As you’re being seated, please turn to Matthew chapter 13, the gospel of Matthew that’s the first book in the New Testament. It’s on pages 818 and 819, the section we’ll be studying this evening in the pew Bibles. Matthew 13, verses 24 through 30, and then 36 through 43. Before we read God’s Word together, let us go to Him in prayer.
O our Father, we live in a world that shouts at us every day to be disappointed, to be bored, to be let down, to veer between either cynicism or despair, and we need Your Word to silence those all too convincing voices this evening. So we pray that You would do that, that the Holy Spirit would speak to us by Your Word and that we would learn from the lips of our Savior how in fact to have hope in a disappointing world. We can’t do this on our own, and so we plead with You to do it, and we ask it all in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.
Matthew 13, beginning at verse 24. This is God’s Word:
“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.’’
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 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. 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.’”
The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the living God shall stand forever and ever.
A few years ago, the editor of Christianity Today, Philip Yancey, wrote a book entitled, Disappointment with God. It quickly became a best-seller and the whole premise of the book was this. He spent time interviewing people who had become disappointed with God and walked away from Christianity altogether in most cases, people who had been faithful followers of the Lord and then just decided there was too much heartache, too much disappointment, too many unanswered questions, and walked away. Yancey distilled three questions from his interviews that people really wrestled with and here they are. The first one is this: “Is God unfair?” The second is: “Is God silent?” And the third one: “Is God hidden?” Is God unfair? Is God silent? And is God hidden? And failure to answer these questions caused people to have significant doubts about their faith and in the end to express disappointment with God. And I think we can distill those questions further down to one: “Do You care, God?” That’s a question that life forces us to ask, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been alive, it doesn’t matter what’s come upon you, if life’s been very good to you or if you’ve been walking through pain so great that you can’t even put it into words. The question is this that all of us have to ask: “Do You care, God?”
And when we come here to this passage before us tonight we’re reminded that this world is about disappointment. Jesus put it this way in another passage. He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” That’s a promise. And here, He is telling a parable really to answer this one question. Here’s the question that He’s answering with this parable. “Jesus, if the kingdom of God has come into this world, then why is all the opposition against this kingdom not immediately wiped out? Why does that keep happening?” And so He tells a parable to answer that question. And I want to look at these verses with you under two headings this evening. In the first place, the kingdom in the world; the kingdom in the world. And then in the second place, the kingdom at the end of the world. So the kingdom in the world and the kingdom at the end of the world.
I. The Kingdom in the World
And in verse 24 Jesus begins. He says, “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 seeds among the wheat and went away.” And Jesus continues to describe what happens there. And when He goes on to the explanation it’s important for us to note a number of things. First, He reminds us that He is the sower. He is the one who is growing the kingdom. That’s vital for us to remember, beloved, because it’s so easy for us to begin to think that the kingdom will come by our own doing. If we do enough acts of mercy and justice, important, extraordinarily important things to do, but that if we do those things then somehow we’ll bring the kingdom in quickly, or more quickly, or in a time frame that we’re comfortable with. And every one of Jesus’ parables is designed, calculated, and adamantly opposed to that view. He’s the one who brings the kingdom. He’s the one who sows the Word.
Sons of the Kingdom Versus Sons of Darkness
And notice here He says actually it’s not just the Word He’s sowing, that there’s sons of the kingdom versus sons of darkness. And in this culture, to say that somebody was a “son of,” X, Y, or Z, “a son of light,” or “a son of” this person or that person, was simply to say that that person had the nature of that person. So if you were a son of your father’s name, it meant that you were named well because you bore the nature of your father. And so when Jesus says there are the sons of the kingdom or the sons of light and the sons of darkness, He’s saying there are two and only two kinds of people in the world. That’s hard for us to accept in a culture like ours, because we like things open, all the time. This kind of exclusivity that Jesus brings to us almost grates like fingernails against the chalkboard of tolerance in our culture. There is a right and proper Biblical tolerance, my friends. Make no mistake about that! But the idea that everybody’s fine and nobody’s lost and everybody’s saved is foreign to the teaching of our Savior. He says there are sons of the kingdom and there are sons of darkness and we are either in one of those camps. Those are the only two options. There’s no middle road; there’s no other way.
