pursuits, or fill up on anxiety over life’sproblems,all things that will inevitably smother and choke out faith in Christ. Like the servants of the farmer who looked out over the field and worried about the harm that that weeds might do to the wheat, Jesus’ disciplesfelt a similar anxiousness and worry as they looked out at the world believers must live in! In their heart of hearts they are wondering: “Lord, what should we do about all the unbelieversoutin the world?”
The question isn’t unique to those 12 men way back then. Who among us has not like the servants in the parable, questioned God: “Lord, didn’t you create this world as a good place with holy people? Where then did allthe evil and wickednesscome from?” Jesus answers clearly: “There is bad seed in this world.” The evil and wickedness that annoys us, scares us, frustrates us, harms us doesn’t surprise Jesus. In fact, he knows exactly where it comes from: “My enemy, Satan, did this.” The weeds of this world are the devil's handiwork.
Not only is Jesus not surprised by the evil in this world and those who perpetrate it, he instructs believers to accept the presence of such weeds in this world. He’s not asking us to acceptevil as good. Nor is he asking us to give in to evil or become like unbelievers. But he’s also not asking us to eradicate it or those who do it. He’s not commissioning us to conduct a Christian holy war and cleanse the world of evil and evil doers. Who among us has not at one point or another wondered if maybe God wants us to take matters into our own hands and root out the evil in our midst?That question reminds me of an old saying: When you try to fight the Devil, you usually wind up doing the Devil's work.
A Christian man reflects on his initial efforts on social media as a believer in Jesus, “When I first became a Christian, I would share ideas with people and would appeal to their interests, and looking back it went really well! But at some point I became worried, somehow getting the idea from other Christians that I have to save THAT person or else they are going to Hell.
As time went on, I became sucked into multiple arguments on Facebook and the YouTube comments section, spending far more time arguing with trolls [online critics] who did not want to understand than I spent actually [creating Christian content]. The whole thing was a distraction. Satan was playing me, and he knew it.” https://medium.com/christian-intellectual/confessions-of-a-christian-social-justice-warrior-a9bc1067adf3
That’s what Jesus is warning us about with this parable. We’re in a season that is ripe with temptations for believers to get zealous for seemingly holy causes to root out evil and evildoers in the world but end up hurting even uprooting fellow believers in the process. Wheat’s purpose isn’t to be weed killer. Christ has not called Christians to be the world’s morality police, aiming to eradicate every societal sin and uprooting every evil from within our culture. Yet Satan plays upon our distrust of other people’s power and our own desire for control, luring us under the guise of holy zeal into polarizing political arguments about which is God’s political partyor position.As citizens of this country we have a part to play in the governing of our society. In the way you participate, are you acting more like wheat or weed killer? Our culture is operating at extremes right now. When it comes to the debate over whether to wear a mask or not wear a mask, people, Christians included, have become very passionate. If you’re passionate about thisissue, is your passion to be fruitful for the kingdom or stamp out attempts by earthly powers to tell you what you can and cannot do?There are always hot button issues in this life. As you discuss such issues, especially with those whom you disagree, areyou seeding Christ’s love and servant spirit with your attitude and words? Or does your passion tend to act more like weed killer, aimed at making those who hold opposing views feel small and stupid?
To be clear, Christ isn’t criticizing our desire to beinvolved in the governing of our society, or working through cultural flashpoints, or navigating thorny issues. He is, however, reminding us that as wheat in his field of grace our mission isn’t to cultivate the perfect field here on earth.
If/when we getcaught up in that kind of thinking, Satan is playing us. I’m not saying that from a lofty, untouchable place either. Satan played me on this sort of thing a few years ago over a television series titled, “The Book of Daniel.” The show told the story of a Christian pastor who was addicted to painkillers, whose wife was a functional alcoholic, and whose supervising bishop was having an affair with his married father, whose wife was struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. In the show this pastor would have encounters with Jesus who had his own doubts about the church’s teachings from the Bible. As a young pastor I felt compelled to urge my parishioners to boycott this dangerous television series. The result? Some church members asked if I would be providing regular updates on good shows to watch and what to avoid. A couple others wondered if I would be following up to investigate whether or not congregants were staying awayfrom this particular series. And, I got the impression that some members actually tuned in to the show because I told them to stay away. My “holy zeal” provoked their curiosity.Satan played me. He distracted me from the real focus of my God-given mission ... and through me distracted others too.
