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THE PARABLES OF JESUS: The Weeds and Seeds     Matt. 13:24-35  

A week ago today, my family and I were leaving to go to a week at Mount Hermon.  I taught there last week, and the family went and had an awesome time.  Kelly and I are both Type A people.  Our flight left at 8:45 and we left the house at 6:00 am because we like to be on time.  If you followed the news last Sunday, you might have heard there was a little bit of an accident on Peña Boulevard.  If you know DIA, you know that Peña’s really the only way to get into that airport.  We left our house at 6:00 and about 6:30 we’re at that stretch of Peña that juts north and then heads east to the final stretch that takes you into the airport.  When we turned east, we hit gridlock traffic like I’ve never seen on that street before!  It just came to an absolute screeching halt!  Kelly and I looked at each other and said, “This isn’t good,” and started Googling what’s going on.  Turns out there was a huge accident up front.  From 6:30 to 7:00, we just sat there and didn’t move at all.  We saw (on Apple Maps) there was a shortcut you could take and get off the road and sort of circumvent the issue a little bit.  We did that and ended up in another line of cars.  You may have heard that there were some people who took a short cut into an open field and they got absolutely stuck; that wasn’t us, but we could see them from where we were.  As we were waiting, I was saying, “Okay, if we get there 7:45 (an hour before our flight leaves) we’ll be just fine.”  It hit 7:45 and we were still stuck.  Then I said, “If we get to the airport by 8:00, I think we’re going to be okay.”  We started to move a little bit more, but we didn’t pull into the airport until 8:10.  I went and parked in short-term parking, which, by the way, if you do that for a whole week, costs you $175, I found out.  We ran into the airport, got through security, begging and pleading with people to let us through.  I was in such a hurry I put all my kids luggage on the conveyor belt to go through security, and I left mine there.  We got down to the train and I’m standing there empty handed.  Kelly says to me, “Where’s your bag?”  I went, “Oh, I blew it!”  I ran back and said, “It’s going to be easier to find a flight for one than it is five.  You guys get on the flight.  You go!”  I ran back to security and asked if they had a bag and they asked, “Does it have a car seat on it?”  “Yeah, I’m that idiot.”  I run up to the gate…’s three minutes after the flight was suppose to have taken off.  As I’m running up, they ask, “Are you Mr. Paulson?”  “Yes, thank you, Jesus!”  They said, “Reid was really worried you weren’t going to make this flight!”

As we were waiting in line, we saw people who decided that waiting in line wasn’t going to be for them; they were going to miss their flight as most of us waiting in line.  So they tried to turn around and get out of the line.  This guy had a Jeep so I guess he thought he would be okay, but, if you remember, it rained pretty hard the Saturday before, and that field was absolutely mud.  I didn’t get him in the picture, but he was standing with his arms crossed looking at what was formerly his car.  I thought to myself, “Yeah, waiting’s hard.”  Especially when you’re waiting and you don’t have any sort of time frame for when that next thing is coming.  Waiting’s really difficult.  I think our tendency, as human beings, is to try to look for any short cut that we can, in order to get around the waiting.  How many of you have tried to circumvent the line at an amusement park?  We wait for food to come at a restaurant.  Or maybe it’s waiting for that next season of life.  In high school, just waiting to get done so we can get to college.  In college, waiting to get done so we can find that job…..or at least our parents are waiting for us to find that job.  Or maybe it’s single and I’m waiting to get married.  Or maybe it’s that next season, that next job, that next opportunity.  Waiting can be really hard.

Will you just lean in for a moment?  Everybody waits.  Everybody waits in life.  But not everybody waits well.  The way that you wait, in many ways, will shape the life that you live.  What we’re going to circle around in these parables that Jesus is going to tell this morning is that life in God’s kingdom requires waiting, with both patience and persistence.  I don’t know about you, but I can wait with patience at some times in my life and sort of sit on my hands and go, “What’s going to come is going to come, and I don’t have any control over this, and I’m just sort of along for the ride.”  OR, I can say, “I’m going to make it through this season.”  I’m going to turn around and find away out of it.  But to wait with a balanced approach of patience…..God, you’re at work in ways I can see and in ways I can’t see…..AND God, you’ve called me to work also, but to trust that you’re the one that makes something of this and you’re the one that moves us along the field.  To do BOTH is really, really difficult.