The Sons of Darkness
And notice how He describes the sons of darkness, the sons of the evil one. He says they are the weeds. They are the ones that Satan sows in the world. They bear his nature. And what’s the prime difference between somebody who’s a son of the kingdom, who is one of the sons of Christ as it were, the sons of the Father, and the sons of the evil one, what’s the key difference? Those who are the sons of the evil one reject the Word of God. Those who are the sons of the kingdom respond in faith to the Word of God. That’s why at the end of all the parables Jesus has this tagline He gives every time - “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” It’s those who respond in simple faith, those who come to Jesus, listen to His Word, take it in and believe it versus those who reject it. They bear the nature of their father, the devil. What is Satan’s chief strategy, my friends, in this present, evil age? What is his main design? And this is going to sound like some kind of old fashioned, fundamentalist, you know, “Do you still believe that kind of thing?” And the answer is, “Yes we do” because it’s this. The Bible tells us Satan’s chief strategy is to get us to doubt God’s Word. We just read that this morning in our Scripture reading. “Did God really say?” That is the same question he has been asking for millennia and it’s working very well for the devil right now. “Did He really say?”
And if you think about your problems this week, if you think about the disappointments in your life, don’t so many of them come back to the fact that there’s a failure to believe God’s Word? I know that’s the story of my life. If I look back on it, I see the fact is that I ask that same question that the devil asks, “Are You sure, God? Did You really say? Did You really promise?” That’s what marks out the sons of the evil one. And so Jesus is telling us here in the first place, His kingdom is in the world, but the world is not responding the way it should because of the activity of Satan, nevertheless, Jesus reigns. That’s what He’s reminding His disciples. He’s the one in charge. He’s the one who is going to bring the kingdom. He’s the one who is doing this work. It’s all on Him!
Why Opposition Exists in the Kingdom
But He explains why there is opposition. He tells us it comes in various forms. Notice what He says there. The enemy comes at night and when the plants came up the weeds appeared also. What does that tell us about the activity of the enemy? First of all, he’s deceptive. You see, it’s not the fault of the servants here. Everybody has to sleep. That’s not Jesus’ point. The point here is, He did sow good seed and an enemy came along and sowed weeds, bad seed into it. This was a common crime, by the way. This would have landed with His original audience. Rome had laws on their books to punish those who did this to their enemies. They would either sow bad seed or they would salt an enemy’s field so the good seed wouldn’t grow. And so Rome had laws against these kinds of things. It was a common practice to take revenge. And the seed that Jesus talks about also would have been very familiar. The word in the Greek signifies the darnel seed - I’d never heard of it! Don’t worry if you haven’t! The darnel seed looked exactly like wheat until the bud appeared. The problem is this. The way that the darnel seed grew versus the way the wheat grew is such that darnel seed would weave its way around the roots so that if you cut up that darnel seed you would lose the wheat as well and you couldn’t tell the difference until right at the harvest. And then you could. And it was a poisonous seed, so you had to be careful sorting it out to make sure you got the wheat versus the weeds right.
The Kingdom Opposed Through Deception
And the point of Jesus telling us this is very simple. If you want to know how Satan is going to deceive the world or how he’s going to deal with the world, how he’s going to oppose the work of Jesus, if you want to know what that’s going to look like between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus, He says it this way. He says Satan is going to come with deception, first of all. He’s going to come to deceive! And isn’t that what he’s doing such a great job of in our day and age? So much deception. So much false teaching. You can look around and see it in our culture: “God wants us all to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. God wants you to have your best life now. God wants you to, no matter what, be a fulfilled person even if that means that you break His law to do so.” Closer to home: “God wants all of us to live perfectly well with all kinds of material comfort and never sacrifice for His kingdom and that’s okay if we don’t do that. It’s okay, it doesn’t matter how you live, as long as you’ve professed faith everything’s great.” That is the kind of teaching Satan brings to us.
And notice that a lot of it is very difficult to spot, my friends. Very rarely will Satan come to you with a neon arrow and big bright lights saying, “Here’s a temptation! Don’t go here!” No. He comes with a voice of a convincing teacher or pastor. He comes with a temptation that you would never recognize as a temptation apart from the grace of God because he’s deceptive. He loves to deceive! The Bible describes him as “the deceiver of the nations” and he’s blinding people all around us today. And if you think about the way Hollywood portrays what Satan’s activity looks like versus reality, the two could not be more different. We watch the movies and we see people’s heads spin around and speaking in crazy voices, when in actuality, what Satan uses is the smooth, university professor. He uses the neighbor to implant doubts to believers who may be questioning his or her own faith and doing the same and inviting you to do that as well. All kinds of stratagems! All kinds of ways that Satan deceives!
