Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Kingdom is like...a man who sowed good seed in his field

The Kingdom is like…a man who sowed good seed in his field. (Matt. 13.24-30; 36-43)
 Have you ever been to a youth camp or youth retreat and just didn’t want it to end? The spirit of the camp was so alive and there was good Bible teaching and excellent worship music. You surrounded by good Christian friends and fellowship. You just didn’t want to go back home because you knew that when you returned you were going to be in a completely different environment. You’d be in an environment where you were surrounded with people who couldn’t care less about Jesus or the your commitment to follow him. In fact, they would do their best to discourage you.
Have you ever just looked around and seen people just steeped in evil or wickedness? Have you ever just wondered why God didn’t just remove them from the face of the earth? Or, at least, could God just remove them from your life?
I know of some people who have tried to do that in reverse, they withdrew out into a place in the country or the wilderness so they could live in community, love Jesus and each other and not be stained by the corruption of the world.
Unfortunately, that’s just doesn’t seem possible at this point. Or is it unfortunate? Maybe it is part of God’s plan? Perhaps there is a purpose for committed followers of Jesus to live in and amongst the people of this world, even those who are bent on doing evil.

Let’s look at Matt. 13:24-30.

Purpose of parables – About 1/3 of Jesus’ teaching is in parables. They can be proverbs (Luke 4.23), a riddle (Mark 3.23), a comparison (Matt 13.33) a contrast (Luke 18.1-8) and both simple stories (Luke 13.6-9) and complex stories (Matt. 22.1-14). Parables demand interpretation, they point to something else. There not just clever stories. They are ways in which Jesus tried to help people understand the kingdom. Jesus told these stories to confront people with the character of God’s kingdom and to invite them to participate in it and to live according to it. Jesus was calling his hearers to changed behavior and asking them to commit to being his disciples.
The primary focus of the parables is the coming of the kingdom of God and the resulting discipleship that is required. When Jesus proclaimed the kingdom he meant that God was exercising his power and rule to bring forgiveness, defeat evil and establish righteousness in fulfillment of the OT promises. In Jesus’ own person and ministry, these acts were happening, and the kingdom was made available to people. The kingdom comes with limitless grace, but it comes with limitless demand. As we have and will see, it is both present and still awaits fulfillment in the future.
This parable seems designed to answer the question “How can the kingdom have come if evil is still present?” The kingdom is present and growing even in the midst of evil, and judgment will take place in the future. Therefore, the kingdom invites both involvement and patience.

There seems to be an underlying issue with this parable that Jesus is addressing. Jesus has been preaching the kingdom and has been saying that the kingdom has come near and he has been displaying the power of the kingdom in his healings and exorcisms. These miracles have been displays of Jesus and his intent on attacking the power of Satan on his turf (prince of this world). They were visibly displaying that he has ultimate power over Satan. Thus and obvious question has to arrive: if the kingdom is near and Jesus (as the king) is more powerful than Satan, then why are we still surrounded by evil. Why are the wicked still among us?

The details of the parable
Jesus talks about a farmer who has sown wheat into his field. But an enemy sowed a type of wheat in his field while he was not aware. For a time, the wheat and the weeds looked very similar. It was hard to tell them apart. But when they started to sprout, it became obvious that there was something else among the wheat stalks. What the enemy of this farmer has sown was something called darnel. It looks very similar to wheat, but it does not grow as tall and its head is a different color. So, it takes a while before it is apparent that something else is in the field. The workers want to pull up the weeds but it seems that the roots become intertwined while they are growing. The farmer merely says let them grow until harvest and then the harvesters will separate the two. The wheat goes into the barn and the weeds get burned up.

So, the field did not turn out as he desired. He had sown good seed, but an enemy had sown weeds in the same field. The result was a mixture of wheat and weeds. The solution was NOT to be in an immediate separating of the two. For the time being the two were to be allowed to grow together, so that the field was not an ideal field. But, eventually, the wheat and the weeds would be separated.