I think we can add on top of this that as followers of Jesus—you may or may not agree with this—it often seems like God is often on a way different timeline than we are.  It feels like God moves way slower than we want him to move.  At times, we can look up to heaven and pray and go, “Hey, God, are you doing ANYTHING in this?”  I was reminded last week of someone who said, “God moves slowly.  Will we learn to move as slow as Him?”  To that end, Jesus tells some parables. Matthew 13 is where he launches into his sort of storytelling ministry, where Jesus begins to tell a number of parables.  They’re directed toward the nation of Israel.  They’re his immediate audience, but they certainly apply to you and I today too.  Here’s what this parable says (Matthew 13:24) — He (Jesus) put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field…

Over the next few weeks we’re going to be talking about this subject of parables—a number of different parables that Jesus told.  I want to give us some context for what that word actually means.  It’s two words put together—para, which means “to come alongside of, to strengthen, to build up.”  Paraclete—an encourager.  -Bollo, which means literally “to throw.”  So it’s Jesus walking along, in his everyday life, and he’s going to throw some stories alongside there normal, everyday existence.  A lot of followers of Jesus presume that parables are intended to confuse us, because often they did.  But I want to assure you, that’s actually not the original intent of a parable.  Parables were used primarily by fishermen.  They were used by tradesmen.  They weren’t taught in Socratic seminars.  They weren’t used by the philosophical elite.  They were just sort of the everyday man’s and woman’s way of communicating some sort of truth. William Taylor said it like this:  “The purpose of parabolic teaching is clear; its aim is to elucidate truth, not to obscure it, still less to conceal and issue or to serve as a punishment.”  Parabolic teaching was intended to create spiritual awakening.  People would hear Jesus teaching and he would say, “This is sort of like that.”  The kingdom of God is sort of like a wheat field and they were intended to go oh, oh, I didn’t see it like that before.  I didn’t get that before.

He tells these stories, because stories have power.  As Robert MacKee, the great storyteller and studier of stories, said: “Stories are the best way to get ideas into the world.”  I would argue that they are also the best way to get ideas into our heart.  To that end, Jesus starts telling stories.  Most of his stories are parables that he tells, in Matthew 13, about the kingdom of heaven.  Which begs the question what in the world is the kingdom of heaven?  I’ve met so many followers of Jesus that cannot answer that question.  It saddens me because if we were to say to Jesus, “Jesus, you have one sermon to preach on this stage; what would you preach about?” we can pretty well guess because it’s what he taught about everywhere he went.  His one sermon would be about the kingdom of heaven.  It was HIS central message.  So what is the kingdom of heaven?  The kingdom of heaven is anywhere that God gets his way.  That’s what the kingdom of heaven is.  It’s where the rule and reign of God is realized—that’s the kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of heaven, today, Jesus would say, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and the kingdom of heaven will be fully someday.  The kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, is anywhere God gets what God wants.  Whether it’s in God’s world and in your family, and in your home, and in your workplace, and anywhere you go at your school.  Or in your heart.  When you forgive, you invite the kingdom.  When you love, you live in the kingdom.  It goes where you go, if God has His rule and reign in you.

Jesus wants to tells some stories about what that kingdom is like, what that rule and that reign is like.  I want to read for you a number of verses, and Jesus is going to tell you three stories that all connect about what his kingdom is like.  Matthew 13:24-33 — He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.  And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then does it have weeds?’  He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’  So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” {Story number two.} He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”  {Story number three.}  He told them another parable.  “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”  

Three stories.  Notice that there’s sort of a pattern; there’s a number of similarities to each of the stories.  The first one includes a farmer who goes out and he plants seeds.  The second one is about a little mustard seed that’s put into the ground and slowly grows.  The third one is about a woman who puts leaven into flour and then starts to work.  What you will see in each one of the stories as you study it and as you look at it is that the kingdom of God—Jesus wants us to understand this—grows through a process, it’s not instantaneous.

How many of you planted a garden this year?  Yeah, we planted a garden this year as well, which is just simply a way of saying we donated $50 to Wilmore.  That’s what that means, because my kids went and dug the trenches in our garden, and they planted the seeds, and they watered it, and they did that on day one.  The next day, they got up early in the morning, were so excited.  They ran out to the garden and what did they see?  DIRT!  That’s what they saw.  They saw nothing.  Because what happened overnight?  Not a whole lot.  Not a whole lot that WE can see. We still got some great tools thanks to advice from Patient Gardener for the moment the seeds grow up and to keep the grass under control in the meantime.