The Kingdom Opposed Through Counterfeiting
But he also counterfeits. That’s one of the points Jesus is making here. In this world he’s going to do the best he can to counterfeit true Christianity and he’s going to mix up just enough error to vitiate the whole thing. It’s like this! If I give you a cup of water and I tell you it’s a perfectly pure glass of water except for one drop of cyanide, you’re still not going to drink that water because the one drop undoes the rest that’s pure and healthy. And that’s what Satan will do. He’ll counterfeit experiences in our lives. This is why when you read the New Testament God warns us against placing too much faith in miracles because Paul will go on to tell us in 2 Thessalonians that the power to do miracles belongs not just to God, but He’s also granted it to Satan! All deceiving kinds of signs and wonders Satan is able to do. And never forget that the two generations in the Scriptures who saw the most miracles, the most miracles, the generation of the Exodus and the generation that was alive when our Savior walked the earth, those two generations were the single most unbelieving generations recorded in all of redemptive history! So what Jesus is warning against here is this - deception and counterfeits. Watch out for them, He says. This is Satan’s activity. This is the way He works in this world.
And we can expect opposition. The person who tells you that when you become a Christian you’re going to get your “best life now,” that everything’s going to be great, is lying to you! The moment we become Christians we put a target on our backs! We put a target on our backs! We become those who are opposed daily by the evil one. I once heard a pastor put it this way. Sometimes we think when we become Christians we’ve gotten on a cruise ship; the reality is, we’ve gotten on a battleship! We’re in for a fight. It’s not easy! Hardships will come, Satan will oppose you. Isn’t that for that 1st century? No! If you’ve been a Christian at all - and maybe you’re not a Christian here tonight. Again, welcome. Good to have you here. But recognize, we want to tell you the truth about what it means to follow Jesus. You’re going to have opposition from Satan. He’s going to make life miserable at times. And Jesus wants us to know that.
God’s Patience in the Midst of Opposition
But then in the middle of that He reminds us that the kingdom grows slowly, despite opposition. He says to them, He says, “Wait! Don’t pull them both up! Let them grow together and then at harvest we’ll separate them.” What is He saying? He’s telling us very simply God is patient. How does the apostle Peter, who was standing here when Jesus taught this, how does he tell it to us in his second epistle? He says, “a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day in God’s sight.” What Jesus is saying is, between His first coming, right now when He’s teaching this, and His second coming at the end of the age, there may be a long delay, a long delay. And as you grow older and as you walk with the Lord, that word, delay, becomes more and more horrific, doesn’t it? It becomes harder to bear because so much of the time we want it to end now. We want the misery to stop; we want the suffering to stop. We are tired of the delay. And what Jesus is teaching us here is very simply this. He says, “Settle in for the long haul and trust Me. I know when it’s going to end. Live faithfully for Me until that day, but I know when it’s going to end. You have to trust Me. But you will see disappointment in your lives. You will face hardship. Children will stray. People will get sick. People will die who we love. Tragedies will occur. Life in a fallen world, despite all of our comfort and affluence which we enjoy by God’s providence here in the West, life is not safe! Life is not easy! Life is difficult! Life is hard and there’s all kinds of things that can wreck our hope, that can wreck our joy, that can bring disappointment like a chill, February wind that never seems to turn into Spring.”
And Jesus loves us enough to be truthful about that. He says, “You’re going to see that in your lives. You’re going to see it in the world.” Children, kidnapped, sold into slavery. Doesn’t your stomach turn when you read about these kind of things? Crushing poverty. People who don’t have clean water to drink. Children in our cities who can’t read. Grinding, awful circumstances. People sitting in pews here who had loved ones sitting next to them this time last year and they’re no longer here and you wonder, “When’s it all going to end? God, why are You waiting? Why don’t You come back? Why don’t You stop all this? You’ve got the power to do it!” In fact, that’s what Yancey came back to again and again in his book - people saying, “Why doesn’t He just stop it all?” And what’s amazing is, Jesus says, “This is what to expect. It doesn’t minimize it. It doesn’t make it easier. It doesn’t give you a pat answer - ‘Oh, don’t worry about it! I know you’re hurting but Jesus said so! Have a nice day!’” That’s not what He’s saying. He’s telling us there’s going to be crushing disappointment and grief but there’s hope.
