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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Weeds Among the Wheat
Text:Matthew 13:24-33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord     
All That I Am I Owe to Thee
Jesus, with Thy Church Abide
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

 “Weeds Among the Wheat”
Matthew 13:24-43
Bible scholar F.F. Bruce has written a book on church history with an appropriate title. Instead of your standard History of the Church, or The Church Through the Ages he simply titled the book, The Spreading Flame. It is an appropriate title because the New Testament church has spread like a flame. From twelve common men who followed a carpenter’s son, the world has been profoundly changed as the New Testament church spreads the gospel message about the kingdom of heaven around the globe.
That is exactly what Jesus is speaking about in the two short parables in verses 31 to 33. The mustard seed is so small, yet grows into a very large plant. So, too, the New Testament church – which is separate from yet essential to the growth of the kingdom of heaven* – grew from small beginnings. It grew from a dozen common men, including one who was a traitor, just as Jesus predicted before ascending into heaven. He told his disciples in Acts 1:8, “…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And by the Holy Spirit’s power, through the Word which he inspired, the church has done just that. From Jerusalem the church has spread out around the globe bringing Christianity to every continent.
Although we as Christians are a minority at almost any time in history, over the millennia of history there will be so many believers that they cannot be counted. God promised Abraham that his descendants would be “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen 22:17). The descendants of Abraham, are of course, those of us who by God’s grace believe in Christ Jesus with saving faith. Galatians 3:29 assures us that If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  
And in Revelation 7:9-10 John writes: “…I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
‘Salvation belongs to our God,
  who sits on the throne,
  and to the Lamb.’”
The entire scope of Scripture teaches the truth that Jesus speaks about in the parable of the mustard seed. Although the remnant of God’s people here on earth seems weak and small and comes from humble beginnings, the church is triumphant. And over the history of the world the number of God’s elect is greater than the number of stars in the sky or sand on the sea shore. It is that “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.”
After telling about the size of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus goes on to tell of the impact of the kingdom. In verse 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.”
Those of you who bake know that a little bit of yeast goes a long way. So, too, genuine Christianity goes a long way in being a positive influence in the world, not just in the Christian community. True Christianity goes far beyond Sunday worship services to permeate every area of life. Just as a little yeast will change the whole loaf of dough, causing it to rise, so your faith in Christ and my faith in him, must influence every area of our lives. And then from our lives it must radiate into the lives of our neighbors and communities.
Historically, it is the church that brought about positive social change. As an example, it was George Whitfield, a great evangelist, who started many orphanages in the early years of the United States. Likewise, Abraham Kuyper brought the power of God’s Word into every sphere of life when he served as prime minister of the Netherlands in the early 1900s. Through programs like our federation’s “Word and Deed” and other faithful churches’ works of mercy, the church has affected the world more powerfully than any other institution in history.
The reason that the church has a powerful impact on the world is that the gospel changes lives.  And as people with changed – transformed – lives go out into the world, their influence is like yeast on dough: The influence of Christ is brought into every sphere of life.
The Kingdom Infiltrated
The parable of the mustard seed and the yeast both present a positive picture of the church and the kingdom of heaven. But the parable of the weeds is truly chilling. Jesus tells how an enemy goes into the field of newly planted wheat to sow weeds. Those of you who are from farm families, imagine that! Or if you are a gardener, imagine the damage done if a spiteful neighbor came at night and planted thistles all through your garden.
While Jesus explains that the field is the world and that the devil has many in the world who oppose Christianity, he also clearly teaches that in the church – which is an essential part of the kingdom of heaven, for it proclaims that kingdom – there are many weeds. The weeds represent impostors, hypocrites, false teachers, and those who come out of curiosity but are not blessed with saving faith. It is clear that the church is contaminated, not just the world. In verse 41 Jesus describes how at the last day, 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.”
Satan is well prepared to infiltrate the kingdom of heaven on earth, including the church; he is well equipped to plant weeds among the wheat. In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, after describing false teachers in the church, the Apostle Paul tells us not to be surprised. He writes: For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”
The false teachers will get what they deserve. “Their end will be what their actions deserve.” (2 Cor. 11:15).  Jesus describes their end in Matthew 13:42: “They (God’s angels of judgment) will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Until that Day comes when the Son of Man sends his angels to do the “weeding”, how vigilant we as believers must be!
Not only is it easy for Satan to plant the weeds, but it is easy to disguise them initially, until they sprout up and start choking others. Most commentators believe that the type of weed is bearded darnel, a weed that is closely related to wheat and is difficult to distinguish from wheat when the plants are young. Matthew Henry, in his commentary, writes: “There is a great deal of secret wickedness in the hearts of men, which is long hidden under the cloak of a plausible profession, but breaks out at last.”
The truth of that statement, and the truth of this parable, is all too evident in the visible church. False teachers are vocal and persuasive, and much of the energy of Bible-believing churches is directed against false teaching. Consider how much more could be done to advance the kingdom of heaven if we didn’t have to guard against the destructive work of the weeds within the church!
