Sermon 1707 Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43 August 2, 2020
Religion runs deep in the human soul. Hagiography, the stories of saints is skin deep. Every time I look out my back window I think St. Francis of Assisi has nothing on me. He only preached to the birds. I feed them my apricots fresh on the tree, water them from the birdbath and cool them on the shady ground during the heat of the day. Religion goes right to the bone. A conscience cleansed by grace exults in the Lord’s forgiveness. We grieve over a fallen world and wonder why.
That’s the toughest one. Why? Why is the world like this? Better yet, why does God permit the world to be like this? It’s the problem of evil and why God permits it to continue.
Jesus gives us an answer today. Not the full answer, but part of the answer, an answer, if we are willing and humble enough to hear it. Since many are neither humble nor willing when it comes to God, they will consider the question unanswered, but I have higher hopes for you. And for me.
Not One Will Be Lost
Sustained for now.
“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 (24-26).’”
What a dirty trick! A good field is ruined when an enemy sows weeds among the wheat. So similar looking were the plants, the dirty deed wasn’t noticed until the wheat was forming heads and obviously the weeds were not. They were just taking up ground and soaking up sunshine, water and nutrients.
“The owner’s 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 (28-30).’”
The problem is obvious. There is not going to be the harvest everyone expected. But one solution could make the problem even worse. If impatient servants give in to a knee-jerk reaction, they will damage the crop. Let your five year old help weed the flower or vegetable garden. You will know what I am talking about. Lost half my strawberry crop one year when one of my sons helped. He pulled up two plants thinking they were weeds with little green knobs growing on them. The owner has an elegant solution. Not one will be lost. Let them grow together. Don’t harm the wheat by disturbing its bed of soil. What is there is there. The wheat can hold its own against the weeds until the harvest.
At this point the parable is simple. God is the owner of the field. The wheat is God’s people. The enemy is the devil and the weeds are everyone who does evil and everything that causes sin. Not one will be lost. For the sake of his believers God refuses to uproot and destroy the evil. The believers are sustained for now.
When someone posed the question, “Why doesn’t God rid the world of evil?” to Martin Luther, he responded, “Then who would bake my bread and butcher my meat? Who would be my doctor or fix my roof?” Luther didn’t live among pagans, but he was, as usual, making a point. The world would be depopulated if God removed the evil-doers. Large segments of godly society would go without without the unbelievers.
Over the past few months we have seen how connected our world is. When Italy was hammered by COVID-19, the factories of Milan closed. When New York, in its turn, was suffering and needed swabs for COVID testing there weren’t any to be had. They were made in Milan and the factory wasn’t up and fully running yet. You may not spend much time thinking about conditions at America’s meat packing plants until COVID hits Nebraska and pork chops are nowhere to be found. Keep your eyes open. Every day we see we need everyone on this planet.
I took it one step further when a mother who had lost her daughter to cancer asked me the same question. “Why doesn’t God take evil away?” “Then you and I wouldn’t be here, either.” She was a strong enough Christian to recognize we all are sinners, with every inclination of our heart evil from our youth. It is only by God’s grace any of us draw another breath.
Notice how powerful and wise God, the owner of the field, is. He doesn’t have to remove evil to sustain us. When we are tempted, “God is faithful. He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10.13).” Oh, but why dig so deep? You all know a different passage, from the psalm! “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies (23.5).” God doesn’t have to abandon a great pasture to keep his flock safe from the wolves. He cares for them and feeds them right under the pack’s nose!
Not one will be lost. Nothing will stand between us and our eternal home. God will get us through until the day he decides it is time for us to be with him in heaven. Each one of us is sustained for now.
That is comforting. No, life will not be as easy as it could have been. Yes, trouble will come our way, more trouble for some than for others. And no, that’s not because of some flaw in our moral character. Some of the strongest believers in the Bible seem to have had the hardest time. Job, David, the Apostle Paul, Jesus. Our loving Father in heaven will bring us through. Not one will be lost. Trust him. He knows what he is doing. Trust him. He knows how to sustain us even in the bleakest of days. Trust him and lean not on our own understanding. You are a fine crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times. Our God is not going to abandon us.