I think if we’re honest as followers of Jesus in a modern digital age, the fact that kingdom growth is a process is really, really hard for us.  We are getting into a day and age where it feels like Prime Two-Day Shipping on Amazon takes forever.  Who’s with me?  When are they going to deploy the drones that get it to our house in an hour after we order it?  They’ve done studies that show if a video on YouTube takes more than a few seconds to load, you are out!  We live in microwave culture, and we treat spiritual growth in the kingdom of God in the exact same way.  God, if you’re going to bring it, our expectation is that you bring it NOW!  If you promise it, why would you wait on delivering it?

I’m convinced that as followers of the way of Jesus, we have got to become people who embrace the process, and in embracing the process, we have to find and celebrate the small victories along the way.  We’ve got to be able to see….if the marriage isn’t exactly the way I’d hoped it would be or become, but it’s changing….the lines of communication are opening up a little bit….we could celebrate that.  The person I’m sharing my faith with at the workplace….they haven’t come to know Jesus yet, but there’s this softening.  You do know that if you’re the first Christian that somebody doesn’t hate that’s progress?  For them, it’s a process.  We want to see it immediately.  We want to close the deal.  We want it to happen.  God says, “Hey, I know it looks like dirt, but something’s going on underneath that you have no idea about.”  What if we gave ourselves the same kind of grace?  What if we recognized we’re far from who we long to be, but, God, you’re changing me?  Little by little and there’s still a long way to go.  What if we learned to give ourselves the grace we long for other people to give to us and that we want to give to other people?

If you were to go back and ask one of the early followers of Jesus what one of the most frustrating things about being around Jesus was, I think they would have told you, “He moves so slowly.  He’s so unhurried.  Why won’t he just implement the kingdom of God?!”  For them, they meant the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Rome cannot coexist.  It’s one or the other.  If the kingdom of God is here, people shouldn’t be being killed on Roman crosses outside of Jerusalem.  Let’s just throw that out there.  And people were so frustrated that Jesus was way more interested in a process than he was in instantaneously implementing his kingdom.  It was difficult for people.

Listen to the way Jesus continues in Matthew 13:25.  This is after the good farmer sows his seed.   ….but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  {If you’re a note taker, may I encourage you to write this down:  God only sows good seeds.  But God is not the only one sowing seeds.  Man, we wrestle with this question, don’t we?  The question of why do bad things happen?  God, why don’t you just come and implement your kingdom….your kingdom of love, your kingdom of justice, your kingdom of goodness, your kingdom of grace, your kingdom of mercy?  Why don’t you just come and implement it and extinguish all the empires of this earth?!  Come on!}   (v27) And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  {Hey, God, I thought you were a good God.  Why are there weeds?  We’ll find out later as Jesus explains this parable; it’s one of only two parables that Jesus explains, or that we have recorded that he explained.  He’s going to tell you that the weeds are evil.  God, I thought you were good.  Why is there evil growing in your field?}  How then does it have weeds?    {God only sows good seeds, but he’s not the only one sowing seeds.}  (v28) He said to the, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  {Farmer, we can help you out.  If your field has both good in it and weeds that are bad in it, why don’t you send us on a mission to go and do some weeding?  That seems really logical.  We’ll find all the weeds and pull them out and we’ll leave all of the wheat and the weeds will be gone.}  But he (Jesus) said, ‘No…    {Wait, what??  Why wouldn’t a good farmer want the bad crop out of his field?}  ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.’ 

Here’s the deal, right now the kingdom of God is what scholars would call ‘now but not yet.’  I think a more nuanced way of understanding that is the kingdom of God is here, but it has competition.  There’s an enemy sower.  We live in the kingdom and growth happens amidst cosmic conflict, not just a victory parade.  There’s an enemy. Jesus gives, what I would argue, a troubling methodology for dealing with evil.  For dealing with weeds.  Let me give you three quick things.  Here’s what Jesus wants to do:  Jesus wants us to understand, on a way deeper level than we ever hope to understand, the complexity of badness.  Here’s what I mean.  Wheat and the weeds—zizania, in the Greek—that Jesus is talking about look strikingly similar, don’t they?  As they grow, they continue to look similar, and it’s not until harvest that you can start to sort of tell the difference.  But I think what Jesus is saying—don’t take too much offense to this, but try to see if you can see it in your own heart and soul and life—is that the workers in the field (you and I) are not discerning enough to be able to separate the wheat and the weeds.  That’s God’s job.  We don’t get to decide who’s in and who’s out.  Because here’s the deal:  Typically we decide who’s in and who’s out, who’s good and who’s bad based on our own biases.  If the look like us, talk like us, believe like us, think like us, they’re good.  Because I’m good!  But if they think differently than me, believe differently than me, talk differently than me, have a different background than me, have different experiences than me, and have a different way of looking at the world, then they’re BAD.  It’s usually my own biases that cloud whether or not someone or something is good or bad.  Here’s the truth, friends, the complexity of badness isn’t just out there.  The complexity of badness is also in here.

