DUNCAN/Tares among wheat: Told and explained
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 13:24-30. The parable of the tares is designed to show the disciples that in Christ’s kingdom, the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one are going to exist side by side for a long time. And so, they must wait patiently and give themselves to building up the wheat (that is the sons of the kingdom) and be careful in their judgment not to harm those who are believers. This parable is designed to remind the disciples that there will be judgment and condemnation for those who appear to be in the kingdom, but who are, in fact, not. But that judgment is going to be reserved for the final judgment and will be carried out by the angels. We will see three things from this passage. First, Christians must be careful to note what the kingdom of heaven is like in this life. Second, Christians must go to Christ when they are baffled by the questions and circumstances of this life. And third, Christians must live and minister in the kingdom in light of the final judgment: retributive and remunerative.
I. Christians Must Be Careful to Note What the Kingdom of Heaven Is Like in This Life
In verses 23-30 the parable itself is recounted, and I want you to see from that passage that Christians must be careful to note what the kingdom of heaven is like in this life. In this passage, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a field that has been sowed with good seed, with wheat, but which has been over sown by an enemy. It’s a very interesting story. The servants of a landlord have planted a field. While they are sleeping, an enemy comes and actually plants a poisonous weed in the field where the wheat has been planted. Jesus explains this as referring to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus sows good seed. Many respond to it and grow up in faith, but at the same time, the enemy, the evil one, Satan, is working against his kingdom. He sows tares, so that sons of light and sons of darkness coexist in this kingdom.
It’s a very important lesson which is being given to the disciples here. It’s important because they need to understand what kind of a kingdom the Lord Jesus is establishing. It’s not going to be a perfect kingdom. The purging and the perfection are for later. There are lessons in this parable both for Christians as we live in this world, and as Christ’s kingdom broadly operates, but there are also lessons for us with regard to how Christians live and think about the church because even the church sees this mixed character. Jesus is not saying that we need to be indifferent about sin in the church. Jesus’ point is not that we shouldn’t be concerned about this. Jesus’ point is that we need to be realistic in our expectation that that will be the case in the church until He finally comes to bring judgment.
II. Christians Must Go to Christ When They Are Baffled by the Questions and Circumstances of This Life
In verses 36-39 Christ explains this parable to His disciples. The disciples are having a hard time understanding this parable. They already had preconceptions about what the kingdom of God was going to be like. We’ve already said that they, apparently like John the Baptist, were waiting for the Messiah to lay the ax to the root of the tree and were looking for impending judgment of wickedness in the kingdom, by Christ. But Christ emphasizes to them patience and proclamation. They are to be patient about the fact that the church is imperfect, and they are to proclaim the gospel in the meantime.
It’s very interesting that even though these disciples struggle to understand, they humbly go to Jesus to have their own thinking corrected. He explains to them point by point what the story represents, and they allow their own minds to be corrected by the word of Christ. That’s an important lesson for us because Christians must go to Christ when they are baffled by the questions and circumstances of life, and we must go to Christ to have our ideas and our thinking and our desires and our expectations corrected as we look at life.
How do we do that? We go to the Holy Scriptures. We sit under its examination. We allow all our thinking to be tested according to its authority and to receive its criticism and to have our minds corrected according to Holy Scripture. Understanding that all of our thinking must be brought captive to the word of God – must be brought captive to Christ – is one of the first steps in Christian discipleship, and it is a great compliment to these disciples that when they were baffled about what in the world Jesus meant, they didn’t make something up on their own. The Word of God is the only rule of faith and practice, not my ideas.
III. Christians Must Live and Minister in the Kingdom in Light of the Final Judgment: Retributive and Remunerative
There’s one last thing I want to point out to you. Here in verses 40-43, we see that Jesus reminds us that Christians must live and minister in the kingdom in light of the final judgment. We must never have the final judgment out of our minds. Understand that when Jesus tells the disciples that they must be patient; they must not go and attempt to uproot all the tares. He is not saying to them that God does not care about sin. He’s not saying that God is not going to bring judgment against them.
We must be certain, my friends, that that judgment will come. This is because Jesus is not denying the judgment; in fact, He is emphatically asserting that there will be a day when justice is done, and when all the accounts are set straight, when sin is punished and righteousness is rewarded. And He says in verse 42, in the most shocking terms, that unbelief is going to be judged with eternally comfortless sorrow and eternally incurable indignation against God and against others and against ourselves, for all those who are “tares” – who have not embraced the Lord Jesus Christ by faith – He says judgment is coming. And He’s even asking His disciples to be patient with unbelief because we know that judgment is going to be so frightening and hard. God’s patience is not an opportunity to be apathetic about the final judgment. It is an opportunity for today – and for today only – to realize our sins, to flee from them and to run to Christ. And if we will run there, we will not only be spared the final judgment of the ungodly, but we will also find for ourselves a shining glory in the kingdom of our Father.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.