24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”
31 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, 32 which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
33 Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
34 All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them, 35 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:
“I will open My mouth in parables;
I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.”
36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”
37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
A question that people often ask is, especially when they see or hear about a terrible, wicked thing is “why does God allow this? Why doesn’t He do anything about this?” It is not an easy question. Why does God allow the wicked to do what they do? Why does He put up with them? He’s all powerful, why doesn’t He do something!? There has to be some reason why. And in today’s passage, Jesus sheds light on God’s purposes in His kingdom. Jesus begins to give us the “why.”
Wheat and Tares (24-30)
Jesus tells another parable to the assembled multitudes. Remember, just in giving these parables, Jesus is dividing between those who are His people and those who reject Him. He is hiding His Word from those who refuse to believe in Him while making it plain to those who do believe in Him. This parable is no different. What is the Kingdom of Heaven like Jesus? Here is what He says “It is like a man who sowed good wheat seed in his field. But at night his enemy came and planted weeds. Both plants start to grow and the man’s servants point out the weeds and ask to pull them out. But they are packed in tight with the wheat and the man does not want to damage his crop. The wheat and the tares (weeds) will get divided at harvest time.
If you are in the multitudes, all you hear is a riddle. Most of us have heard this parable before and its interpretation, but imagine if we weren’t given an interpretation a few verses down. You can imagine Bible scholars would have argued about what exactly this parable means for millennia. And the Jews in First Century Palestine would not be any different. Hearing them, they would have no idea what He meant exactly. The disciples, too, as we will discuss later, also did not know.
Mustard Tree and Leaven (31-35)
Jesus goes on to tell them two more parables. First He tells them the Kingdom of Heaven is like another seed, the mustard seed which a man also takes and plants in his field. It is a small seed but Jesus says it grows larger than other herbs and becomes a tree in which birds come and nest in. This might have confused the multitudes, because the mustard seed doesn’t become a giant tree, but rather a large bush, but of course, Jesus is speaking in a parable. It is not meant to be understood as a botany lesson. He is uttering a dark saying about the Kingdom of Heaven.
He then tells another parable, the kingdom of heaven is like leaven mixed in with three measures of meal (that is almost 75 cups of flour!). That would take a long time to knead and for the leaven to cause a loaf that large to rise.
Matthew goes on to tell us again about the parables, that Jesus only spoke to the multitudes that day in the concealed speech of parables. And interestingly, he quotes Psalm 78 as being fulfilled in Jesus here: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” What is Psalm 78 about? It is one of the longer Psalms in the whole Bible. It is a short history of Israel from Jacob to David. And is it a history of how the Israelites were such wonderful, faithful people, who always obeyed God? No, it is a history of God doing amazing, awesome works throwing down and utterly destroying the most powerful empire on the planet through ten signs and they rebel against Him in the wilderness again and again, then when they finally get to the land they worship false gods and God allows the Philistines to capture the ark. Psalm 78 is about God judging Israel’s wickedness. That Matthew references it here is not mere happenstance. It is incredibly important background to what Jesus is doing with these parables. Jesus is talking about Israel. That is what we have to keep in front of our minds the entire time with these parables. They are given to an audience and for a reason. That audience is First Century Israel, and the reason they are given is ultimately God bringing judgment upon the Old Covenant and the people who have rejected His Son. It is crucial that we keep that in mind as we work to understand what these things mean. So what do they mean?
The Riddle Revealed (36-43)
Jesus sends the people away and he goes back into the house where He had been at the start of the chapter. The disciples gather before Him and ask Him to explain the parable of the tares, so He does: He is the man sowing the good seed. The field is the world. The good seed are the sons of the kingdom. The tares are the sons of Satan. The harvest is the end of the age. And the harvesters are angels.