Let’s do a little bit of an experiment and use the Bible.  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and WHOEVER loves has been born of God and knows God.   {Quick time out.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever loved.  Keep it up and look around.  Almost everyone.}  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1John 4:7-8)   Raise your hand if you’ve ever not loved.  Keep it up.  Are you wheat or weeds?  Yes.  Yes.  So if we were going to go and start ripping up weeds, we might have to start with us.  Jesus is saying this is way more complicated.  John knows exactly what he’s doing.  He knows he’s making this paradoxical contrast, where you go I’m not exactly sure, totally, where I fall, and his intention is he wants to point you, to draw you to Jesus, to throw your life once again on grace.    As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said:  “If only it were all so simple!  If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

I think Jesus wants to say it’s complicated. But you may respond and go, rightly, “But, Jesus, didn’t you have a few things to say about evil?”  Jesus, didn’t you care about people who were suffering?  Didn’t you care about people who were being abused?  God, don’t you care about things like slavery in our world today?  Don’t you care about people who are wrong and injustice?  Jesus, your Bible has a lot to say about injustice.  Jesus, when you saw people who were possessed by demons, you drove them out.  You didn’t just pray for them and go, “Be well, be fed, good luck with that.”  People who were crippled, He healed them.  He said to you and I, “Hey, you’re in a spiritual battle.”  So there’s some approach to the weeds, isn’t there?  As John Stuart Mill, now famously, said one time: “The only thing it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.”

So what do we do with that?  I would argue that this parable is saying that we do nothing about evil or injustice or the suffering that we see in the world.  This parable is not saying that we sit on our hands.  This parable is saying that the way we respond has to be in line with the kingdom ethic that we believe.  So, when Jesus, on the night that he’s betrayed, is with Peter, and Peter takes out his knife and cuts off the soldier’s ear…..does Jesus say, “Oh yeah, it’s game time, baby!  Let’s do this!  Everybody, get your swords, you’ve bled with Wallace, now bleed with me!”  Does he go Braveheart?  He doesn’t!  He goes bleeding heart.  He picks up the ear that’s lying on the ground and he goes over to the soldier and he puts it right back on.  The fact that everybody wasn’t converted in that moment just shows you that there was some spiritual blindness there.  I think most of think we would have gone, “Yeah, that’s the deal right there!”  Here’s what he says to Peter — Put your sword back into its place.  For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matt. 26:52)    I think he’s saying, “That’s not the way my kingdom’s going to come.”

In contrast, he says it actually in Matthew 13:30.  It’s subtle, it’s there in the Greek more profoundly than it is in the English translation.  Let both grow together until the harvest..  This word ‘let’ can be translated ‘allow or permit or suffer.’  Suffer that both grow together.  OR….it can be translated as ‘forgive.”  Forty-seven out of the one hundred fifty-six times that word is used in the New Testament, it’s translated ‘forgive.’  Forgive both of them grow together.  It sounds like something Jesus-y, doesn’t it?  Like when He’s on the cross his anthem is not, “Father, get them.”  “Father, rip out those weeds!”  It’s “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”  For you, as a kingdom ambassador, as a kingdom carrier, His command for you—you don’t get to pray about whether or not you follow it if you’re a disciple—is love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  And people who wrong you, forgive them seven times seventy or an infinite number.  I encourage you to jot this down:  Jesus is teaching us that the best way to confront evil is to grow the influence of the kingdom.

So, understand the complexity of badness, trust in the power of goodness and love and forgiveness.  Trust in the power of goodness.  It only takes a little bit of light to extinguish the darkness.  Trust in that power.  But also, I think Jesus is saying don’t lose sight of the end.  When Jesus explains this parable, listen to what he said:  The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom.  The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.   {So that’s the counterfeit farmer.}   The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.  Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears, let him hear.  (Matt. 13:38-43) 

I think Jesus would say understand the complexity of badness, trust in the power of goodness, and do not lose sight of the end.  Don’t lose sight of the end.  There will come a day when God turns the world to rights.  While this may grate on some of our Western-American understanding of like, kumbaya and the God of love, we’ve talked about this before.  I’d encourage you to go back and listen to the message in Jonah, where we talked about justice and love, that those aren’t two separate things, but they’re part of the two sides of the same coin.  God is not loving if he does not get the sin and brokenness, and abuse and violence, and hatred and evil out of his kingdom.  He says that one day there will be no more competition.  There will not be a counterfeit farmer.  If you do not want to go to the fiery furnace, let go of your evil and run into his kingdom.  Because of his goodness and his love, he says, I’m going to ultimately get rid of that.  If you’ve ever been abused, and if you’ve ever been taken advantage of, if you’ve been on the other side of injustice, if you’ve been on the other side of hate, you LONG for that day.  And Jesus says, “It’s coming! It’s coming!”