II. The Kingdom at the End of the World
And that brings us to the kingdom at the end of the world. And Jesus, again in His explanation, makes it clear. “The Son of Man will send his angels,” verse 41, “and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Two and only two kinds of people - wheat, weeds; sheep, goats; broad way, narrow way; the way, the truth, and the life, the way of Satan. That’s how Jesus lays it out for us, my friends, and there is absolutely no glee! No glee! No note of triumph is struck when I read these verses! In fact, the challenge is, “What is He saying here? How is that good news? How’s everlasting punishment good news?” As David said so marvelous a few weeks ago in his sermon on hell, how can you get over the reality of this place? If it doesn’t stop you in your tracks, if it doesn’t cause you to have pain and grief, you haven’t understood it! People we know go here! I saw a friend I went to seminary with on Facebook this week who’s now doing a PhD and he posted with some pride and smugness why he’s now rejected the traditional teaching of hell. His arguments weren’t from the Scripture; they were bad arguments. They went through, what shown through, through the entire thing that he wrote was, “This is a very emotionally challenging teaching.” And notice who this is coming from! This is from the one who is called, as we’re going to hear again and again during this season, the Prince of Peace, the Everlasting God, the Wonderful Counselor, the one who brings joy and hope and He loves us and He loves you my friend if you’re not a Christian to tell you the truth about what happens when you die. He loves you enough to do that! And He says it in the most horrifying, fearsome of terms. If you’re not His – Torment! Torment!
Why People End Up in Hell
How do we not do missions with a verse like this? How do we not go across the street and talk to people who aren’t Christians? And I say that to myself as much as I say to anybody here. And what Jesus gives us here in this picture is a picture of regret, of sorrow, of terrifying pain because, and only because, the first place, the rejection of who He is. “Does faith make that much of a difference? You mean to tell me that there’s just one way, and that people who don’t believe just like you do are going to face this kind of punishment forever? That is not a God I want to worship!” Maybe that’s what you’re thinking tonight. Let me say just one thing in reply to that. No, we don’t think that this is somehow unjust for God to do this, or that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell, and God’s vindictive, and He’s this angry kind of petulant tyrant who just decides to send all these people to hell. No, in fact, just the opposite! You see, there’s no good reason to go to hell, my friends, not when the offer of mercy is extended to you tonight. Nobody, if you’re not a Christian, nobody is stopping you from coming to Jesus! It’s that simple. And in fact, if anything you know what the Gospel tells you? It tells you that bad people go to heaven and really nice, upstanding moral people who could care less about Jesus, who pay their taxes on time, who don’t kill people, who are good neighbors, those kind of people end up in hell. It reverses the whole thing! It throws it on its head; it turns it upside-down and that’s good news.
Why the Doctrine of Hell is Good News
And let me tell you also why hell is good news, my friends, as horrifying as it is. When you look out across the headlines and you scan your tablet screen or your iPhone screen and you read about little girls in Africa being held captive by ISIS, you read about a father, an elder at a church who’s shot up at a shooting yesterday or the other day at Planned Parenthood in Colorado and you wonder to yourself, “What happens? Why does this keep happening? Is there ultimate justice? Does God win? Is there justice at the very core of the universe or is that just some fleeing concept that I hold onto out of sheer sentimentality that somehow it will go right?” And the doctrine of hell from the lips of Jesus simply says to us, “God wins! Justice prevails!” Yes, at the center of the universe there is Person, a tri-personal God who loves justice and beauty and truth and goodness and love. Justice.
The Grace of God in Jesus Christ
Then grace wins too. Look at that last part there! Isn’t it amazing? “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father.” Who are the righteous? The good people? The nice people? The prostitutes, the tax collectors, the sinners, the people like you and me who have really bad inward thoughts, who have terrible motives, who yell at our kids, who yell at our spouses, who don’t show up to work on time, who are prone to laziness, who do all kinds of things behind closed doors that we would be horrified if people sitting next to us saw. That’s the righteous because of what Jesus has done for them. You see, the righteous will shine in the kingdom not because of their own inherent righteousness. That’s not why they’re there! They’re there, as Matthew will go on to tell us at the end of his gospel, through Jesus, Jesus will tell us they’re there not because of who they are, but because of who He is! He’s righteous! And because of their faith and faith alone in Him they are counted righteous. They will shine! You, if you’re a Christian, you will shine. That’s your destiny! That’s what’s coming at the end of history. That, my friends, is the only way to have hope in a disappointing world is to see the end, now, to see that the only reason you and I and anyone else who is a Christian shines for eternity is because we are simply reflecting the light of the Son of Man. That’s why! Not because we’re better, not because we’re so good, not because of things we’ve done. No, only by His grace! Only by His grace! Justice, yes! Praise God, grace! Grace for all of us who have no hope to ever think about shining as one of the righteous apart from the one who is totally righteous, Jesus Himself!
