Our faithful service to the Lord will bring opposition and, sadly, the disappointment of seeing some people make false professions of faith. But we can be sure our service is not in vain, for Jesus promises to grow His kingdom according to His power and timing, not ours.
As we set sail on this Wisdom Journey, the clock is ticking down the hours on the busiest recorded day in the ministry life of Jesus. A shift has occurred in Jesus’ ministry to the nation of Israel because their religious leaders have led them to reject Him as their Messiah-King.
That rejection has consequences. First, the kingdom of God is no longer at hand; from Israel’s perspective, it is unexpectedly postponed. Second, how Israel is to relate to this postponed kingdom must be addressed. Jesus is going to do that through parables. Remember, parables are earthly stories with heavenly meaning.
In our last Wisdom Journey, Jesus was sitting in a boat on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee as a huge crowd gathered to hear Him teach. I have been to that site in Israel where this event is believed to have occurred.
It is a beautiful sight where gentle waves lap the shore and trees offer shade from the heat. It is the perfect place for the Lord to tell a series of stories—natural stories with spiritual meaning.
Jesus’ first parable, the parable of the soils, taught that while we await the coming kingdom, we sow the word of God throughout the world.
Now Jesus tells the parable of the growing seed, which appears only in Mark’s Gospel in chapter 4:
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (verses 26-29)
This parable offers encouragement to every believer who shares the gospel of Christ with others. The results do not depend on some clever presentation of the gospel. You do not have to deliver a perfect gospel presentation. In fact, the Lord says here that the most diligent farmer has no idea what makes that seed sprout and grow. And that is because the life principle—the giver of life—is the Lord. So, the power is not in the one who shares the gospel message; it is in the word of God.
Hebrews 4:12 tells us exactly that:
The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Beloved, God invites us to faithfully and wisely sow the seed of God’s word and then trust Him for the results. You cannot take the credit for someone getting saved, and you should not take the blame if they don’t. The apostle Paul, probably the greatest and most fruitful evangelist ever, wrote this: “I planted [the seed]; Apollos watered [it]; but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). God made it come to life and bear fruit.
Now we are going to go back to Matthew 13, where the remaining parables are recorded. Next, we have the parable of the tares and the wheat.
You see, Christians are not the only ones planting seed; we are not the only evangelists today. In fact, I think the cults and false religions of our day are more committed to planting counterfeit seed than the church is to planting the true seed.
The Lord says here in verses 24-25:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,
but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds [tares] among the wheat.”
In Jesus’ day, tares—or what we call today “bearded darnel”—were a degenerate kind of wheat that looked exactly like genuine wheat until the grain appeared. They did not bear wheat at all; we could say they were pretending to be wheat all along. I have some weeds in my yard that mimic the plants they grow next to. In fact, I think I have more weeds than plants.
The trouble is, tares were poisonous, so unless they were separated from the wheat, the wheat could not be eaten. Listen, to sow tares in another man’s field was an act of sabotage. It was intended to ruin that person’s livelihood.
Further down in verse 36, the disciples ask Jesus what the parable means, and Jesus explains it. He is the Sower, the field is the world, the good seed are true believers, and the enemy is the devil. And the tares are pretenders—they look genuine, but they are poisonous to the cause of true Christianity.
Jesus says that His kingdom plan is to allow both the wheat and the tares to grow up together. In fact, to spend your time trying to root out all the pretenders is not going to be good for genuine believers. Your focus in ministry is not to go around and spot every false believer. I know pastors and churches today who think that is their mission in life.
No, the Lord says to wait until the final judgment—the harvesttime—when God will separate the pretenders from the possessors of the faith. The harvest comes at the end of days, and angels are the reapers who separate the wheat from the tares.
Jesus goes on to declare in verse 43 that the tares, the unbelieving lawbreakers, will suffer eternal judgment while “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
The point of the parable is that “false believers” will be present during this current church age. Many will look very much like Christians, but they have never genuinely trusted in Christ.
Just remember, the Lord knows the hearts of people. He is the only one capable of determining who was pretending all along and who genuinely belongs to Him and will one day enter His glorious millennial kingdom.
Now we move on to the parable of the mustard seed:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (verses 31-32)
Jesus here is borrowing from a common Jewish saying used to describe something tiny as being “small as a mustard seed.”
Jesus’ point is that God’s kingdom program in the present age begins very small, with only a handful of followers. But that body of believers will grow through the course of the church age as more and more people come to faith in Christ—until Christ returns and establishes His earthly kingdom and rule.
All along God was planning a humble beginning for His King and His coming kingdom. You can’t get much smaller than a mustard seed. It is one of the tiniest of garden seeds, but in one season it can grow into a tree thirty feet high.
The Lord’s kingdom is just a little seed now, but just give it time. One day God’s kingdom will cover the earth.
These parables let us know that the kingdom might be invisible, but it is also invincible. The King is at work behind the scenes; He is at work in the hearts of those who believe in Him. We do not amount to all that much today; we are not going to tip the scales of world markets; we are not going to be featured or followed by the crowd; and for the most part, our message will be ignored.
But beloved, just keep following Him and trusting Him. What He is doing in the world might not look like much, but just wait. Christ will return one day and establish His glorious kingdom, and it will reach around the world.