Wheat, Weeds & Mustard Seeds
“Why does evil exist if God is good?” Is it weakness? Is it apathy? It is mercy?
While I am sure we will not answer all of life’s tough questions in the parables, perhaps this morning’s parables will give us an answer as to why there is still evil in the world.
Two weeks ago we looked at the parable of the sower - the first of seven parables in this section. This morning we are going to look at the next triplet of parables. They are intentionally grouped together as a sandwich:
- Parable of wheat and weeds
- Parable of the mustard seed
- Parable of the leaven
- Explanation of the wheat and weeds
Let’s start by reading the parable of the wheat and weeds.
Matthew 13:24–30 CSB
24 He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. 26 When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27 The landowner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ 28 “ ‘An enemy did this,’ he told them. “ ‘So, do you want us to go and pull them up?’ the servants asked him. 29 “ ‘No,’ he said. ‘When you pull up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but collect the wheat in my barn.’ ”
How many of you have heard of this parable before?
This is actually one of the more often referenced parables.
How was it explained to you?
Most of the time when I have heard this sermon preached, the meaning had to do with both saved and unsaved being in the church. Have you heard that before? It preaches well I suppose - but can you find a reference to “the church” anywhere in these verses, this chapter or even Matthew so far? While there may be an inference to the church, it is certainly not the main message of this parable.
The field is the whole world. While it is common to hear people talk about this parable being about the church and having both believers and unbelievers in it, that is not what this parable speaks about. It is about the presence of those who have accepted Christ and those who oppose him BOTH being in the world and will continue to remain until the final judgement.
But I am getting ahead of myself! Let’s skip ahead and see how Jesus explained it a little later when he was alone with his disciples: ⚡
Matthew 13:36–43 CSB
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He replied, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world; and the good seed—these are the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 Therefore, just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom all who cause sin and those guilty of lawlessness. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Let anyone who has ears listen.
Matthew is the only one who records this teaching. One of the unique things about this explanation is it contains a glossary of definitions before the meaning is revealed.
- The story given (13:24-30)
- The glossary (13:37-39)
- The interpretation (13:40-43)
SOWER - the Son of Man (reference to Daniel 7 and the son of man who rules on Yahweh’s behalf)
FIELD - the world (NOT the church, not just the Jews, this is a much broader scope!)
GOOD SEED - children of the kingdom (those that have accepted Jesus)
Children: remember, this is a term for students, followers or disciples and not just an age reference. These seeds will grow to maturity but they are still called children.
WEEDS - children of the enemy (those that reject Jesus)
Note: in the last parable, the seed was the truth of the kingdom and of Jesus. This time the seed are people. And there is good seed and bad seed as opposed to good soil and bad soil. This is a great reminder that you cannot interpret one parable by another parable. They are meant to be self-contained teachings.
HARVEST - the end of the age (often believed to reference the Great White Throne judgement of Revelation 20)
HARVESTERS - angels (an insight into the fact that this kingdom and judgement are not meant just to apply to this present world, but that this is about a heavenly kingdom and a greater kingdom than Rome. note: angels are also harvesters in Revelation 14:15)
That is pretty awesome! I must admit, I wish all of the parables had this!
ask: can anyone tell me what is missing?
WHAT IS MISSING:
That is an impressive cast, but there are some things missing:
Who are the PEOPLE who were sleeping?
Matthew 13:25 CSB
25 But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left.
If the people are either good seeds or weeds, then who are the people who were sleeping while the weeds were sewn and while both of these were growing enough to see that they were different plants?
Who are the SERVANTS that reported to the land owner?
Matthew 13:27 CSB
27 The landowner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’
Apparently they are different from the harvesters because the landowner tells the servants what he will instruct the harvesters.
NOTE: It was the practice of some to find an application of every part of a parable, often allegorizing it and applying it to the present. However, Jesus himself did not do this, according to Matthew’s account. While there may be significance to the people, the servants and the night (or sleeping), according to Matthew, it was not what Jesus wanted us to learn from this parable.