So what’s the answer ... where is our focus to be? Jesus answers that question when he says: "Until the harvest."Jesus is teaching us that God is going to allow the wheat, believers, and the weeds, unbelievers, to grow together in this world until this world’s harvest day, Judgment Day.God has a plan as he looks forward to the harvest. While we wait for that day, that’s where our focus needs to be: on God’s harvest plan.
So what is God’s harvest plan? When we talk about God having a plan there are some important things to understand about God. First John tells us that "God is love."That describes God. "God is love."First Corinthians 13, that great chapter on love, says "Love never fails."God doesn't fail. God is love. We see the unfailing love of God in the person and in the work of Jesus Christ. You see the unfailing love of God in Jesus who picks up that cross and carries it to Calvary. You see the unfailing love of God in Jesus prays that the Romans soldiers who are nailing him to the cross be forgiven. You see the unfailing love of God in Jesus who remains on that cross not because of the nails but because of his boundless love for you. It was his love that held him to the cross, where he gave his life because "the wages of sin is death."At the end of that day it surely looked like evil had triumphed, as Jesus' body was taken down from the cross. If someone would have said that day that "love never fails" and "God doesn't fail," you could have pointed to the dead body of Jesus and said, "You're wrong. There's failure. There's death." But of course you and I know that that Friday is followed by a morning called Easter, where the never failing love of God showed himself resurrected from the dead.
God’s plans prevail! Satan may sow weeds in God’s plan. He thinks he can outwit God and destroy God’s plan, but God’s plan is fulfilled perfectly anyway. God is so powerful that he can use Satan’s evil intentions to complete his good and gracious will. God was -and is -in control. Until the harvest, God is going to let the wheat and the weeds grow together.
Thank God, he does! That thankfulness starts here, personally, with each of us! Remember, when you came into this world, when I was born into this life, we were no better than any weed in the field. But because his plans prevail, when God, the heavenly Farmer, looks out on us in the field, he doesn’t see us as weeds.Why not? When Jesus died, we died with him, not physically, but spiritually. By the cross our weedy nature no longer defines us. Instead, Christ seeds us with his perfection, and cleanses us with his forgiveness, and grows us in his undeserved love. God’s plan is transformational. Weeds can be reborn as wheat because this is no ordinary field and it’s tended by an extraordinary farmer who planted his crop through his own Son’s blood, sweat, and tears!
Weeds are wired to smother, choke and destroy. But not wheat. Wheat is made to grow. And it is designed to multiply by dropping seeds that grow more wheat! The Christian man who I mentioned earlier confessing to be “played by Satan,” early on his walk with the Lord, has learned the multiplying power of sowing Gospel seeds. He creates Gospel content to share via the internet. He reports: “What fruit has the seed born? Today, nearly two and a half million people all around the world have watched the videos on my YouTube channel. Over 7,000 have looked at my articles in the last month alone (nearly 90,000 total).”
God has commissioned his heavenly angels to do the work of sorting the weeds from the wheat, but he has commissioned us to do a different kind of angelic work: the work sharing the Gospel seeds from which we ourselves have grown. In the book of Revelation, St. John called those who spread the Gospel “angels” and that is appropriate, for anangelis the messenger of another. John called the proclaimers of the Gospel in several of the early churches “angels,” and that is indeed what they were: not winged spiritual creatures, but people who proclaim the message of the Savior come from heaven, planting the seeds of salvation in the hearts of all who hear and believe.
Go forth, then, messengers of God—enriched by the Word; absolved on your knees; washed in the font; fed at the altar, equipped and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Carry the same precious and unchanging message that has been given to you. You are wheat. Don’t just share the world with the weeds, share the Word with them! Amen.