Have you ever grown a garden and wondered why everything in it looked so weak, small, and sickly, just to discover that under the leaves of the vegetable plants weeds had sprung up, weeds that were choking the plant and stealing its nutrients and moisture? Once you discovered the weeds it became apparent why the plants weren't doing as well as they should have. But once the weeds were removed the plants started producing the fruit they were designed to produce. But what if the weeds looked like the vegetable plants you were trying to grow? How would you tell the difference between them? How would you know which plant to pull?
Earlier this year I planted three rows of carrots in our garden. After the seeds had germinated and had come up through the soil I noticed that the carrots had come up all over the place. And I decided that somehow I must have dropped seeds from the packet all around the rows. But later, as the plants got closer to maturity I realized that most of those carrot plants were not really carrots at all -- they were dill weeds. They looked like carrots in the early stages, but they were really nothing more than weeds. But because they looked so much like the carrots I had no choice but to let them grow with the carrots until I could tell the difference between them.
In the same way, have you ever looked at the Christian church and wondered why she seems to have so little power and influence in the world today and especially here in our own country? I have. And I have come to the conclusion, based upon the Scripture, that the same thing that happened in my vegetable garden has also happened in the church. Look with me if you would please at:
Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43:
Another parable He set forth to them, saying: the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, sir, did youu not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares? 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? But he said, no, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 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.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in His field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way."
He then goes on to tell us that:
"He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. . . , " and so Jesus interprets the parable for us.
Now if we were to read what Jesus said too quickly we might get the impression that He is merely referring to the final, or general judgment that is destined to take place between the saved and the unsaved. And while that is partially correct it's not entirely true. You see, at the end of the age when the King returns, the saved will be separated from the unsaved. But in this passage of Scripture Jesus is referring to something more than that. Notice that He uses the term wheat and tares to describe the difference between those who belong in His garden and those who do not. Now every one of us knows what wheat is, but how many know what a tare is? Most of the newer Bibles translate the word tare as a weed. And it's true, the tare is a weed, but it's not just any old weed. It is a special weed, a weed that is unlike any other weed, and that is why Jesus decided to use it in His illustration. You see, the tare looked almost identical to wheat. It was green like wheat, had the same stalk as wheat, and yet there was one big difference between it and wheat. Wheat would eventually produce a crop-- tares never would. But because tares looked so much like wheat it was very difficult to tell the two apart, and if the landowner's servants tried to pull up the tares they would inadvertently end up pulling up some of the wheat as well. And that's exactly what happened in my garden. l couldn't tell the difference between the carrots and the dill weed. And so when I finally got suspicious and pulled up two plants, guess what I got? I got one dill weed and one carrot plant. After that I left the plants alone until I was sure which was which. The same thing was true of the landowner's servants. They weren't exactly sure which plant was a tare and which was wheat. And since they weren't sure, the chances were very good that some wheat would be pulled up with the tares. And this was what the landowner was trying to avoid.
And so in order to prevent the wheat from being damaged the landowner instructed his servants to wait until the harvest, for then there would be no confusion. Why, because Jesus said:
"But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared."
Now there are two things I want you to notice here. First of all the owner values the wheat so much that he will not run the risk of damaging it. And this is the grace of God in action. God will allow evil in His field rather than risk uprooting the wheat that He loves. And you should take comfort in this, for you are the wheat that He loves. And the second thing that I want you to notice is that the tares became evident only after the wheat produced kernels of grain, and that's how the servants would know the difference -- the wheat would produce the fruit the owner was looking for while the tares would not. Now I have just taken quite a bit of time explaining what a tare is and why Jesus chose to use that word instead of something else. But just in case you missed it, Jesus used the word tare because it best illustrated the comparison that He was trying to make between those who belonged to Him and those who did not. You see our Lord lived in a day and age of religious hypocrisy, a time when religion for many was merely skin deep and entirely superficial. And it was to such people that He said:
"Woe be unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence."
