Jesus was the master story-teller with his parables often having an unexpected twist or surprise. Jesus’ original audience in first century probably knew what he was saying because he used experiences and illustrations that were common. Those of us who are far removed from that time and culture will need some help from historians and Bible scholars to understand the original cultural context and issues involved. Last week we spoke the Parable of the Sower. Just as the farmer scatters seed throughout the field, God gives His word to the entire world. Some seed is trampled and hardened path, speaking of God’s word being rejected by people having hearts hardened by pride and prejudice. Other seed falls on rocky or thorny ground where shallow faith and the cares of the world crowd out God’s word. The seed that falls on good soil yields a fruitful crop in people who listen, understand and obey.
One of the main themes of the New Testament is the Kingdom of God. In Mark and Luke, the Kingdom of God is spoken of over and over while in the gospel of Matthew the phrase used is the Kingdom of heaven. The Gospel of John speaks of eternal life while only mentioning the Kingdom of God a few times. John the Baptist came preaching “Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near” (Matt 3:2). For hundreds of years, the Jewish people had been expecting the powerful intervention of the Messiah to restore the nation of Israel and defeat its enemies. When John the Baptist and then Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom was at hand, it was certainly understood in terms of this expectation. However, the Kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming was a spiritual kingdom not of this world. At one point the people tried to take Jesus by force and make him their king (John 6:5).
The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds
Many of Jesus parables speak of the Kingdom of God and we clearly see this in Matthew 13.
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 root up 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.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)
This is another of Jesus parables that he explains to his disciples because they did not fully understand. In this second parable, Jesus again used the figure of the sower, but with a different twist.
Then [Jesus] left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 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 fiery furnace, where 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. (Matthew 13:36-43)
After a farmer sowed his wheat seed, an enemy came at night and sowed weeds in the same soil. There is a weed named darnel that closely resembles wheat in the early stages of growth. There was no way to determine which was wheat and which was darnel until both had matured and it was time for the harvest. Both the wheat and weeds grow together in a field, just like there are both good people and evil people in the world. If anyone tried to pull up the weeds they would damage the wheat, so they had to wait for the harvest.
The main point of this parable is simple and yet very challenging especially for the religious leaders of Jesus day. Just as it is difficult to distinguish the weeds from the wheat, we cannot accurately determine who is truly good and who is truly evil. And yet the religious people of Jesus day, appointed themselves as judges or moral judges. We must be careful not to become judgmental but trust in the Lord who will determine who is truly good and who is truly evil at the final judgment. Jesus warns us against substituting our judgment for God's judgment. It is God alone who knows and judges the heart; God alone knows our fears and struggles. This parable does NOT address the responsibility of the church to live with integrity and in order and to bring discipline to the faithful. It is a warning against being the judge of people.
The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast
The next two parables in chapter 13 stress the inevitable growth of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus continues with the illustration of the seed, using the mustard seed to contrast the small beginnings the kingdom of heaven, in the world and in a person’s life, with its amazing results. Then he adds yeast to highlight the Kingdom of God and growth.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” 33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matt 13:31-33).
In Jesus’ day the mustard seed was used by the religious to speak of the smallest amount of something. Jesus uses this seed which can grow into a large bush 12-15 feet high in one season. The mustard seed is seen as representing the kingdom of God initiated in the world by Jesus. Just as the tiny seed grows into a large tree, the kingdom of God will grow into a powerful spiritual kingdom. In the same way, a small amount of yeast causes the entire loaf of bread to rise, so to the kingdom of God will grow large and powerful until it eventually controls the entire world. The message Jesus is communicating is this - powerful, small spiritual seeds can make huge changes in one’s life and world.
It is interesting to note that Jesus quotes the Scripture found in Psalm 78:2 – I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” The Psalmist prophecies that Messiah will speak in parables and hidden truths.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price
Jesus shares his fifth and sixth parables next. Two short examples of what the kingdom of heaven is like. These two parables describe the great value of the kingdom of heaven and the intentional pursuit we should commit to. It is interesting to note that parables four to six are not given explanations by Jesus but because they are short and to the point it is fairly easy to discover their truths.
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt 13:44-46)
If a person is willing to give up their worldly possessions and pride for the sake of the kingdom they will gain more that they can imagine.
The Parable of the Fishing Net
This is the last parable in Matthew 13, and follows through with similar ideas from the previous parables. Similar to the parable of the weeds and to the joy of hidden treasure, this parable describes the ingathering of the righteous and wicked and their subsequent fates. The kingdom of heaven will consist of those who follow Jesus.
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:47-50).
We see a net that was let down and caught all kinds of fish. When the net was full, the good fish and bad fish were separated. This is a similar concept to the parable of the weeds and the harvest at the end of the age. Jesus also repeats the end result for the wicked - the fiery furnace and the weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The theme of Jesus’ parables that we looked at today is the Kingdom of God. Here are the thoughts we need to consider in our relationship with him. Jesus speaks of spiritual seeds that if responded to correctly promise blessings and increase in God’s Kingdom. There is also great joy and excitement in finding treasure, the same is true from a spiritual perspective. We need to intentionally and passionately go after God’s Kingdom. Lastly, we must understand that in this world there is good and evil. Sometimes there is a tendency to judge the evil around us and we need to leave judgment to God and learn to be humble and loving towards everyone.
Jesus is a master story teller. His stories in Matthew 13 are meant to lead the people into “new” thinking in regard to God’s Kingdom of grace and faith in Jesus. As King, he is not coming to establish a political kingdom but lead his followers into a new and spiritual kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. One day he will return to bring both judgment and restoration.