Now that the glossary has been defined and we know what certain things stand for, Jesus then takes the time to explain the parable.
THE MEANING: ⚡
Matthew 13:40–43 CSB
40 Therefore, just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom all who cause sin and those guilty of lawlessness. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Let anyone who has ears listen.
Once again, we have the theme of two groups: the lawless and the righteous. And the parable focuses not on their reaction to Jesus, but Jesus’ ultimate reaction to them. It is about the consequences of their decisions.
The angels go throughout the kingdom of God and find all those who are NOT children of the Father and gather them and punish them. The focus in not on the reward of the good seed, but on the punishment of the weeds - those who “cause sin and are guilty of lawlessness” - and that punishment is that they will be burned up.
Let’s unpack a few of the key phrases:
Therefore: [vs 40] ⚡
This is the marker that tells us, “Here is the meaning”. Ans the meaning is that there will be a judgement at the end of the age and it will not end well for the lawless.
From his kingdom: [vs 41] ⚡
Jesus and the angels will go through “his kingdom”. This phrase is probably the connection that many use to apply this to the church. However, God’s kingdom, his dominion is over all the earth.
It was God who created the heavens and the earth and placed man in it in the beginning.
It is God will will recreate the heavens and the earth for his glory at the end of the ages and rule over it.
We should not take “kingdom” and make it smaller than it should be - it is not just the church. It includes all of the earth and the heavens. Consider the following:
When Jesus prayed he prayed that God’s kingdom would be established on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10)
The psalmist said, Psalm 103:19 “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.”
Blazing furnace: [v 42] ⚡
What does THAT remind you of? The book of Daniel, right? When the three Israelites that refused to bow to any god but Yahweh and were thrown into a furnace to be consumed. God spared them from the fire because of their faithfulness. This is the story of the “good seed” - those that obey Yahweh.
Daniel 3:25 CS
25 He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed; and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
I love the parallels here! If we are willing to consider the son as THE Son, we have three men who escaped ALL ASPECTS of death and judgement, they didn’t even smell like smoke, because they were faithful to Yahweh and the Son protected them.
Those that REJECT Yahweh will not receive such grace, though it is offered if they will just believe.
What this parable does NOT reflect is the choice people have. That was in the parable of the soils. This parable focuses on the end result, not on the process. I cannot plant a weed and make it wheat. If that is what this parable was trying to teach then we have a very awkward situation where God cannot change people’s hearts.
Shine like the sun: [v 43] ⚡
This is what awaits those that follow Jesus - they will shine like the sun. What does that mean? Why that phrase? (it is used very little in the scriptures) It is a bit ambiguous, but here are some verses to contemplate:
Just a few chapters later, Jesus will go up the mountain with a few of his disciples and his appearance will change as he encounters the Father:
Matthew 17:2 CSB
2 He was transfigured in front of them, and his face shone like the sun; his clothes became as white as the light.
After the new heavens and the new earth are created, at the “end of the age”, we read this:
Revelation 22:5 CSB
5 Night will be no more; people will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign forever and ever.
It is very possible that the meaning of the phrase, “righteous will shine like the sun” is a reference to the ultimate glory that we will be given when we are transfigured into the holy image of Yahweh in whose image we were created!
Now that we have unpacked some of the phrases, we can see that:
The key focus is on the final judgement of mankind and each person will stand before God and give an account for their faith in Jesus, or lack thereof. Heb 9:27 “27 And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment—”
Those that reject Jesus go to punishment and death
Those that accept Jesus escape punishment and find life. John 5:24 “24 “Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.”
While it can seem very easy to focus on judgement, it is also very dangerous! We should be careful that we do not create a sense of hopelessness for those who have not yet accepted Jesus, nor a sense of smugness or false piety for those that have accepted him!
Though the primary teaching is judgement, it must be balanced with other teachings that we have received from Jesus. Let me share with you a few:
1. God’s Mercy
While this parable focuses on judgement, I think it is also a parable that demonstrates mercy. Can you see it?
