Stopping at the Toll Booth of Life
Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: Those who serve the Kingdom will be rewarded;
those who oppose it will be punished
This week’s parable will teach us two lessons about judgment and the Kingdom of God. Here’s the first lesson: it’s always too soon to judge others. No matter what you think you know about them.
Abraham Lincoln’s elementary school teacher said of him, “He is very good with his studies, but he is a daydreamer and asks foolish questions.” A teacher commented about Woodrow Wilson: “He is ten years old and is just beginning to read and write. He shows signs of improving, but you must not set your sights too high for him.”
One of Amelia Earhart’s teachers was worried about her “interest in bugs and other crawling things and her dare-devil projects,” and hoped “we could channel her curiosity into a safe hobby.” And a teacher said of young Albert Einstein, “Albert is a very poor student. He is mentally slow, unsociable, and is always daydreaming. He is spoiling it for the rest of the class. It would be in the best interests of all if he were removed from school at once.” It’s always too soon to judge another person.
Here’s the second lesson: it’s never too soon to prepare to be judged by God. No matter what you think you know about yourself and your world.
A preacher was trying his best to impress upon his listeners the reality of God’s judgment. “People of this congregation, every one of you will one day die and face the judgment!” he shouted. A man sitting at the front of the church began to laugh. Surprised and angered, the preacher asked the man, “What’s so funny?” The man replied, “I’m not a member of this congregation.” But we all are.
Edward Bennett Williams was a trial lawyer known as the “ultimate insider” and “the man to see” in Washington. As he lay dying, someone was teasing him about all his power and influence. He said, “Power? I’m about to meet real power.” So will we all.
Comic Robert Orben was right: “The problem with living life in the fast lane—you get to the toll booth quicker.” What will we owe when we arrive? And to whom?
Expect to see weeds
Our text begins: “Jesus told them another parable” (v. 24). “Told them” translates the Greek phrase for “set before them.” The Greek means to place alongside, to put next to a person (Rienecker 39). This verb is also found in Luke 9.16, “he gave [fish and bread] to the disciples to set before the people” (cf. Robertson 107); in Acts 16.34, “The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; and in 1 Corinthians 10.27, “eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.” Jesus gave the crowd this story as a chef might give a feast to the hungry. These words would feed their souls.
He gave them “another parable,” following the story of the sower and the seed (see lesson two). And so Jesus continues his agricultural theme. He is teaching in a farming area, alongside the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The fields all around remind him, and them, of the events contained in this parable of the kingdom and its judgment.
The theme of the parable comes first: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field” (v. 24). This is a parable of the “kingdom of heaven,” like the others we are studying. But unlike others, this parable relates the kingdom not just to the man but to his situation (Carson 316). France translates: “This is what it is like when God is at work . . .” (225).
In our parable we find a “man who sowed,” literally a “man sowing.” This man is the Lord: “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man” (v. 37). Jesus sowed the seed with these very words, this very parable. The “good seed” represents “sons of the kingdom” (v. 38). “Good” means that this seed was genuine, without mixture of other seeds, pure, able to do what it was intended to do (cf. Bruce 199). He sows in “his field,” which Jesus later interpreted as “the world” (v. 38).
Meanwhile, “while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away” (v. 25). The “enemy” is “the devil” (v. 39). He always prefers to work under cover of darkness, in disguise (cf. 2 Corinthians 11.14-15: “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness”). We’ll learn more of his disguise as the story unfolds.
This enemy “sowed weeds among the wheat” (v. 25). “Sowed” means that the weeds were given thorough distribution across the field (Carson 316). There is no place where they are not to be found. The “weeds” were the “bearded darnel,” lolium temulentum. This plant is common in Palestine, and looks like wheat except that its grain is black. It must be separated from the good wheat, or it poisons the food it touches, causing dizziness and worse if eaten (Broadus 295).
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 (France 225).
Now “the wheat sprouted and formed heads” (v. 26), for all healthy things grow and produce the fruit which is their intended result (cf. Galatians 5.22-23). The “heads” contain the grain, and would show the character of the plant (Broadus 295). And with it, “the weeds also appeared.” 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. He assumes a very real enemy, with a very real strategy. 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.