In addition to false teachers, who are actually the easier of the “weeds” to spot, there are a variety of others who seem to be solid Christians but are imposters, often using the church and the kingdom of heaven for their own gain. As an example, one of my seminary classmates was a gifted artist. He could draw a portrait with striking accuracy and detail. Then he would mount the portrait on just the right frame to accentuate the canvas. They were masterpieces, they really were. 
He was also a superb student. He had an excellent grasp of Greek and Hebrew, and a thorough knowledge of the Bible and systematic theology. And to top it off, he had a pleasant personality. Every fruit of the Spirit seemed to flourish in his life. 
While most of us worked at a variety of jobs to get through seminary, this student relied on his artistic abilities. He would receive a down payment to do a portrait, and then he would collect the balance when it was done. He soon had a large number of orders, not so much from seminarians, as we were all broke, but from people in a large downtown church where he attended. Word had spread about his gifts, his warm personality, and his dedication to his studies. What a fine minister he would make!
As the student took deposits from these people, he would ask if they could give a little more than the usual deposit because he had some other bills to pay and was struggling financially to go to seminary. You couldn't help but like the guy, and seeing his work and hearing his story, many people, being generous Christians, gave him the full price of the portrait up front.
One day he wasn’t in class. We figured he probably had whatever bug was going around. The next day he wasn’t in class, or the next. We were concerned. We knocked on the door of his room in the old dormitory where he lived, but there was no answer. A couple of the guys got a chair and pulled it up to the door to look in through the transom window. The room was empty.  This “student” had left Philadelphia in a hurry, with a substantial amount of money from all those people at church, many of whom had given him the full price for a portrait, and not just the deposit.
A few days later the police showed up at the seminary. It turns out that the seminary student wasn’t the only one who could draw. The police also had a few sketches; they were sketches of the seminarian. Turns out he had used the same tactics at other seminaries, Bible colleges, and numerous churches throughout several southeastern states. The police were surprised that he was in Philadelphia. He had never been spotted that far north before. 
We were stunned. Talk about a weed that looked like wheat. That young man seemed like the most committed, honest, sincere future pastor you could ever meet. Yet his life became an example of what Paul told Timothy about in 1 Timothy 5:24, “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them, the sins of others trail behind them.”
As Jesus warned in Matthew 7:15-16, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them…”  And in Matthew 7:21, Jesus warns: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father.”
Unless that charlatan who posed as a seminarian repents, he will be among those whose sins, in the words of 1 Timothy 5:24, “reach the place of judgment ahead of him.” He is not alone by any means. Some weeds among the wheat are easier to recognize than others. That is especially true for those who sow the seeds of false doctrine. Yet, as Jesus teaches in the parable, both are left together because if you pull out the darnel – the weed – you may damage the wheat as well.
Incidentally, that doesn’t mean that church discipline isn’t necessary, or that we don’t confront those who show by their lives and teaching that they are imposters. But what it does teach is that in the church here on earth there will always be impurity. There won’t be a perfect church this side of heaven. That’s the first application.
It was an important lesson for the disciples, and it is an important lesson for us today. The disciples expected – as did the rest of the people – that when the Messiah came, he would inaugurate a political kingdom. They expected that the kingdom would come with obvious and dramatic signs that would instantly transform everything to perfection. But by these parables Jesus is teaching his disciples that the kingdom comes gradually. It has small beginnings; it is like that mustard seed. Yet it permeates everything, just like yeast. 
But in this life, as the kingdom spreads out, it doesn’t reach perfection. There are always the weeds in with the wheat. In the kingdom of heaven on earth there are no perfect churches. And, as has often been pointed out, if we found a perfect church – you and I – and then if we joined it, it would no longer be perfect. 
That is an important lesson for us as well. What is one of the most frequent objections to attending church? When you invite your neighbor, co-worker, or fellow student, a frequent objection is that the church is full of hypocrites. That’s true. In this life the weeds are in with the wheat. The church isn’t perfect; it is a hospital for sick sinners. And it is the place where God reveals his grace to sinful people through the preaching of his word. 
The fact that there are hypocrites, charlatans, false teachers, and an assortment of other “weeds” in the church shows the truth of Scripture and the teaching of Christ. Rather than being a reason to stay out of church, it should be another reason to be in church. The weeds among the wheat authenticate the teaching of Jesus.
Testing the Spirits
How else do we apply these parables?  What should our response be?  Since weeds are in with the wheat, we must test all teaching with the Bible. In John’s first letter, he wrote: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit (teaching), but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). The way to test teaching – to “test the spirits whether they are from God” – is by the Bible. The Bible must be the basis by which teaching is confirmed as truth, or shown to be in error. 
