Sunday, July 23, 2017

Be Patient...We're Not There Yet

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
“Are we there yet?” That question, at one time or another, is the bane of every parent’s existence. Patience is not most kids’ strong suit. And here's the deal: It’s not anybody else’s strong suit either.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we have another instance of Jesus telling a parable which the disciples later ask Him to explain. If in last week’s parable about a farmer scattering seed over different kinds of soil, seed stood for God’s Word spread indiscriminately over the world, the seed in this week’s lesson stands for something else entirely.

And the overarching message to believers in Jesus is this: Be patient; we aren’t there--”there” being the full unfolding of God’s kingdom that Jesus died and rose to bring us--we aren’t there yet.

Let’s take a look at Jesus’ familiar words. “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The 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?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let 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.’”

The “weeds” Jesus refers to here are likely darnel, a Eurasian ryegrass, which look a lot like wheat when they first sprout. Jesus assures us that the farmer in this story only sowed good seed in his field. But an enemy of the farmer sowed the darnel seeds. The two crops are tangled together. The farmer recognizes what has happened and tells his servants about it. The servants want to “fix” everything, asking if the farmer wants them to pull up the weeds. The farmer says, in effect, “No. We have to be patient. I’ll sort things out later, at harvest time.”

[This picture shows darnel growing among wheat. The two look nearly identical when they first rise from the ground.]

Later, the disciples ask Jesus to explain the parable. He does: “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The 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. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Jesus came into this world in order to bring to life a new race of human beings, new Adams and new Eves to populate His new creation. “...if anyone is in Christ,” 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

All who trust in Christ are good seed, new seed, created by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

God creates us anew for two purposes: to grow as citizens of God’s new creation and to “bear fruit,” making new disciples as the Holy Spirit uses our witness for Christ to bring life.

Anywhere God’s Word about Christ is heard and believed, God performs a miracle: He transforms weeds into wheat, into good seed!

The only mission of the Church is to grow as disciples and to make disciples. God deputizes us, Christ's Church, to be the conduits by which this miraculous transformation happens!

The apostle Paul puts it this way: “ comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Weeds can become good seed when we share the Word about Christ with others!

And this is exactly what’s been happening for more than two thousand years, the kingdom of God sprouting up all around as billions of people have been made new by Jesus through their faith in Him.

But something else is also going on, according to Jesus’ parable. And our experience confirms His Word: There are weeds growing among the wheat, growing in the world, growing even in Christ’s Church.

They’re the crop planted by Satan, the crop responsible for every sin that exists in this world: idolatry, gossip, murder, materialism, racism, sexism, envy, selfishness, double-dealing, child abuse, adultery, corruption, you name it.

In the parable, the weeds are all those people given over to sin, often looking as innocent and healthy as hearty wheat on the outside, but filled with evil, death, and decay in their thinking and their living.

In Jesus’ parable, the servants are so alarmed by the weeds that grow in the garden amid the wheat that they ask the farmer, “You want us to pull the weeds up?”

This response to bad wheat is akin to a common reaction to evil on the part of Christians. They want to take drastic measures: Read people the riot act. Form a committee. Vote for a slate of candidates. Pass some new laws.

But, folks, this can be dangerous and ungodly behavior! When you’re confident that you’re part of God’s good new creation (you know, wheat rather than weeds), the devil comes along with a big temptation: He tries to convince us that we were saved not by grace, but by being such a wonderful person. You can begin to think that because you’re so “in” with God, you have the right to cast judgment on all those unrighteous weeds around you.

We can forget that unless we daily submit to God’s use of a little weed killer on us--unless we own our sin and allow our old sinful selves to be daily killed so that the new people Christ died and rose to empower us to be, we too are in danger of becoming increasingly weedy, walking away from Christ and the life that only He can give.

An adage reminds us, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Without the grace of God given in Jesus, I would be just another eminently disposable weed!

But, you may say, there’s so much evil in the world, so many people given over to evil who are getting away with murder, what is God going to do about it?

The answer is this: God has already done something about the evil in the world

In Jesus Christ, God bore all evil on the cross, including your sins and mine. He bore it all on His sinless shoulders. He accepted the verdict and the punishment for sin you and I deserve, death, and because of His complete innocence, was able to kill off the power of sin, death, and the devil for all eternity for all who trust in Christ.

There will come a time when the crucified and risen Jesus will return and usher in His eternal kingdom to the full. Evil and death, grief and loss, will be finished. “...[Jesus] will wipe every tear from [believers’] eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away” (Revelation 21:4). But, friends, we’re not there yet!

Until we are there, our call is to be patient, because Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantee us that God is going to make everything right.

We need to be as patient in following Christ. As Psalm 103:8 reminds us that, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.”

And we need to be patient with others.

When the disciples who made up the first century church at Corinth started judging all the “weeds” around them for being spiritually inferior, the apostle Paul reminded them: “You know that when you were pagans [weeds], somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols” (1 Corinthians 12:2).

“You’d still be nothing but weeds if it weren’t for the good news of Jesus,” Paul is saying.

We need to remember that there isn’t a single evil person who can’t be saved by faith in Jesus. Just as Jesus has saved me from sin and death through what He accomplished on the cross and my faith in Him, anyone can be saved from sin and death.

Weeds can turn into wheat under the power of God’s Word about Jesus. We need to trust in that truth.

Which leads us to the most important reason you and I need to be patient as we wait for Jesus to return and make everything right: We have work to do! 

The apostle Peter, in his second New Testament letter, wrote to churches who couldn’t understand why God was allowing evil--sometimes evil persecution against the Church--to go on. What was the hold up? When would God pull down the curtains on this old creation and set His people from evil and suffering? Why is God so slow in acting?

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness,” Peter said. “Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God wants as many sin-sick souls as possible to be given the chance to turn to Christ and live. 

And God wants His Church--you and me--to fulfill our great commission, to share the gospel, to call people to repentance and faith, so that they can have the same new and eternal lives Christ has given to us. 

God wants you and me to patiently share Christ with others. 

He wants us to bring in a harvest of wheat, disciples growing strong in faith, in response to our faithful, patient witness, powered by the Holy Spirit!

We’re not there yet--not yet experiencing the kingdom in its fullness as we one day will.

But let’s have patience with God and our neighbor.

Let’s live our faith, share our faith, pray it, serve in response to it.

As long as we have breath, let’s be patient in following and sharing Jesus with everyone...and trust that God will sort things out and make everything right on the day of Jesus’ return.


[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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