In this verse of Scripture (Matt. 23:25) Jesus was saying that the Pharisees appeared religiously clean on the outside, but that inside where it really mattered they were filthy, despicable, and defiled. You see they had forgotten that God was more interested in a clean heart than He was with a forced morality. They had forgotten the story in the Old Testament that told of how Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to anoint one of his sons to be the next king of Israel. As all of the sons of Jesse, with the exception of David, passed before Samuel, Samuel looked at the biggest and the best and said to himself,, surely the Lord's anointed is before Him. But the Lord said to Samuel, do not look on his appearance, or the height of his stature; because I haw refused him. For the Lord does not see as a man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). And so following the Lord is a matter of the heart -- not simply a matter of appearances. And that is why Jesus used the word "tare". For just as tile tare is similar in appearance to the wheat, so the religious non-believer is similar in appearance to the believer. And just as the tare mimics the wheat and fools the servants of the landowner, so the false believer mimics the believer and fools those who are in the church.
Now a good example of tares among the wheat in the first century would have been the Pharisees. Now why would they be considered tares? Because they were the legitimate religious leaders of what we would call the true body of believers under the Old covenant. And it was of them that Jesus said:
"... the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do." (Matt. 23:2,3)
Jesus condemned the Pharisees as tares, not because they took authority that wasn't theirs to take, for they were the rightful heirs of Moses. Instead He condemned them because of their hypocrisy. You see, they publicly said what was right and they expected the people who heard them to do what was right. But the whole time they were commanding the people to do what was right they themselves were doing what was wrong. Now a good illustration of this can be seen in a story told to me by a Jewish friend with whom I work. Apparently there was a Jewish Rabbi over in Israel who gave a sermon on prayer. During his sermon he told the people that they had strayed far from God and that the only way to return to God was through prayer and fasting. So he told them to go home, throw out the food they had prepared the day before for lunch, and to humble themselves before God by spending the rest of the day in prayer and fasting to Him. And so after the service was over the people obediently went home, threw out the food they had prepared for lunch, and then spent the rest of the Sabbath in prayer and fasting before God. But while they were doing this the Rabbi went home, took a shower in violation of the Sabbath, and then sat down to a big lunch. Now why do you suppose he did this? Why did he knowingly do the opposite of what he told his congregation to do? Because he was a hypocrite and did not believe that he was bound by his own words. And so even though he said what was right to his people he secretly did what was wrong. His congregation thought he was home doing the exact same thing that they were doing -- and that's what he wanted them to think, though he had no intentions of doing any of it.
And this was the very thing that was taking place when the Lord Jesus Christ walked the earth as a man. The religious leaders were saying what was right but they were doing what was wrong and no one was the wiser. And why was no one the wiser? Because on the outside where men look, these religious people looked like the real thing, they looked like the genuine article. And this is where the trained eye of the landowner comes in. You see, only the eye that knows what to look for can spot the difference between wheat and tares. And only the landowner, Jesus Christ, has such an eye. For even though the people of the first century could not tell the difference between the tares and the wheat -- Jesus could. All they could see was a green plant. But He could tell if the plant was capable of producing fruit or if it were nothing more than a noxious weed, a weed that would not only mimic the wheat, but would also choke it out if given half a chance. Now before I go any farther let me clarify one very important thing. Please pay attention. In this parable of the tares Jesus is not talking about those who fight through the power of the Spirit to cast off sin, those who battle through the power of the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the flesh, or even those who may at times falter and fall, only to rise again through the power of the Spirit. Instead He's speaking of those who act like they are following Him but according to Matthew 13:41 "practice lawlessness" or sin. These are people who knowingly ignore what God commands in the Bible and yet pretend that they are obeying Him. To their peers they appear religious, they look like believers, but in secret they practice the very sin that they publicly condemn.
For instance, in the first century the Pharisees spoke of mercy, and required it, but in their covetousness they threw widows out of their own homes and used pious prayer as their shield (Matt. 23:14). They spoke of the holiness of God but because of their greed they elevated the gold of the Temple above the God who made it holy. They preached of the purity that God demands of His people, and demanded it of their followers, and then they lusted after women in their hearts.
And it was because they practiced these things as a way of life while pretending to be obeying God that Jesus spoke so harshly against the Pharisees. But just because Jesus spoke against religious hypocrisy to those of the first century does not mean His words do not apply to those who are about to enter the 21st century. And just as tares existed in the first century-- so they also exist in the twentieth century. And just as the Pharisees practiced sin while pretending to be righteous, so too many today who are considered to be religious leaders also practice sin while maintaining a religious exterior.
