I have been slowly traveling through the Book of Matthew this year, and in Matthew chapter 13, Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God and receiving the Kingdom in no less than seven parables: the parable of the seed and the soil, the parable of the weeds, the parable of the mustard seed, the parable of the yeast, the parable of a field’s hidden treasure, the parable of the rare pearl, and the parable of the good and bad fish. In this piece, I wanted to focus on the parable of the weeds in 13:24-30.
Jesus told them another parable: “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.’”
Thankfully, Jesus later confided in His disciples the explanation of the riddle, so it’s no mystery to us today. Jesus Himself is represented by the farmer, and the good seed represents God’s people. Of course the enemy is the devil, and the weeds that he sows are “children of the Evil One” (verse 38).
Now, my research taught me that the weeds Jesus referred to, in the most literal sense, were probably darnel, which closely resembles wheat in its early stages of growth but contains poisonous, black seeds. In other words, to the untrained eye, these weeds could have been mistaken for healthy wheat. Yes, for a time, these weeds could pass as a convincing counterfeit.
Here’s what I find fascinating. If a field was growing both watermelons and roses, well, then, that would be easy to separate. Their differences are obvious. But according to this allegory Jesus shared, the Kingdom of Heaven is not like that. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a field producing wheat and counterfeit wheat—something healthy and something that only seems like it’s healthy—producing, that is, until judgment day.
Friends, this piece is a little more sobering than I usually enjoy writing, but it is a crucial teaching for those of us who consider ourselves believers. What’s the counterfeit to someone who is a genuine Christian? What’s a “weed” that could be easily mistaken for authentic faith?
And here’s what I mean. For the purpose of this specific blog post, I am going to use “religion” to mean a lifestyle built around a set of rules for behavior and morality that ironically affects very little one’s love for Jesus. John Piper commented in a recent sermon, “[Pharisees] are the most religious people on the planet. So you may be a perfectly good Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic—religious to the core—and lost. Here are the Pharisees, the paragon of disciplines, the paragon of prayer, the paragon of moral uprightness, and keeping his nose clean and showing up at all the meetings, and he’s lost. He’s dead” (“Alive to Religion, Dead to God” sermon on October 3, 2018).
Jesus Himself unveiled the horrifying DNA of the “religious elite” by quoting Isaiah 29:13: “These people honor Me only with their words, for their hearts are so very distant from Me. They pretend to worship Me, but their worship is nothing more than the empty traditions of men.”
Oh, man. Here’s the sobering reality: you can have two people who both read the Bible, attend church, evangelize the lost, rise early to pray, and periodically fast, but yet only one of them is truly in love with Jesus. They look similar at first, but one is wheat, the other is a weed… one burns with love for Jesus, the other is a counterfeit. Just like in the parable, both men are exposed to the same environment and identical elements, but there’s a definitive difference at the heart-level.
And more sobering still: there is coming a day when Heaven will separate the “wheat” from the “weeds.” God’s people will celebrate forever in paradise, but the deceived will “experience great sorrow, pain, and anguish” in a literal hell (Matthew 13:41-43).
May I ask you a hard question?
Are you a Pharisee? God forbid, but it’s important that I ask. Do you like to practice the rules because it makes you feel fulfilled? In other words, do you teach Sunday School and give to charity because it makes you feel like a better person? If so, that’s ultimately worship of your feelings, isn’t it? Are you heavily concerned with others obeying traditions—the ones you feel are important? Is it easier for you to share how to keep the rules than it is for you to share how to fall in love with Jesus?
Or, are you a lover of Jesus? Are your prayers filled with expectant listening for His precious voice? Does your heart genuinely ache for prodigals to come home, to be met with the Father running toward them? Does your life bear the fruits of peace, laughter, and hope? Every so often, do your eyes fill with tears and your heart with passion as you sing to your King? Does your spirit burn with longing to know more about Jesus’ personality, His preferences, His will?
What a cold shower.
The wonderful, wonderful news is that if the “weed” category hits a little closer to home for you than the “wheat” category, then today is the perfect day to invite Jesus to transform you! Harvest time is very, very, very close, but there is still time for you to allow Him to change you from a rule-making, rule-keeping Pharisee into a passionate follower of Jesus!
Here is a prayer that may help bring voice to this desire for transformation.
Jesus, thank You for teaching this parable to Your followers. Thank You for making it come alive to me! Forgive me for buying into a counterfeit. I have been deceived by “religion” by putting more emphasis on rules and tradition instead of authentically loving You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Today I repent. Teach me to quickly distinguish between rule-keeping and genuine worship. Jesus, I believe that You are empowering me right now to love You more truly. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit! Show me who You really are and what You’re really like! Thank You for helping me now to really mean these words: “I love You, Jesus.”