God reset the earth by wiping out mankind except for one family - Noah. He promised never to do that again. In a field full of wheat and weeds the owner could have chosen to burn it all and start a new crop - but he did not. He allowed BOTH to grow and prosper.
We are reminded that BOTH the wicked and the righteous are valuable in God’s eyes: ⚡
Matthew 5:43–45 CSB
43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
He also does not act swiftly. He could have pulled up the weeds right away and, according the parable, caused damage to some of the wheat, but instead he told the servants to wait. ⚡
2 Peter 3:9 CSB
9 The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
So in all of this we see the mercy of God - the he waits on judgement to give people opportunity to repent and seek Him. The presence of evil in this world is a reminder of the grace of God that allows them to remain though they rebel against him, because he desires that they come to know him before it is too late.
That brings us to the next observation:
2. Our Mission
Did you notice the proximity of the wheat and the weeds? They are so close to each other that they cannot be separated.
The children of the kingdom are to grow next to those that are not of the kingdom. This is very much a missional analogy though not mentioned directly in THIS parable.
Matthew 5:14–16 CSB
14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
We must keep in mind that the reason we have the gospels is not just to remind us of the judgement to come, but of the mercy and compassion of the God of the Bible who continually pursues his creation to be reconciled to them. So much so, that Jesus had to be sacrificed.
John 3:16 CSB
16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
The GOAL is not to see how many people can be punished, but how many people can be converted from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light:
Colossians 1:13–14 NLT
13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.
However, we have only discussed 1 of the 3 parables. There is still the middle of the sandwich that helps us keep things in perspective and teach us even more about the kingdom. These other two parables remind us of the mercy of God and the mission of God. Let’s look at those together:
The mustard seed. ⚡
Matthew 13:31–32 CSB
31 He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.”
ask: Are you familiar with this one?
The focus is NOT on the man, nor on the soil this time. It is on the small seed and it becoming so big that the birds come and nest in it.
The leaven. ⚡
Matthew 13:33 CSB
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and mixed into fifty pounds of flour until all of it was leavened.”
The focus is not on the woman, or on the flour, but on the yeast and how it spreads until it affects everything around it.
These parables have a similar meaning and they both use a bit of hyperbole to make the point.
mustard seeds are small, but not the smallest. It is most likely the smallest seed that would have been common in that region at that time.
mustard seeds do not actually become trees. They can grow quite tall and could tower over the other plants.
ask: how many of you purchase flour in 50lb bags? I do!
there is really not a reason for a typical person to add leaven to 50 pounds at one time. That would be enough dough for me to make over 500 ciabatta rolls, or 45 large artisan loaves, or 157 Neapolitan pizzas!
Most scholars point to the focus of the parables being the growth of the kingdom of God.
It may start humble, like a super small seed but it would grow to be bigger than the other plants around it. Christianity started with Christ and 12 disciples, in a very humble way and has grown bigger than the other religions of the world, and especially of those that were prominent during this teaching such as Roman mythology.
Where are things today? Here is just one stat based on Pew Research information: ⚡
As of 2010, there were 2.2 billion Christians around the world, or about one-in-three (31%) people worldwide. This makes Christianity the world's largest religion. http://globalreligiousfutures.org/religions/christians
Similarly, the kingdom will spread to all the earth - every corner will eventually be reached with the message of Jesus.
NOTE: leaven if often used to refer to the teachings of someone or some group. Jesus will later warn the disciples , Matt 16:6 “...“Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.””
In this case, the two teachings seem to be connected, as the teachings of the kingdom will eventually cover the entire earth.
While our passage this morning started with a parable on judgement, and ended with the interpretation of the judgement parable, the meat in the middle of the sandwich is that God’s kingdom is designed to grow and become a shelter (from judgement) for all peoples who will enter and that message of good news is meant to be spread to all the earth.
This world is comprised of two groups of people - and our mission is to join God on his mission, of extending the good news of the kingdom of God and the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins with as many people as we can until the whole earth has the opportunity to join the kingdom of the son and experience the life God has for them.