Many people think “end of this age” means the very end of history, but all throughout with everything Jesus has said and done in His ministry has not been warning unbelieving Israel about judgment thousands of years in the future. He has been warning Israel about judgment that is very near. There is this age and the age to come. What “age” were Jesus and the disciples and Israel in? The age of the Old Covenant. The temple is still standing, none of them are eating pork, etc. etc. The Old Covenant age is about to face judgment. The tares, the Pharisees, all those who practice wickedness and do terrible evil are going to experience God’s wrath. They are going to be harvested up just as God’s people will be. But what are God’s people going to be harvested up to do at the climactic close of the Old Covenant? They are going to be harvested to plant more seed throughout the world. Or as Jesus puts it, “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” From the close of the Old Covenant onward, God’s people shine like the sun to the world. That is what they are harvested to do. And that statement Jesus makes is a quote of the Old Testament as well. There Jesus quotes that from Daniel 12:3, right smack dab in the middle of Daniel prophesying the exact timeframe of when the Old Covenant will come to a close. Jesus is not talking about the end of the world here or the final judgment. He is talking about the final judgment of the Old Covenant.
In this Old Covenant, God is constantly dealing with an Israel full of tares. There is wheat there, but the tares seem to dominate. And God has had harvests before. When Assyria and Babylon come, they harvest Israel and the field is left desolate. But God replants Israel back in the land yet again, but still there are tares. By the time Jesus comes, harvest time is almost upon them yet again. That is what this parable, to the multitudes in First Century Israel, is about.
The other two parables are similar. They show how God has worked in His kingdom. A tiny seed is planted and becomes a tree. And leaven is added to flour and slowly works its way through. Both of these take time and patience. Have you ever watched a tree grow or even a loaf of dough rise? Of course not. But imperceptibly when you come back to it after a given period of time, there it is, fully mature.
That is what God’s kingdom is like. That is how God operates. He is the God of patience. We are impatient. We want judgment to fall on the wicked NOW! God come uproot these tares immediately! God make that seed a tree instantly! God, I want that loaf of bread now, I don’t want to let it rise overnight.
We see things that make our toes curl and fill us with righteous indignation. I can give a few examples just from the past seven days. Maybe some of you saw last week’s 60 Minutes special. Astoundingly the did a story highlighting children who have de-transitioned and it was shocking. One of the young men featured was 20 years old and he spoke of how he was feeling depressed and thought becoming a woman would help that. So after three months doctors castrated him, and shortly thereafter he became suicidal. Utterly monstrous stuff done to this child and not by perverts in some back alley but in the light of day, by dozens of people with prestigious degrees. And things like this happen to hundreds and thousands of children.
If that isn’t enough Kellog’s, a maker of children’s breakfast cereal has put out of box celebrating this, celebrating transgenderism, and in the place of the usual crossword puzzle or maze on the side of the box, they are asking children to fill their pronouns in.
Further still the Nickelodeon show for very small children, Blue’s Clues, put out a video of the cartoon sing-along about a pride parade in which a drag queen sings to the children about how wonderful it all is.
All of this is literally just from the past seven days. Children being sexually groomed on institutional scale. So we maybe we are impatient. Maybe we do wonder often “how long, O Lord?” How long will you allow this? How long will you put up with this great evil?
We know that God is patient. Far more patient than we are. We cannot see precisely what He is doing in allowing this to continue. We cannot fully see why these tares are not ripped out right now and with a vengeance. All we know is that harvest time is not here yet. What God is doing, what God has planned is not quite ready. But when He acts, the pattern will be the same. He will bring down wrath upon a nation that clearly deserves it, and He will gather the wheat, His people to be planted yet again and shine forth like the sun.
Why does God allow this stuff? Because He is bringing His kingdom and His people to maturity. We would not be as mature as He wants us if we did not have to stand firm against this great evil. At the end of the day, that is why. And though we feel like there are just so few of us, how is the world ever going to be evangelized? How is the gospel ever going to go out to the nations? How will the nations of the world ever come streaming into Zion? How will the earth ever be as full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea? There’s so few of us! This is like asking if the dough will ever rise the minute after you set it out in a warm place with a wet towel over it. It hasn’t risen yet! It’s never going to rise.
The truth is, the leaven is working its way through the dough. The mission of the church is accomplished not by earth-shattering mighty deeds that conquer the world in an instant. But by slow, plodding faithfulness over the course of generations of normal, ordinary people like us. The kingdom grows like a tree or like leaven, it is slow. You don’t notice it. You cannot watch it. It would be boring if you tried to watch. But if you have the eyes of faith, you can see how the normal, boring every day stuff you do brings down empires and exalts the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!