Not too long ago the dean of a well-known divinity school was asked to resign after 13 years in that position. Now why do you suppose he was asked to resign? Do you think he was asked to resign because he was a Lutheran theologian and his superior was a Baptist? No. Do you think it was because he was publicly teaching something that the church considered to be heresy? No. Then what was it? He was asked to resign because of sin that he was practicing in secret. You see the man was actively feeding his lust through pornography and he was storing thousands of those pornographic pictures on his University-owned computer. But since the computer was in his own home no one knew what he was doing and based on outward appearances wouldn't have known, except for the fact that he requested a larger hard drive because his old one was running out of memory. (World - June 12, 1999 - pg. #19)
Now do you think that during his 13 years as dean this man encouraged the use of pornography? Of course not! He was a Lutheran theologian, and having come from that background myself I can tell you that he would have publicly taken a stand against it for at least two reasons. First of all pornography encourages lust, thus violating the law of the Lord. And secondly it reduces women to the rank of mere sexual objects, thus taking away their status as joint-heirs with Christ. Now, do you think this man's students ever suspected him of using pornography? Of course not, because like a tare this man so much resembled the real thing that only the One who reads hearts like we read books, could tell the difference.
And so even though the dean looked like a Christian on the outside, in reality he was a tare, a fact determined by the "fruit" he was producing, which was really no fruit at all. But this former dean is not alone. Just recently the head of the National Baptist Convention was indicted on 61 Federal charges and sentenced to a Federal prison because of racketeering, money laundering, and tax evasion. All of these things, including his adulterous relationship with another woman, were done in secret, and you wouldn't have found him preaching the benefits of any of them from the pulpit. There have been many modem religious leaders who have said and taught all of the right things, as these two men no doubt did, only to be exposed later for hypocritically practicing all of the very things they spoke against. But let's not misunderstand what Jesus is talking about. He's not just talking about religious hypocrisy among the religious /leaders of the day. He's talking about all people in the church, both great and small. And so His parable becomes a warning, a warning because all that practice sin while maintaining a fake religious exterior will undergo the same fate.
And what is that
fate? Listen to what Jesus said:
This is the Fate for all of those who pretend to be righteous, those who pretend to be Christians, those who continue to live in sin, those who continue to practice unrighteousness -- all of which they do in secret. They will be separated from among those who have truly lived their lives for Christ. Those who have battled sin in their lives, those who have loved the Master so much that they were willing to deny themselves the seasonal pleasure that sin gives, and let's not be naive, sin does provide pleasure to the flesh -- just before it destroys it. But most importantly of all those who pretend to follow Christ, while serving sin, will be cast out of the presence of the living God -- forever. When that happens there will be great weeping and gnashing of teeth. And do you know why they will be so tormented? Because all along they knew what the. Lord expected and that knowledge is what torments them so. For the Lord has said in His word:
". . . look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?"
The Lord is looking for fruit, and if the plant is not producing fruit, then the plant is a tare, a weed that just mimics the real thing.
There are many Christians in our nation today who live their lives ax though Jesus Christ was at best nothing more than a fairy tale, and at worse nothing more than fire insurance. They may go to church every week, they may teach Sunday school classes, and they may even say all of the right things. But in secret, when they are away from the prying eyes of other believers, they live as tares and their destiny is eternal damnation. Now I can speak of these things because I am uniquely qualified, for you see for a long time I too was a tare. Perhaps some of you are tares. Perhaps some of you have put on a phony religious front and you think you have fooled everyone. And maybe you have fooled men, maybe you have even fooled me -- but you haven't fooled Christ.
My dear friends each of you knows the thoughts of your own hearts, and I am not judging any of you. But understand this. Jesus Christ is not willing that any should perish and that's why He gave this parable as a warning so that any who found themselves in this condition could repent of their sin and turn to Him for healing. For it is only through repentance that a man can go from being a religious hypocrite, a tare, to a beautiful stalk of wheat that is loaded with fruit for the Master.
And so today if any
of you have found yourself in the position of being a tare then don't hesitate
to flee to Christ today, for none of us knows the terror of standing before
God as a fake, as a phony, as a tare.