Topical Scripture: Matthew 13:24-30
You know things are tough when Starbucks is losing money. The iconic coffee chain reported this week a net loss of $678.4 million during the quarter that ended last month. Revenue declined 38 percent from the same period the prior year.
I could depress you quickly with statistics about the pandemic, the resulting economic fallout, riots in our streets, and political turmoil in this election year. As we are living through a year unlike any other, one option for Christians is to give up, to retreat from the culture. Why should you try to change anything? What difference can you make?
A second option is to give in, to compromise, to go along to get along. As our country continues its moral trajectory with regard to sexual ethics, abortion, euthanasia, and a host of other issues, it’s harder than ever to stand up for biblical truth. So stay quiet, go along to get along. Again, what difference can you make?
A third approach is to go on, to continue to be faithful, to persevere. It is to use your influence however you can, wherever you can. It is to believe that God is using your faithful obedience to his word and your consistent witness in ways you will not be able to measure on this side of heaven. It is to believe that you can make an eternal difference if you will choose the power of perseverance.
The great need of our day is for courageous Christianity. It is for believers who will stand up and speak up, who will use their resources, gifts, and influence as boldly and strongly as they can in the strength of the Spirit. It is to refuse the enemy’s temptation to give up or give in.
So let me ask you, where is the enemy tempting you today? Where are you discouraged today? How are you tempted to give up or to give in?
Let’s listen to Jesus on the power of perseverance. Then I hope you’ll choose to go on, to persevere in the power of the Lord, for the glory of God and the good of us all.
Our text begins: “He put another parable before them, saying . . .” (Matthew 13:24a). The Greek means to “set before them, to put alongside them.” It is used in other places for setting food before people.
“Parable” translates the Greek for “thrown alongside,” an object lesson set next to its spiritual truth. Jesus taught this parable as he stood alongside the Sea of Galilee, one of the most vibrant agricultural areas in the world. I’ve been there more than thirty times and am astounded each time at its beauty. It is no surprise that our Lord told an agricultural story in this area.
He sets the theme: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to . . . ” (v. 24b). The “kingdom of heaven” is that realm where God is king, where we acknowledge him as our Master and ourselves as his subjects. It is that dimension where God’s kingdom comes as his will is done (Matthew 6:10). The idea is, to make God your king, do this.
Here’s what the kingdom of heaven is like: “a man who sowed good seed in his field” (v. 24c). The Greek says he is “sowing” such seed. “Good” means genuine, without mixture of other seeds, pure, able to do what it is intended to do. It is wheat seed, as we will learn shortly, with no mixture of weeds. This will be important in a moment.
However, “while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away” (v. 25). When Jesus explained the parable later, he stated that this “enemy” is the devil (v. 39). It is not surprising that he works while the men are sleeping, for he loves to operate under cover of darkness, in disguise (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:14–15).
He “sowed” these weeds—the Greek means that the weeds were given a thorough distribution across the field. There is no place where they are not to be found. These weeds are known as “bearded darnel,” a plant that is common in the region and looks like wheat except that its grain is black. It must be separated from the good wheat, since it poisons the food it touches, causing dizziness and worse if eaten.
This part of the story depicts a very real problem in Jesus’ day. Sowing darnel among wheat was a common act of revenge, so much so that Roman law prescribed specific punishments for it.
Now “the plants came up and bore grain” (v. 26a), which would show the character of the plants as wheat. However, the weeds appeared also” (v. 26b). At the end of the day, the plants showed what they really were.
Jesus’ parable teaches us to expect spiritual weeds wherever we plant spiritual seed.
One of Satan’s subtle strategies is to tempt us to sin and then, when we refuse, tempt us to feel guilty that we are tempted. It is to bring opposition or difficulties against us and then tempt us to blame ourselves for what he has done.
The more you walk with God, the more you will walk against his enemy. No corner of the field is immune from his infestation. No pesticide can prevent it. There will never be a time on this fallen planet when the enemy will not sow his weeds.
They are growing at your side, right now.
Leave the harvest to the Lord
What do we do about them?
“The servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master did you not sow good seed in your field?” (v. 27a). The Greek syntax expects a positive answer, for they know the fault does not lie with the owner of the field. Opposition is not our fault. In fact, as we have seen, we should expect it.
The servants continue, “How then does it have weeds?” (v. 27b). There are far too many weeds for their existence to be explained naturally. In the same way, there is far more evil in the world than can be accounted for by natural circumstances or human nature.
The master has an answer: “An enemy has done this” (v. 28a). The servants’ response is natural: “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” (v. 28b). The owner’s reply is emphatic in the Greek: “No” (v. 29a). Why not? “Lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (v. 29b). This is why the Lord delays his return and judgment: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
So, what are we to do? “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'” (v. 30).
There will come a time when Jesus will “clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). In his explanation later, Jesus predicted: “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” (vv. 41–43).
In the meantime, leave the future with God and be faithful in the present.
Claim two facts
We have learned today to expect opposition and to trust future judgment to God while remaining faithful in the present. Now, name that place where you are tempted to give up or to give in rather than to go on. How does Jesus’ parable help? Let’s claim two facts.
First, you’re not going through your challenges alone.
In his explanation, Jesus called the good seed “the sons of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38). They were sown across the entire field, not just in one place.
No matter how alone you feel, you are never alone.
Scripture says Satan is a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). How should you respond? “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (v. 9).
Chinese churches are being closed, their pastors thrown into prison. North Korean Christians are being sent into horrific labor camps where many are executed. Christians face jihadist terrorism in Africa and widespread ridicule and rejection in parts of Europe. Whatever you are going through, know that you’re not going through it alone.
Second, Jesus’ parable reminds you that the end of the story is already written.
The weeds will be judged; the wheat will be rewarded. As my college professor used to say in summarizing the book of Revelation, “We win!”
You may feel that the culture is so far gone as to be irredeemable, but God will have the last word. You may think that the planet is too broken to be helped, but God is still on his throne. You may think that giving up or giving in is your only option, but God is still King.
So ask him for the power to persevere. Look for believers who can encourage you with their faith, and find someone you can encourage with your own. Every day, ask God for the strength to go on one more day, to be courageous in standing for your Lord and his word, to pay a price to follow Jesus.
Do this knowing that you are one day closer to eternity than ever before. And one day, you will be forever grateful that you did.
When Allied armies advanced on the North African port of Eritrea during World War II, the fleeing Axis forces did an ingenious thing: they loaded barges with concrete and sank them across the mouth of the harbor, making it impossible for the approaching troops to enter.
But the Allies hit on an even more inventive solution. They emptied several gigantic oil tanks, the kind which hold one hundred thousand barrels of oil and more and sealed them watertight. They attached chains to each of them. Then at low tide their divers attached the other ends of the chains to the barges sitting on the bottom of the harbor.
And when the tides rose, their power was so great that they lifted the sealed oil tanks and the cement-filled barges with them. It was then an easy task to dispose of the barges and reopen the harbor.
This power of the tides inspired Shakespeare to pen these immortal words:
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyages of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures (Julius Caesar, Act IV, scene II).
Where will the current of God’s call to perseverance take you today?