On this occasion (and on one other) Jesus gives a point-by-point explanation of this parable. This parable becomes an allegory, where the elements of the story stand for a deeper meaning. Now, not every parable is an allegory, but this one is because Jesus makes it one.
                The elements
The sower          The Son of Man
Good seed          People of the kingdom
Field                   The world
Enemy                Satan
Weeds                People of the evil one
Servants              Angels
Harvest               End of the Age (Judgment)

Jesus is the Son of Man. What did he mean by calling himself that?
The good seed are the followers of Jesus. The followers of Jesus are not removed from the world. In fact, it seems that they are allowed to mingle in and amongst the people that belong to the evil one. And, it seems that Satan is active in putting his representatives among the people of Jesus.

I want to go back to our examples at the beginning. It seems that the original disciples themselves wanted to remain with Jesus and away from all of the influence of the wicked. We see Peter, James and John on a mountain and they get a glimpse of what Jesus is going to look like after his resurrection. Peter doesn’t want to leave. He wants to stay with Jesus and his friends for a while. He must know that when he comes down from the mountain, Satan and his representatives are going to be waiting for him.
Some of the disciples have a different reaction. They want the evil removed.
Luke 9:51-56.
Two of Jesus’ disciples want a village of Samaritans consumed with fire from heaven because they did not welcome Jesus properly.

God allows the righteous and the wicked to coexist at this time. Eventually there will be judgment and separation. But for now we need to live amongst each other.
Why didn’t God just take care of them when Jesus came and inaugurated his kingdom? Why wait?
Maybe it is because of God’s graciousness? Some in the early church were mocked because it seemed that Jesus was slow in returning and setting up his kingdom.
2 Peter 3.3-4, 9 – You must understand in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own desires. They will say, “Here is this ‘coming’ he promised? The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
What we need to understand is that there is this timeline where the present (evil) age exists for a time along side the age to come. But ultimately, the present age will end when Jesus returns.

 God allows the righteous and the wicked to coexist in this age. But eventually he will eventually separate the wicked, judge them and punish them, while gathering the righteous together to be rewarded by enjoying his presence forever.

Now, knowing all of this, what should our response be?
One is realize that God is not going to pull us out of this world before Jesus returns. (Pre-Tribulation Rapture stuff?) We need to know that not only do we exist in and among people who belong to Satan, but it seems like Satan is active in not only aggravating believers, but he is also active in trying to prevent the Word of God from being spread (see Matt. 13. 19, …the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart.) We need to know that our battle is not with each other or even with the people that Satan is using to tempt and distract us. It is with Satan himself.  Paul gives us instructions to put on spiritual armor so we can stand against the devil’s schemes (Eph. 6.11-12).

Two, we need to realize that judgment is a reality. There will be a great separation of those who belong to Jesus and those who don’t. The fate of those who are not disciples of Jesus is grim. Jesus uses metaphors like being cast into darkness, and fire and separation. Whatever it is, we know that there is an eternity separated from God and the fellowship of his people for those who are do not belong to the kingdom.

Which leads us to three, we need to live like salt and light in the midst of these people. We shouldn’t long for separation, but we should long to be a positive influence on them so that they would long to be a part of the kingdom. It is interesting that Jesus uses the world as a field analogy here. He does it in several places.
In Matt. 9.37-38 – The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Immediately after that, we see Jesus sending his initial disciples (the 12) out into the world to carry forward Jesus’ message of the kingdom (10.7 – The kingdom of heaven has come near…). He sends them out because judgment is coming.
Jesus spoke of love and freedom and a release from bondage to sin and Satan, but he also spoke of judgment. The basis of that judgment was allegiance to Jesus the King. That should motivate us to be salt and light in this world (not to be taken away from it). We are to be salt and light. Salt in Jesus’ day was used as a preservation agent to keep meat from rotting. To be salt implies that this world is corrupt and dying and we need to be agents of preservation. To be light implies that this world is dark. Darkness often stood for evil and for those outside of the kingdom. We need to be the light in a dark world to point people to the true source of light: our King Jesus.

That is why we call ourselves Missio Dei. It means the Mission of God. God sent his son to seek and save the lost, the dying, those in the dark. As God sent the Son, he sends us to join him in the fields of the world so that we join him in sowing good seed and for the harvest at the end of the age to be great.

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