He tells two more stories.  One of a mustard seed that starts out really, really small and then grows to be really, really large.  Next, leaven that you can’t even see that starts out in dough and it’s kneaded around and then finally it’s absolutely everywhere.  Notice this, in the first parable, the enemy cannot damage the wheat; he can only grow weeds.  In the second and third parable, there isn’t any opposition.  I think what Jesus is teaching us is that we, as followers of Jesus who often find ourselves in that line of waiting, and we’re waiting on his kingdom to come and his will to be done in our lives and in our world and it could be frustrating….I think he would say to us, “Lean in this morning and know that kingdom growth is unhurried, but ultimately, it is unstoppable.”  Jesus said, “The gates of hell will not prevail against my church.” (Matt. 16:18)  He doesn’t say they might not prevail, he says they WILL NOT prevail.  Philippians, in its anthem about Jesus, says that one day at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10)   IT. WILL. HAPPEN.

Today, friends, may we be people who live with perseverance; this is the invitation of Jesus throughout these parables.  Don’t let the visual progress, or lack thereof, of God’s kingdom in your life, in your neighborhood, in your family, prevent you from continuing to live in the way of love.  When it looks like it’s just dirt, keep watering.  There’s a seed underneath there and God is faithful to grow it.  Perseverance.  Man, as parents, this should be one of the main things we long to instill into our kids.  We live in a tap out generation.  I long to raise kids—when life gets hard—who keep putting one foot in front of the other.  How about you?  To live with perseverance.

Second, that we would be people who live with confidence.  It will happen.  God is growing his church.  Think of how hard it would have been for the 120 people who are in that little room after Jesus has been taken to heaven.  Imagine if you were to drop down in the middle of that little prayer meeting of terrified people and say to them, “Hey, just wait!  In 2000 years, there’s going to be two billion people around the globe who claim to believe in and trust in and declare that Jesus is Lord.  I know you seem like a little rag-tag bunch now, but just wait!”  Friends, anytime you hear somebody say, “Oh, the church is on the decline,” just ask them what God’s doing in Africa.  Because it’s exploding there!  Ask them what God is doing in China, because the underground church is flourishing.  The church isn’t doing nearly as bad in the States as people long for you to think.  Fear sells.  But I can tell you with confidence, Jesus has not given up on his church.   And I can say, even as there’s transitions in front of THIS church, South Fellowship Church, its grounding is on Jesus, not on Ryan.  God has a great plan for this church in the future.  You can have confidence in it and you should have confidence in it, because He’s not done.

Finally, if his kingdom is coming and his will will be done and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, let’s start today.  Let’s be devoted today.  Let’s start with repenting today.  Confessing today.  Following today.  Saying yes today.  Don’t let the pain in the middle of the story distract you from the end.  The end, my friends, is known!

So as you put away your stuff, I just want to invite you to stand up right where you are and we’re going to close with one last chorus of this great song .  I want to ask you what you’re waiting for.  What are you waiting for?  Are you waiting on hope this morning?  Are you waiting on a relationship to be mended?  Does it seem like God is just sitting on his hands and withholding his kingdom?  Maybe it just looks like dirt to you.  I can assure you, I know the farmer and there’s a seed under there somewhere.  Let’s be people who wait well.  For God alone my soul waits in silence. (Psalm 62:5)   Let’s just wait for a moment.  For He alone is my salvation.  He is my rock and my salvation; my healing.  He is my fortress, and I will not be shaken. (Psalm 62:2)

So, God, in the long lines of life and the repeated prayers that sometimes we feel are bouncing off the ceiling of heaven back to us, we want to be people who wait well, with patience and persistence.  That we would persevere.  That we’d have confidence.  Lord, in the midst of difficult seasons, maybe painful seasons, we would remain fully devoted, trusting that you are good, and remembering that one day your kingdom will be present here, without competition from the enemy, where love and justice and beauty and goodness and truth will flourish.  Help us live today in light of that day, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.