Jesus is Our Only Hope
So how do we have hope? Here’s what delay is going to do. Let me say this! A couple of things in closing. Here’s what delay is going to do to you. Delay about Jesus’ return, delay about what’s He doing in the world, causes us to question, and it will focus, it will focus our minds on what we’re really hoping in. So let me put that question to you tonight. What is it that you’re pinning your hopes on? Is it your money? Is it your health? Is it your reputation? Is it your legacy? Is it retirement? Is it your zip code? Is it graduating from Prep with a perfect grade point average and getting into Ole Miss and going right through all of that and coming back and having the life that you’ve dreamed of? Nothing wrong with that, but is that what your ultimate hope is? And if you don’t get that, it’s going to wreck your life. It’s going to wreck your life if you don’t get one of those things. Where’s your ultimate hope? That’s what Jesus is focusing in on, on our hearts. Because as He’s told us again and again if it’s anything other than Him, if you hope in any of the gifts, you will always forsake the Giver, always! Constant teaching of Jesus. If you love those more than you love Him, you will be disappointed again and again because everything in this world is sand, my friends! It goes through your fingers and away with the wind! And the only thing that lasts is the Rock, Jesus! That’s it! For now, for eternity! He’s the one you build on. He’s the Rock who lasts. He’s our only hope!
That’s the only way to heaven and to avoid the fearsome reality of hell. It’s not about what you do! It’s not about what you strive after. It’s about who He is, what He’s done! His cross. That’s how we get to heaven. His cross, His blood, His sacrifice, His righteousness, His grace to us. That’s it! No other way to get there! No one will stand in heaven and say, “I’m so glad I’m really good!” The only people that will populate the fair city to come, the New Jerusalem, are those who’ve cast themselves, cast themselves upon the free mercy of Jesus and said, “It’s because He’s so good that I’m here. It’s because He’s so magnificent. His glory is so radiant. He is so amazing. His cross was for me. For me! Who thought that would happen?” That’s what we’re going to be saying then.
Remember God’s Promises in Times of Trial
The last thing is this. Remember God’s promises when hope seems to flee. When hope seems to flee, when God seems distant, what do you do? You remember the cross. The cross reminds us that for generation, generations, long periods of time, promise after promise was made and nothing changed. In fact, things got worse! Israel was exiled. Promise, promise, promise, no reality, no reality, no reality. Jesus shows up. Then He makes promises like He teaches us here tonight. “I’m going to come back.” He takes one of the most astonishing prerogatives of deity to Himself and says, “Not only am I coming back, but I’m going to judge the world.” God is not distant! If anything, this time of year, if anything, shoring away, shaving away all the cheap greeting card sentimentality of the incarnation what shines forth from Bethlehem’s manger except this great phrase, “God is near! He’s close to us! He became one of us to live and die in our place!” He’s not distant! And in the midst of our lives here where disappointment comes, evil comes, here’s the question - “Will you trust His Word? Will justice win? Does evil lose? Does God triumph? Does love matter? Does your life matter? Do you matter to God? Is He there? Does He listen? Will He hear my prayers?” Whenever that comes about, when those questions bombard you, when you can’t go to sleep and you’re laying there and the clock just seems to go agonizingly slow like molasses in January and these questions come and the thing you go back to again and again and again is simply, “He said so, therefore I have hope. He made a promise to me. His promises are sure. He’s never broken them.”
But how do I know they’re true? But how can you know they’re true? How can any of us know they’re true? Friends, look at the cross. Look at Jesus. How good are His promises? As good as the blood-stained hands of the Carpenter of Nazareth who was God among us who died on that cross for us! That’s how good they are! That’s how faithful He is! That’s how sure His promises are! Oh friends, do we have hope! Do we have hope! When the cacophony of evil and violence and disappointment threatens our souls, you put your anchor into the rock of His promises all of which are focused on that tree, that bloody tree from so long ago. And you camp there and you remember His promises and you remember that while this world will let you down, Jesus never will.
It reminds me a story I read this week. During WWII there was a certain POW camp in Germany and they managed these very intrepid GIs, managed to construct a radio from bits and scraps of things they found in the camp. And they managed to get the radio up and running. And they were able to tune into the Allied signals, the Allied chatter and they learned that the war was over; they learned that liberation was coming and had come. The armistice had been signed. It was over. And they waited. And they waited. And they waited. Still were in the prison camp. German guards still threatening to shoot them daily. Still had to live on terrible scraps. Still a lot of disappointment but they were assured of victory. And that victory finally came and when it did they said, “We knew you’d come. We were just waiting.” That’s going to be the testimony of every Christian at the end of our days whether we’re here when Jesus comes back or we meet Him, as it were, in the air. The testimony of all of us will be, “You never let us down. We knew You were coming.”
Father, we thank You for hope that’s centered in a cross, the most unlikely place of hope, the place where the One who brought hope was made hopeless that we might have hope. Bless us now, Lord. Help us to understand Your Word and apply it to our lives. We ask it all in Jesus’ mighty name, amen.
©2015 First Presbyterian Church.
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