Not one will be lost. Sustained for now, saved forever.
“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 (30).”
Ah, and now for the rest of the explanation of the parable. “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels (39).” We sort of saw that coming.
“The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (41-42).”
“But that’s too long!” we object. Wait a minute. Weren’t you the one wanting God to get rid of your stock broker? Wasn’t I the one wanting God to prematurely dispose of that lousy driver ahead of me who turned out to be my mailman? We aren’t exactly the experts on this. If we were able to move around instead of being planted in the good soil, we would be goners.
We want justice more than immediate relief.
That runs pretty deep in the human soul, too. That’s why we spend millions on judges and court rooms, district attorneys and their staff. Our sense of justice bristles at someone who wants to be judge, jury and chief executioner in one fell swoop. If every person is endowed by their Creator with the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we are almost certain Thomas Jefferson would have included a fair shake in the courts if he could have made it sound pretty. For justice to be done, it has to be evident that a crime has been committed, a hurt inflicted. That’s why our police are trained to arrest someone who has committed a crime. They don’t arrest potential criminals.
Let’s go back to the baby sitter scenario. Let’s say Mom remembered, just before they got halfway to the restaurant, that she forgot her earrings. There’s just enough time to go home, sneak in, get them and still make their reservation. But I went right to work on getting my revenge from the baby-sitter big sister. The dog is howling, the radio is blaring and big sister is screaming that I am going to have to clean up the puddle on the floor. Just then Mom tiptoes in unnoticed. She’s a pro at this. Did it lots when she was home during the summer from college. She decides to stand around the corner and see what is going on. Big sister catches on from the sudden aroma of Mom’s perfume. Wearing my favorite T-shirt, unwashed for two weeks, I couldn’t smell a grilled limburger sandwich. On I go. And on. And on. My fate is sealed. Out of my own mouth I will be judged. That, and the plate I dropped on the floor just to show my sister I meant business. I start for my room as soon as Mom clears her throat and calls me by my first and middle name. A man headed for some hard time. Even I know I deserve it. My sister is ecstatic.
God is patient. He wants no one to perish. He wants everyone to come to a knowledge of the truth. But when chance after chance for a change of heart and a change of life is rejected, “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3.18).” “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant (Luke 19.22).” God gives evil-doers plenty of opportunities to deserve their final punishment. That’s why, after Judgment Day, every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth, even every knee in hell, will bow and confess that Jesus is just and true in his judgments. We will be ecstatic.
“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (43).”
Not one will be lost. Every one of God’s believers will be saved forever. This wicked world will not pry us out of the almighty hands of our Savior. Justice will be done as the wicked receive the punishment they so richly deserved.
I guess that would be OK. I guess that would be good enough for us to slog it through this weed-filled life. “They are going to get theirs.” I think lots of people (they don’t even have to be believers) go through life on those fumes from their empty moral tank. “What goes around, comes around.” “Karma.” We’ve heard it.
But the fruits of the Spirit are peace, love, faith, hope and joy. I don’t see bitterness, cynicism and Schadenfreude. (Only the Germans would have a name for it--joy over someone else’s pain.) God gives us something better to live for.
We will be saved forever. We will shine like the sun. We will be glorious. We will be with our heavenly Father. We will be in the eternal family of God, that glorious assembly of saints and angels. We will be in a kingdom as prince and princess. We will be rulers. If that was good enough motivation for Jesus to endure the cross with all its suffering and shame, it is good enough motivation for us to endure far less. “Fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12.2-3).”
Not One Will Be Lost
Sustained for now.
We might well be moving into a new stage of this pandemic--the stage of righteous indignation. That’s what people display when they realize they are powerless to halt the evil around them. Blame is thrown around. There’s lots of name calling. It quickly leads to impatience. It subsides in despair. That’s a sure way to lose.
God has a better way. He promises to get us through today. He promises us a knock your socks off forever. That’s a sure way to lose no one.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.