When the Apostle Paul fled from Thessalonica, remember how the account in Acts states that the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians?  Even though they welcomed Paul and listened eagerly to his teaching, they also tested it with the word of God. In Acts 17:11 Luke writes: “They received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” You need to read your Bible every day so that you know what it says. Only then can you properly evaluate whatever teaching you hear from me or anyone else.
It is crucial for you and for me to be like the Bereans because virtually every denomination that has left the clear teaching of the Bible to go down the broad road of the world, was led astray by their pastors. You know the warning of the Puritans: “When you look for the devil, don’t forget to look behind the pulpit!”
Generally, the seminaries are the first to leave the clear teaching of God’s Word. They turn out pastors who bring a false gospel into the church because they were taught a false gospel in seminary. That was even the case with Abraham Kuyper. When he was at the University at Leyden, he imbibed all the modernistic teaching – basically the teaching of the Enlightenment – which is a form of humanism that denies the power of God and his word. 
But when Abraham Kuyper brought his ideas to the small country church where he first served as a pastor, the people in the pews straightened him out, especially one elderly lady who challenged him to read Luther and Calvin, which he did in their original Latin autographs. Kuyper was changed by them, as they unfolded the Scriptures in their writings, and Kuyper became a great champion of Reformed theology even as he renounced the humanism he had been taught at the University of Leyden. (B.K. Kuiper, The Church in History, pg. 314)
How thankful we should be that God used those faithful people in the pews of a country church to be Bereans, and to challenge what they heard from the pulpit. Through their influence, Abraham Kuyper became that yeast that reached into every sphere of society. And we are to follow that good example. Always test what you hear with the Scriptures, and always strive to live the teaching of Scripture out in every aspect of your life.
And then, thirdly, since the weeds are in with the wheat, we need to examine our lives and make sure that by God’s grace we are living authentic, genuine, Christian lives. We need to look at our lives and see the sins that have to be weeded out of our system. We need to take to heart the injunction of 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” 
We all have an assortment of weeds in our lives: lust, pride, hypocrisy, envy, and laziness. When we examine ourselves in the light of God’s word, by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that list quickly becomes extremely long and repetitive. With examination there must be acknowledgment of sin, true repentance, and then a sincere effort to turn from sin as we focus with saving faith on Christ alone for our salvation. The prayer of David in Psalm 139 must be a frequent and fervent prayer for you and for me:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psa. 139:23-24)
When we turn from sin, we must replace our sinful conduct with godly conduct. When we earnestly strive to do the good works that Ephesians 2:10 tells us were before ordained for us to do, we will – by God’s grace and sanctifying Spirit – begin to replace ungodly conduct with godliness. The weeds of sin will be stunted and rendered ineffective, and in their place, the wheat of the kingdom will flourish.
F.F. Bruce had a most appropriate title for his book on church history: The Spreading Flame. Like a little mustard seed, the church has gone from such a small beginning to spread out into a large “tree” encompassing the whole globe with the gospel as it proclaims the kingdom of heaven, and saving faith in Christ as the only way into that kingdom. By the power of the gospel so many sinners have been saved by grace that they form “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language…” (Rev. 7:9)
And like yeast, true Christianity must permeate every part of our lives. And then, by extension, it radiates from us into our culture. True Christianity is not a Sunday only experience. It must be 24-7; it must entail constant, faithful, fervent living for our Lord.
May those descriptions characterize you and me! By God’s grace may we not be the weeds that will be pulled out by the Lord’s angels on the last day and thrown into the fire to be burned. But may we be shown to be wheat, producing a harvest of righteousness and goodness for the glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen.
* The kingdom of heaven and the church are distinct from each other and yet integral to one another. The kingdom of heaven designates God’s sovereign rule over all things. Louis Berkhof points out, “Like the visible church, the Kingdom also shares in the imperfections to which a sinful world exposes it. This is quite evident from the parable of the wheat and the tares, and that of the fishnet.” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 570) Likewise, Lord’s Day 48 of the Heidelberg Catechism points out that prayers for the kingdom include petitions for the Lord to keep the church strong and add to it.
sermon outline:
        “... His enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat...” – Matthew 13:25b
                                            “Weeds Among the Wheat”
                                                    Matthew 13:24-43
I.  In these verses there are three parables about God’s kingdom:
      1) The parable of the mustard seed teaches that although the church began as a very small
           group, it has grown, and will grow, to a great size (32; Genesis 15:5; Revelation 7:9)
      2) The parable of the yeast teaches that Christianity is to permeate every area of life, that
           is, all of culture, not just the Christian community (33)
      3) The parable of the weeds shows that the evil one plants many “weeds,” not only in the
           world (38), but in the kingdom of heaven and the visible church (41; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
II. Applications:
     1) We will not find a perfect church in this life (37-43)
     2) We must test all teaching with the Bible (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1)
     3) We must examine ourselves to recognize and remove – by God’ sanctifying grace – the
          weeds of sin in our lives (Psalm 139:23-24; 2 Corinthians 13:5)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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